Gospel Gleanings by Elder Joe Holder

2004/03/14 Our Chief Aim: To Glorify God

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, #11 March 14, 2004

Our Chief Aim: To Glorify God

To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.? {2Pe 3:18} (b)

Sometimes we pass over the salutations and closings of the various New Testament letters, thinking them more a conventional form than communicating a meaningful spiritual truth. We tend to think of them as little more than the "Hello" that we speak when our phone rings and we answer it. Actually these segments of New Testament letters often contain invaluable gems of truth. If regarded, they enrich our spiritual lives and round out our experience with greater depth and balance.

In today’s world of the "church growth movement" numbers sometimes are viewed with far greater significance than any other single factor in a church’s existence. "How many members does your church have?" may be the first question someone asks. We should not adopt a "smaller is better" attitude; no one can read the book of Acts with an open mind and reach such a conclusion. The more significant factor in the book of Acts is that greater numbers and deeper faith should go hand in hand. When churches boast of large numbers, but they must constantly work to get new people attending to replace the people who quietly walk out the back door and don’t come back, depth of faith is not a factor in the church’s program. While the pastors of mega-churches are hosting seminars on church growth, factors that build spiritual depth, growth in faith rather than growth in numbers, are largely neglected. If you listen to the dominant themes of these seminars, the church’s chief aim is to grow larger. Any other objective is viewed as secondary.

This view faces a rather questionable standing when compared with New Testament teaching on the church’s chief objective and purpose. The various editions of Reformed tradition catechisms all begin with the same primary question.

"Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?"

"A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever." (Westminster Greater Catechism)

Twenty first century Western Christianity pays superficial lip service to this theme, but it has essentially neglected any effective priorities that actually address giving glory to God. The shallowness of contemporary Western Christianity predicts that our country’s Christianity will follow the rather pathetic pattern of European Christianity. In most European countries today, despite their rich Christian heritage, Christianity is tolerated as a marginal and irrelevant factor in the greater culture. Our country is barely behind that trend, if at all. While most of the men who framed the Constitution stood tall as believing Christians (Many of them were actually leading ministers in their denominations.), Bible believing Christians in today’s political culture are labeled as "Conservative, right wing, radical extremists" by the leading figures in the nation’s political establishment. The only way that Christians will ever regain their former honor in our culture is for them to return to their Biblical roots and purpose. Giving glory to God, and all the factors of commitment and conduct that makes that objective possible, is the only strategy that will restore robust and relevant Christianity to our culture. The battle for our culture will not be won by conservatives or by Christian political activists, though either or both groups might well be used by God to effect positive change. The battle will be won by God, by divine intervention, not by anyone’s political strategy.

Christians who make their boasts of faith, but whose lives before people outside their churches are little different, if at all, from non-Christians will not make a difference in the culture. In fact they are part of the marginalized problem for Christianity in our culture for they are marginal Christians at best.

In 1Pe 3:15 Peter gives us the secret to both effective evangelism and effective apologetics (presenting a convincing case for your faith to those outside the faith). Most Bible readers miss the central point of the lesson. Peter directs us to sanctify the Lord in our hearts, not just in our outward appearance. Then he directs us to be ready, fully equipped and studiously prepared, to give answers to those who ask us to explain our "hope." The only effective Christian is the believer whose life is so different from the ordinary that it compels those who know this believer to ask the question, "What makes you tick? Why are you so different from other people who also say that they are Christians?" If we aren’t living so differently as to compel the question, we are not prepared either for evangelism or for apologetics. The Christian who lives such a distinguished life is living for the glory of God, not for the glory of his/her personal reputation.

We have spent several months going over one of the most difficult and challenging letters of the New Testament. From beginning to end, Peter’s aim was to equip us to recognize and to resist false teachers. In the first chapter of his letter he sets the positive stage for this task. Biblically, the positive comes first, preparing us to resist the negative. An energized and informed faith is the only effective insulation from false teaching. Energy alone is the false teacher’s best tool. Blind or uninformed energy leaves us vulnerable to the false teacher’s strategies. He will mesmerize the energetic, but uninformed, believer with his false message and get them energized in his teachings.

Dr. J. P. Moreland wrote a book a few years ago regarding the crying need for Western Christians to worship, and love, our God with all our minds, not just all our hearts. He accurately notes that many Christians consistently check their minds at the door of the church every Sunday morning. They take their emotions into the pew with them, but they leave their minds outside the church building. They react to the sermon, and often to their fellow-believers, from a basis of sentimentalism, of emotion, not of Biblical thought and knowledge. Many times during my years as a pastor I have counseled with believers who brought emotionally charged hurts to me regarding other believers. When analyzed, their hurt was far more imagined than real, and grew out of mindless Christianity. If you mention the requirement that Jesus placed on His followers to practice Mt 18, they simply respond with a blank "deer in the headlights" look. They don’t have the slightest idea what Mt 18 means or how it applies to them and to their situation. They feel entirely free talking about other believers behind their back, a practice that Solomon in Proverbs calls backbiting and tersely condemns, but they never consider talking graciously and gently to the person who offended them.

These same people will listen to radio or television preachers more with their minds set on the appearance and speaking manners of the teacher than the content of his teaching. He can say just about anything he wishes and, if he said it with the right sentimental overtone, convince these people that he speaks directly from Scripture.

There can be no substitute for believers engaging their minds and their study time in Scripture, and taking their spiritually disciplined minds with them everywhere they go, even into the pew on Sunday morning.

Peter’s next step in the second chapter was to confront the character and guile of the false teachers. He is direct and blunt with his assessment of their evil intentions.

Finally in the third chapter he gives us an example of their false teachings. In this example we see false teachers (I believe the scoffers of chapter 3 are the same people as the false teachers of chapter 2.) denying the Second Coming and the related final and epochal judgment that God will administer at the end. As an example of a similar contemporary teaching, I drew a number of specific parallels between these teachings and the teachings of extreme preterists of our time (the teaching that all Biblical prophecy, including end times prophecies, culminated with the Roman siege of Jerusalem in A. D. 60). I do not judge all preterists by this model, but I did offer specific points from a leading teacher from that school who speaks regularly on a southern California radio station. At one time I held to a mild form of preterism, but I moved away from that school because of the unusually large number of adherents to this teaching who migrate to the extreme view that denies the Second Coming (though a follower of this philosophy would say that the "Second Coming" occurred at A. D. 70), any epochal divine judgment, general resurrection, and related other doctrines that have been held historically by the Christian community. Many other aberrant teachings could have also been singled out. The similarities between the error that Peter analyzed in this chapter and this teaching prompted my use of the preterist example.

May we find the Biblical knowledge and spiritual vitality to equip ourselves to be winsome and effective followers of our Lord, at the same time effectively resisting the perpetual flood of false teachings that confront conservative, historical Bible believers in our age and culture. Our greatest tool for effective Christianity appears in Peter’s closing salvo to this letter. May we dedicate ourselves to the glory of God no less now than we hope to do in eternity, do nothing for personal glory or praise, invest the time, mental energy, and intellectual effort to know what the Bible teaches and to have it at our skillful and ready command when we encounter interested inquirers or antagonistic false teachers. To Him be the glory.

Elder Joe Holder

2004/03/21 1 Timothy: The Image of a Godly Leader

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #12 March 21, 2004

1 Timothy: The Image of a Godly Leader

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.? (1Ti 1:1-4)

Having spent several months in our study of 2Pe 2 with its focus on false teachers, it seems logical and balanced to take a look at the opposite side of the same coin. Rather than look emphatically at the character of the false teacher, let’s take a look at the character and conduct of the godly church leader and teacher. Second Peter indeed has its role in a healthy balanced Christian perspective. Invariably we occasionally encounter the insidious false teacher who imitates the people whom Peter so directly opposes. A significant percent of the Christian community lives with a somewhat “Pollyanna” attitude regarding error and those who teach it. Ignore them, pretend that they simply don’t exist, and they will eventually go away. Peter’s letter jolts us back into reality on this point. However, a full study of 2 Peter reveals a common tie with Paul’s first letter to Timothy. The most effective antidote to error, especially devious error, is a strong foundation in the faith as it comes to us in the New Testament. That is the point of 2Pe 1.

Probably most contemporary Christians have abandoned any sense of expectation that their leaders simply can, or even should, live up to the qualifications of leadership as set forth in the pastoral epistles (Paul’s letters to the two young preachers, Timothy and Titus). Often this attitude finds it strongest support from deficient leaders themselves. Therefore they advocate full abandonment of these qualifications as required criteria for ordination or as the basis for continuing in active ministry in a church office. Many of these same people would react with horror to someone advocating such a cavalier abandonment of an essential theological concept. They simply refuse to live up to the Biblical requirements for office in the church. Sadly, I occasionally encounter this “Why bother, attitude among our own fellowship of Primitive Baptists. More than once I have heard this response, “If we wait to ordain someone till they meet these qualifications, we’d never ordain anyone at all. Therefore, we should just ignore the qualifications.” In any institution of human beings the organization will never rise above its leadership. Any appearance of this reckless abandonment of Biblical requirements among church leaders is frightening indeed. I will maintain in this writing that we cannot abandon the required qualifications of church officers any more than we can abandon a cardinal theological concept. In fact abandonment of one position often leads to abandonment of the other. I will also urge that continuing adherence to the qualifications should be required for a man who holds a church office to continue in that office. What is a church office? In the sense of qualifications as set forth by Paul to Timothy the two offices requiring ordination and thus subject to these qualifications are the offices of elder (pastor, preacher) and deacon.

Paul’s letters in the New Testament are “occasional” letters. Some event, problem, or “occasion” prompted him to write each letter. Typically Paul identifies the occasion for his letters near the beginning of each letter and near its end, something of idea bookends around the detailed instructions addressing the primary issue that motivated the writing of the letter.

We should not think of either Timothy or Titus as resident pastors of a specific church. Rather they appear in each of these letters as special helpers to Paul, sent by him to deal with specific problems in a local area or church. Through the window of these letters we can see much regarding the culture of New Testament Christianity, as well as the local culture of each church involved in these special apostolic assignments. In addition, and to our benefit, we can discover some of the significant problems encountered by first century Christianity and how an inspired apostle directed his aides to deal with those problems. Particularly in this point we can learn about potential problems that we shall encounter and discover Biblical instruction to deal with them.

Some commentators suggest that the pastoral epistles form a comprehensive handbook of pastoral ministry and church conduct. Given the fact that both men served directly under Paul’s apostolic authority and direction with churches that he had visited or founded, I suggest that we should view these letters in a somewhat less comprehensive manner. However, Paul’s emphasis on sound (literally, healthy) teaching makes these letters an invaluable source of instruction for every church that truly aspires to New Testament faith in its belief and practice.

The New Testament contains an incredible breadth of instructive information regarding any question of belief or practice that a conscientious church will need. We should view the whole New Testament, not just the Pastoral Epistles, as our handbook for Christian faith and practice. For example, the two letters that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church confront cosmopolitan, suburban Christianity, likely the most relevant—and frightening—New Testament letter to confront twenty-first century Western Christianity. In this letter to Timothy we learn through the occasion that Paul assigns to the letter, that he sent Timothy to the church at Ephesus to confront and to correct a growing problem within that church. Three rather informative New Testament references tell us much about the short history of this church. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church we gather that they were strong in their faith and faithful in their practical living out of the faith. We sense less of rebuke and correction of specific error and more of encouragement and reinforcement of good faith and practice than in most of Paul’s church letters. First Timothy informs us that the Ephesian church fell under the influence of false teachers from within the church and needed Timothy’s reinforcement of Paul’s foundational teaching to rediscover their true spiritual roots. Interestingly, Paul’s final personal words to the elders at this church become prophetic of this specific problem (Ac 20:30 and context). Finally when we read John’s (actually Jesus’ personal message) letter to the Ephesian church near the end of the first century (Re 2:1-7) we encounter a sad affirmation of the lingering problem of internal weakness at Ephesus. Jesus warns them that they have left their first love (not necessarily first in chronological order, but distinctly first in order of importance). They appear in danger of losing their “candlestick,” their identity and blessing as one of the Lord’s churches.

“…[T]hat thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith…” Here we discover Paul’s opening “bookend” idea, the “occasion” for his letter to Timothy. It appears that some of the elders within the church were now teaching “other doctrine,” that they were paying more attention to “fables and endless genealogies” than to “godly edifying which is in faith.” This last reference to genealogies may suggest that the false teachers had embraced a false view of Old Testament writings and were elevating their errant interpretations above Paul’s New Testament instruction to them.

While I question that 1 Timothy, or the three Pastoral Epistles combined, establish a comprehensive manual of church administration, I hold that these letters are invaluable to a healthy church culture. Paul affirms this point to Timothy (1Ti 3:14-15).

My objective in this writing will be to reinforce a thoroughly New Testament model for both doctrine and for church activity. This vision of the church is sorely needed in our time. Modern churches in large numbers rationalize one doctrinal abandonment after another from the New Testament pattern. For example, many church leaders exhibit more loyalty to the feminist movement than to the New Testament text and its prohibition of women as teaching leaders in the church. While they justify their rejection of the New Testament model on the basis that Paul’s objection to women leader-teachers was based on local cultural problems, Paul himself based his objection on Adam and Eve; this example establishes a principle that transcends local culture. Among our own Primitive Baptist people, often the ideas of an older respected preacher are viewed with more knowledge and respect than the teachings of Paul and other New Testament writers as the basis for what we believe and what we do. If we say that we believe in Scripture alone as our foundation for faith and practice, we are ethically bound to demonstrate intense familiarity with and faithfulness to the New Testament model in all matters. May we live up to our profession.

2004/03/28 The Necessity of the Biblical Model

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #13 March 28, 2004

The Necessity of the Biblical Model

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.? (1Ti 1:1-4)

Typically Paul begins his letters with “by the will of God” or other similar terms. The appearance of the word “commandment” in First Timothy calls our attention to an exception to the Pauline rule. Why would Paul deviate from his normal introduction? In other letters the exception seems to have purpose. For example, the abruptness of Paul’s introduction in the Galatian letter immediately alerts us that Paul feels a high intensity toward the erring Galatians due to their error. Reading the first few verses of that letter, we fully expect the terseness that follows.

Although Paul will develop his letter around quite positive issues, if, as many commentators believe, a primary purpose in this letter is to confront a growing error in the Ephesian church through Timothy’s ministry there, we should expect that Paul will communicate through Timothy the urgency of his concern. If confronting error at Ephesus is in the forefront of Paul’s mind as he writes, we should expect Timothy to share this letter with the church, so Paul will make sure that the church knows both the gravity of his concern and the necessity of the principles that he affirms to Timothy.

Our human nature easily imposes judgments onto others if they do not apply to us. If we interpret a situation or mandate of conduct as directly applicable to us, especially when it is corrective of our present conduct, we quickly lose our objectivity and seek alternatives to relieve our obligation. This is precisely the objective we see when we hear someone seek to rationalize non-compliance with Paul’s qualifications for church office in this letter, particularly a church leader whose life is to match the qualifications set forth in this letter. Paul establishes immediately in his introduction that the things that he will present in this letter are “commandments” from the Lord, not merely the highest ideals toward which we should strive. Since the qualifications for either the office of deacon or elder (minister) command such prominence in this letter, we must assume that the character, qualifications, and personal discipline of church leaders constituted a significant part of the Ephesian problem that Timothy was to correct. Gordon Fee makes this point convincingly.[1] I would add to Fee’s assessment that Paul obviously sees wise and qualified church leaders as a major insulator against and antidote to error within the local church community. People naturally look to leaders and tend to follow their examples. A compromising leadership will cultivate a compromising church membership. A leader who does not practice the qualifications of his office will foster a casual attitude among church members that they need not follow the Biblical commandments that apply to them with any more faithfulness than their leaders practice within their assignment.

As an elder and pastor, I am confronted and convicted by these qualifications often. I wish that I could say that I have always complied with every mandate set forth by Paul in the qualifications for church office. I believe in them and in their applicability to me and to others who hold church office today. As we who hold church office become aware of deficiencies in our personal lives, we are compelled by this letter to one of two courses. 1) We must take immediate steps to correct our errant conduct and ensure that the people in the church know that we take our position and qualifications seriously. 2) We should exhibit sufficient respect for the Biblical qualifications of our office to step down from the office and beg the church’s forgiveness for our failure. The gravity of these qualifications cannot be compromised without grave consequences to the church. We must live with the obvious truth that Paul introduced this letter with this clear qualification; what he wrote was a commandment from God, not merely his opinion or idealized recommendations. Often the family of a church officer may disqualify him from office as readily as his personal conduct. Paul observes a parallel in these qualifications between the way a church leader deals with the less-than-ideal problems in his family and the way he deals with problems in the church that he serves. If he does not earn his family’s respect for his position, his qualifications (and theirs as his family), and his responsibilities, he cannot expect the church that he serves to respect him in his office. If he fails to lead his family by godly and convincing example, he will predictably fail in leading the church by example. If he is inclined to passively ignore problems in his family till they go plummeting out of control, he will likely do the same with problems in the church. If, when he finally reacts to problems in his family, he does so with anger and harshness, he will almost certainly do the same in his church office. All of these failures are public and damaging to both him and to the church that he is charged with serving.

Before leaving this personal note, I need to cover one additional area of concern. Writing to the errant Corinthian church, Paul established a pattern of ministry that lies at the core of every man’s success or failure in ministry. (Since the word translated “ministry” applies to both the office of deacon and pastor-teacher, I include both in this observation.) “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2Co 4:5). No church leader can remain effective if he becomes the center of attention or controversy. Forethought, not afterthought, must guide his judgment and conduct. The minute he allows himself to become the focal point he has lost his ability to teach and to lead the church objectively. This principle must control his clarity in teaching and his lifestyle in leading the church. Ministry is not about the man who ministers. He is “your servant,” not your lord. His role is to serve, not ensure that his will and preferences prevail in church decisions. The Biblical model of leadership by example, not by compulsion or intimidation (the “bully pulpit” concept that our nation’s politicians occasionally mention), is perhaps the most difficult, but it is also the safest to ensure fulfillment of the church’s Biblical mission. The Lord Jesus Christ leads by personal authority and commandment. However, we are to lead by example under His direction, indeed under His “commandment”.

We often use “soundness” to refer to a person’s theological or doctrinal purity. This word appears several times in the pastoral letters. Consistently the word is translated from the Greek root for our English word “hygiene.” It refers to good health. The New Testament model of soundness applies equally to our personal conduct, including in this case the unique conduct of those who hold church offices of leadership, and to our doctrinal or theological posture. Bad health habits will inevitably lead to disease and to a compromised physical body. The same principle applies to a church body. Bad health, be it in the area of personal conduct, conduct of church officers, or theological perspective, predicts a spiritually sick, diseased, and weakened church whose survival, much less prosperity, is questionable. I will make the case throughout this series that all three areas of a church’s culture must follow the New Testament “commandment” in order to legitimately qualify as “sound,” healthy and hygienic, in the spiritual framework of a godly church.

The high marks that I set here both convict and challenge me as well as each of you. Although we must first assess our personal conduct against these “commandments,” we must never allow our humanity to compromise the objective. Indeed, I must confess that I have not at all times lived up to the Biblical qualifications for my office. How did I respond? I tried to face the conviction of conscience and work to remedy the deficiency, not alter the New Testament qualifications to accommodate my failures. I hope to perpetuate refinement in my conduct as long as I live.

With conviction and determination, I pray that this series will nudge each of us toward a more faithful and conscientious development of the New Testament model in our personal lives.

2004/04/04 What Was the Error at Ephesus?

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #14 April 4, 2004

What Was the Error at Ephesus?

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.? (1Ti 1:1-4)

If our assumption is correct that Paul left Timothy at Ephesus to correct specific deficiencies, what were they? We must begin with the premise that Paul’s letter will address the areas in which problems existed, so we look within the letter for clues to identify the problems. Rather prophetically Paul warned the elders that some of their own number would introduce problems in the church at Ephesus (Ac 20:30). What specific clues do we find in First Timothy to indicate that problems existed, what they were, and how to correct them? Here are a few clues, borrowed from Gordon Fee.1[1]

1Ti 1:3, Paul directs Timothy to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” Although at this point Paul does not name these men, he obviously has someone specific in mind. He views them as redeemable, but fallen into grave error. They are to be confronted and charged with the gravity of their current teaching.

1Ti 1:7, these men desire to be teachers, but they do not comprehend the error of their present course or the consequences of their error.

1Ti 1:19-20, Paul names two men who have erred concerning faith, men whom he “turned over to Satan,” possibly by directing their excommunication or other disciplinary measures.

1Ti 6:3-5, Paul specifically warns against errant teaching and describes the character of the false teachers who refuse the correction that he and Timothy or others offer to assist their recovery.

1Ti 3:1-13; 5:17-25; Paul defines the qualifications and conduct of godly leader-teachers in specific details. The degree of specificity that he includes in these passages offers strong indication that the church at Ephesus had in some way compromised the qualifications of leadership and had promoted unqualified men to these offices.

1Ti 2:9-15 and 1Ti 5:3-16 suggests that the false teachers found fruitful support among some of the women in the church and were backing them to the detriment of the “hygiene,” the sound spiritual health, of the church.

Perhaps the church functioned through multiple “house-churches,” small gatherings that met in the homes of individual teachers between the general gatherings of the whole assembly. If this were the case, a small group leader could easily influence the people who gathered under his teaching into error.

Fee acknowledges that the specifics of the errors are difficult to define. He makes a good case that the errors involved both behavioral as well as cognitive dimensions. However he offers several probable errors based on various passages in the letter. 1) The false teachers were involved in speculations and disputes over words. 2) They encouraged arguments and quarrels. They were proud, arrogant, and divisive. 3) Fee assigns personal greed as the root problem in these errant individuals. Godliness “is a means to turn a drachma.”

In some way they related their errant teachings to a faulty use of the Old Testament, including “myths” and “genealogies”.

There were also elements of Hellenism, particularly Greek dualism with its “dim view of the material world.”

Although the reference appears in 2 Timothy, Fee suggests that denial of the literal resurrection of the body may have also impacted this church.

The reference to “knowledge, so called” may indicate that the gnostic error that appears in Corinth and Colosse may have also invaded the church at Ephesus.

From a more global assessment of the major problems documented in the first century, Fee examines the potential that efforts to “Judaize” Christianity were part of the problem at Ephesus, as it certainly appears in Antioch and other churches mentioned in the New Testament.

The complexities of these factors seem staggering. They make our local problems seem insignificant by comparison. However, we should take courage that, despite this diversity of likely errors, Paul approaches the situation with striking optimism. The solution to these and other difficulties appears in wise leaders who insist on teaching and living the teachings of Scripture alone. Despite infectious spiritual viruses that abounded, diligent adherence to the faith set forth by the Lord Jesus will inoculate the church from these errors and will ensure a sound, “hygienic,” healthy church for generations to come. Perhaps some of Fee’s suggestions involve a stretch, but none of them is outside the probable, given the presence of all these errors in the New Testament era and culture.

Should a church reflect its culture, or should it confront its culture with an alternative New Testament culture? Despite loud protests to the contrary, many contemporary church cultures justify their existence on the basis that they appeal to and comply with the needs of our culture. From the Willow Creek experience that literally created a church culture based on a survey of “unchurched” people in the local community to the counter-culture mood of the Calvary Chapel movement to the less radical elements within contemporary Christianity, many churches assess their reason for exiting based on a personal assessment of the current culture and what they think within their esoteric assessment they can do within that culture.

On the opposite side of the spectrum we should be cautious that we do not adopt such an anti-culture disposition that we fail in our efforts to reach and to change the culture in which we exist. Many Christians, not just our own fellowship, tend to isolate themselves from the surrounding culture so that the broad culture either knows nothing of them, or it marginalizes them as “radical, right-wing, fundamentalist, extremists.” In a taped series of messages on the typology of the tabernacle and sacrifices of Levitical worship Dr. Stephen Olford complained that many of the members of the church that he then served in New York City failed when he urged them to invite non-Christian or non-Baptist friends to join them in special church services or seminars such as the one he was then conducting. He alleged that these folks intentionally avoid any social contact or substantial friendship with anyone who is not a strong professing Christian. This problem violates Jesus’ analogy of the faithful believer as being “salt” and “light” in the world. Salt cannot benefit any food unless it comes into direct contact with that food. Light demonstrates its value when exposed directly to darkness. A Christian will only have a beneficial impact on the world in which he lives by personal contact with those who live in that world. Dr. Ron Rhodes, a noted Christian apologist from southern California, makes a similar point. He alleges that the pseudo-Christian cults do now win converts by a superior Biblical interpretation, but by investing in the lives of their friends and neighbors during times of need. They are present and helpful during a time of need, thus ingratiating their friends to their religion. Rhodes offers wise counsel; historical Christians can become effective in winning people away from these cults, primarily by becoming involved in their lives and by offering sacrificial help to them in times of need. Be better than the cultists at their own practice. May we be effective Christian servants to those around us, not passive insulators from the culture.

2004/04/11 What Has God Commanded?

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #15 April 11, 2004

What Has God Commanded?

Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.? (1Ti 1:5-11)

Typically we leave the term “commandment” in this lesson in a generic setting; God has generally commanded certain things. Contextually we should not leave the passage so void of specifics. In the first verse of this letter Paul indicates that he is writing to Timothy “by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ.” The contextual presence of this term links our study verses directly to this opening statement from Paul, and requires that we view our passage as a specific explanation of Paul’s intent in writing First Timothy. It tells us what the Holy Spirit intended with the letter from Paul to his young helper on behalf of the Ephesian church.

Only in the Galatian letter do we see such abruptness in Paul’s openings as appears here. Although we see no hint that Paul is upset with Timothy, we do get the impression that he has a profound conviction of need to address; to correct a problem through Timothy’s ministry at Ephesus. Timothy is not the pastor at Ephesus, but was rather left there as Paul’s spokesman, assigned to correct certain problems that Paul discovered during his last visit. The absence of a paragraph that acknowledges thankfulness for Timothy or other such pleasantries further leads me to conclude that Paul’s letter to Timothy has a specific purpose to confront and to correct problems in this church.

Since we recently studied Second Peter, we should make an obvious notation of the differences in form or structure between Paul’s concern for false teachers at Ephesus and Peter’s concern for false teachers among his readers. Before confronting the false teachers, Peter establishes the positive factors that will assist his readers in avoiding the problem of false teachers. Then in his second and third chapters he confronts the false teachers with disarming directness. In First Timothy Paul confronts the question of false teachers immediately. The subsequent themes of the letter that appear in significant details cover practices that will ensure a sound and healthy church that is capable of avoiding the snares of false teachers. Thus in Second Peter we see the positive emphasis first followed by the negative. In First Timothy we see the negative set forth at the outset, followed by the positive.

In both Second Peter and First Timothy we see the character of the false teachers emphasized more directly than their teachings, though in First Timothy we see more of the doctrinal content of the false teachers than we see in Second Peter. From Second Peter we gather that Peter views the false teachers as depraved—in fact likely unsaved—men who are to be rejected by the church as clearly as their teachings. In First Timothy we sense that one of Timothy’s charges is to confront those who are teaching false ideas with the idea of recovering them. I believe that this difference accounts for the fact that overall First Timothy is far more positive and constructive in its tone than Second Peter. Paul wants no one at Ephesus to doubt that Timothy is his representative and that both Timothy and the church are to know without question what Paul teaches and expects them to teach. Apostolic authority clearly appears in his tone to Timothy, but the intent consistently appears that Timothy is to carry this message to convince those in error, along with the whole church, of Paul’s teaching and their responsibility.

Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” Godly teaching must grow out of a loving heart both in the teacher and the taught. Regardless of other lessons we may gain from Jesus’ interrogation of Peter after the resurrection (Joh 21:15-24), we cannot avoid the obvious point that the man who teaches God’s children with authority and blessing must do so out of a loving heart, love first and foremost for the Lord Jesus Christ, but also love for His “sheep” and “lambs.” Teaching conviction must further grow out of a pure, not hypocritical, heart. The man who teaches must believe what he teaches to be God’s truth. He must not teach with guile. He cannot intentionally mislead those whom he teaches. It is possible, though deplorable, that a preacher-teacher may intentionally mislead people to believe his errant teaching. Paul will not allow such equivocation in a teacher. A preacher should use tact, grace, and diplomacy, but Paul forbids the use of intentionally deceptive guile.

Secondly, the godly teacher must teach out of a “pure heart.” He must strive to practice what he preaches in his own life. He cannot rationalize a habit of non-compliance in his personal life with the gospel that he teaches from the pulpit.

Finally, the godly teacher must teach from a perspective of sincere, not duplicitous faith. Faith in God and authentic belief in the clear message that he teaches must characterize his whole ministry.

These three divinely inspired filters must remain constantly in the mind of the wise teacher if he is to effectively teach and lead believers in their faith and conduct. They challenge not only the teacher’s words and actions, but they equally probe his motives. Those who preach should carefully screen every message—before preaching it, not afterwards—through these tests.

Once Paul sets the filters in place for the motive and content of the godly preacher-teacher he is prepared to begin his examination of the false teachers at Ephesus. Everyone who fills the pulpit should do so from these foundational principles, but some do not. What is the likely motive or outcome of a preacher who fails any one of these tests? “From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” Paul’s first descriptive term is “vain jangling.” This term is generally defined as simply “vain talking;” Trench is more specific, “that ‘talk of fools,’ which is foolishness and sin together.” His next point confronts the spirit versus the content of the false teaching. They desire “to be teachers” of the law, but they are void of understanding either the law, which they falsely claim as their authority, or the content of their teaching from the law. This clause raises a relevant question. Is a New Testament gospel preacher’s primary objective to “teach the law”? We need not probe the tension between Old and New Testaments or law versus grace to address this question. What is the primary content of a healthy New Testament gospel? Whether we study the abbreviated copies of sermons from Acts or the theme of the various New Testament letters written by inspired men to various churches and individuals, we readily conclude that the Incarnate, crucified, risen, and ascended Christ is to be the constant pillar of every gospel message. Aside from personal character and qualifications, these false teachers at Ephesus had the wrong objective in mind. If they were marksmen on a target range, they would fail for they aimed at the wrong target. Their preaching aimed at the wrong objective.

Rather than allowing us to think that he was in any way antinomian, against the law as if it were something odious, Paul quickly focuses our attention to the divine intent in the law. God gave it, not as something to be despised and opposed, or to be neutralized into something irrelevant as the typical antinomian perspective teaches, Paul affirms that the law came from God and had (even has) a divinely approved purpose. God intended the law for at least two functions. First, based on Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, the law was designed to draw a fairly detailed analogy of the moral perfection and the priestly work of the Lord Jesus Christ, a “schoolmaster” to bring the chosen nation to Him when he arrived in human form. Secondly, as Paul outlines in our study passage, God intended the law as a clear outline of His moral character, and the moral character that He expects us to live and to urge in others. This premise explains Paul’s approach to the law in our passage. There is nothing in the law to which a godly believer should object. God intended it to confront sinners and to leave stubborn sinners without excuse in their sinful conduct. Positively, the law depicts the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Negatively, it defines sin and leaves us with a constant reminder, “carved in stone,” that God has imposed certain absolute “commandments” upon us regarding moral conduct. He did not give the law as a list of “helpful suggestions,” but as absolute moral commandments; “Thou shalt…” and “Thou shalt not….”

“…[A]nd if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.” We may legitimately engage the question as to whether New Testament believers should view themselves as “under the law” or not. Paul makes an informative case on this question in Ro 6. We may not wisely dispute that the moral implications of the law are as obligatory upon New Testament believers as Old. There is no moral or ethical conflict between the law and the gospel, between the Old Testament and the New. May we wisely respect the divine intent of the law in both particulars, and may we carefully hear its message regarding our Lord Jesus Christ in both His sinless person and His perfect sin-covering work. For a person claiming to be an authoritative teacher in the church to imply conflict or to misuse the law is, according to Paul in this lesson, inexcusable.

Paul’s ultimate authority for his teaching was not the law, but “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.” The gospel, not the law, was the basis for Paul’s epistemology, his source of knowledge and authority. The law reflects God’s moral character and His commandments to man. New Testament moral and ethical teachings harmonize perfectly with the moral content of the Mosaic Law. However, Paul rejects the notion that a preacher should “take the hearer to Sinai before showing him Calvary.” This is more the doctrine that Paul opposes than what he affirms. May we follow this wise and inspired man and his teachings.

2004/04/18 What do We Know of the Specific Errors at Ephesus?

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #16 April 18, 2004

What do We Know of the Specific Errors at Ephesus?

Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.? (1Ti 1:5-11)

Gordon Fee offers several pertinent points regarding the specifics, and lack thereof, of the false teachings that troubled the Ephesian church.2[1]

The term “other doctrine” literally means another teaching. Occasionally in the Greek culture it also referred to novel teaching. In this sense a theological “novelty” is not an innocent or poorly thought-out triviality. It more refers to a distinct perversion of the gospel. Occasionally Bible students and teachers alike will apply untested esoteric ideas to a passage that does not match the grammatical message or the historical-contextual interpretation well at all. It appears that Paul has a more insidious error in mind, though such thoughtless creative imagination should be viewed with more caution than passivity. Thoughtlessness and Biblical interpretation are dangerous partners indeed. Fee indicates that the verb tense suggests that Paul intends for those who have been teaching other doctrine to do so no longer. Rather than viewing these words as a generic prohibition, the intent is that current activity cease.

The reference to fables and endless genealogies may suggest a synthesis of Hellenistic and Jewish teachings. This unusual blend would be predictable from “Diasporo Jews,” Jews dispersed throughout the Roman Empire as contrasted with Jews who lived in Judah. They had deep Jewish roots, but they also lived in a distinctly Greco-Roman culture, so one should not be surprised to see these ideas come together in an unusual combination.

Fee rejects the likelihood of the common gnostic philosophy that apparently invaded the church at Colosse and possibly Corinth (also the recipients of 1 John). Gnosticism was a major problem to the first and second century churches, but we need not make it the only problem that existed.

R. Kent Hughes adds to Fee’s list. Adding to the fear that a sound and well-instructed church can quickly fall into error, Hughes underscores the urgency of Paul’s instructions to Timothy on behalf of the Ephesian church. 1Ti 1:19; some have rejected the message and make shipwreck of their faith. 1Ti 4:1; The Spirit specifically warns that some will depart from the true teachings and give more heed to doctrines of devils and seducing spirits than to the accepted truth of the gospel. 1Ti 5:15; some have already turned away from the truth to follow Satan. 1Ti 6:10; some will follow greed for money, piercing their spiritual selves through with a dart and griefs. 1Ti 6:21; some wander from the faith.3[2]

Whatever the specific errors may have been Paul’s emphasis on the qualifications and character of elders and deacons distinctly implies that the problem involved men who failed these qualifications. The details that Paul gives to the qualifications for church office make a point that we cannot minimize or ignore. We cannot compromise the qualifications listed without grave dangers to our churches.

Perhaps one of the major points for us, given Peter’s second letter and Paul’s first letter to Timothy, is the multitude of problems that we are liable to face as a local church, along with the variety of reactions that we should adopt to deal with them. It is easy to embrace an overly simplistic view of problems that is either too lax or too harsh. You can’t ignore cancer in your body and avoid the danger that it will eventually take your life. Neither can you ignore serious problems in your church without similar danger to the church’s survival. Pollyanna is not a good role model for churches with problems. An equal danger on the opposite side of the question is the threat to the mission of a local church from unreasonable, not to mention unscriptural, harshness and severity. You don’t amputate your arm because you discover a small splinter in your index finger. You focus on removing the splinter and healing the wound. This diversity of problems and of solutions may surface one of our most challenging problems. We have witnessed excommunication as a severe disciplinary measure, but we have largely become oblivious to any other form of possible discipline. We may have actually missed the true intent of excommunication by this attitude. “…With such an one no not to eat…” (1Co 5:11) more likely refers to eating the Communion supper than to a common meal. If so, the indication is that barring an errant member from the Communion table was an accepted form of first century church discipline, a measure that doesn’t even register with us. If we assign a low value to the Communion table, we will fail to see the appeal of such a measure to an errant member, adopting a “so what” attitude rather than viewing this measure as a grave factor to a member’s spiritual health and conscience.

Regarding the specific emphasis that Paul puts on the qualifications for the office of deacons and elders in this letter, I offer another question. Typically we view ordination to these offices as a lifelong assignment. Without question, it should be so, but what does a church do when a man who holds one of these offices no longer qualifies for the office? The accepted reaction of our generation is to ignore it. Pretend it doesn’t exist and hope that it will simply resolve itself.

Occasionally I have encountered local churches that used the office of deacon specifically as a motivational tool with young male members. “He is a good man. We should ordain him to the office of deacon and get him involved so that he will stay with us.” The New Testament’s teachings regarding this position know nothing of such a low view toward this office. Quite the opposite, Paul and other New Testament writers view the office as belonging to men who are seasoned in the faith and, by that seasoning, demonstrate a strong commitment to their faith and wisdom beyond their personal humanity regarding matters of church business and activity. “Let these things first be proved…” does not allow for the office of deacon to be used as a motivational tool for young inexperienced members.

Should a church revoke the ordination of a man who no longer meets the qualifications of either office? As radical as this question may seem, consider it only in light of Paul’s teaching in this letter. Is it possible for a church to revoke a man’s position in such a way as to help him respect the gravity of the office and the authority the church should have over his life? In New Testament times there were not several thousand varieties of “Christian” churches from which one might choose. There was one choice only. In our time this question is difficult indeed. Before taking such a step a church should work with loving patience so as to ensure the faithful endurance of the man involved and his family. Loving patience works far better than harshness in matters of church authority and discipline. Some denominations practice appointing deacons for a limited period of time rather than for life. Since the office of deacon does not involve a divine call, but rather qualifications of mature faith and the other qualities that are listed, both in Ac 6 and in Paul’s Pastoral epistles, this is a possibility that does not at all conflict with Scripture. Since the office of elder or minister does involve a divine call, it presents a church with a greater challenge. My preference would be to work long and hard with the man in this office to help him come to terms with his deficiencies and regain his Biblical qualifications.

Many years ago a leading minister in an independent church in southern California was confronted with his ungodly conduct toward a female member of the large church that he served. Upon learning that the church’s elders (This church practiced elder rule.) had undeniable evidence of his sin, this man confessed to the sin and accepted the recommendation of the elders that he step down as pastor, as well as from any form of active ministry, for a season of supervised restoration. He agreed, but within a couple of months the leader of another denomination in the area contacted this man and offered him a lucrative position in public ministry in his church. The errant preacher immediately accepted the offer. However, despite limited success in his new position, this man never regained the unclouded respect in the Christian community that he formerly enjoyed. I believe that, had he submitted to the elders in his original church and actually worked with them to repent and to regain his self-discipline, he could have been restored to far greater respect than he ever regained by his chosen course. This episode was outside our fellowship, but because I listened to this man on a local Christian radio station, his situation intrigued me. I followed it with interest over several decades.

In this case I believe the man erred so as to permanently cripple, if not terminate, his ministry by his running from his church’s efforts to help him repent and regain his ministry. I believe his original church’s approach of temporary inactive ministry, followed by supervised restoration, could have helped him regain the respect of his position in time. His avoidance of the consequences of his action revealed a deeper flaw in his person that left him permanently handicapped to full respect. According to Paul in our study lesson, the glorious gospel is committed in “trust” to a man who fills the ministry. The man who honors the office must live up to that trust and retain the respect and confidence of those to whom he serves.

Regardless of our church culture, we cannot take the teachings of Paul’s pastoral letters lightly without bringing grave danger to our church and to its divinely assigned mission. Are we prepared to live this model seriously?

2004/04/25 Beginning to End: A Gospel of Grace, Not Merit

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #17 April 25, 2004

Beginning to End: A Gospel of Grace, Not Merit

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1Ti 1:12-16)

Having established his authority, his commission to Timothy, and his obvious awareness of the problems at Ephesus, Paul is now ready to teach the doctrine and behavioral model of the gospel to the Ephesians through Timothy. Whether speaking of our salvation or of our blessings and ministry now, divine mercy and grace, not personal merit, are primary to God’s operations. Paul humbly acknowledged that the Lord counted him “faithful” in anointing him to the office of apostle, but he did not include merit in the divine prerequisites. His position was to be viewed as a matter of divine appointment, not of personal superiority.

For Christ to count Paul “faithful” is equivalent to viewing him as trustworthy. The Lord doesn’t appoint men to leadership or ministry temporarily. Desertion of one’s ministry disgraces his calling and should be viewed with gravity beyond our typical perspective. God appoints men whom He expects to live the rest of their lives in faithfulness to Him and to the ministry to which He has assigned them. I will not sit in arrogant judgment against all people outside the fellowship where I serve. I must honor the path by which God has blessed me with the knowledge that I have of His truth and the gracious experiences that I have of His mercy. He is not imprisoned in a denominational box with my name on it—or any other name. He works outside our human limitations and boxes according to His sovereign purpose and loving providence. Whatever God intends with my future, He has lead me to this point of life by the path that I have traveled. I cannot predict my future, but neither can I deny my past. Our primary assignment in ministry should be to serve where God has placed us with faithfulness. If He chooses to relocate my ministry, I am no less obligated to serve faithfully there than where I serve today. Regardless of our location or assignment, God put us into ministry with the reasonable expectation that we serve faithfully where He assigns us. My fellowship of churches includes a clause in its ordination credentials that prays for God’s blessings upon the man being ordained, “where ever God in His providence may direct his ministry.” We must not diminish this question of active faithfulness in our assignment.

When Paul identifies himself as “chief” of sinners, does he intend to communicate that he is currently as involved in sin as when he persecuted the church? No, he specifically puts all the adjectives that describe his former state in the past tense. He no longer practices those habits. The word “chief” is translated from the Greek root for our English word “proto,” as in “prototype”. Paul is the kind of sinner that models future sinners whom Christ will also save. His Damascus road experience may not be cloned in all subsequent acts of salvation, but the grace and mercy of God that intervened at the peak of Paul’s sin are prototypes of God’s saving mercy in sinners yet to be saved. It seems obvious that Paul urgently wants to move the focus away from the whole array of errors in Ephesus into the heart of the gospel. It also seems clear that Paul consciously intends to avoid any appearance of superiority. He cannot save the Ephesians from their errors by an arrogant attitude of moral superiority. By noting that he himself is the chief, prototype, of undeserving sinners saved, not meritorious saints, he takes away the long preachy finger from his message. Not only is he using his letter to Timothy to communicate to the Ephesian church directly, but he also models a gracious gospel for Timothy. As we review past efforts to confront and recover those in error against this gracious model in Paul, we wonder. Will we ever learn? Claiming moralistic high ground in an arrogant, “I’m better than you,” attitude will never regain an errant believer. It will serve more to harden them in their sin than to cause them to reflect and reconsider their course of action. The only truly successful effort to recover an erring brother or sister builds on this gracious model. Efforts to recover one from error must grow out of this basic attitude. “I am a sinner saved by grace; so are you. As one sinner saved by grace, I care for you and would like to help.”

As Paul sets himself forth, a prototype of undeserving sinners saved by a merciful God, he also sets himself forth as a model of future believers, “for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” Often great controversies regarding Biblical interpretation revolve around small simple words. Is Paul teaching that belief causes our eternal life, a common enough teaching, but an obvious contradiction to 1Jo 5:1 as well as Joh 5:24? The word translated “to” is the Greek word “eis.” It may at times define means or agency, but most often in Scripture it seems to take us in a different direction.

“’For’ (as used in Ac 2:38 “for the forgiveness…”) could have two meanings. If you saw a poster saying, “Jesse James wanted for robbery”, “for” could mean Jesse is wanted so he can commit a robbery, or is wanted because he has committed a robbery. The later sense is the correct one. So too in this passage, the word “for” signifies an action in the past. Otherwise, it would violate the entire tenor of the NT teaching on salvation by grace and not by works.”4[1]

To interpret this verse so as to mean that belief, rather than the death and work of Christ, causes our salvation is the equivalent to the first option in the above citation, that “Jesse James wanted for robbery” means that someone wants Jesse James to commit a robbery. To interpret the word according to the second option, I believe, takes us to the truth of Paul’s instruction here. We believe on Jesus Christ “with reference to,” life everlasting, something that God has already given to us. This interpretation harmonizes Paul’s teaching with the two citations from John (the Gospel and 1 John) that belief indicates a prior bestowal of eternal life. It also strengthens Paul’s parallel example. Both in his salvation and in his faith, he serves as a model for future people whom God will save and future people who will encounter the risen Christ and believe in Him as the cause of their eternal life. Authentic belief in Christ points to possessed eternal life; it does not cause our eternal life. In other words faith in Christ is evidentiary, not causative.

Paul’s position as an apostle occurred due to God’s enabling, not to Paul’s choice or decision. In my youth I frequently heard old preachers describe their ministry and others’ as God “calling and qualifying” men for the ministry. They did not intend to suggest that a man should not strive to live up to his office’s qualifications. Rather they intended to teach that a man’s calling comes from God. Then the man whom God calls He also leads to abilities beyond his human ability and experience in order to make these men a blessing to His children. A preacher who feels no burden to live up to his office’s qualifications will certainly fail those requirements. However, and more to the point of this passage, a man who considers himself to have earned his office will equally fail it.

This humble and compelling spirit in Paul distinctly separates this letter from Peter’s second letter. Rather than seeking to recover them, Peter rejects the false teachers as hopelessly enmeshed in profound error and possessed of such an evil disposition that they have no desire to change. It seems clear that, through Timothy, Paul is reaching out to believers whom he knows and loves dearly despite their present error. Throughout this letter Paul’s urgent and passionate spirit take us down this pathway. Could it be that some of the elders now involved in error were among the men who heard his warnings four or five years earlier (Ac 20:30)? He did not doubt their being children of God, but he gave no encouragement to their present course of devastating error. For any man who invests his life and energy into ministry, the greatest pain of his labor will come from the senseless departure of those whom he has taught and with whom he has enjoyed sweet and intimate spiritual fellowship.

2004/05/02 The Supreme Doxology

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #18 May 2, 2004

The Supreme Doxology

Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1Ti 1:17) Every song that begins with genuine thanksgiving (1Ti 1:12) must end with praise to God, doxology. Preeminently Paul’s parenthesis takes us from the intimately personal God who involves Himself in the salvation of the “chief” of sinners to the transcendent God who fills immensity and eternity. For every preacher whose divine assignment requires that he speak regularly to people about God and His personal involvement in our lives, there is an endless challenge. Do you wholly ignore any personal reference to self and to God’s activities in your life? Or do you make God’s grace in your life the centerpiece of your preaching? We’ve seen men who tried both strategies, typically with limited success—and limited benefit to their hearers. How then do you strike the balance? How do you discover when and how to use personal experience to confirm the greater truth of Scripture? When do you leave self out of the formula and focus your hearers’ attention on God alone? We celebrate “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, former slave trader, for its high praise to God for surprising and undeserved intervention and salvation. Yet we also acknowledge the Pauline theme, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2Co 4:5). This philosophical comment by Paul raises a certain tension in our minds as we reflect on the rare occasions, such as 1Ti 1:12-16 in this chapter, when he uses his past experience to emphasize a greater truth in the gospel that he preaches. When Paul mentions his personal experience, does he violate his allegation that he “preaches not himself”? My answer is no. While Paul occasionally uses his personal experience, especially his exceptional meeting with the risen Christ on the Damascus road, he does not “preach” himself. Rather he illustrates the truth of the doctrine that he preaches through his personal life. His “example” in salvation and faith do not call on us to worship Paul, but underscore the truth that doctrine must connect with life, with our personal life, or it is mere philosophical conjecture. When Paul mentions his personal experience, he never makes Paul the hero. Always his experience becomes the lens by which we see God’s grace more clearly. Preaching one’s personal experience for the sake of the experience easily slips into superficial emotive fog. On the other hand, never mentioning God’s dynamic involvement in our lives leaves us at times cold and wondering; does this whole thing have nothing to do with us as individuals? We celebrate Newton’s theme because he uses his personal experience, much like Paul, to exhibit God’s “Amazing Grace,” not because he makes Newton the hero of the plot. What does this staggering doxology tell us about our God? Let’s break it down and look behind it at the God whom Paul praises.

He is eternal. R. Kent Hughes defines this term, “God is the King of all ages who sovereignly governs every age before creation, after creation, to the final age, and on into eternity.5[1]” God transcends time. He is not subject to it or a creature of it. He created it.

He is immortal. Hughes explains this term, “God is not subject to decay or destruction and therefore is in the most absolute sense ‘imperishable, incorruptible, and immortal.’” Vine defines the word as “…not liable to corruption or decay, incorruptible (a, negative, and A, No. 2), is used of (a) God, Ro 1:23; 1 (A.V., “immortal”)…”.6[2] God doesn’t grow old or become less God through the passage of time.

He is invisible. The physical eye can’t see Him. Later in this letter (6:16) Paul will describe God in similar terms, “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.”

He is the “only wise God.” First and foremost He is the only God. Repeatedly in Scripture God declares His utter exclusivity as God. There is no other God. Men cannot, and will not become gods. Secondly He is wise. Wisdom is an integral attribute of His Person. He is not a foolish god. Everything He does grows out of His wise character. He cannot and will not deny Himself or His essential character. There is no schizophrenia in God. Having established the supreme character of God, Paul now moves to the only appropriate response. He is to receive honor and glory forever, now and throughout eternity. Paul does not suggest that He is deficient without our praise. Rather he affirms that He shall receive honor and glory without question.

Fee describes 1Ti 1:12-17 as a “diversion” from the problems at Ephesus.7[3] I prefer to view them as altogether an integrated part of Paul’s objective to confront and to correct the problem. Obsession with personal ideas, particularly “myths and endless genealogies,” can only detract from the true gospel’s primary objective, to honor and to glorify God. These teachings detract people from the gospel’s essential purpose. Who is right? Who is wrong? What is the truth? Why is your interpretation different from his? Paul warns us that these false teachings lead to endless questions. Not only do they lead to endless questions about what truth is, they also lead to endless questions about the personalities involved. We live in a dangerous era related to this precise point. In the marketplace of ideas, even the sub-marketplace of Christian ideas, we literally face thousands of different options. Sincere and studious men, even scholars, differ on major theological and textual points. All cannot be right. Many believers become confused and disenchanted, eventually giving up on discovering Biblical truth. They simply replace Scripture with their personal sincerity. Personal opinion becomes the final authority. This option is far more akin to the New Age religion than to Biblical or historical Christianity. “My truth” and “your truth” may be contradictory, but it doesn’t really matter. If not checked, this attitude is frightening for the future of Christianity. No individual believer is capable of comprehending the totality of God. Paul makes that point for us. However, Paul rejoiced—indeed, he worshipped God—precisely because of His transcendence. We should follow Paul’s example. Didn’t he make that point in this context?

I am grateful for a heritage that is fiercely devoted to Biblical supremacy for our source of knowledge and spiritual truth. I am also grateful that my heritage reached outside its walls and celebrated truth, regardless of the denominational affiliation of the writer. My uncle preached in my fellowship for over forty years. When I inherited his library, I was at first somewhat surprised that he had more titles from non-Primitive Baptists than from our own writers. To be sure, he referred to some of these titles to clearly understand error from its source, not secondary sources, but he also had many titles that presented the doctrines of Scripture positively from outside our fellowship. Heaven will not be subdivided into small denominational compartments, as if any particular denomination will think that they are the only people in heaven. The Biblical description of heaven describes a uniform gathering under the throne of the one God Who is “eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God.” Paul does not exhort us to praise him forever and ever. He specifically affirms that He shall have honor and glory forever and ever. There is no question or doubt. For Paul, as well as for us, God’s certain honor and glory are specific cause for a doxology that stretches our words and minds. To Him be the glory.

2004/05/09 Hold Your Course

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #19 May 9, 2004

Hold Your Course

This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.? (1Ti 1:18-20)

Is it possible for someone to indulge in error with a “good conscience”? It seems rather obvious that Paul viewed the two proponents of error at Ephesus to have done so. The faithful preacher should conduct his ministry from the dual vantage point of solid faith and a good conscience. No problem with these men’s consciences, but Paul charges them with a shipwrecked faith. He couldn’t know their conscience, but he could well know their faith. For New Testament writers, faith is not a mystical, trusting blind leap into darkness. It is more a leap out of darkness into light. It stands on the solid foundation of God’s character and stated promises in Scripture, not on esoteric “revelations” or “impressions.”

Paul urges Timothy to recall his original calling and ordination, the “prophecies” that went before on him. Rather than deciding that he learned a “different truth” (a façade for embraced error), Paul charges Timothy to hold that original course in which he was charged at his ordination. We may well grow in our knowledge, but we should be incredibly cautious when we consider growing “away” from established Biblical truth. In a fellowship that respects its historical roots such as mine, we must wrestle cautiously with history versus Biblical revelation. We must realize the ever-present danger of allowing history or historical beliefs and practices to supercede Scripture. “They did it a hundred years ago; that is good enough for me” is not sufficient for the Biblical model. Either we embrace Scripture alone as our rule of both faith and practice, or we don’t. Rather than interpreting Scripture through our history, we should interpret our history through Scripture. Historical beliefs and practices will invariably drift, not remain stable and consistent. Scripture is the reliable constant that should assess our historical views and correct them when necessary.

A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, refers to the word “charge” in this lesson as a banking metaphor. We routinely use our bank accounts in money transactions. We deposit our money in a bank whose reputation and reliability we trust. Every month we receive a full accounting of every penny in our account. How much went into the account and how much was taken out of it, along with where it went, are reported to us. If the bank statement doesn’t balance, we quickly get in touch with the bank to see what happened. Sadly, many Christians who view themselves as altogether conscientious do not have such a clear view of their faith or of their role in their Christian service. Many otherwise sincere leaders actually think that they can pretty much worship and minister according to their own private ideas, conscience instead of faith. For them Scripture is too remote, too unclear, and too non-specific, to be of any real help in the way that they serve. According to Paul, our ministry belongs to God, not to us, and we must account to Him for every aspect of its activities. If every pastor and every deacon were so faithful and devoted to Scripture—Scripture alone—for the manner in which they serve in their office, we would see a vastly different church in the world than we see today. When men followed God so clearly, Christianity’s enemies reported of them that they “turned the world upside down” (Ac 17:6). Our stubborn doing Christianity our own way has caused our enemies in our culture to marginalize us as altogether irrelevant to the society. If we wish to alter that impression, perhaps we should return to the Biblical model of faith. View our charge as a banking trust.

Keeping with this idea of charge or trust, Paul introduces two additional metaphors in these verses. The first metaphor is that of a soldier engaged in war. A soldier goes to war under the directions of a commander. He does not make up the rules of engagement. He does not decide on the strategy of the battle. He takes directions from his superior.

So in the field of ministry and church leadership we are instructed to follow the directions of the Lord Jesus Christ as documented in Scripture, not think and act according to our own preferences or personalities.

The only good warfare is one fought according to the directions of the commander.

Paul’s second metaphor relates to a ship steering a predetermined course across a body of water. For a church leader-teacher to turn from the clear teaching of Scripture is the equivalent of a ship’s captain ignoring the course that he has charted and all knowledge that he has of the waters in which he sails, going in his own direction without regard for the available knowledge that he could gain of the waters and of his charted course. Here, no less than in the metaphor of warfare, submission to a higher authority and purpose forms a required part of the analogy. The captain of the ship is not on a pleasure cruise, directed by nothing more than his personal desires. He is on a mission that was decided by another. He has been charged with a valuable cargo that belongs to others. His charge is to deliver the cargo safely to the designated port. Do you suppose that Paul intended to emphasize to Timothy that God has given us quite specific directions as to the objectives and strategies of our ministry? I rest my case. The content of our preaching, along with the methods and objectives of church leadership come to us clearly in Scripture, so we are not to teach or lead according to our personal private objectives.

In the case of these two men Paul charges that they ignored their charge and made shipwreck of their faith. In 2Ti 2:17-19 Paul mentions Hymanaeus and another man who fell into grave error by alleging that the resurrection had past already. Not only did their shipwreck destroy their faith, Paul grieves that they also overthrew the faith of other believers as well. For someone to imitate this error today is as equally grave as it was when Paul confronted it in the first century. Scripture clearly teaches a final resurrection and general judgment of all mankind at the end. To twist Scripture into teaching that this epochal event has already occurred and that we are living after it, so it has no comfort or relevance for us could hardly be more unacceptable to sound Biblical doctrine.

What does Paul intend by his comment “…whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme”? I offer two sides to this point. First of all Paul had confronted and rejected these two men. Most commentators believe that “delivered unto Satan” likely refers to excommunication or some form of severe church discipline. As an apostle, Paul may have exercised more authority in this situation than the present-day pastor should claim. We may well accept the point that an apostle could impose such direct authority in a church. We should not use this event to justify dictatorial pastors attempting to imitate them. The office of pastor and the office of apostle are clearly distinct positions. We still honor the apostles through Scripture as our authority, but we should never use their authority to distort the offices of preacher-pastor or deacon into a despotic or unquestioned authority.

My second point from this verse is surprisingly positive. Unlike the false teachers whom we examined in 2 Peter, Paul views these men as recoverable. Whatever Paul intended by “turning” them over to Satan, he intended a positive outcome, “that they may learn not to blaspheme.” These men had the ability to learn of their error and to recover their faith from its devastating shipwreck.

Can you imagine that Hymanaeus was present when Paul spoke his parting words to the elders at Ephesus in Ac 20? He was a good man and sound in his faith and teaching. What happened to get him so far off his course? The error is unacceptable. The impact on others and on the valuable “charge” committed to him has been misappropriated. If your local bank sent you a monthly statement that showed several hundred dollars short of your records, how would you react? You would first contact the bank to learn why the error occurred. How would you react if the banker acknowledged the error and then explained it by saying that he had some personal needs for money, so he appropriated your funds for his use? You would immediately remove all your funds from this untrustworthy bank. Then you would report him to the authorities for fraud. Why should we view our charge as leaders of the church with any less responsibility than we expect from our local banker? May we follow Paul and his charge to Timothy in unquestionable faithfulness.

2004/05/16 A Praying People

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19,Nu 20 May 16, 2004

A Praying People

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour. {1Ti 2:1-3}

Our passage covers some interesting questions. How do you distinguish the various words used to refer to prayer? Apparently there must be some difference between them. Let’s take a brief survey of the words.

1. Supplications. Need, indigence, want, privation, penury; a seeking, asking, entreating, entreaty to God or to man.

2. Prayers. Prayer addressed to God.

3. Intercessions. A falling in with, meeting with, an interview, a coming together, to visit, converse or for any other cause, that for which an interview is held, a conference or conversation, a petition, supplication.

4. Thanksgiving. Thankfulness, the giving of thanks.

Don’t miss any of the nuances of meaning between each word. Especially think of the words in terms of your prayers for others, particularly those in civil authority. The objective of the prayers in this context is "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty."

Frequently the casual Bible reader will become detracted by seemingly universal sounding words, in this case "all men." As Paul expands and defines his intent, he specifically mentions governmental leaders. One might ask, "Does this mean that I am to pray, intercede with God for, and thank God for Sadam Hussein or other evil world leaders?" I believe the answer is no. Paul is quite specific in the objective for these prayers. We are not to pray for one political party over another unless one party forsakes Biblical morality (In most cases both do so.). The objective goes beyond the party spirit. Our prayers are for divine intervention with one purpose in mind, that we may live our lives quietly, peaceably, and to the honor of our God. Secondly, the term "all men" can mean more than one thing. It can mean all men without exception, brown, yellow, black, and white; rich or poor; powerful or irrelevant to our lives altogether. This idea makes no sense when compared with Paul’s stated objective for our prayers. A second meaning, and more consistent with the context of this passage, refers to all kinds of men. This idea means that you pray for the President, Senators, U. S. Congressmen, judges, governors, policemen, local governmental officials, etc. (and regardless of their political party affiliation!). With the stated objective of an orderly civil government that enables believers to live their lives peacefully to the honor of God, this meaning fits the context and appears logically appropriate to the passage.

The second question that the passage sets before us is this. Does Paul intend to teach us that believers’ prayers will actually change the course of civil government? And to this question I answer an emphatic yes. That is precisely Paul’s point. There is no Biblical assurance of answered prayer when we pray selfishly. If you pray for one political candidate to win the election because he is handsome and charismatic, don’t expect your prayer to be answered. If you pray for one candidate because he belongs to your favorite political party, regardless of his moral character or ethical conduct, don’t expect God to answer your prayer. God does not bend His moral character because of the personality or political party affiliation of anyone. Moral failure is sin before God, whether committed by the President, the Speaker of the House, or the local vagrant. God will not bless any person who practices sin, regardless of their social or political standing. If we truly expect and believe that God will hear and answer our prayers to bless civil leaders for the benefit of godly people, we must pray in harmony with that objective. If we want God to impose an "other worldly" high character onto our culture, we must start by living, and praying, in keeping with that moral high ground.

Our culture presently stands on the threshold of a crucial need for just such prayers. We may face the time when civil authorities will enact laws that require churches to treat gay and heterosexual people alike on the premise of "alternate" lifestyles that should not be "discriminated against." Our political culture is morally blind. It sees no moral issue whatever in the way a person lives. Would you be content to have a gay pastor (or woman if gender discrimination is forced upon churches) preach to you on Sunday morning? Would you like to hear a sermon on Sunday morning that tells you that we should fiercely defend the rights of women to have an abortion on demand? We have enjoyed an unusual liberty in this country for centuries because a group of people in the seventeenth century approached the task of setting up a civil government from their knees. They prayed earnestly for God’s direction in the process of setting up our country. Many of the "founding fathers" were actually pastors of various churches in their communities. We are already seeing many of the speeches and writings of the founding fathers subjected to fierce revision to eliminate any reference to God, despite the undeniable evidence of what they said and wrote regarding their dependence on God for their decisions.

We need to regularly engage in just such prayers as Paul urged in this lesson for our country. If Christian people of all stripe were to start a wide program of regular prayer for godly leaders and godly decisions and laws to be enacted, I truly believe that we would see a transformation in our national government.

We quickly shine the spotlight on the moral derelicts in high political office. We must not forget that our national and local governments also have many devout Christian men and women in positions of authority. They need all the prayer support that we can give them to make their influence felt in our government. Yes indeed, a host of praying people can change the face of government overnight.

In the Old Testament God established both civil government and a system of worship under His direction and authority. The hygienic rules that God gave to Israel were literally centuries ahead of medical science at the time. God instituted just laws regarding care and protection for the downtrodden and the poor. He did all of this without a federal bureaucracy and countless administrative layers, much less an endless supply of funds. His civil government to Israel was every bit as successful as His form of worship was to their survival and anticipation of our Lord Jesus in human flesh.

I do not advocate that we abandon our form of government and adopt a theocratic form of government. I offer the fact of Old Testament civil government as an example of God’s institution of civil government as part of His creative and supreme governmental rule over the world that He created. "The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will". {Pr 21:1} Is God weaker-less God-today than in Solomon’s time? Has He in some way restricted or limited His sovereignty over humanity, including civil government, compared with His rule over it then? The answer must be no. The God of the Bible is immutable, unchangeable. He is the same God that He was on the first day of creation in Ge 1. The collapse of moral fiber in our culture cannot be laid to His charge. We have marginalized our faith by limiting God in our minds, by habitual refusal to pray for God to show His rule in civil government, and by voting for candidates for civil office based on political party or personality instead of based on their respect for God and moral integrity. We sowed the wind, to borrow from Scripture, and we have reaped the whirlwind. {Ho 8:7} God seldom intervenes against the law of sowing and reaping. He allows us to make our choices, but He also allows us to reap the consequences of our foolish and immoral decisions, no less in civil government than in our private life of faith.

Despite frightening erosion in the moral fiber of our nation, our political leaders, and governmental institutions, I truly believe that the prayers of godly people can profoundly change our country for the better. Are you willing to start the habit of regular prayer today with this objective in mind?

Elder Joe Holder

2004/05/23 A Saving God

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19,Nu 21 May 23, 2004

A Saving God

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. {1Ti 2:3-6}

This passage frequently surfaces in the ongoing debate among Christians as to election and salvation. Does God actually want every human being without exception to be saved?

Those who hold to this view must face their own set of problems with the idea. Did God devise the system of salvation before creation, knowing its results-how many people would be saved and how many would not? And if He knew that a small percentage of humanity would realize actual salvation based on His chosen system (the typical view of those who hold to God’s universal "wish" for all mankind’s salvation), why did He institute such an ineffective system? Why didn’t He create a more efficient method of saving people? We have the assumption that God really wants every human being to be saved, but yet He instituted a pathetically ineffective system of salvation, knowing in advance its utter failure to accomplish His "wish". This idea is simply not reasonable, given the sovereignty of God.

We further have the conflict between this idea and such passages as Job 23:13, "But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth." The conflict between the idea and this passage is irreconcilable. Does God wish the salvation of all mankind, while forcing Himself to accept the sad outcome of the system that He instituted? Or does He do whatever His soul desires? It can’t be both ways.

We also must deal with the various passages that teach the doctrine of election and make it a matter of God’s choice, not man’s decision. This theological perspective imposes even more tension onto the situation. We have a God who specifically chooses a certain finite number of mankind to salvation, but He really "wishes" that all of humanity would be saved.

John Owen, the old Puritan theologian is credited with originating this sequence of questions and answers to deal with the various options regarding the question, "For whom did Christ die?"

1. He died for all the sins of all mankind.

2. He died for some of the sins of all mankind.

3. He died for all the sins of some of mankind.

Now let’s go back over each option and see how it works out. Most contemporary Christians will strongly assert that they believe in the first option, but Owen’s reasoning demonstrates that they actually do not.

1. He died for all the sins of all mankind. The only logical conclusion to this idea is the universal salvation of all mankind. If Jesus truly died for all the sins of all mankind, there is nothing that can prevent their eventual salvation. Universal salvation of all mankind is inevitable. Only a few people actually believe in universal salvation, so what is the problem?

2. He died for some of the sins of all mankind. Most of the folks who state that they believe in #1 above will avoid the conclusion of universal salvation by stating that God requires man to make a decision, accept Him in faith, believe the gospel, or do something cognitive and in response to faith in order to actually realize the salvation that God wants them to have. When asked the question, "Do you believe that a person’s failure to respond to God or to the gospel in faith constitutes a sin?" they will readily answer yes. Then the next obvious question, if they truly believe in Owen’s first premise is "Did Jesus die for their sin of unbelief?" This question forces the point. They actually do not believe in the first idea. They believe that Jesus died for all the sins of all mankind except for the sin of not believing in God and accepting the gospel message. Therefore they actually believe that Jesus died for some of the sins of all mankind. When confronted with this point, they quickly realize that this idea cannot find Biblical support. It is the least tenable of the three, but it is actually what they believe.

3. He died for all the sins of some of mankind. This idea builds on the doctrine of Biblical election. God chose out of the whole of mankind those whom He would save, not out of merit on their part, but out of mercy and grace on His part. Please note; those who believe in the Biblical doctrine of election do not believe that election saves anyone. Rather they (we) believe that election marked out or identified those whom God chose to save through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only Savior of sinners. Jesus covers those thus chosen of God in Christ wholly by His substitutionary sacrifice. He died for all of their sins without exception or reservation. Of Owen’s three, this option matches the teaching of Scripture more precisely than either of the others. It leaves God in charge of salvation, and its results bring God’s desire and the outcome of His system of salvation into perfect harmony. Exactly the number chosen of God shall surely realize the salvation to which God chose them. This view does not leave the saved sinner free to live in sin or to ignore God’s commands. It lays the foundation for the saved sinner to live freely and joyfully to the glory of His merciful Savior and to actively engage in the work of spreading the good news about who Jesus is and what He has done.

"...Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." How then do we explain this point? In the last chapter we examined the term "all men" in terms of Paul’s exhortation to prayer for civil leaders. Rather than referring to all mankind without exception (Most of humanity has nothing to do with civil government, so by definition they are excluded from this particular prayer exhortation.), it seems obvious that Paul’s intent in that verse refers to all kinds of men in governmental positions of authority, from the President to the local city councilman.

Good exegesis requires a logical and reasonable conclusion that Paul’s use of the same term in the same context carries a compatible meaning. Thus if in the first instance Paul intended that we pray for all kinds of men related to governmental authority, in this instance he intends for us to understand that it is God’s desire or will that all kinds of men (as opposed to all mankind without exception), including but not limited to all kinds of men in governmental authority, be saved. Contextually this idea harmonizes with Paul’s teaching, and it also avoids the inconsistency of making God’s "wish" and His actual system of salvation contradictory.

We find additional evidence for this interpretation. First, Paul immediately takes us from salvation to the divine means of salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. It is not man’s decision, but Jesus’ mediation that saves us. Any number of people will hold firmly that Jesus is the only Savior, but that He employees "agents" or "means" to convey salvation to individuals. Look up the word translated "Mediator" in this passage. It is generally defined as "means." Jesus is God’s only agent or means of our salvation. God intends an invaluable work in faith and in the gospel, but He does not intend them to serve as surrogate agents or means. Paul clearly affirms that the Lord Jesus Christ is God’s only "agent" or "means" in our salvation.

Additionally, Paul adds another corroborating point, "...to be testified in due time." If in fact God wishes the salvation of all without exception, why would there be any need to wait till the resurrection to see the actual results of God’s salvation plan? Their presence in the resurrection at His right hand will be a factual testimony of God’s eternal purpose in salvation? When we see them at His right hand, their presence will testify that Jesus gave Himself a ransom for their sins.

The statement, "Who gave himself a ransom for all," must be in some way qualified. The person who claims to believe that Jesus died for all the sins of all mankind-but who eventually faces the reality that he/she actually believes that He died for some of the sins of all mankind-must walk away from this verse. He/She really doesn’t believe that Jesus gave Himself a ransom for all without qualification. They qualify their view by reserving the sin of unbelief, "unfaith," or failure to accept God’s offer in the gospel. Thus at the core of the question, they reject the universal interpretation of this statement.

Those who hold to a wholly Arminian view of the passage equally qualify the passage. They join the first group in their reservation about Jesus giving Himself a ransom for all the sins of all mankind. Their view effectively holds that Jesus gave Himself a ransom for all, but ransomed none unless they accept the terms of His offer of ransom to them. Thus they directly deny that Jesus actually gave the ransom price at all. The view of those who hold to Owen’s third premise, that Jesus died for all the sins of some of mankind, offer, I believe, a more reasonable qualification to this passage. Jesus gave Himself a ransom for all kinds of men, but not for all mankind without exception. The actual identity of those for whom Jesus gave Himself a ransom will be testified in due time, at the resurrection and judgment when they appear with Christ in resurrected and glorified bodies.

Thus what appears to be a universal passage is not actually accepted by most Christians as factually as they claim to believe it. If you make the statements in this context literal and divorce them from Paul’s earlier comment regarding prayer for all men, you force yourself into the universal salvation view, that all of mankind will in fact be saved eventually. This view is so alien to Scripture that few indeed hold to it.

Central to the passage and to Biblical doctrine is the work of Jesus as the only Mediator between God and man. We cannot embrace a theology that adds endlessly to the list of mediators in the salvation process. Whatever we believe at the end of the day, we must embrace the clearest statement in the passage, the exclusive mediatorship of the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot adopt a compromised theology that makes any other being or force function as mediator; not the gospel, not the faith or other actions of the sinner. Nothing can serve as the true Mediator between God and man other than the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Owen’s third premise honors Christ in this role and, I believe, states the true teaching of Scripture regarding our salvation. May we praise Him for unmerited salvation and mercy.

D. A. Carson makes a core observation regarding this lesson. "In the context of 1Ti 2, Paul is anxious to stress divine compassion towards all people irrespective of race, status or condition. Probably he is combating a tendency towards elitism that tries to limit God’s compassion inappropriately." {1} The elitist spirit would more than justify the points that we made above regarding the various possible interpretations of the apparent universalistic terms. Rather than supporting universalism, with the significant problems related to that interpretation, it seems far more likely that Paul is indeed combating a growing elitism within the early church. Throughout Acts and subsequent New Testament letters we constantly encounter the ongoing tension between Jews and Gentiles within the faith. If this premise is accepted, the theological tension between a universalistic "wish" on God’s part and the number of people who will actually be saved vanishes.

Roy Zuck seems to support the problem of an elitist spirit at Ephesus, though he does not embrace Owen’s third premise in his theology. "The exclusivists in the Ephesian church evidently felt that the gospel was only for Jews. This was a common problem, as seen preeminently in the case of Peter." {cf. Ac 10:9-43; Ga 2:11-13} {2}

FOOTNOTES:

{1} Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.). {1Ti 2:1} Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press. cf. confer, compare

{2} Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary: An exposition of the scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

2004/05/30 Apostolic Authority

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume 19, #22 May 30, 2004

Apostolic Authority

Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. {1Ti 2:7}

Occasionally over forty-five years in the ministry I have encountered preachers who quote Paul and imply that they have every bit the same authority as Paul. Typically this response grows out of a despotic attitude toward pastoral rule in the church. Advocates of this role for a pastor conveniently omit Peter’s requirement that both pastors and apostles lead by example, not by despotic authority. In fact Paul himself displays incredible gentleness in most of his apostolic functions. Only on rare occasions (example; his letter to the Galatian churches) does Paul assert his apostolic authority with emphasis. In the case of the present passage we must keep this verse in its context. Paul has been personally involved with the Ephesian church from its earliest existence. He has a vested personal interest in its spiritual health. Although he cannot visit them presently, he sent Timothy to Ephesus to confront and correct a growing problem that threatened the health of the church. It is important that the rebellious members at Ephesus understand that Paul has officially endorsed Timothy and charged him with his present ministry among them. By asserting his apostolic authority Paul is actually lending support for Timothy’s ministry at Ephesus.

In our last chapter we noted the potential that the tension between Jews and Gentiles that plagued so many first century churches seems to have surfaced as part of the growing problem at Ephesus. Roy Zuck (the comment from that chapter repeated here for our present context) affirms this point, "The exclusivists in the Ephesian church evidently felt that the gospel was only for Jews. This was a common problem, as seen preeminently in the case of Peter." {Ac 10:9-43; Ga 2:11-13} {1}

Paul held two unique offices in the church. Although the office of apostle was viewed as far higher than that of a preacher, Paul lists his function as a preacher, an official herald of the gospel, before mentioning his office of apostle.

What gives a man spiritual authority in a local church? Before answering the question, I will strongly assert my conviction that in our age no man should claim any authority over any church other than the one where he ministers as pastor. Other than the possible office of apostle, the New Testament knows nothing of any global or regional authority above the local church. The claim of such authority should be viewed with grave concern and forthrightly rejected. It is altogether proper for churches to respect each other, consult with each other, and work together where the need requires. Paul’s collection from various churches to help the poor saints at Jerusalem supports this concept. However, no cooperative venture can justify regional rulers in the New Testament church culture. A generation or more ago our own people commonly gathered themselves into regional "associations," local bodies of churches that worked together and held various annual or semi-annual meetings to promote fellowship and goodwill among their churches. I have never seen the rules of an association that did not clearly state, "The association shall have no authority to lord it over any of the member churches." However, with time an increasing number of associations became the vehicle for a layer of authoritative government over the member churches, a blatant violation of the precise charter of the association. It is likely that repeated violations of this prohibition are largely responsible for the demise of most associations in our time. In some areas "fellowship meetings" have replaced former associational structure. These meetings firmly avoid official business and focus their energy on the preaching of the gospel, sponsored by local churches. The meeting rotates from one host church to the other with each church leading the administration of the annual meeting that it hosts according to its preferences. Had associations so faithfully avoided lordship over churches, they would likely remain a beneficial factor among our churches today.

Paul affirms his role as apostle and teacher of the Gentiles to reinforce his charge to Timothy at Ephesus. In 2Ti 2:24-25 Paul forbids a despotic strife-laden attitude in a preacher. Even Paul practiced leadership by example. Therefore, the men who claim Paul as their authority, but who exercise near-despotic rule over a church, violate the practice of the man whom they claim.

Strong defines the Greek word translated "verity" in this passage.

"1 objectively. 1a what is true in any matter under consideration. 1a1 truly, in truth, according to truth. 1a2 of a truth, in reality, in fact, certainly. 1b what is true in things appertaining to God and the duties of man, moral and religious truth. 1b1 in the greatest latitude. 1b2 the true notions of God which are open to human reason without his supernatural intervention. 1c the truth as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of his purposes through Christ, and respecting the duties of man, opposing alike to the superstitions of the Gentiles and the inventions of the Jews, and the corrupt opinions and precepts of false teachers even among Christians. 2 subjectively. 2a truth as a personal excellence. 2a1 that candour of mind which is free from affection, pretence, simulation, falsehood, deceit." {2}

This definition, quoted in its entirety to give you a full sense of the nuances of its meaning, requires every preacher to conduct his ministry with a sincere openness that honors God and that builds integrity and credibility in his personal conduct. When a man allows himself to become the primary theme of conversation or controversy, he has violated the spirit of his calling and ministry. He may have well violated the "verity" with which Paul affirmed his ministry. This model, affirmed throughout the New Testament as a requirement of ministry, also forbids any man from using guile or intentional deception of any kind in any way in his ministry and teaching. This emphasis on a man’s sincere openness in his ministry stands in obvious contrast with the character that Peter exposes in the false teachers that he confronted. {2Pe 2} In fact Paul’s affirmation in First Timothy of the character and qualifications of church leaders consistently exhibits the distinction between the false teacher and the true.

Now shall we return to the question I posed at the beginning of this discussion? What gives a man spiritual authority in a local church? Some will answer that ordination itself bestows this authority. I reject this idea. A man who is not living up to his calling and Paul’s stated qualifications for church office has no authority-and should not have it-in the church. His failure to live up to the qualifications of his office shames his position; he certainly cannot claim official authority while failing the office.

Others may claim that they are living up to the qualifications of their office, so they claim authority almost indiscriminantly. This attitude sidesteps the leadership model that consistently appears throughout the New Testament. Leadership by example avoids claiming authority. It justifies its influence by integrity and conduct without the need to claim authority as justification. Quiet leadership by example may not be as exciting or dramatic as other forms of leadership, but it fosters godly health and respect throughout the whole church culture. If the pastor teaches the church on giving, he need not trumpet his personal giving habits, but the church must be aware by his example that he lives what he teaches. A preacher who never gives the church a penny cannot teach on giving with any true authority. In fact any effort to do so exemplifies hypocrisy, not leadership. The same principle applies to every other aspect of a man’s ministry. Leadership by example means just that. You don’t expect people to do what you tell them because of position, ordination, or the office that you hold. You expect them to follow your personal example. Practice first; lead next. This is the Bible rule of leadership.

Elder Joe Holder

FOOTNOTES:

{1} Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

{2} Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible: Showing every word of the text of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurrence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (SGreek: 225. aletheia). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.

2004/06/06 A Praying People

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, #23 June 6, 2004

A Praying People

I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. {1Ti 2:8-10}

What is your personal prayer habit? Do you have a particular place where you typically pray? Some Christians dedicate a particular place in their homes to prayer, their private "prayer closet." Others pray wherever they are as they realize the need for prayer. There is no absolute Biblical rule on this question. We obviously have multiple Biblical encouragements to pray regularly. Jesus mentions a prayer closet, but here Paul specifically opens the question of location as broadly as possible. Men are to pray everywhere, not just in one dedicated location.

Frequently we overlook the insignificant issues in Scripture as if they didn’t matter at all. In a particular way of thinking the fact that something appears in Scripture makes it significant. In this passage what is the role of "lifting up holy hands," of "without wrath and doubting"? D. A. Carson integrates these three factors into an instructive lesson on prayer.

"First, the lifting up of holy hands suggests a believing approach, true holiness being attainable only through the righteousness of Christ. Secondly, true prayer cannot exist side by side with anger. Thirdly, prayer and disputing do not go together. Our attitude to others does affect our approach to God." {1}

Have you ever tried to pray while you were angry with someone? If so, you quickly realized the utter impossibility of the effort. Paul confronts personal holiness, anger, and unbelief in an impressively efficient manner. Insignificant? Hardly, these three simple words capture our attention and direct us to the heart of effective Biblical prayer.

"In like manner also...women." Paul expects no less of prayer from women than from men. There is no double standard with Paul here. Occasionally conservative Christian subcultures will place more emphasis on the way women dress than the way they live. They will require a strict dress code of women, using such passages as this to load their women with guilt if they refuse to follow the protocol. The Bible normally contains the best antidote available to imbalanced interpretations. Let’s take a brief look at this lesson from the extreme perspective of dress code. Women should dress modestly. No problem here with most folks, including Christian women. Women should dress with shamefacedness and sobriety. First we need to understand the words and then Paul’s intent. Although the Greek word translated "shamefacedness" can refer to shame, it can equally refer to "...honour, modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect." {2} No doubt Paul had this broader meaning in view with this word. Once we understand the word, few Christian women indeed have any desire to dress so as to show dishonor or disrespect for their faith. The word translated "sobriety" obviously can refer to one’s refusal to drink alcoholic beverages excessively, but it also means soundness of mind and self-control according to Strong.

We are getting to the heart of the matter; "...not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array." Does Paul intend to imply that a Christian woman cannot braid her hair or wear jewelry of any kind? This is the teaching of groups who place emphasis on dress code and use this passage and a similar lesson from 1Pe 3 as supposed Biblical authority. If Paul intended to forbid any form of braided hair or jewelry, he also forbad clothing! The folly of the interpretation appears with this last prohibition.

As with so many other passages, the lesson flows far more easily when we allow it to lead us and speak to us instead of forcing our ideas onto it. Paul’s point takes us to the ongoing debate between the external and the internal of Christian conduct. No amount of external ritual and dress can make up for an internal godly spirit. His point matches the context far better when viewed as urging that women (and men for that matter) allow their internal Christian spirit to mark them, not external styles and dress. Men and women who profess godliness should be known for their good works, not for their unique dress or styles.

Roy Zuck affirms this point. "Instead of stressing external beauty, according to the world’s standards, Christian women should manifest a different set of values. They should adorn themselves with (lit., "by means of") good deeds. They should depend on their faithful service in the name of Christ to render them attractive to others. This was no plea for women to make themselves unattractive; it was simply an exhortation to reject the world’s yardstick for measuring beauty and adopt heaven’s standard." {1Sa 16:7} {3}

"Feminist" groups, even within Christianity, often ostracize Paul as being anti-woman. If you compare Paul’s view of women in the church with the dominant view within his culture, you will quickly realize how unfair and inappropriate this caricature is. Not only did Paul magnify the vital role of women in the church, he frequently worked specifically with them and commended their work to others. In this lesson he affirms an equal role between men and women in prayer. "In like manner also..." puts men and women on the same platform in prayer. God doesn’t check a believer’s gender before considering whether to answer a prayer or not. Over the years of my personal ministry I have heard fully as many experiences of answered prayer and exceptional, supernatural blessings that resulted from women’s prayers as from men’s; maybe more.

This whole lesson tugs at our sensitivity. What characterizes a Christian? What is it about someone that leaves a positive impression in the mind of a neighbor, friend, or work associate? Paul precisely makes the point for us. If a Christian elevates hairstyle, makeup, and dress to the point of making these items his/her identifying characteristics, his/her Christian profession just dropped out of sight. For a man we might add the make and model of the car he drives. For either or both men and women we could add the address of their home. Do they live in an exclusive neighborhood or one block away from the slums?

Remember that Paul is equipping Timothy to confront problems in the church at Ephesus. We could quickly gather that cultural issues involving dress and personal identity formed a significant part of the problem. Most major Roman cities had no less elitism than any modern major city with which we are acquainted. Years ago I worked for a couple of years in a suburban city that was known for its elitism. Within this city the citizens subdivided the whole city into merit sectors by the name of the tract of homes where people lived. If you lived in one tract of homes, you simply didn’t belong among the "beautiful" people of the city. If you lived in another tract, you could just about be a renegade, but a nice car, expensive clothes, and a salon hairstyle gave you all the credentials that you needed. You belonged. Paul would not have fit well into this kind of culture. For him it was not the ideal culture; it was the problem. Apparently this problem of elitism became a major factor in the first century church. Consider James confrontation of elitism in his admonition that the church refuse to allow "respect of person’s" to influence the way they treated people in the church gathering. He describes assigned seating in the church gathering based on the way a person dressed. The greater portion of Jas 2 addresses this problem. How do people know you; by your dress and external trappings, or by your faith? What we wear inside will show outside.

Elder Joe Holder

FOOTNOTES:

{1} Carson, D. A. (1994), New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.). {1Ti 2:1} Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.

{2} Strong, J. (1996). The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Showing every word of the test of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurrence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (SGreek: 127. aidos). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship. lit. literal, literally

{3} Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary: Anxposition of the scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

2004/06/13 Women Teachers

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, #24 June 13, 2004

Women Teachers

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. {1Ti 2:11-15}

In recent years the question of women preachers has prompted heated debates among various Christian groups, some of them historical and reasonably conservative. What was Paul’s intent with this lesson? In the matter of prayer he makes no difference. Both men and women are to pray for civil leaders and for each other. It seems clear from the whole context that Paul has moved from the more general issues on his mind toward a very specific problem. Immediately following these verses he provides a comprehensive list of qualifications for both the office of minister/preacher and deacon. Most churches that find themselves in problems among the membership also have problems with their leadership. Typically a church will reflect the attitude and personality of its leaders. For this reason its leaders must work to maintain a consistent and faithful pattern of leadership and of personal discipleship. There may well have been a problem in the church at Ephesus with women who claimed a position as teachers or preachers. Paul typically doesn’t set up straw men and tear them down. He confronts real issues.

The leading argument of those who advocate allowing women to serve in the office of minister/preacher is that Paul’s objection in this passage, as well as his similar objection to women assuming a similar role in the Corinthian church, {1Co 14:34-35} related to a local cultural problem. They suggest that neither passage specifically imposes a perpetual rule against women in the role of preacher. I do not approve of woman bashing in any role, particularly in the Lord’s church, so I will not make this point primary to this chapter. However, it is important that we deal with the question in a Biblical and reasonable manner. Many years ago I visited on occasion with a pastor of another denomination who advocated strongly the acceptance of women in any office or role in the church, especially that of pastor/preacher. He served as a good spokesperson for the feminist movement. He almost never raised the question of Biblical rule on this question. When pressed for a defense of his view in light of these two Scriptures, he offered the typical "local culture, not perpetual rule" argument. Finally in one of our visits I asked him this question, "If Paul intended this rule as nothing more than a correction of a local cultural problem, why did he use Adam and Eve as his example for the rule that he affirmed?" Adam and Eve predate distinct human cultures. By appealing to a relational issue between Adam and Eve, Paul seems to have established a general rule for the church for all time. My friend thought a few seconds and responded, "Joe, that is the strongest point I’ve heard against my position." He understood the weight of Paul’s argument; he simply didn’t want to agree with it. On the basis of Paul’s using Adam and Eve as the foundation for his rule against women in leadership roles of preacher/pastor/teacher, we cannot rightly limit the rule to these two local churches and their first century culture. I believe Paul intended this rule to apply to the Lord’s church for all time to come. As specific as he was inclined to be when dealing with problems (example, the marital problem in 1Co 5), had Paul intended to confront a local problem with a local solution, he would have introduced the specifics of the local problem and dealt with them. By introducing Adam and Eve as the examples for his rule against women preachers/teachers, Paul established a general principle to be followed by the church, regardless of age or culture.

What is the intent of women learning "in silence with all subjection"? The Greek word translated "silence" means "quietness; description of the life of one who stays at home doing his own work, and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others; silence." The point is broader than merely not permitting a woman preacher in the church. Paul establishes a specific attitude of godly business for the women in the church that prohibits "officiously meddling with the affairs of others." A woman may never consider stepping into the pulpit and still grievously violate the spirit of this lesson by being an "officious meddler" in the lives of other church members. She pretends to have special "authority" in their lives. She acts "officious," as if on an official and authoritative mission for the church. She readily volunteers her opinion whether needed or requested. She pretends to act with authority that she does not actually have.

Rather than imposing a carnal motive onto Paul, we must accept this lesson no less than we accept Eph 2:8-10 as inspired Scripture from God. Whether we know it or not, He has good reason for the rules that He imposes on His church. Whether we understand them or not, we are directed to obey His commandments. Sometimes understanding grows out of obedience, not out of intellect. Both men and women in the church should respect Paul’s inspired intent in this lesson no less than we accept the truth of Eph 2:8-10. More than once I have known of preachers’ or deacons’ wives who quietly operate so that their husbands think they are submissive in their roles, but who openly boast to other women of their ability to control their husbands without the husband even knowing that he is controlled. This rebellious spirit is a disgrace to the Biblical offices involved, and to the Biblical qualifications for those offices. Such a wife disqualifies her husband from the office that he fills.

"Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.?" What does Paul intend with this sentence? First of all he is not dealing with how men or women go to heaven when they die. "Saved" must be interpreted in terms of this context. Paul has just rejected the idea of women in roles of teaching or preaching leadership in the Lord’s church. The obvious question that follows, but remains unstated in the text is "Then of what value is a woman in the teaching ministry of the church?" Paul responds with this sentence. The woman shall be "saved" to a role of value, an altogether positive role of teaching, in the church. What is this role? How can he forbid her from teaching and immediately praise her for a positive role in teaching? She is to be a primary teacher in the home. She brings children into the world and into the home. God assigns her the role of primary teacher of her children. Consider how God always qualifies people for the role that He assigns to them. With few exceptions indeed, women have far more intuitive awareness of their children than men. Through this incredible insight God gives godly women the knowledge to teach their children in the home long before the child can profitably grasp the teaching in church from the pulpit.

What is the outcome of this divinely assigned role for women teaching in their families? If the woman teaches well, earns her "saving" badge as a profitable teacher, her children will "continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." By the life that they live they will prove every day of their adulthood that they learned life’s most important lessons from a master teacher, divinely called and assigned to teach them.

When we review the whole of Biblical instructions to the Lord’s church on earth, we discover a healthy balance that places high value on every member within their divinely assigned role. Give a master engineer the assignment of designing a machine to accomplish a defined task. He studies the task, works on the various subsystems of an efficient machine. Finally he builds the prototype and tries it out. Eventually he completes a well-working machine that does precisely what he designed it to do. We should think of the Biblical roles for every member of the church in every office or function that they fill in just this way. This is the Lord’s church, not our social engineering experiment. He designed its offices and functions according to His perfect knowledge of what He expects from His church. We may deceive other humans by role-playing instead of thoroughgoing obedience to the divine rule, but we will not deceive God. His church will work like that well designed and well-oiled machine when we follow His teachings and fill the roles that He assigned to us willingly, joyfully, and fully. When we change the rules that He gave us, we confuse the divine machinery and should not be surprised when disaster follows. Are we all willing to follow the divine rule of faith, even when it requires change in our own lives?

Elder Joe Holder

2004/06/20 Elder/Bishop: Qualifications

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, #25 June 20, 2004

Elder/Bishop: Qualifications

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice?, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. {1Ti 3:1-7}

Every time I read this list of demanding qualifications for ministry, I am amazed at the first qualification, often not actually considered a qualification at all. He desires a good "work." Emphasize the word "work" and you get Paul’s point. All too often men work at proving their calling till ordination. Then they begin to coast, and they coast for the rest of their lives. Ministry for them seems to be a hobby, something to be pursued when there is nothing else to do. If there is something else to do, rest assured that they will pursue it and neglect their ministry. If something in ministry costs money, they will find all sorts of excuses not to do it, but they will quickly announce their expectations for money. Any man who does not approach his calling to the ministry with the foundational premise that God has called him to "work" has missed his calling. An early definition for the word "ministry," used in the New Testament for both offices of minister and deacon, is to work in the dust. In an agrarian culture the idea was clear. You work in the field with such zeal and constancy that you stir up a dust, but continue to work in the dust. Here you also find the leading idea of work associated with both offices in the church.

Neither office includes the qualification that one who holds the office sits back and directs others to do his work. He leads by example, by working. Occasionally I encounter people who have become involved in "pyramid" selling schemes. Every one of these schemes works the same way. If you just talk to enough people and get them to work in your cell, you can make a fortune and not turn a hand, and you sell new people that they can do the same thing. But the scheme neglects the most basic premise. Somewhere someone has to work or no one makes money. The appeal of these schemes is that the other fellow is the one who always works. Have you ever seen officers in the church function in this way? They are great at delegating, at getting others to do their work, but they are not nearly so eager to work themselves.

Let’s briefly examine the qualifications that Paul lists for the office of "bishop" or minister.

1. Blameless; not open to censure, irreproachable. "The qualification of being ‘above reproach’ frames the other qualifications; {1Ti 3:2,7} this was an ancient way of emphasizing that the qualifications focused on this issue. Political leaders were also expected to be "above reproach," but a persecuted minority sect needed to protect itself against public slander even more than politicians did."

2. Husband of one wife. "’Husband of one wife’ no doubt means a faithful husband and presupposes marriage; such a man would be helpful in standing against the false teachers who opposed marriage {1Ti 4:3} (The injunction that married leaders be used would not apply to all situations; cf. comment on 1Co 7:8) ’Husband of one wife’ refers to one’s current marital status and behavior; validly divorced people who remarried were considered married to one spouse, the second one, not to two spouses."

3. Vigilant. Strong defines this word; "...sober, temperate; abstaining from wine, either entirely or at least from its immoderate use."

4. Sober. Strong defines the word as "...of a sound mind, sane, in one’s senses; curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate."

5. Good behavior. Strong again; "well arranged, seemly, modest."

6. Given to hospitality. And Strong again, "hospitable, generous to guests."

7. Apt to teach. Strong; "apt and skilful in teaching." A man who demonstrates no teaching skills or abilities fails the primary distinctive qualification for this office. Good intentions are not sufficient; he must demonstrate teaching ability, as well as skill in Biblical interpretation and application to the lives of the people to whom he preaches.

8. Not given to wine. "Drunken," the word suggests addiction or dependency.

9. No striker. Strong; "A bruiser, ready for a blow; a pugnacious, contentious, quarrelsome person." Rather than exhibiting skills at reasoning and teaching, this person is ready to fight at the drop of a hat. Don’t overlook that this idea easily includes someone who enjoys verbal blows, not just physical. Verbal "strikes" are far more lasting and damaging than physical blows. Quarrelsomeness is not an asset to the ministry; it disqualifies a man.

10. Not greedy of money. Strong; "eager for base gain, greedy for money." Motive seems to be the major problem here, as well as with several of these qualifications. It matters little whether the person has money and is greedy or doesn’t have it and is envious of those who do. There is an excessive emphasis on money.

11. Patient. Strong; "seemingly, suitable; equitable, fair, mild, gentle."

12. Not a brawler. Strong; "...not contentious; abstaining from fighting." Again motive seems to be central to this problem. You feel safe approaching this person with questions.

13. Not covetous. Strong; "Two occurrences; KJV translates as ‘not covetous’ once, and ‘without covetousness’ once; not loving money, not avaricious."

14. He rules his own house (home) well. Here Paul makes a pertinent point. Watch this man in his home with family members, both wife and children. If you observe his interaction with them, you can predict how he will function in a leadership role in the church. If you don’t approve of his role in his family, beware ordaining him. He will function much the same way in his church position. Strong’s definition; "to set or place before; to set over; to be over, to superintend, preside over; to be a protector or guardian; to give aid; to care for, give attention to; profess honest occupations."

15. Not a novice, one young in the faith. Strong; "newly planted; a new convert, neophyte (one who has recently become a Christian)." I would add to Strong’s idea that the man to be ordained must not be new in ministry any more than new in the faith. He must be seasoned in his work and demonstrate maturity that will not allow occasional success or blessing to "go to his head."

16. People outside the church must respect him. Otherwise he will fall into reproach and bring reproach on the church as well. Strong notes that the Greek word translated "witness" here comes from the root for our English word "martyr." The martyrs were willing to give their lives to testify or witness to their faith. Rather than compromise their faith, they were willing to give their life for the truth of the gospel; "a testifying; the office committed to the prophets of testifying concerning future events; what one testifies, testimony, i.e. before a judge." People who know the man outside his church must respect his character and personal integrity.

Any one of these qualifications challenges our conduct, but all of them combined seem quite intimidating. I understand the intimidation of those who seek to compromise the qualifications and settle for ordaining men who fall short in various particulars of the list. However, to compromise any portion of this list is no less a spiritual problem than to compromise a thoroughgoing doctrinal passage. Those who are willing, and at times eager, to compromise this list would join the first rank to oppose error in doctrine.

I am convinced that some form of compromise regarding these qualifications framed a major part of the problem in Ephesus that Paul sent Timothy to confront and correct. If Paul were to encounter those of our time who openly advocate compromising these qualifications, he would no doubt confront and oppose them as well. We must stand with or against Scripture. We must hold the offices of the church high in our regard and expect-no, demand-that those who fill the office live up to the qualifications or step down. What value is there in a man occupying the office when he and others in the church know that he does not meet the qualifications?

The posture that I advocate here is incredibly difficult, but I believe it is equally requisite for our survival as a faithful witness to Biblical Christianity. Convenience Christianity needs no more supporters; it is already overrun with its cheering section. In the process of maintaining these qualifications, and especially of confronting those who hold the office but fail the qualifications, the church should demonstrate incredible tenderness. If a man is in an office that he does not qualify to hold, he is by definition not filling an office that he could fill in the church. Thus the health of the church suffers two handicaps. First, it suffers for his failure in the office. Secondly, it suffers for his absence in the position that he could fill with benefit to the church and blessing to him. In administering its offices the church must put its most tender and compassionate "foot" forward. However, to neglect administration of its two Biblical offices and to allow men in the office who do not qualify, the church compromises its claim to Biblical authority and example in all things. Some might raise the idea that the offices are not really under the church’s supervision, so the church has no right or authority to supervise or administer the minister’s function in office. I reject this idea outright. In the most extensive lesson in the New Testament on spiritual gifts Paul specifically stated that the Lord set spiritual gifts, even the office of apostle, "in the church". {1Co 12:28} The whole church culture is to function harmoniously as a unit, as a healthy body in which all parts perform their assigned role with due consideration and regard for all other parts of the body. Paul used this specific analogy in 1Co 12. For one member of the body to refuse to fill its role and seek a role for which it is not qualified infuses confusion into a human body. It equally confuses the spiritual body of the church. Imagine in your physical body if the ear tried to function as the big toe.

The perspective that Paul develops in this lesson, as in others, requires that we take our faith, and our church, far more seriously than we typically do. Our American culture fears anyone who "takes his/her faith seriously." It is altogether respectable to go to church on Sunday morning and live with the superficial trappings of faith, but our culture considers it dangerous for anyone to really view faith as a serious matter. We will either join this superficial relativistic trend, or we will set ourselves apart as New Testament believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. The question before us, whether it relates to qualifications for office or the way we live-or don’t live-our faith in every aspect of our life, will determine our future as a church. Which will it be? How committed are we to what we say on Sunday morning?

Elder Joe Holder

2004/06/27 Deacon: Qualifications

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, #26 June 27, 2004

Deacon: Qualifications

Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. {1Ti 3:8-13}

With one exception, "apt to teach," I’d be inclined to define the qualifications for the office of deacon almost exactly the same as for the office of a minister. If we compare the two lists, we will enlighten both with added clarity. For example, can you imagine a preacher who is apt to teach standing in the pulpit and trying to deliver a sermon when he does not have a "pure conscience"?

"And let these also first be proved." You don’t ordain a man hoping that he will improve and grow into the office. He must demonstrate the qualifications prior to ordination. Strong defines the word translated as "proved" in this way, "to test, examine, prove, scrutinise (to see whether a thing is genuine or not), as metals; to recognise as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy."

"Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things." Although Paul doesn’t specifically mention the minister’s wife in the qualifications for that office, it seems a bit short-sighted to think that these qualifications should not be applied to one person as fully as to the other. Often a deacon in the church, by virtue of doing his job well, becomes aware of personal information regarding members of the church. Occasionally he will share this information with his wife. Will the deacon and his wife become the church’s gossip megaphones and broadcast private information that embarrasses and discourages members, or will they manifest a consistent disposition of confidentiality and grace that enables members to talk with them freely, knowing that their confidence is highly prized and protected? A gossiping deacon or deacon’s wife will quickly destroy a sense of safety and spiritual trust in a church. Increasingly members will protect their private lives, often taking problems that the church’s leadership could help them solve to other resources that often will do far more poorly than spiritually minded men in the church. I do not always share member confidences with my wife. Often, based on the issues, I conclude that the matter is best kept private between the member and me alone unless the member chooses to share it with others in the church. However, my wife’s sense of personal dignity and trust is such that people who know her have no anxiety that she will betray their trust or confidence.

Someone might question, "The qualification forbids the deacon’s wife being a slanderer, but what if she only speaks the truth about members?" If she speaks the truth in areas of that person’s life that should be kept private, slander has no less occurred than if the facts had been misrepresented. The member will feel no less betrayed. Consequently, not only does the deacon or minister’s work suffer, but the church’s ability to provide safe and godly assistance to its members is compromised.

"For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus." Strong defines the word translated here as "degree," "of a grade of dignity and wholesome influence in the church."

It might not be a perfect parallel, but our use of the word "degree" to refer to a certificate of higher education seems appropriate here. A person has specific learning or career goals in mind and sacrifices money and time to go to a school that will provide the appropriate training. Eventually when the person has completed the class requirements, graduation will occur. He/She "purchased" the degree with dedication, hard work, and demonstrated growth. Many years ago I knew a man who "purchased" a doctoral degree from a private school. He was studious enough, but instead of studying for years to gain the degree legitimately, he made significant financial contributions to the school and did minimal study. He was granted a doctoral degree. I must confess that when I saw him list himself as "Dr." I did not view the title with respect. This event illustrates "purchasing" a degree in a far less honorable way than Paul intended here. The specific price for this degree is a long and consistently wise use of the office of deacon. Only time and wise activity in the office earns this degree in the faith.

How many deacons should a church have? There is one pastor, though the New Testament model indicates more than one minister in each church. If you consider the size of the Jerusalem church in Ac 6 as possibly 10,000 members who were served by seven men, you don’t need a large number of deacons. More than one should be viewed as nearly essential. An excessive number is not appropriate or necessary based on this initial example in Acts.

What distinguishes the two offices? I suggest that the qualifications are essentially the same with one exception. The minister must be "apt to teach," a qualification that does not apply to the deacon. Closely related to this point is the question of "calling." We hold that God calls a man to the ministry. Paul referred to the Lord "putting" him into the ministry. {1Ti 1:12} We note that he did not here refer to his apostleship, but to his "ministry." Based on this and other passages that refer to God’s appointment or calling of preachers, I believe it is appropriate to add this point to the distinctions between the two offices. There is no passage that indicates a similar calling to the office of deacon. When the apostles first established the office of deacon, {Ac 6} they did not instruct the church to seek out men who gave evidence of God putting them into the position or function. They focused on men who met the specific qualifications listed. If the men qualified, the apostles ordained them to the work. Conduct qualifies a man for the office of deacon. Conduct, teaching ability, and calling qualifies a man for the office of ministry.

How should the two officers in the church work together? How do they integrate their various functions and duties? I have known deacons who were envious of their pastors, often injecting more roadblocks than help to their pastor. I have also known pastors who were so concerned at their authority that they were fearful of a strong deacon who truly filled his role effectively in the church. Over the years that I have served as pastor, I have been blessed with deacons who were godly partners with me in my ministry; men who sought ways to assist the church and me in our work. A church that enjoys this cooperative spirit between its pastor and deacons is supremely fortunate.

Spiritual maturity and wisdom are essential traits for either office. By virtue of the office a deacon must have some sense of financial propriety, for he often must make godly decisions regarding funds that belong to the church. He should never treat church funds as his own funds. Nor should he use church funds frivolously for pet personal projects or preferences. He should consider the collective mind of the church with each financial decision that he makes. "What would the whole church likely do if asked to direct me in this decision?" The church’s decision may not be the same as the deacon’s. However, he is the church’s servant no less than the pastor and should follow godly wisdom, Biblical examples, and his sense of the church’s wishes. He should not make an "edge of the envelope" decision and then try to convince the church that he did the right thing. If the decision nudges the edge of the envelope, he should delay action till he can obtain the church’s specific direction. The confidence and comfort of the church with his practice in such matters will contribute greatly to his earned "degree and great boldness in the faith." Both he and the church will grow in their faith and their effectiveness in blessing those in the church who rely on them for guidance.

Inherent in the deacon’s office as fully as in the ministry is the idea of a servant. He is the church’s servant, not its overlord. We serve.

Elder Joe Holder

2004/07/04 Godly Conduct in Church

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, #27 July 4, 2004

Godly Conduct in Church

These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. {1Ti 3:14-15}

Occasionally, both in things that we prohibit and things that we promote in the church’s activities, we raise the question of Biblical silence. How do we make decisions when the Bible doesn’t speak to a certain issue? Although this counsel is seldom followed, the safest practice is to follow Scripture in both areas. If Scripture is silent, perhaps we should be silent. If Scripture speaks out, perhaps we should also speak out. I must admit that I am inherently suspicious when people too freely claim Biblical silence regarding their ideas. Perhaps they examine the Scriptures with an intentional blindfold on their minds. They want the Bible to be silent, so they carefully filter out any possible reference they find to the question. In 2Ti 3:16-17 Paul specifically stated that Scripture "thoroughly" furnishes the man of God to every good work. Could it be that silence indicates that God isn’t as concerned about an issue, pro or con, as we? Could it also be that we should look into those areas of convenient "silence" that we claim regarding various issues to be sure that we haven’t intentionally overlooked specific teachings that might conflict with our personal preference?

What drives our decisions regarding faith and practice, what we believe and how we conduct ourselves, as a church? Do we look around at our sister churches and the way they do things, viewing their varied conduct as something of a cafeteria menu from which we may freely pick and choose at our personal taste? Biblical churches may well manifest a certain amount of variation in practices while remaining within the limits set by Scripture. We certainly see significant variations between the churches mentioned and-to some extent-described in the New Testament. The question is not whether churches may vary, but what we consider to be our basis for our own choices in our church. What do we consider to be an acceptable and respected source of authority for our choices?

Paul goes over significant issues in the "pastoral" epistles, his letters to Timothy and Titus. He indicates in our passage for this chapter his expectation that his letter will inform Timothy regarding acceptable conduct in the church.

I believe the most significant point that Paul makes in this lesson relates to the identity and ownership of the church. It does not belong to the pastor, the deacons, or their families. In fact it does not belong to the collective membership. A pastor and deacons, along with their entire families, may agree and make a recommendation to the church. They may be dreadfully wrong. A church may vote unanimously in its business meeting on a certain issue-not a dissenting vote-and yet be wrong. Our whole attitude of molding church conduct by our personal preferences apart from Scripture reveals too much neglect of this primary truth. At the end of the day it is the Lord’s church, not ours. More importantly, we have before us a fairly direct statement by Paul that his writing to Timothy covered the major areas that Timothy needed to pursue with this staggering church.

We might protest that Paul’s words focus only on Timothy, the ministry or pastor of a local church. Although Timothy served in a unique role with the church at Ephesus, representative of and directed by an apostle himself, the role of leadership that falls on pastors and deacons must consider Paul’s writings as specifically aimed at them and instructive to their personal conduct. It has been my observation over nearly half a century of active ministry that a church typically follows its leadership, though not always. If you examine the attitudes of a church’s leadership, you will typically discover the dominant attitude of the membership. When the leadership is not united, pastor and deacons not agreeing on various issues, you will see a confused church. People may try to follow their leadership, but they keep seeing mixed signals and don’t know which way to go. On this basis I believe that a church’s pastor and deacons should regularly get together and discuss various issues that involve the church’s activities and needs. Neither pastor nor deacons should ever propose ideas to the membership until they have thoroughly discussed them and agreed on them among themselves.

An equally significant description of the Biblical church that Paul describes in this lesson appears in the words "pillar and ground of the truth." "Ground" refers to the footing or foundation of a building. "Pillar" refers to the huge columns that rise from the foundation to support the upper structure of the building. Every church that considers itself truly one of the Lord’s churches should never forget this description of its role. It must stand securely and factually on the foundation of the teachings of Christ and the apostles in the New Testament (never adding any other variables to that posture). How can a people represent themselves as the foundation of the truth when they do not personally embrace and follow the simple description of a New Testament church? How can they advocate Scripture alone if they introduce and defend beliefs or practices that the New Testament does not support? Our practice must validate our claim to be the "ground" of the truth.

The next descriptive point, "pillar," structurally extends the solid stability of the foundation to the upper reaches of the structure. You could build a straw house on a solid granite foundation, and the first strong wind would blow it away. The upper structure of the building must be compatible with the foundation-and be connected with it through the pillars that are strategically erected throughout the structure. Many churches hold to good ideas. Their leaders reasonably know what they believe, but they refuse to implement a pattern of conduct that extends the clarity of their faith to every member in the church body. Despite standing on a strong foundation, they allow a house of straw to grow around them without assuming any responsibility for the problem. A church’s leadership should prayerfully examine Scripture for truth itself. Next they should work to find ways to inform and equip every member with that information. A pillar of sandstone is no more stable than a foundation of sand. Neither will stand up under the pressures of test and time.

A major strategy to equip a church’s membership as a strong "pillar" of truth is for the church’s leadership to consistently and faithfully hold to Scripture alone as the premise for any and everything that they recommend or advocate to the church. Nurture within every member the solid and informative character of Scripture to inform and to equip our Christian conduct, both as individuals and as churches. Avoid whenever possible ever playing the "Scripture is silent" song to those who inquire.

I believe that it is equally important for a church’s leaders to approach their interpretation of Scripture with great care. A loose, mystical, sentimental, or allegorical interpretation that is not well supported by the passage and its context will rapidly weaken the members’ confidence in Scripture. One of the most dangerous compliments a preacher can receive after a sermon is "Wow! I would never have seen those points in that passage." If our interpretation and application are too fanciful or far-fetched, we may entertain our folks delightfully, but not edify them at all. To borrow Paul’s building analogy, we may become more of an outdoor theater than a stately building with a solid foundation and functional pillars. An outdoor theater is great for entertainment in good weather, but we need a solid and secure building to protect us in life’s storms.

We live in a cultural era of "cafeteria Christianity." If you dislike your church’s views or practices, don’t bother working constructively within the culture to grow it stronger in Biblical foundations. Just pick up and move to another church, but don’t be surprised if they have even greater problems than the church you left. Often we see the sad results of this mindset in people around us. They are constantly looking for the "greener grass" of the ideal church, but they are also constantly reflecting disappointment at their failure to find true contentment and satisfactory answers to their spiritual hunger. The Lord’s church is not about satisfying "my needs and desires," but rather it is about us conforming our lives to the wise instruction of Scripture so that we glorify God in our "bodies and spirits which are his". {1Co 6:20} May the Lord of His church help us to grow closer to Him.

Elder Joe Holder

2004/07/11 The Ultimate Mystery

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19,#28 July 11, 2004

The Ultimate Mystery

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory? {1Ti 3:16}

Many Bible scholars view this verse as part of a first century Christian hymn. It is highly informative to read these profound words and imagine the sound of those early believers singing these sentiments in collective worship. We would greatly improve the quality of our song worship if we sought out and sang only hymns that so profoundly address the truths of God. Far too many of our popular hymns deal more in sentiment than in doctrine. They focus on how we "feel" instead of who God is and what He has done. And we need not single out newer hymns; some of the very old ones give voice to similar sentiment. At times I’ve thought that I’d like to go through every hymnal that our people have used for the last hundred or so years and do a massive "cut and paste" project, using only those selections that focus on God. However, my own mortality would seep through, and years later others would review and critique my work, bemoaning my inclusion of one selection and my omission of another. There is only one "inspired" hymnal, the psalms of the Old Testament.

Some commentaries also offer the possibility that this verse was taken from a confession of faith that was accepted by the first generation of Christians. Confession or hymn, either way it reflects the core theology of Paul and the early believers.

The greater point is that this truth makes up the content of the church’s message as the "pillar and ground of the truth." A church that represents any other message has lost its vision of what a true New Testament church is about.

The New Testament uses the word translated "mystery" some twenty seven times. The word contains the idea of a mystery not revealed to simple mortals, but revealed to a certain group or class. The dominant idea seems to be that of a mystery now made known. From Ge 3 we confront the problem of sin in Scripture. In the priestly rituals of the Old Testament Law we see a shadow of God’s intent to provide a remedy, but the shape of that remedy does not become clear till we see the full scope of the Incarnation, God becoming human and doing for His elect what they could not do for themselves to alleviate the sin problem and to secure their final salvation. To know the mystery does not mean that we now understand every facet of its content. We will need eternity to begin to grasp the scope of our redemption. However, with the Incarnation we can see far more clearly God’s intent than in any of the shadowy images of sacrifice and priestly order in the Old Testament. Someway I fear that we reverse the order of the matter when we look to the shadows of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrifices to see the glory of Calvary. Should the exact reverse not be the case? The glory is in our Lord Jesus and His work, not in the shadowy images of the old order. They provide a faint glimmer of the dazzling glory of the actual work that He alone performed on our behalf.

Controversy regarding the Person and work of our Lord has appeared in almost every generation of Christians since the first, but Paul’s point is that there should be none. God’s intent is so clear, and so clearly exhibited, in the Incarnation, death, resurrection, and glorious return of our Lord to heaven that controversy is inexcusable. The profound mystery of God becoming man, of the Creator for a moment becoming part of His creation, cannot be fully fathomed by finite minds. All Christians should view the fact as undeniable, the bedrock foundation of all Christian faith. Paul draws the logical sequence for our reflection in this verse. Slowly and prayerfully follow each incredible step in the progressing scene of the unfolding mystery of our redemption.

1.God was manifest in the flesh. Perhaps the most significant controversy that appeared late in the apostolic era and immediately thereafter was Docetic Gnosticism. It apparently tried to integrate into Christianity. However, its basic tenets were contrary to this fundamental Christian foundation. Gnosticism held that the chief deity despised anything material, so the idea of God becoming man, of entering His creation as if a creature was repugnant to this philosophy. Paul confronts the early beginnings of Gnosticism in Colossians, and John confronts it more directly in 1Jo 1-5. Apart from God becoming man, there can be no true Christianity. There can be no redemption, no appeasement of a holy God for our sins.

2.God was justified in the Spirit. The word translated "justified" may mean to "render righteous," or it may mean to "declare one to be righteous." It was a first century legal term that equates with our legal term "Not guilty," the court’s official declaration of innocence. The question arises, when was God Incarnate declared righteous in the Spirit? We might make any number of points, but the most obvious answer appears at our Lord’s resurrection. When He came out of the grave alive, the Holy Spirit shouted aloud the fact of His deity, His sinlessness, the first such man who ever lived without sin. With the Holy Spirit’s declaration of His "justification" at the resurrection, God at the same time also declared the "justification" of all for whom Jesus died. His death was not merely provisional, making our justification possible. It was factual. When He arose from the grave, God declared His satisfaction with Jesus’ work and accepted it as full satisfaction for our sins and our consequent entrance into the family of God.

3.God was seen of angels. Again we might offer several optional views as to when this event occurred, but the clearest once again seems to be at our Lord’s resurrection. Can you imagine the gleeful surprise of the angel who announced His resurrection to the women who visited the empty tomb early in the morning? Angels saw the stone roll back. They saw the Lord, their Creator, come out alive. They were thrilled to announce His resurrection to the women who first arrived at the empty tomb.

4.God was preached unto the Gentiles. If we interpret this point as referring to the subsequent preaching of the early church and all subsequent generations of the faithful, this point is out of chronological sequence. I do not suggest another view only to note the unusual sequence in what otherwise appears to be a chronological sequence of events. Perhaps Paul is presenting the logical sequence rather than the chronological order. Unless all the other points in the verse are true, we have no gospel to preach.

5.God was believed on in the world. Despite the incredible idea of God condescending to become man and further condescending to die the ignominious death of crucifixion for mere mortals, this is the gospel’s message. When Isaiah saw the prophetic image of the crucified Redeemer in the closing verses of Isa 52 and started to summarize its significance in Isa 53, he began the chapter with a question, almost a statement of incredulity. How could he convince anyone of such an incredible fact? This is God Incarnate dying for His people and coming back to life and glory. "Who hath believed our report?" Then he answers the question with a second question, "And to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?" The union of the two questions gives us the answer. Only a person who has seen the arm of the LORD will believe such a message.

6.God was received up into glory. We read the narrative of Jesus’ ascension in Ac 1. There two angels appeared and assured the onlooking and bewildered disciples that as they had seen their Lord disappear, they would also see Him appear. He left in glory; He shall return in glory.

The content of this hymn or early confession of faith underscores Paul’s description elsewhere of the "glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God." {2Co 4:4} May we never forget the glory of this message!

Elder Joe Holder

2004/07/18 The Face of Departure

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, #29 July 18, 2004

The Face of Departure

Dear Friends,

As part of his rich instructions to Timothy, Paul confronts specific errors, likely from the ancient gnostic camp, but he also gives us wise instruction regarding the face of error of any kind. Error focuses on the external and minimizes the internal. What a person eats, wears, etc. become the primary mark of his faith. For Paul, true faith begins in the heart and mind. The foundation of Biblical faith is not food that enters the mouth or clothing draped over the body or other more religious rituals. Jesus taught the same lesson by contrasting what goes in the mouth with what comes out of it.

Another mark of error is the obsessive manner in which proponents of error focus on it to the neglect of other truth, as well as their twisting Scriptures or other respected historical writings to support their obsession. To hear the proponent of error you would think that every page in the Bible teaches his ideas and little else. A few months ago I visited a nursery to buy some replacement plants for our backyard. The flowers are very attractive, both in their normal leaves and their blossoms. I had replanted them a couple of times over the years, but they simply didn’t seem to grow well. I asked the owner of the nursery how to care for these plants. Did I need a special kind of fertilizer or soil supplement? He responded with a question. "What kind of food do you like? Do you prefer exactly the same thing all the time, or do you prefer variety?" He went on to recommend that I vary the fertilizer used to feed these plants and that I feed them small amounts of fertilizer often instead of large shock doses occasionally. His advice would work well with preachers. Vary your teaching to embrace all Biblical truth. Avoid "hobby-horse" emphasis on a few themes. Don’t try to preach the whole gospel to the congregation in one message. Cultivate faithful attendance from your congregation, and feed them a varied spiritual diet in small digestible quantities. Any time a preacher tries to feed someone the whole gospel from A to Z in one sermon his only success will be to confuse his audience and obscure the very truth that he desires to communicate. If you are feeding a baby, you select the appropriate food, and you also select the appropriate utensil, a small baby spoon, not the largest table spoon in your kitchen.

This week’s lesson from 1 Timothy warns us that error will surely invade the ranks of the faithful. False teachers and their errors shall form a regular part of the spiritual landscape. Our challenge from Scripture instructs us as to the manner in which we deal with it. The Biblical pattern includes a season of effort to correct and regain those in error. It also requires that we avoid the person who, after repeated efforts to recover him/her from the error, demonstrates an entrenched commitment to the error. Repetition at a point becomes harassment, and harassment will not recover someone; it will only polarize them in their error. Work to regain the person in error. Be loving and patient. By all means be Biblical in your reasoning. If after the person clearly understands your reasoning and refuses to listen or respond, quietly avoid the person. Perhaps the greatest single error of historical Christianity in its efforts to resist error has been its inclination to trumpet opposition against error, often at the expense of pristine truth. Make no secret of the error, but don’t make the error and your opposition of it the centerpiece of your preaching. "Preach the word," Paul urges this same young Timothy.

About fifteen years ago my wife and I were visiting some historical sites during a vacation. On the particular tour of the day we visited an old historical Roman Catholic Church building. We moved slowly through the various areas of the building, hearing the tour-guide’s description of the historical background of each piece of furniture. As we stopped near one of several statues, this one of the Virgin Mary, I noticed a young woman from our tour group. She was standing in front of the statute, wringing her hands, tears streaming down her cheeks, as she looked up to the statue’s face. That statue was nothing more than stone. This poor woman needed to be pouring her heart out to God, not to a stone statue. One of the Ten Commandments forbids the building and worship of images for worship. The statue didn’t hear the woman, nor did it see her tears. The statue couldn’t relieve her pain. Regardless of its form, error robs children of God of the joy and comfort of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

God bless, Joe Holder

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. {1Ti 4:1-5}

Error in any field of thought will not simply go away if ignored. It must be confronted and rejected. Christians, both contemporary and historical, have not typically confronted error in a clearly Biblical manner. We must not commit one grievous error while attempting to uproot another. Before exploring acceptable methods of resisting error, Paul identifies the diversity of error that shall appear and its impact on those who fall under its deceptive spell.

"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly..." For Paul and other New Testament apostles and teachers, this term may find its parallel in the Old Testament prophetic introduction, "Thus saith God" or "Thus saith the Lord." The writer or speaker serves as God’s spokesperson, but the words are God’s and not man’s.

While "latter times" may refer to the final chapter in human history before God intervenes with final judgment and transformation, it appears that these errors have characterized the history of Christianity from the time that Paul wrote them. External ritual seems more convincing to the human mind than internal values and convictions. The problem should be obvious to us. External ritual and effort apart from internal foundations will always fail. It is a house built on quicksand.

What is the character of those who promote error? I suggest that Paul is dealing with the people who create error in their imagination and intentionally promote it among the innocent believers around them. Every deceived believer does not match this description, not even in Scripture, so we should avoid over-extending the passage beyond its intent. First, they give "heed to seducing spirits." They turn their minds to evil spirits just as a ship’s captain turns his ship into the harbor of his destination port. Having previously rejected Biblical truth and authority, they readily respond to the magnetic attraction of error’s siren song. They become imitators of the deceptive demons who influence their false teaching. Rather than honoring the doctrine of Scripture that God has revealed, they pursue the doctrines of demons. How can a person fall for such obvious error? I answer the question with a question. How could Eve fall for the same kind of error in the Garden? Both she and the serpent readily add to and misinterpret God’s simple law repeatedly during their conversation. Try talking with someone who is devoted to a severely strained view of Biblical teaching. You will quickly get the sense of dedication to error. Words are easily and regularly redefined to mean whatever this person wishes them to mean. Bible authority and reliable Christian history are avoided or so severely misinterpreted as to leave the faithful Bible student aghast at the unbridled imagination that leads this person’s mind.

They speak lies in hypocrisy. This point forms a major part of the passage that convinces me that Paul is focusing on the instigators of false teaching, not those who are deceived. These people know that they are promoting error, but they do it anyway. Another passage refers to such people as both loving and making lies. {Re 22:15} They love the idea of lying and getting away with it.

We typically interpret the reference to the conscience being seared with a hot iron as meaning that these people have lost their sense of conscience; that they are beyond feeling. This may be the case with such people, but the analogy fails the interpretation. The words indicate the administration of a branding iron, as cowboys in our own Western pioneer days would apply to their cattle before turning them loose on the open range. The brand signifies ownership. This idea matches the passage far better than the idea of lost sensitivity. These people have fallen under the influence of the demonic to such an extent that they appear to be "owned" by the wicked spirit that promotes their error. They become obsessed with their error. In fact a major evidence that a person has fallen prey to error is this precise behavior. They can hardly discuss any other Bible teaching. Every discussion will lead to this idea. They often shamelessly misinterpret passages that have nothing to do with their ideas so as to make them appear to support their error. Obsession is never healthy, not even when a person is obsessed with a good thing.

Rather than limiting the face of error to the two issues mentioned, Paul seems to be giving us the flavor of error. The proponents of error will shamelessly ignore God’s way of living in favor of their error.

1. Forbidding to marry. Whether applied to ministers (as with the Roman Catholic prohibition against priests being married), or in other circumstances, these people violate the fundamental premise of God’s creating man and woman. An individual may occasionally choose to remain single. This choice does not violate any Biblical principle. The error that Paul confronts is quite different. It has to do with the forbidding of marriage. In a true Biblical marriage Jesus described the bond as having a divine origin, "whom God hath joined together". {Mt 19:6; Mr 10:9} To forbid marriage as part of a false teaching is to reject God’s joining of people in marriage.

2. They command people to abstain from meats. Paul adds further emphasis. God made various plants and animals for food consumption. Advocates of a vegetarian diet as a religious mandate are the focus of Paul’s concern. (Again I have no problem with anyone for dietary, taste, or other personal reasons choosing to be a vegetarian. The problem appears when a false teacher imposes the rule on others under the guise that it is a divine rule to be followed.)

Both issues deal with imposing external demands on people without a Biblical, moral, or rational basis. This ritual religion is rules-based, not God-based. It measures religious accomplishment by the hurdles one jumps through, by the external rites one performs, instead of by the conforming of one’s heart and conduct to God’s heart. We know the heart of God, not by our own sentimental disposition, but by the clear teaching of Scripture.

Some commentators suggest that Paul was opposing ancient gnosticism that started to invade Christianity before the death of the apostles. Read Colossians or 1 John as clear examples. This may be the case for these ancient teachers rejected material things altogether. It stands to reason that they would reject food and put a low esteem on marriage. Although ancient gnosticism seems to have planted the seeds of the modern New Age religion (Yes, it is a religion.), the modern error has added Eastern Hinduism to ancient gnosticism as part of its teaching.

"For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." "Creature" can hardly be rationally interpreted as referring only to vegetarian plant life. No doubt most of us refrain from certain "creatures" on our tables because we dislike them as food, but Paul’s point is that any animal may be eaten with thanksgiving to God as the giver of it for our needs. Given the clarity of this lesson, it seems a bit incredible that any professing Christian group can object to meat in one’s diet on supposed Biblical or religious grounds.

The major point that Paul seems to make here is that the proponents of error focus on the external and reject God’s clear revelation in Scripture. On any given occasion in which a false teacher introduces error, it may take on a different form, but it will always substitute private opinion for God’s way as revealed in Scripture. It will also in some way or another emphasize the external and the ritual at the expense of personal and individual devotion to God, Biblical faith that translates into faithfulness to God and to His revealed teaching in Scripture. They worship the creature more than the Creator. {Ro 1:25}

Elder Joe Holder

2004/07/25 The Face of Faithful Ministry

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, #30 July 25, 2004

The Face of Faithful Ministry

If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. {1Ti 4:6-7}

In this lesson to "put the brethren in remembrance" suggests not only teaching these things but actually modeling them in personal conduct. A pastor whose feet shout loudly one message cannot effectively teach a different lesson with his mouth from the pulpit. Feet always speak louder than words.

We live in a relativistic age in which often even professing Christians selectively reject or reinterpret passages of Scripture that conflict with their personal preferences. Earlier in this series we examined one of those areas related to the qualifications of ministers and deacons. People who would fiercely defend doctrinal purity as they understand it from Scripture will advocate abandonment of these qualifications on the basis that today no one lives up to them. First of all, I suggest that this attitude reveals a sad myopia in the mind of the person who offers this idea. He/she acknowledges a personal lack of compliance with the qualifications and rather than repenting and living up to them find it easier simply to impute personal failure onto everyone else-as if a global failure to qualify altered the requirements of Scripture. To anyone who presently fills either of these offices I urge a prayerful self-examination of your qualifications. If you identify areas in which you do not qualify, I urge you to take that area of your life to God in prayer and then to start a faithful effort to correct the problem immediately. Do not continue in the office with personal knowledge that you do not live up to its requirements. I must confess that at times I have faced major soul-searching of my own. I understand the gravity of what I advocate. We must all, however, face the gravity of the offices that we hold. God set the qualifications with supernatural wisdom and compassion, both for His people to whom we minister and for us who fill the offices. Obedience honors God and blesses us. Disobedience damages both our witness to others and our personal joy, while also dishonoring God. My objective for all of us is obedience that honors God. Will these steps impose change into our life? Indeed they will-incredible changes, but the changes will result in equally incredible blessings.

Paul requires faithfulness, not compromise, in the face of error. This faithfulness assures us of spiritual growth and blessing. The word translated "good" in "good minister" means "good, excellent in its nature and characteristics, and therefore well adapted to its ends. 1b1 genuine, approved. 1b2 precious. 1b3 joined to names of men designated by their office, competent, able, such as one ought to be. 1b4 praiseworthy, noble. 1c beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life, and hence praiseworthy. 1Co 1 morally good, noble. 1d honourable, conferring honour. 1e affecting the mind agreeably, comforting and confirming."{1} "Minister" is from the common word for servant, frequently used in the New Testament for ministers and deacons. Both offices serve in the church, not lord themselves over it.

"Nourished" refers to food for the body, but in this lesson it refers to food for the mind. It describes the way in which we train our minds by feeding them a steady diet of Biblical studies and truth. What you insert into your mouth becomes food for your body. What you "insert" into your mind, or allow to enter and dwell there, becomes food for the mind. Paul’s approach to this need must find its resolution in our wills, not in our emotions.

Dr. A. T. Robertson interprets the phrase "the words of faith" as "The words of the faith." Typically-and I believe here-when you see the definite article with "faith" in the New Testament, the reference is to a commonly held body of accepted truths or teachings, similar to our "confessions of faith" or "articles of faith." Dr. Gary Habermaas makes a strong case for this ancient first generation formal confession of faith in several of his writings. We live in an age that rejects or belittles formal confessions or articles of faith. You will occasionally hear someone who rejects such documents offer the counterpoint, "No confession but the Bible." Actually this simply phrase itself becomes an extra-Bible "confession of faith."

Obviously faithfulness will feed the soul and stimulate spiritual growth and maturity, but in this case Paul seems quite focused on our faithful compliance with accepted truth as expressed in a formal confession. As we study our history, we easily migrate to our favorite confession that holds a position of respect and prominence at a particular time in our history. The London Confessions of faith (both 1644/46 and 1689, though quite different documents) both command such a role of respect.

I offer that even the London Confessions are too young to fill the Biblical role assigned by Paul to a confession. Consider his own posture, "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures..."{2} Here even Paul affirms that what he delivered as an apostle to the Corinthian church was a faithful preservation of what had been delivered to him. Scripture does not give us the liberty of revising our "faith" to fit our personal fancy. What a respected minister believes or what a neighboring church practices has no primary authority or weight over our "faith and practice." Any source outside Scripture for our faith is a bad source. "I can’t find anything in Scripture against it" is an equally faulty basis for what we believe or practice.

What is the point? We will either develop contentment with the "food" of established and historically accepted truth as set forth in Scripture alone or we shall suffer spiritual malnutrition and deformity in our faith.

At this point Paul draws a rather sharp contrast between a well nourished faith based on inspired teaching and any other source that we might claim as our authority, "But refuse profane and old wives’ fables."

D. A. Carson emphasizes this point. "In order to do this effectively Timothy must draw on his knowledge of the truth. (For an echo of this cf. 2Ti 3:15, where his early training is mentioned.) To this must be added the value of the tuition he has received from the apostle. Paul assumes that Timothy will know how to deal with the false teachers. He thinks it necessary to warn Timothy about wasting his time with myths and tales which have no basis in truth."{3} Old women in the gnostic religion frequently told their myths to young children as something of an early childhood indoctrination into this mystery religion. The whole gnostic basis for "knowledge" claimed a private and secret verbal tradition independent of the written documents that we know as the New Testament. Therefore, as Paul observes, the basis for this teaching was mythology, not fact. Any idea claiming Christian weight that cannot stand the test of Scripture as its source should be viewed as a groundless myth, not as a revered belief or practice to be embraced and perpetuated in the church. At times it is incredibly challenging to respect the historicity of our Biblical faith while also maintaining faithful adherence to Scripture alone as the basis for our faith. We stand on the shoulders of faithful men and women who preceded us in the faith. We dishonor them to ignore their contribution to our standing in the faith. However, we dishonor them far more to substitute their ideas for Scriptural teaching, ideas that may not comply with Scripture. We stand on their shoulders, so we should stand there with respect for them. But we should also realize that they were not inspired, nor did they claim infallibility in their ideas. We must apply the same New Testament filter to them as we apply to ourselves. A robust and healthy faith will follow if we hold faithfully to this course.

Elder Joe Holder

FOOTNOTES:

{1} Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible: Showing every word of the test of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (SGreek: 2570. kalos). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.

{2} The Holy Bible: King James Version. 1995. {1Co 15:3} Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

{3} Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.). {1Ti 4:6} Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.

2004/08/01 Spiritual Gymnastics-Good Conditioning

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19,Nu 31 August 1, 2004

Spiritual Gymnastics-Good Conditioning

For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. {1Ti 4:8-11}

Exercise in this lesson comes from a Greek word that referred to Olympic athletes in training. It was common for these men to strip naked so as to prevent any hindrance from clothing as they competed for the prize. Paul uses this analogy to prompt parallel thoughts in our minds regarding the spiritual exercises necessary to grow into mature, well-conditioned Christians. Indeed the exercise of spiritual senses is vital to spiritual maturity, but we must not overlook the analogy. As the ancient athlete stripped himself of all clothing, the authentic Christian who is committed to growing in spiritual maturity must get rid of all the facades and pretenses that people frequently use to cover up their humanity, their little flaws in conduct or character. You can’t imagine the times that I’ve talked with people whom I knew fairly well about difficulties in their life, only to hear the empty denials. "Oh no, there is no problem at all. Everything is fine." Eventually in a stable church where relationships form and grow over many years, it is next to impossible for the truth to remain unknown. Sooner or later, it surfaces. The pride and pretense that people use to cover up their personal flaws or difficulties reveals a deeper spiritual problem. Excessive pride Paul uses in his list of ministerial qualifications to characterize a novice in the faith, someone who is young and inexperienced. Whether in the pulpit or the pew, the indicators are reliable. When a person works to maintain a false pretense of near-perfection, they reveal deep-seated spiritual immaturity that will likely prevent them from ever rising to the stature of mature other-centered Christian service.

We respond with refreshing approval at the news of John Newton never allowing his hearers to forget his days as a black-hearted slave-trader. Yet we refuse to practice the same authentic openness with believers in our own personal world. The same person who often works to cover up personal weakness or flaws will quickly appear in the judgment seat when opportunity appears to criticize or judge faults in other people. If we follow Paul’s analogy of the Olympic athlete, we might equate this conduct to the athlete who constantly rejects the appropriate diet and consumes large quantities of high-sugar, low protein foods, gains weight, shirks training, and shows up at the actual competition overweight and out of shape.

Godliness, authentic godliness, enriches one’s life beyond anything that we could imagine, short of the actual experience of blessings bestowed. Paul emphasizes this point, "...having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." He does not step out of his character and advocate salvation by works in this verse. "Promise" comes from a Greek word that means "agreement, consent, approval" (Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains). Paul’s point seems more to indicate evidence or assurance than merit. A person may well be saved without giving external evidence that we can see, but they will not enjoy the prospect or assurance of their salvation apart from demonstrable fruit in their life. Their conduct must "agree" with their spiritual state for them to enjoy the assurance of their blessed state.

Do not overlook the point that Paul makes. Not only does spiritual exercise in godliness communicate the assurance of our final salvation, it also enriches the life that "now is."

"For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God." Trust in yourself and men will applaud your ingenuity and celebrate your success. Trust in God and keep Him prominent in your life as the source of blessing and success, and the approving smiles will fade quickly. No less now than then, demonstrate authentic trust in God and you will face reproach. However, the same factor that brought reproach on Paul was the reason for his labor. Trusting God is not always easy or natural for us, is it? Several months ago I was talking with a mature Christian friend about some fairly significant difficulties that both he and I were facing in our separate lives. We concluded that, though we did not believe that God caused our difficulties, we were confident that He was with us and would bring good to us out of these problems. One of us echoed a thoughtful after-thought. "If we trust God so fully, why do we wake up in the middle of the night with this problem on our minds? Why does it hinder our peaceful sleep?" We both heartily agreed. Trusting God in the midst of trials requires an incredible investment of effort, a true act of the will, not of the emotions.

God is consistently good to all in His creation. Even the wicked who will spend eternity under the just sentence of their sins must acknowledge God’s incredible goodness bestowed upon them as His natural creatures, "...who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe." God sends rain and beautiful seasons on the just and the unjust. He blesses both with families, with jobs, and with many other natural favors. However, Paul will not allow us to forget that we enjoy a special blessing in our spiritual state as God’s children. We receive freely and without merit from His loving hand not only our salvation, but "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ". {Eph 1:3} We enjoy rich blessings now and look forward-with rightful grounds-to the full expression of our salvation in the world to come. Many commentators define the words used in Heb 11:1 referring to faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" as the "title deed to our spiritual property." Faith is not our full and final possession, but it serves as the equivalent of a title deed to that possession. It doesn’t pay the price of that possession, a common fault in the teaching of many Christians today who emphasize our faith more than Christ’s death in our salvation. But we can pick up our faith, look at it, and experience its profound influence and as it were look at the legal document that ensures our eventual and full possession of our property, our eternity in heaven with God.

Pause for a moment and consider the setting of this letter. Paul becomes aware of a growing problem, of all places, in the beloved Ephesian church. He sends Timothy to work with the church to resolve the problem and regain their spiritual equilibrium. The simple practice of these godly traits and disciplines will make the difference in the Ephesian church-as in our own churches-between survival and demise, between blessing and spiritual drought. For Paul, the belief in and practice of these things is not an option. It is a necessity.

"These things command and teach." We find no hint at a mere suggestion or optional recommendation for the few who truly take their faith seriously. "Command" sets the stage with full clarity. The issues that Paul surfaces in this letter are not Paul’s private, personal opinion. They are not simply what Paul thinks the Ephesian church should do. They are to be delivered to the church with the gravity of the Ten Commandments. Can we ignore or forget our Lord’s sobering words, "If ye love me, keep my commandments". {Joh 14:15} It also nudges us to the parallel of that verse, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love". {Joh 15:10} As Paul clearly developed in 1Co 13, loving God is not a matter of emotion, but of will. We do not emote love for God, though His active love in our conduct will no doubt impact our emotions. Loving God in the Biblical sense involves obedience, an act of the will, a committed decision to act out our love to Him in our conduct. How did Jesus demonstrate love for the Father? He kept the Father’s commandments.

A treasure of the gospel appears in this simple sentence. Not only does the gospel contain certain "commandments," it also "teaches" believers how to develop those habits. It sets the goal of our conduct and then empowers us to reach the goal. We do not gain our spiritual objectives by harder work or by more stubborn determination. These efforts guarantee failure, not success. Here Paul’s earlier comment shines. We work -we labor -to trust in the living God. We trust him with our will, with our conduct, and with significant effort. The results in our lives and in the lives of those who are touched by our example will demonstrate the blessing. Are we ready?

Elder Joe Holder

2004/08/08 Youthful Maturity in Ministry

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, #32 August 8, 2004

Youthful Maturity in Ministry

Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. {1Ti 4:12-13}

New Testament scholars generally believe that Timothy was relatively young for someone who served in ministry. He might have been in his late teens or early twenties, or he might have been as old as twenty-five to thirty. The charge that Paul gave to him has more to do with his spiritual maturity than with his chronological age. Had he wished, Timothy could have acted rather immaturely and simply claimed youthful inexperience as his reason. Neither he nor Paul seem at all inclined to such irresponsible action.

I must confess that it is far more acceptable to see a young person acting their age than to see an older person acting like a very young person. Sometimes disease or accident occurs and interferes with a young person’s physical development. We occasionally neglect to consider that things also happen that interfere with a person’s emotional and spiritual development. Although they are old enough-and have even spent many years in their discipleship-they act very immaturely. These people leave their loved ones and friends constantly off balance. You expect maturity commensurate with their age and experience, but you never see it. Rather than acting forty or fifty years old, they may act more like an adolescent. Like the immature adolescent (I must observe that I do not stereotype all adolescents as immature. I have seen many adolescents whose godly and selfless maturity served as a noble example to believers of all age. May their tribe increase!), they are self-consumed. Everything that happens around them is interpreted in terms of how it impacts them. They are so self-consumed that they seldom tolerate any kind of confrontation or corrective exhortation. In their adolescent mind exhortation becomes an unfair and vicious attack. Thus instead of responding with repentance and reflection, they react with anger and defensiveness. They have never come to understand how to learn from their mistakes. They are so self-consumed and insecure that they refuse to acknowledge that they make any.

In refreshing contrast to this type of person Paul’s direction to Timothy nudges him to live his faith in exemplary fashion. Let me start with the last verse, "Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine." By reading Timothy would gain access to other minds than his own. He would become an active member of a greater Christian community of thinking Christians. Doctrine refers in this context to teaching, not to core theological topics. Exhortation addresses the core issue of spiritual maturity. The Greek word, "parakaleo," literally means to invite or call alongside. A person who is acting immaturely or inappropriately cannot-at least should not-invite others to join in the errant conduct. Timothy is directed to live so that at any time and under any circumstance he can invite believers under his charge to join him in his conduct. This exemplary requirement is an incredible challenge to every preacher of the gospel, as it is to every mature and seasoned Christian whose conduct and life in the faith invite younger believers to look up to them as examples.

When Paul listed the detailed qualifications of both offices of minister and deacon, he made a point of emphasizing the man’s interaction with his family. Paul viewed a man’s interaction and leadership (or lack thereof) with his family as a primary indicator of his leadership style in the church. In both cases he must lead by example and by respect, not by brute force or threat. If he fails to lead his family with grace and respect, he will likely also fail to lead a church body with those traits.

I have already made some rather strong points regarding the necessity of qualifications for these offices, but this passage calls for added emphasis. Every man who has served in either office for very long has experienced his own humanity or that of others, especially his family, that rebuked him and gave him second thoughts regarding his qualifications. Neither in those chapters nor here do I care to emphasize that a man should either resign or be removed from office at the first or least infraction. My desire is that he take his office seriously enough to repent where necessary and rise to the qualifications. The moment a man in either office gives up on living up to the qualifications he has hopelessly marginalized his function in the office. As his conduct becomes known to those in the church that he serves, they will join him in marginalizing his office and begin to ignore him and his teaching. If he doesn’t respect his position enough to live up to the Biblical qualifications-knowingly so-he cannot expect the people in his church to respect him when he tries to lead them either from the pulpit or from the office of deacon. My hope is that every man who holds either office will read these qualifications regularly, reflect on their meaning and application to his life and circumstance, and live determined to honor the qualifications as his dominant lifestyle.

"Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." Six criteria appear as benchmarks to measure Timothy’s exemplary conduct.

1. Word. Whether in private conversation or in pulpit speaking, the minister of the gospel is to speak so that others may safely and honorably model his speech.

2. Conversation might well be translated as "manner of life," for it refers to our whole conduct, not just to our words.

3. Charity refers to how we live, not to how we feel. It is an act of the will more than an act of the sentiment or emotions. Anytime you want to clarify the intent of this word in your conduct go to 1Co 13 and read the details of Miss Charity’s conduct, always the gracious lady.

4. Spirit may well refer to attitude, to those silent but obvious signals of our conduct that reveal far more about us than we sometimes wish or realize. You can do the right thing with resentment or with joy. The "spirit" of resentment or joy will show clearly in your body language, your voice quality, and in many other ways that cannot be hidden. Timothy’s spirit, no less than his actual conduct, is to set a noble example for the believers.

5. Faith. Oh, how difficult during seasons of trial it is to embrace faith and live by her powerful influence. We often distrust disease or the ill treatment of others far more than we trust God to stand by us during our trials. When you are undergoing a severe trial, the people close to you will watch you closer than at almost any other time in your life. What example will they see?

6. Purity. In the absolute sense purity might refer to sinlessness. Yet Scripture no where teaches that we can live above any sin in this life. At the least, however, Paul will not permit Timothy to use excuses and rationalizations to justify his failures or sins. He expects this young preacher to live in the trenches of life what he must preach from the pulpit.

Given the fact that Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to address and to correct major problems in this church that had such a noble beginning, we must consider that a low view of its leaders, both by the church members and by the leaders themselves, must have been a major part of the problem there. Paul always takes a practical approach to problems. He is not typically a theoretical man. If he surfaces a problem, it is quite likely that it is a real problem to his readers, not merely something that might become a problem. If the church had adopted a low view of its leaders-and more so if its leaders had adopted a low view of their office and of their conduct in it-we quickly grasp a powerful insight into this letter and its pointed teachings. We also get a concise view of Paul’s-and the Holy Spirit’s-expectations of us.

How committed are we to Biblical criteria to evaluate and to direct our conduct, both as members of a New Testament church and especially as officers in a New Testament church? If we have been inclined to compromise our faith, now is a good time for reflection and repentance, beginning with me.

Elder Joe Holder

2004/08/15 A Conscientious Ministry-A Healthy Church

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, Nu 33 August 15, 2004

A Conscientious Ministry-A Healthy Church

Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. {1Ti 4:14-16}

How does a preacher "neglect" his ministry? What impact does his negligence have on the church where he serves? Vine defines the Greek word translated "neglect" in this verse as not to care, to make light of. Years ago I heard a very conscientious preacher who served in small churches and had to work at a secular job to support his family make a powerful observation. It is one thing to be a full-time professional in your secular job. It is quite another thing to work in a secular job out of necessity, but despite that work to be a full-time pastor/minister. One man takes his ministry lightly. For him it is something akin to a hobby. The other man takes his ministry seriously. Like Paul, on occasion he may need to work at secular activities, but he never stops thinking of himself as a minister of the gospel. A preacher who views his ministry lightly, as something of a sanctified hobby, will cultivate a similar attitude in the people who hear him preach. They will join him in viewing their church and their personal discipleship as their own sanctified hobby. I suggest that blessings will always come proportionate to our devotion to our faith. If you view your Christianity or ministry as a hobby, you will receive about as much true blessing as you do out of other worthy hobbies. A far graver problem lies below the surface here. We engage in hobbies for personal gratification. The "hobby" preacher or "hobby" Christian will likely drift into the attitude that their faith or ministry is primarily for their personal gratification. They will wholly lose the vision that ministry is for the service of others, not for personal gratification. How can a man with this attitude preach a convicting sermon on self-denial and discipleship in the model of cross-bearing?

"Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all." Christian meditation is not emptying one’s mind and allowing free-thought to rule. It is filling one’s mind with godly, Biblical truths. According to Paul’s formula, meditation is not an end in itself. It sets the stage for the meditating Christian to apply the truths in our meditation to life; "Give thyself wholly to them." New Testament Christianity is intrusive, invasive, and consuming. It does not allow us to carve out any quarter of our life as off limits to its governance. It demands consideration in every dimension of our life. And so it should be.

We have lived to see the sad-indeed, the deplorable-situation in which people who profess Christian ministry engage in shameless fund-raising strategies to enrich their own bank accounts instead of giving of themselves to the spiritual service of others. Several years ago a national news program investigated a television preacher who lived in a luxurious suburb of a major city. He routinely made passionate pleas on his program for believers to send him their donations along with their prayer requests. He claimed nearly absolute ability to intervene with God to gain acceptance of the prayer requests that were sent to him. The news program planted hidden cameras in this television preacher’s facilities and captured the organization’s daily routine on film. The staff faithfully opened the mail and processed the checks. However, without ever reading the prayer requests, the staff routinely dumped the prayer requests in the garbage along with the envelopes and other office trash. Neither this man’s staff nor he ever bothered to look at these requests, much less make a conscientious effort to read them or give them any personal attention. This shameless example speaks volumes regarding the state of commercial Christianity in our time. It runs diametrically opposite to New Testament Christianity that gives itself to others rather than extracting from others by fraud and deceit. The profit of which Paul writes is spiritual profit, the value of a godly leader who spends his time in study, meditation, and godly teaching, both by words and by his personal example. He gives of himself to others. It is interesting that on at least one prolonged occasion Paul made tents and sold them to pay the rent on a large home where he received and ministered to a number of less fortunate believers. {Ac 28:30}

"Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine." First every man in ministry must consider himself and put his own house in order. Only then can he profitably teach others. He must demonstrate a long consistent pattern of this selfless conduct, "...continue in them."

"For in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." The Bible uses the term "salvation" or its various forms in a wide variety of ways. We use the word similarly. At a baseball game a base runner decides to steal a base. As he slides into the base, the umpire spreads his hands and shouts "Safe." Someone trapped in a high rise building that is on fire might stand in an open window and cry out to the people below, "Save me, save me." A surgeon performs a variety of tests and operates on a patient in order to "save" the patient from the dangers of a spreading disease. None of these examples in our current language and culture have anything to do with going to heaven when you die. If we were explaining this word to someone who is trying to learn our dialect of the English language, we would likely explain the generic character of the word. Perhaps we would suggest that our non-English student ask a clarifying question, "Saved from what?" in order to know the intent of the word in a given context. In most cases those of us who are familiar with our dialect and our culture understand the context of the word and have no need for the clarifying question. The same principle applies to the word as it appears in Scripture. If you want to eliminate much of the typical confusion regarding this word in Scripture, as you read the word in a given passage, ask yourself the question, "Saved from what?" It is highly doubtful that the Philippian jailer intended to ask his Christian prisoners what he should do to go to heaven when he died when he cried out, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" {Ac 16:30} Without question when the disciples became fearful of the growing waves, their "Lord save us: we perish" {Mt 8:26} hardly referred to where they expected to spend eternity. And clearly the idea that a woman who has children is "saved in childbearing" {1Ti 2:15} does not get a free ticket to heaven because she had a baby. All of these New Testament examples, and many more, could be offered to confirm that the New Testament’s use of the term is as broad as our contemporary use. The idea that a conscientious preacher can save both himself and his hearers in the sense of where they will spend eternity rejects the foundational truth of Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection for our salvation. We cannot consistently claim both Jesus as our Savior along with a preacher, however conscientious he may be. The popular interpretation of this passage cries out the question, "Who is your true Savior? Is it Jesus or is it the preacher?"

Paul’s intent cannot reasonably be interpreted as supplanting Jesus’ sacrificial life, death, and resurrection. What did he have in mind? There is a true "salvation" to believers who hear and apply the gospel to their lives. It saves them from ignorance, from anxiety, from countless fears. It saves them to an indescribable peace of mind through fostering their trust in Christ.

I must confess that I have lived on both sides of this fence. At times in the midst of stunning difficulties, I have found incredible peace through casting my cares upon Christ and trusting Him to stand by me through the trials. I must sadly confess that at times the difficulties of life have surprised me and sent me reeling in fear and doubt. In one instance I saved myself, and in the other I did not. Neither situation relates to where I will spend eternity, but both relate to my peace and joy in Christ. In one case I saved myself to His blessing; in the other I did not save myself.

We often talk about trusting in Christ through our trials, but we occasionally wake up in the middle of the night with intense worry over our trials, a dead-give-away that we are not trusting Him as we should. We thus lose a certain "salvation" that our Lord has provided to us. In those sleepless anxious moments we are not meditating on the things that Paul taught to Timothy. We are not giving ourselves "wholly" to them. And we are certainly not saving ourselves in the true sense of what Paul intended with this lesson. May we learn to be more trusting disciples.

Elder Joe Holder

2004/08/22 Christian Grace

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, Nu 34 August 22, 2004

Christian Grace

Dear Friends,

What attitude should command a minister’s preaching and teaching? My wife periodically teases me to be cautious in my preaching to avoid any appearance of a "long, pointy finger." Given the breadth of the gospel’s teaching, particularly its direct mandates for godly and gracious living, how does a preacher "command men to repent," or for that matter preach any number of similar New Testament tenets of godly living, and not sound a bit preachy? Our pride-filled culture will occasionally tolerate such preaching if the hearers distinctly sense that the preacher is "going after" someone else. If they dislike that "someone else," they might even relish the sermon. However, if they sense that the preacher is invading their life and telling them how to live, they often become quite offended and hostile toward the preacher and his message. Pride nudges each of us to regard self as nearly perfect, never in need of exhortation or correction of any significance. Pride also resents any hint of suggestion from another person that confronts what they consider to be our errors? "How dare they tell me that I’m in error?"

This pride-based attitude is light years away from the New Testament model of the Christian attitude toward life. How many passages specifically mention repentance in the context of someone who hears the message needing to stop doing something they are presently doing, and to replace that errant conduct with godly action? How many passages deal with one Christian or group of Christians going in compassionate love to another Christian who was "overtaken in a fault" {Ga 6:1} to help the erring brother or sister recover from that sin? If we cultivate the "I’m perfect; I don’t need anything from you. Stay out of my life" attitude, how do we leave ourselves open to the aide of caring brothers and sisters in the faith?

In our study verse Paul is writing to an unusually young preacher, Timothy (Don’t forget Paul’s admonition, "Let no man despise thy youth...".). So this young preacher may often find himself in need of confronting or otherwise teaching older men and women. How does he go about it without fostering more resentment than repentance? "Rebuke not..." starts the right process. The preacher whose underlying attitude reminds his congregation of the cliché, "Are you still beating your wife?" will often face an unresponsive congregation, not necessarily because of their hardness of heart, but because of his own superior attitude in his teaching. Although this week’s chapter deals with entreaty, we should not overlook that the New Testament also requires ministers to "rebuke" at times. How does one rebuke in the New Testament pattern?

Entreat, what does this word mean? How do you entreat someone? How is entreaty distinguished from rebuke? The Enhanced Strong’s New Testament Greek Dictionary defines the word translated as "intreat" in this passage as follows:

1 to call to one’s side, call for, summon.

2 to address, speak to, (call to, call upon), which may be done in the way of exhortation, entreaty, comfort, instruction, etc.

2a to admonish, exhort.

2b to beg, entreat, beseech.

2b1 to strive to appease by entreaty.

2c to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to comfort.

2Co 1 to receive consolation, be comforted.

2d to encourage, strengthen.

2e exhorting and comforting and encouraging.

2f to instruct, teach. {1}

Perhaps the greatest single distinction between rebuke and entreaty in this context has to do with the posture of the speaker.

Are you standing with the person you "intreat" or apart from him/her? Do you leave that person with a sense that you are as fully in need of grace as they, or do you leave them with a sense that you view yourself as above the mundane kind of error that you are calling to their attention? Any social circle can only contain one "perfect" person. The person with this pride-filled attitude intensely dislikes competition. Thus any confrontation that occurs from the pride-based "I’m above such matters, but God has sent me here to correct you" attitude will tear down relationships and godly intimacy within a group of people. A gentle "We are both sinners in need of grace and forgiveness" attitude will gain far more repentance and spiritual growth in those whom we confront or teach.

"As a father" further develops the proper attitude. Think of a loving, compassionate father. As a child in the family, how would you go about calling a problem to your father’s attention? You would approach him with respect and tender love. You would make sure that he knows that you have his best interest at heart. You would no doubt affirm your love and respect for him in the context of your "entreaty".

In a healthy church the members are willing to approach each other, to discuss differences, and even to deal with their individual faults in a godly manner. When someone approaches mature believers with concerns regarding their conduct, they will listen with respect and try to take the godly counsel of their brother or sister to heart. Resentment and denial do not surface. Some thirty or forty years ago the common style for men’s hair length was far longer than now. I even wore rather long hair for a season. At a regional church meeting a visiting preacher preached a whole sermon on the error of men wearing long hair. Interestingly the pastor of the host church wore his hair long at the time! One wonders if the visiting preacher might have found something more edifying and relevant to his audience than the length of men’s hair, but we’ll leave that question for the moment. Later the host pastor was describing the meeting to a friend who did not attend it. In the course of the description he mentioned the sermon against long hair styles for men. The friend asked the pastor, "Well, how do you feel about that sermon?" The host pastor graciously responded, "Well perhaps I should get a haircut." There was no resentment or hostility toward the man who preached the questionable sermon. How admirable is this attitude.

Rather than thinking of yourself as functionally above sin or the need for exhortation, spend some time this week in self-examination. How would you react if anyone in your church, even the person who is not so close to you, approached you with concerns regarding something that you said or did? To entreat, to exhort, (or to be entreated or exhorted) requires self-examination, not hostile self-defense.

We occasionally sing the hymn, "I need the prayers of those I love." I’d love to see someone write a hymn, "I need the exhortation of those I love." May we cultivate the foundation of gracious respect for the brotherhood, and sisterhood, of our church families so that we receive entreaty with grace, as well as give it with grace.

Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity. {1Ti 5:1-2}

Someone has said that the Christian army is the only army in the history of mankind that kills its wounded. Unfortunately we sometimes live up to that bad reputation. We live with a deep tension between the legitimate command to maintain purity, both in our own lives and in the lives of fellow-believers, and the equally legitimate command to show grace, support, and forgiveness toward those who fall. Both sides of this tension have their place in a balanced Christian life. Either directly or more often with deceiving subtlety the antinomian spirit finds its way into the thinking of many Christians. "We are not under the law but under grace," a Biblical statement for which we should thank God daily, is sometimes followed by a daring rejection of the Biblical command to live above reproach. Occasionally I have actually heard professing Christians claim that Jesus’ sinless life, imputed to us, relieves us of any obligation to live according to the moral code of Scripture. I have yet to see a single Scripture offered by these folks that supports their idea, and I can think of a large number that contradict it.

It is altogether likely that the most common fault among Christians is not the highly publicized moral scandals, but the ethical failure of one Christian to treat others with grace, the model conduct described in this passage. We continue to assassinate our wounded.

The Greek word translated "Rebuke" implies to strike or beat with words. It refers to the war of words, to literally beating up on a person with words instead of your fists. As children we were taught the cliché, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me." The sad truth is that words are far more harmful than sticks and stones could ever be.

As Primitive Baptists we typically use the title "Elder" to refer to a minister of the gospel. In Scripture the same reference appears, but the same word often appears to identify someone who is either older in years or spiritual maturity. I hold that this passage uses the term in this broader sense.

How do we implement and faithfully practice Paul’s instructions in this lesson? Two clues appear in the passage.

1. Entreat Intreat is translated from the Greek word "parakaleo," to call alongside. Unless we are living so that we may safely and ethically call an elder in the faith to stand alongside us exactly where we stand and how we stand, we have no Biblical basis for confronting any supposed error in him. We stand where we encourage him to stand.

2. The second clue appears in the word "father." Your older and more mature Christian brother is not a stranger whom you meet at the mall. He is not the driver of the car that cut you off on the freeway. You are to view him with the same Biblical respect and deference as if he were your father. "He ain’t heavy; he’s my brother" captures the spirit of this lesson. Some families live with acrimony and hatefulness, but the Biblical family builds on a respectful and gentle mutual respect that equally infiltrates every family member and governs the conduct of the whole family.

Implied specifically in this interaction is the fact that you do not approach an elder in the faith as a supervisor on the job might approach an erring employee with the "Shape up or ship out" attitude. You have no Biblical authority over your brother, much less your elder in the faith, beyond living a respectful and gracious example before him. The Christian life has little space for authoritarian strong-armed attitudes. Even the pastor is to take his oversight of the church as an example to them, not as "lords over God’s heritage." When a Christian starts barking orders and making gruff demands on others, he/she has stepped outside the bounds of Biblical Christianity. The only proper influence we have on another believer grows out of a respectful and gracious relationship among equals in the faith. Even the deacon or minister who functions from the authoritarian perspective will alienate people more often than instruct them. It is often this very person who has alienated people who then complains because no one volunteers their help with a church project when asked. The authoritarian church leader will then complain even louder, "I guess I have to do it myself; no one else cares enough to do it." The reality is that others care fully as much about the health of the church, but they dislike the "bully pulpit" of the authoritarian leader. Soften your touch and lead by a gentle example, and volunteers will show up when asked.

Paul then extends this familial gentleness to younger men, to older and to younger women. He creates a true model of a "church family." In our culture so many different brands of Christianity and church fellowships exist that the idea of a committed familial loyalty to one’s church is a rare attitude. If someone doesn’t get their way out of one church, they simply go down the street to the next church. Do you see the obvious problem? They take their faulty attitude with them. Before long, they’ll complain about the same kind of problems with this church that they criticized in their last church. Church leaders call these people "church hoppers." They simply hop from one church to another, never staying anywhere very long. Their attitude is the equivalent of the husband or wife who demonstrates little loyalty to their marriage vows. They will stay in the marriage as long as it serves their needs. They have almost no sense of the Biblical model of marriage that serves one’s partner, considering others as better than themselves. The historical and Biblical motto, "God wants me to be holy," has been replaced by "God wants me to be happy." The self-absorption of these people will never allow them to reach happiness.

According to the Biblical model, the family is a permanent institution. Scripture does not force a godly partner to remain in an abusive relationship. However, it does impose high demands on both partners. When both partners honor these demands, a blessed marriage will result. This model of Biblical family life is to govern the conduct of believers toward each other in the "church family" culture that Paul establishes in this lesson. When we develop his concept of "widows indeed" that follows, we will see even more clearly the depth of this familial spirit in the model New Testament church.

Paul qualifies both the relationship with younger women or with the whole church family unit by the term "with all purity." We readily grasp that we should live so as to exhibit purity, moral conduct that is above question, toward all people in our church culture. I suggest that Paul expects us to apply it no less to our assessment of motives and attitudes in others as toward our own conduct. If someone in the church says or does something that offends me, I will feel the hurt, and perhaps even the anger, of my fallen disposition. In my anger I am liable to impute low sinful motives on that person’s conduct. In the family setting that Paul defines we must impute the highest of motives to others, even when their conduct offends us, not the lowest. My personal obligation to "all purity" applies no less to my mental processes in judging the motives of others than to my conscious actions toward them.

Some thirty years ago when two little churches in the Los Angeles area were discussing the possibility of merging into one church, a precious sister in one of the groups asked me a question, "If we merge, that group has more members than we have. What if something important comes up and they outvote us?" Without delay I responded, "As the pastor of this new church, I would strongly recommend that the church take no action on the matter till all could comfortably agree." Somewhat startled, she said, "You’d really do that?" When I affirmed my answer, she showed a comfort with the idea that had not been there before. Over a rather brief time these two groups grew together so that there was no longer an "us and them," but a delightful "we" in the church. Two families really became one happy family. We could immediately eliminate many of the nagging and painful problems of our faith if we embraced this familial spirit more sincerely and profoundly. Problems will surface. Differences will exist. Will we follow Paul’s instruction in this lesson? The blessings are amazing.

Elder Joe Holder

FOOTNOTE:

{1} Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible: Showing every word of the test of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (SGreek: 3870. parakaleo). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.

2004/08/29 Christian Culture: Caring for Widows

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19,Nu 35 August 29, 2004

Christian Culture: Caring for Widows

Honour widows that are widows indeed. (1Ti 5:3; recommended reading 1Ti 5:3-16)

While only one verse appears above, your reading should include verses three through sixteen of this chapter. Throughout this paragraph Paul treats the question of "widows indeed" at length. What is a "widow indeed"? How does this lesson apply to us and to our church culture today? In an age where far too many professing Christians operate from the "What’s in it for me?" perspective, whether they ever state their thought so directly or not, this benevolent and caring spirit must be taught and practiced in the church. If such godly traits are contagious, we need to start an epidemic.

First century Roman culture did not offer Social Security, Medicare, or other senior/retirement benefits to its citizens. Even if it had done so, many first century Christians were slaves who had no legal standing or protection under Roman law. Thus a widow had no means to provide for herself. How would she survive? Instead of trying to reform the governmental culture, Paul urged Timothy and the churches to whom he wrote to reform their own lives and culture.

In another societal issue Paul urged Philemon, a wealthy believer, to take his former run-away slave back into his home, not as a rebellious slave to be punished, but now to be received in loving fellowship as a brother in Christ. Instead of organizing an anti-slavery movement against the Roman government, Christianity fostered the equality of the brotherhood of believers within its subculture, thus eliminating the basis for slavery. Contemporary Christians who attempt to transform civil government could learn a profitable lesson from these New Testament examples. We shall never realize utopia in this world, but within our church cultures we can establish little beachheads of godly and nurturing embassies that look forward to our homeland and an eternal utopia to come.

Under Paul’s instruction, Timothy was to establish a concept within the Ephesian church that ensured sufficient care for those who could not care for themselves, in this case, older widows.

Paul lists a number of qualifications for this unique category of "widows indeed." The establishment of the office of deacon (I believe) occurred in

Ac 6 emphasizes this family responsibility quite clearly. Any family member who refuses to accept the care of a widow within the family has denied his faith and is less caring than an unbeliever. In Mr 7:9-13 Jesus confronted the Jews with their traditions that contradicted the word of God, their Old Testament Scriptures. He chose as an example of their traditions that conflicted with Scripture their forsaking of parents in need, not at all unlike our passage and its "widows indeed." The Jews avoided caring for their older family members by asserting that they had pledged all of their surplus funds as a gift to God in the temple. They set up a nicely crafted "guilt-trip" for their parents. "Do you want me to give this money to you or to God?" Jesus saw through their sinful practice and condemned it. He reminded them that God required honor, including personal care, of parents in the Ten Commandments. They could not neglect their parents out of pretentious devotion to God.

(3) A "widow indeed" must be at least sixty years old. Paul urged the younger widows to remarry and engage themselves in productive family life as a wife and mother. Take the time to study the word "guide the house" in 1Ti 5:14. She is to accept her role as an active and productive member of family life. A younger widow who receives the church’s financial assistance would be liable to become a gossip rather than a servant of spiritual maturity. A word to the wise, does this point not make it crystal clear that no Christian should engage in any conduct that might be interpreted as prying into others’ personal lives or gossiping about their personal lives?

(4) To qualify for the church’s care under this concept, the "widow indeed" must have lived a consistent life of devotion to the faith. Over a long and productive life in the faith, she must have demonstrated selfless care for others in the faith. She would likely be the last person who would expect the church to care for her. If possible, she would still be looking for ways to minister to others rather than receive the church’s care. She doesn’t expect services from the church; through a lifetime of devotion to the faith she expects to serve.

First of all, this lesson assigns a specific responsibility to the church for the care of its older members. In our culture various governmental social programs assume a significant financial burden for their care. However, the fact that government has taken this role does not exempt a church from ensuring that its true widows, its "widows indeed," are adequately served during their final years. It would be altogether fitting that a church provide supplements to the less-than-adequate care provided by these programs. More to the point, such care presumes that the church, particularly its deacons, is intimately involved in the personal life of its members. Visitation among the members should be so commonplace that the church is constantly aware of its members’ needs and circumstances. Rather than soliciting contributions from widows to fund their lavish lifestyles, as with the case of some highly public television ministries, the New Testament church culture seeks opportunity and legitimate needs to which it can minister.

Even in our setting, a church should exercise wise caution in providing for widows who have family members. Paul prohibits the church’s care for widows with family members as clearly as he urges the care of those who do not have a family. The church should wisely respect this example. Like many of the governmental assistance programs that were espoused with good intentions, the church should not communicate to family members that their obligations are optional. It should clearly communicate the gravity of a family’s personal responsibility for its senior members. The New Testament church culture should never communicate to any of its members that they are entitled to a "free ride." Paul rather directly warned against extending care to those who are able to work. {2Th 3:10} Our society has witnessed the erosion that inevitably follows when able-bodied people who are able to work receive financial aide. Human nature, unchecked by the moral ethics of the Holy Spirit, will take advantage of any "free ride" available.

Our particular church sometimes refers to itself as a "commuter church." We live across a wide geographic distance. That complication, further aggravated by the growing traffic problem in the Los Angeles basin, makes regular visitation quite difficult. It does not exempt us from this Biblical mandate. Occasionally our women have organized visitation to older members who cannot attend services or take care of many of their personal needs. More power to this ministry, may it become more routine than novel. In addition several of our members, who are retired, but still healthy and active, spend regular time ministering to our older members who cannot care for themselves. May their tribe increase!

Elder Joe Holder

2004/09/05 Christian Culture: Regard For The Ministry

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, Number 36                                                                                                          September 5, 2004

 

Christian Culture: Regard for the Ministry

 

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.  (1Ti 5:17-18)

 


                Within the Christian community some discussion exists regarding this word elder.  Does it refer to ministers or pastors exclusively, or does it refer to respected men who have earned a reputation for maturity in their faith, something of a “Board of Directors” for the church?  In some denominations the title is viewed in the broader sense, and the pastor automatically sits as a member of this body or board.  Thus the title includes the pastor, but applies to others as well.  Given the fact that Paul specifically refers to elders who labor in the word and doctrine, and that he advocates the church’s financial support of the man in the position, it is my belief that the title in this lesson refers to the minister and/or pastor of the church. 

                This passage includes a number of interesting issues for our consideration.  How do you evaluate a minister’s “rule”?  Who rules well?  How do you evaluate one man’s quality of “rule” or leadership compared with another’s?  How do you credit “double honor” to the man who rules well?  The passage raises all of these questions, but doesn’t fully answer them, does it? 

                Another fascinating issue in the passage appears in Paul’s use of two Scriptural citations, both of which he calls “Scripture.”  The first reference appears in De 25:4.  The second reference appears in two passages from the gospels, New Testament letters, not Old Testament.  The words appear in Mt 10:10 and in Lu 10:7.  We must not overlook that Paul equated Moses’ Old Testament writings in Deuteronomy with the Holy Spirit’s recent inspiration of Matthew and Luke in their writing of the gospels.  Paul considered one passage no less “Scripture” than the other.  For the New Testament church and ministry, both Old and New Testament writings are to be highly respected and received as “Scripture,” as holy writings given by God for the instruction of His people. 

                Over a lifetime of observation I have seen ministers who refused to give their full time to ministry.  For them ministry was something of a glorified “holy hobby.”  Sadly, the churches where they served often drifted into thinking of their faith in similar terms.  I have also observed men who refused to serve any church that would not support them full-time.  Some of these men labored sufficiently to deserve a church’s full-time support.  Others seemed almost to coast along, appearing to think that their position deserved full support, whether they worked at it or not.  My personal experience falls between these two rather extreme perspectives.  I have served smaller churches whose numerical size did not reasonably allow them to provide full-time support to their pastor.  Notwithstanding I have lived with the conviction that Scripture clearly teaches that a pastor should devote his full time to his ministry and church.  This situation has often been a source of significant tension in my personal life and ministry.  To walk away from the small church almost surely predicts its demise.  To stay almost surely requires some kind of secular work for the pastor. 

                Our passage imposes requirements both on the church and on its pastor.  To the pastor it emphasizes that he works sufficiently to receive the support.  He is the ox who treads out the grain.  He is to be fed by his own labor, not by mere position.  Interestingly, the word translated ministry in the New Testament is reported by some New Testament linguistic scholars to have originally meant “working in the dust.” The idea was that the man works so hard and so consistently that he stirs up a dust in the field, but he continues working just as hard in the dust as at the beginning of the day.  When Paul introduced the qualifications for the ministry earlier in this letter, he prefaced the position with the fact that the man “…desireth a good work.”  He doesn’t merely desire the position, but the work.  A man who seeks the position must demonstrate the commitment to the work to receive the support that Paul describes.  A minister should avoid pleading his title or position for honor.  Instead he should invest his energy in working the work of the position. 

                The weight of the passage on the church appears in the fact that Paul does not make this support optional.  He urges it with the weight of Scripture’s command.  A church with a vision for the future should be a church with this goal firmly and clearly in its sights.  In many cases giving churches that are small may need only to grow in numbers to have sufficient resources.  If this is the case, they should make this growth a matter of personal prayer—and of personal evangelistic effort.  If a church focuses only on growth in numbers, it has missed the mark, as is the case with many of the “church growth” movement folks in our time.  However, the New Testament book of Acts clearly draws a parallel between growth in faith and growth in numbers.  One seldom occurs without the other.  If we accept the model of Acts, a church that is diminishing in numbers is not a strong church in the faith.  Traditionally we have lamented faithful, godly people who comprise a dying church with an inexcusable misinterpretation of the Mt 18 passage regarding “Where two or three” gather in Jesus’ name.  The context of this verse has to do with interpersonal offenses, not with the public gathering and spiritual health of the church body.  Can we overlook the obvious?  A dying church is not a faithful church.

                We strongly support the doctrines of grace without compromise by references to such passages as Eph 2:10.  The reference to our being created in Christ Jesus to good works before ordained of God is altogether valid and clearly instructive to these doctrines.  Our position in Christ relates to a spiritual creation, not to our personal self-generated evolution.  However, Paul uses precisely the same word in reference to the church’s support of the ministry (1Co 9:14).  We cannot reasonably compromise one tenet any more than the other.  Thus a church’s support of a full-time ministry is not a desirable option for Paul, but a necessity, a command. 

                Occasionally our people have fiercely opposed the idea of a “salaried” ministry.  Perhaps we overstate the Biblical position.  The two passages that Paul cited use the term “hire” and “meat.”  And Paul interpreted them as “reward.”  The Greek word translated “reward” in this passage literally means “dues paid for work, wages.” 

                There is indeed a Biblical balance that we must strive to honor in this sensitive area of teaching.  On one hand we must never appear to compromise Biblical teaching.  The church that does so loses the blessing intended by obedience to this command.  On the other hand we must not neglect small churches that simply do not have the fiscal resources to fund a full-time pastor.  If we do so, we fail the New Testament example in which Paul himself worked at making and selling tents, paid the rent, and taught all who would come to him for teaching.  We cannot doubt that he believed in, and was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write, about a full-time funded ministry.  Yet he willingly worked personally to advance the kingdom of God through his own secular work. 

                The popular reputation of many public ministries today, particularly television ministries, has shamed Christianity’s honorable and unselfish ministries.  Men who rob widows while living in lavish personal abundance are to be shamed and rejected, not honored.  However, their excesses should not drive any conscientious church or minister away from a devoted effort, and the necessary teaching that brings about a full-time ministry in local churches. 

                It is my view—as well as that of many other more informed and scholarly minds—that far more than financial support is involved in this idea of giving “double honor” to those men who labor in the gospel.  The man in the office should work so hard and so honorably that he will command compelling respect from the people who know him and serve under his teaching and ministry.  I reject the idea that a church should provide such support for anyone other than a man whom they have seen living up to the respect that justifies both the honor and the support that Paul describes in this passage. 

                It would be an informative exercise for the members of a church to devote their minds and conversation during a potluck meal or other free time in their gathering to compiling a list of things that a full-time pastor might do in their church.  It might encourage them to work harder for the idea as well as encouraging their pastor to work along with them.  A successful full-time ministry requires an adjustment in the church’s thinking and conduct that is as dramatic as that required by the minister himself to shift from “bi-vocational” part-time to full-time ministry.  May we follow the Word in all things.

 

Little Zion Primitive Baptist Church

16434 Woodruff

Bellflower, California

Worship service each Sunday                  10:30 A. M.

Joseph R. Holder                                                                                                                 Pastor

2004/09/11 Wise Counsel for Preachers and Ordinations

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19,Nu 37 September 11, 2004

Wise Counsel for Preachers and Ordinations

Dear Friends,

Our study passage this week deals with rather specific attitudes toward ministers. Unwise ordinations and low regard for men in ministry cause severe problems for a church. If a church calls for a man’s ordination to an office for which he is not qualified, they commit two wrongs. They put the man into an office for which he is not qualified, and which he cannot, therefore, fulfill with honor either to himself or to his Lord. Secondly, they rob the man of opportunity to function effectively and profitably in the true office to which God has appointed him.

Increasingly with time, I believe that a man who seeks the office and appears to have the potential for ministry should be allowed to grow and mature for a rather long period of time under the mentoring of an older minister. "Let these things first be proved" requires that the man demonstrate the evidence both of his calling from God and his maturity in the faith prior to his ordination. Once ordained, I believe that every man should make his calling the first priority of his life and that he should never compromise his conduct or qualifications so as to bring dishonor to his position. A man who knowingly compromises his qualifications discredits both his own ministry and the respect that people who know him hold for other ministers. I fear that this willingness to compromise is to some degree responsible for the low respect that many churches have for ministers. Two dimensions exist for such compromise. A church that wants to ordain a man whose qualifications have not been demonstrated might decide that the New Testament qualifications really don’t apply to us today. I have actually heard people in this situation state, "Well, if we wait till we have someone who meets all these qualifications, we’ll never ordain anyone." This faulty attitude rejects Scripture and replaces Biblical criteria with relativism. Likewise, a man in ministry who realizes in any particular facet of his qualifications for office that he fails, might rationalize his failure with "I tried, but I just couldn’t live up to it, so I decided to give up trying." According to the Biblical requirements of church office, a church must require evidence of full qualifications prior to ordination, and a man who has been ordained must uncompromisingly apply all the Biblical qualifications of the office to his personal life and conduct.

Why would anyone lay an accusation against an "elder"? If he is guilty, they should make the charge with demonstration of the irrefutable evidence of his failure. If there is no evidence, the charge should never be made. At the heart of such accusations, I fear, is a deep lack of Biblical respect for both the office and for the men who occupy the office. We live in an era that has seen numerous men in highly visible ministries fall into disgrace. The secular news media is always ready to jump onto such episodes and point out the pervasive hypocrisy of conservative, Bible-believing Christianity. Much of this low regard has seeped into the minds of many Christians.

How can we avoid such traps in our own churches and ministries? I recall hearing a radio broadcast shortly after one of these public failures. Chuck Swindoll was at the time pastor of the Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, California. He actually broadcast a private session that he had with his ministerial staff at that church. He emphasized a strong posture of personal accountability between every member of the staff at that church. He pleaded with his staff that, if ever they observed him falling short of his office, they would immediately confront him. I believe in this approach he hit at the heart of many ministerial failures, both public and private. The minister who becomes private and isolates himself is setting himself up for certain failure. The minister who becomes unwilling to graciously accept confrontation and correction from people in the church becomes a prime target of Satan. Unity doesn’t mean that we live in an artificial world where we pretend that everyone, especially we individually, are flawless. Unity means that we care enough to confront error when it appears. Confront it graciously, but confront it consistently. Unity also means that we must be willing to receive confrontation without taking offense at the person who confronts us.

I believe a healthy church culture that is willing to confront—and be confronted—safely is essential for a healthy respect for the ministry within the church. I do not require or expect that every confrontation be perfect. Such a thing doesn’t exist. Both the person who confronts me and I are equally flawed with sin and need a healthy dose of grace to respond graciously, whether confronting or confronted.

Often a minister must confront less-than-perfect conduct in his sermon. How does he confront them? How do people in the congregation respond? He needs as much grace to confront error properly as they need to repent properly. 2Ti 2:24-26 instructs the pulpit and the pew alike to apply grace and tenderness in our interactions with each other. I may not always agree with the person who confronts me when I fail, or when that person perceives that I failed. How I respond as a minister to this situation will set an example that others in the church will observe and practice. Many times I have faced gentle correction by caring members of the congregation, something that I profoundly appreciated. And, yes, at times I have been confronted in rather hostile ways that did not rub me well. In those cases I am under just as much Biblical obligation to respond with grace as when I deserved it. It is by no means easy to respond with grace when you feel that you have been wrongly rebuked, but the example of ministry in these occasions will go far to move a church toward godly and always gracious exhortation.

Despite the incredible difficulty of working my way through some of these passages and their application to my life and the lives of the people in the church that I serve, I am grateful that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write such instructive and practical—at times in my face—words to that young preacher Timothy. Will you pray for me that I will have the tender grace to demonstrate a godly example that models the grace that Paul exemplified in his teaching, and that my personal conduct will foster respect toward the office of ministry and not contempt or low regard for it? I truly ask and need your prayers to this end.

God bless, Joe Holder

Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality. Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure. Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.? Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid. {1Ti 5:19-25}

I have chosen to treat all of these verses as a single thematic unit. The context seems to urge this perspective. After urging the church’s support for its ministry, Paul cautions them to hold ministers in high regard. These men inherently hold a prominent place, a situation that often leads to undue criticism against them. The juiciest gossip of the day focuses on a preacher who made a mistake that dishonored his ministry. Even Christians are prone to this ungodly gossip.

Paul’s rule that begins this lesson would immediately curb most of the dissension and unrest that occurs in churches. If someone raises a charge or wants to pass along a "secret" about a minister, we should immediately stop the person in their tracks. "What proof do you have? What value can you offer that justifies your telling me or anyone else about this allegation? What if it proves to be a false charge?" If a person cannot produce personal witnesses and justify the need to discuss the matter with you, they should be stopped immediately from further discussion. If we listen to gossip, we must accept a measure of blame for its damage.

In a balanced measure that deals realistically with the question of ministers who are indeed human and occasionally do err, Paul adds a further directive. When witnesses confirm a preacher’s error, it should be confronted in the public assembly of the church. The man should be publicly rebuked and urged to repent. Further the church should work intently to help this man recover from his error, not merely sit in judgment and gossip about his conduct. The whole church becomes a tool in helping the man regain his integrity and his ministry. It appears that Paul views public rebuke as a necessary step in the recovery process for fallen ministers, perhaps so for all believers.

The treatment toward falsely accused or erring ministers is to be equally applied to all. You don’t forgive an egregious sin because the man who sinned is a favored friend. Nor do you apply excessive harshness to a man because you and he haven’t gotten along in the past.

Although the text cannot clearly affirm the point, some commentaries (The Bible Knowledge Commentary as an example) make 1Ti 5:23 parenthetic to Paul’s ongoing dialogue regarding the church’s administration of spiritual gifts, including, but not limited to their ordination. The flow of information would indicate the possibility. How does Timothy’s taking a measured amount of wine for his health relate to the qualifications and ordination of other men?

{1Ti 5:22} "Lay hands suddenly on no man..." appears to refer to ordination. Occasionally writers will apply the verse to whether we receive a charge against a minister or not. This view, correct whether or not it presents the primary lesson, holds that we should give the benefit of the doubt to a minister who comes under accusation till we know by hard evidence and witnesses that he has erred. Given the greater context, it is my view that Paul is referring to the practice of laying hands on a man to ordain him to office, either minister or deacon. Sudden or hasty ordinations occur without sufficient evidence and time to observe the man in a variety of situations to truly reach any valid conclusion as to his calling and qualifications. I do not favor speedy ordinations.

It appears that the "Some men’s sins are open beforehand..." idea that follows this warning against speedy ordinations relates directly to Paul’s caution. Why avoid quick ordination? The reason is obvious. Due to personality and to the variety of circumstances that surface over time, it is necessary for preachers and the church of the man’s membership to observe him for a lengthy time before considering him for ordination. Some men seem to live open lives regardless of their situation. If they make a mistake, they make if for all to see. It is open immediately, so that people know it for better or worse. Other men are by nature more private. They may make the same mistake, but do so in a manner that does not reveal the error until much later. Allow time to pass, and both men’s conduct will become apparent. However, due to one man’s temperament, if we were inclined toward hasty ordinations, we might ordain one man right away and hesitate to ordain the other man for years. Both men commit the same infraction, but one does so in a more obvious and public manner than the other. The church’s judgment should not be administered so as to leave it open to such inconsistencies. "And let these also first be proved" {1Ti 3:10} should be the habit of a church toward anyone considered for ordination.

The wisdom of Paul’s caution here should be obvious. What if a church makes a mistake in calling for a man’s ordination to either office? How do you "un-ordain" a man? You might as well try to un-scramble an egg. The personal wounds to the man and his family are devastating. It is far wiser to proceed with gentle caution in such matters.

How long should a church expect a man to speak and function in ministry under the pastor’s mentoring before considering him for ordination? We should judge each case on its merits, not try to follow a prescribed program or timeline. One thing seems certain from Paul’s Pastoral letters; do not be hasty in ordination.

Various pastors and churches follow different procedures in their efforts to apply Paul’s instructions to our contemporary church setting. I know of at least one respected pastor who will not consider ordaining a man to the ministry, regardless of how effective he is in the pulpit, till a church calls him as its pastor. This is a sensible practice. I am inclined to view it as a worthy habit in our time and culture.

A general practice that our churches follow is for a man to visit various churches in the region where he lives so that several pastors have opportunity to hear him speak and to observe his demeanor with other believers. Although the actual decision to call for a man’s ordination should be the church of his membership, they should do so advisedly and only with the concurrence of surrounding churches that have had occasion to hear the man speak and to see his conduct firsthand.

How many ministers should an individual church ordain or have in its membership? It seems reasonably clear that most of the New Testament churches had more than one minister laboring among them. However, it also seems clear than only one man is to serve as the pastor of a church. The New Testament knows nothing of "pastoring by committee," nor should it. Depending on a church’s membership, a variety of preachers might serve various needs and encourage the membership more than a single pastor is capable of doing. I reject "co-pastor" or "associate pastor" concepts as encroaching on the pastoral responsibility of the pastor whom God has called and assigned to a local church.

In the case of deacons, an office that does not grow out of a divine "calling," but rather is based on the individual church’s need, the matter seems more reasonably left to the church of the man’s membership. How many deacons does a church need? In most cases they may not need as many as they want to ordain. We can make a reasonable case that the Jerusalem church numbered close to ten thousand members when the apostles ordained seven men as deacons. {Ac 6} The number depends on the individual church’s need. What activities need the attention and wisdom of a qualified deacon? How many deacons are needed to ensure that these needs are met? In most churches two to three deacons is more than sufficient.

One need only experience one or two unwise ordinations and the aftermath that they inevitably create to realize the incredible wisdom that Paul displayed in this chapter. The honor of ministry in this lesson grows out of the man’s conduct, not out of a piece of paper given to him at ordination. A church should follow wise judgment in ordinations. May we practice Paul’s godly counsel with gentle grace and spiritual discernment. The mentoring process described in 2Ti 2:2 requires time and patience to grow strong, godly leaders. We should exercise caution in selecting the men whom we ordain, and we should expect exemplary conduct from them after their ordination. These thoughts seem almost elementary, but they are essential to a church’s wise administration of the ministry that God sends to it. Be cautious in selecting the men to be ordained, and expect—demand—that they honor their position after ordination.

Elder Joe Holder

2004/09/19 Christianity in the Spirit of the Servant

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, #38 September 19, 2004

Christianity in the Spirit of the Servant

Dear Friends,

Our passage this week takes us to the heart of true Christian service. No service will rise above the attitude that drives it. A grudging attitude will foster a grudging service. A joyful attitude will prompt a joyful service. And, as our passage teaches, the heart of a servant will prompt the devoted service of a servant. Jesus specifically taught, "I am among you as he that serveth". {Lu 22:27} When we adopt the heart of a servant, devoted to the Master’s interest, not to orchestrating people and events to get our own way, we will implement the actions of service that honor our true Master.

Whatever our role in the church, this lesson urges intense self-examination. Do I fulfill that role because of personal interests or to honor God? Our American culture is intoxicated with the "What’s in it for me?" mindset. That sinful attitude often invades churches. It even impacts preachers. May we spend some prayerful time in the days ahead seeking the Lord’s enlightenment of our present attitudes toward our Christianity. Are we doing things for self or to honor our Lord? Are we serving or seeking service from others?

God bless,

Joe Holder

Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. {1Ti 6:1-5}

Although directed to servants-literally first century slaves-Paul’s words cover every believer in every echelon of society. Be he the head of state or homeless, if he has committed to living his faith, he must commit to the role of a servant. Many years ago I heard about a young inexperienced minister who was called to serve a church under the mentoring supervision of an aging pastor who had served them for almost forty years. The church saw potential in the young man, and wanted to give him time and experience under the wise and watchful eye of their old and trusted pastor. When the young man stood to give the church his answer, he proceeded to tell the church that he expected to be supported full-time and that his support should at least equal the average income of the membership. The church promptly revoked their call, sad and disappointed, because they saw how far this young man was in his attitude from the role of a servant. Indeed Scripture teaches the necessity of a full-time ministry. In fact there is nothing wrong with a church setting its goal to support its pastor to the average income of its membership, so the young man’s objectives were not in error. The problem was his attitude. Rather than pledging to learn and grow under his senior and to earn his respect and support by loyal service to God and to this church, the young man broke the church’s confidence by demanding what he should have earned over time. His attitude destroyed his objective.

Occasionally Bible critics will assault the New Testament for its failure to condemn slavery. They miss the greater issue that the New Testament confronts directly. Had first century Christians openly opposed slavery, they would have been immediately stamped out by the Roman government. However, they did something far more detrimental to slavery’s future. They eliminated its justification by teaching the brotherhood of all believers. As fiercely as Paul imposes responsibility on slaves in our passage, he equally imposes responsibility on masters in other passages. In a personal experience Paul encountered a runaway slave of a master who was his friend and a believer. The slave became convicted of his sin and also became a believer. What did Paul do? He sent the slave back to his former master with a personal letter, pleading with the former master to accept his former rebellious slave, no longer as a runaway, but now as a brother in Christ. He even volunteered to personally pay the man’s debts if he owed anything to his master. Where does this all appear in the New Testament? Read the little book of Philemon.

Slaves were commanded to honor their masters, not rebel or become political activists against slavery, "...that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed." A slave’s faithfulness to his master should become a convincing witness to his master for the merits of the faith. In our contemporary Western secular culture I wonder what would happen to such social institutions as labor unions and social cause organizations if this simple direction were believed and applied. Paul makes the case even stronger when the master is also a believer.

Once Paul has established this demanding concept clearly to Timothy, he adds emphasis with the sentence, "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words..." Paul’s words for such a believer are strong. "He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness." Pride often appears when our personal status is challenged or put down. How easily the slaves in the church at Ephesus could have adopted similar attitudes and words to the contemporary labor union activists, "How this organization survived with such idiots in management I’ll never know..." The same indictment holds to the masters in the church in Ephesus. What if a believing master in the church adopted the same attitude toward his believing slaves that the typical master held? "Slaves, no wonder they are in such a lowly position. They have no intelligence and no ambition to better them selves. The whole lot are lazy no-accounts." Paul would have opposed one attitude as fiercely as the other.

A contemporary question probes this question of Biblical Christian ethics. "If you were accused of being a Christian, would a jury find enough evidence to convict you?" When our three daughters were in high school, they occasionally talked about fellow-students who vacillated between faith and sin. One week these students would be taking and selling drugs on campus. The next week they carried a Bible and were talking about Jesus. Our daughters called them "Jes-oids." Occasionally you will encounter adults who claim to be Christians but whose lifestyle is no more convincing than these high school students. They attend church on Sunday. They call themselves Christians, but in their careers they follow the practices of corrupt relativistic ethics-more accurately, lack of ethics. It is such people who contribute so heavily to the prevailing reputation of Christians in our culture of being hypocritical bigots.

Paul explores the attitude of these corrupt minds, "...supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself." Turn on some Christian television or radio programs today and you’ll hear this message preached as the true gospel. Paul described it as "Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth..." One’s bank account may well testify of the authenticity of his faith, but it does so by reflecting how he uses the money that he has, how faithfully he serves as a godly steward of the resources that God has allowed him to gain. The size of the balance in the account does not measure one’s faith or approval of God. The most faithful believer may struggle for tonight’s meal to serve his family. And the weakest believer may have more than heart could desire. Haddon Robinson, a respected contemporary preacher and seminary professor, tells of visiting a church as a guest preacher on one occasion. He arrived early and quietly sat in the auditorium waiting for the service to begin. Soon a young family walked in and sat down near Robinson. He struck up a casual conversation with this family to pass the time. During the conversation Robinson asked the husband the question, "I’m curious. How does this church go about its giving? What do they expect of each member? How do you determine how much you give to the church each Sunday?" The husband promptly responded, "Oh that is simple. We give the same amount that we’d spend on a night out to see a good movie." Without any thought this man equated his giving to a night of entertainment. Given the fact that Paul makes a powerful point to both Timothy and Titus that the minister of the gospel should be an example to people in all things, I wonder how many preachers could hold up their personal giving to the church as an example. What does it mean to be an example? It means that if everyone in the church did exactly as you do, the church would prosper and be a mature spiritual body. In the matter of giving it means that the church would have adequate resources to provide for its Biblical responsibilities, both to needy members, to other churches in need (as the other churches donated to the Jerusalem church in Acts), and to their pastor. One must ask the question. Do you ever wonder how much the tel-evangelists give from their income? They say a lot about receiving, but little about their personal giving. For that matter, every minister of the gospel should be able to teach giving with the conviction that he has personally practiced what he preaches about giving. No one should boast about his good works. An example speaks through actions, not through a trumpet that praises self.

Whether in giving or in any other matter of our discipleship, we must measure our Christianity against the rule of the servant. Do we serve or seek service from others? Do we view our role as to give or as to gain?

Elder Joe Holder

2004/09/26 The Price of Godly Contentment

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19, #39 September 26, 2004

The Price of Godly Contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.? {1Ti 6:6-10}

How I would love to tell you that I have mastered godly contentment! Truth is that, like many of you, I often struggle with discontentment. I like to pacify myself that my discontentment is more honorable than that of others, but this passage will not let me off the hook so easily. I long for sufficient fiscal security to walk away from secular work and devote my remaining energy and time to my ministry. I long to see the church that I serve more engaged and committed to its worship and godly evangelism. I long for improvement in my personal discipleship. I long to preach more consistently with power that truly impacts my hearers so as to change their lives, to evoke repentance, faith, and a steady course of good works in the spirit of glorifying God. All of these things and others often interrupt my contentment.

Paul hardly encourages passive resignation to life, regardless of the circumstances, in this lesson. His life doesn’t mirror that philosophy. He has just completed a disturbing lesson on servants accepting their role and using it to honor God rather than gain personal improvement, a point that confronts each of us in our secure, private worlds. How easily we can regret and "wish" our lives away for what isn’t, all the while ignoring many blessings that steadily come our way. Paul rebukes me; frankly I hope he also rebukes you in this lesson. Only when we come to terms with his teaching will we confront the issues in our lives, and in our reactions to life, that disturb godly contentment and promote deeper faith in God.

I have frequently observed sincere believers who had few major problems with godliness, but they have major problems with contentment. Do we realize how contradictory our witness is when we demonstrate discontented godliness? How many people will we gain to the faith by such a glaring contradiction in our own life?

We occasionally chuckle at the bumper sticker-typically pasted to the rear bumper of a travel trailer or motor home-"We are spending our children’s inheritance." Paul joins Solomon in Ecclesiastes, reminding us that life is full of contradictions, but that it is also full of blessings that God has sent our way for our joy and contentment. For years I viewed Ecclesiastes as the frustrated musings of a tired old man who forsook his faith and reflected on a life lived far below the wisdom that God granted him for others. I have recently had to revise my thinking about this disturbing, probing Old Testament letter. Solomon may well reflect the perspective of a realist in Ecclesiastes, but he certainly does not reflect the attitude of a cynic. Yes, life is futile ("Vain" or "vanity" is the word that repeatedly occurs in our KJV), life is full of frustrations. However, life is also full of blessings that come from God, all intended by their Giver to give us joy in this life. God is sovereign. He alone holds the keys to life, and He has not surrendered them to anyone, not even to you or me. Despite the futility and frustration of life, there is one thing that transcends all others. This alone gives meaning to the futility and frustrations that we experience in life. God is both sovereign and good, two attributes that He will not compromise. Given this truth about God’s character, we have one over-arching obligation, to "fear God and keep his commandments."

Paul joins Solomon in our passage. We came into this world without a stitch of clothing on our backs or a penny in the bank. The moment our heart beats its last we shall be in precisely that same position again as we exit this life. Therefore, both Paul and Solomon urge us to focus our present life on present blessings that incorporate eternity and God, and with that focus to be content.

A thought strikes me about Paul’s comment in this lesson. We typically view contentment as controlled by other people and by life’s circumstances-by events. If all the right events come our way, and if all the people who are important in our life do what we want, we will be content. We make contentment a matter of sentiment, of emotion, and put its power under the control of other people and circumstances that we-in the main-cannot control. Paul contradicts our thinking on both counts. For Paul-and the Holy Spirit directed these words-contentment is a decision of our will. We choose to be content. We decide to be content, but we do not rely on other people or circumstances to give us contentment. As long as we rely on events and people to give us contentment, we reveal that we refuse to accept contentment with food and clothing. We want more. When we accept God’s goodness in our lives and make a conscious decision to be content with God and with life, we will gain that elusive goal.

Paul reflects supernatural insight into our fallen humanity with the notation that an inordinate focus on money-whether you have it and don’t use it wisely, or you don’t have it and envy those who do-"But they that will be rich..." His point confronts our wills, not our balance sheet. What are we "willing" to pursue above all else? Many years ago I worked with a young man who was attending a local church school/seminary, preparing for the ministry. One day during our coffee break, the question came up regarding what anyone of us would be willing to do for enough money. You can imagine the various issues that came up in this dialogue. How much money would motivate you to do something that you know to be wrong? Eventually the question of murder and other crimes became the talking point. This young man surprised us all with his comment that for enough money he’d consider murder. I raised the question that he was a seminary student, preparing for ministry. Didn’t he understand the contradiction between his profession and his comment? He was almost cavalier in his response. For him money was more important than moral or ethical decisions. I seriously doubt, if he ever graduated and became a pastor, that any of us who participated in that conversation would have been especially interested in attending his church and hearing him preach. Is it any wonder?

I have seen a few wealthy people who did not have the self-control or good judgment to know how to use their wealth. It was not difficult to see how they "pierced themselves through with many sorrows." Divorce, lost friendships-less life stability than the churning waves of the ocean that beat constantly on the shoreline. I find it somewhat disconcerting that I have seen far more people who did not possess surplus money, but tried to make people think they did, falling hopelessly into deep debt and financial ruin. Or others with this faulty emphasis on money barely controlled their envy toward others who appeared to have more than they. Can we understand that the person who does not have money, but who puts too much emphasis on it, is no less in danger of piercing themselves through with sorrows than the wealthy person who cannot control his appetite? This term that Paul uses, piercing themselves through with many sorrows, almost sounds like a self-inflicted torture chamber, doesn’t it? Perhaps that is his point. The grief of such people is self-inflicted, and it inevitably will lead them to self-torture.

We should not need to underscore that it is not money, but the inordinate emphasis on or "love" of money that creates the problem for the believer. The word translated "love" here means friendship with money. Without consciously intending to do so, these people, be they rich or poor, who love money as their dear friend, look to money for the security that they can only find in God. If you were to ask them if they trust money instead of God, you’d no doubt get a highly emotional, offended denial.

This lesson disrupts our lives and nudges us to revolutionary changes in the way we live. We cannot maintain our comfortable "status quo" and live up to Paul’s exhortation. If God were to examine our checkbook at the end of any particular month, do you suppose that He might make recommendations for change in the way we use our resources? He would require us to live within our means, not plunge headlong into debt. He would no doubt nudge us to invest far more than we do in spiritual activities. Do we understand that He is omniscient, all-knowing? He knows every line in our checkbook. He has already audited our records and given us His report. We find it in Scripture. Does our checkbook reflect our words and our claims of faith? What changes must we make to bring our faith and our checkbook into harmony? What might such a change do to our contentment?

Elder Joe Holder

2004/10/03 Our Primary Focus: Positive not Negative

Gospel Gleanings, “...especially the parchments” Volume #19, #40 October 3, 2004

Our Primary Focus: Positive not Negative

But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. {1Ti 6:11-12}

How easily we fall into the subtle trap of defining ourselves more by what we oppose than by what we approve. We can talk all day about what we oppose and say nothing about what we favor. I fear that we occasionally drift into this flaw much to our harm. A hungry man can talk for hours about all the foods that he dislikes, but he can also starve to death in the process. Only ingesting good nutritious food will satisfy his hunger. Our basic spiritual need-our hunger-can only be satisfied by spiritual food, not by emphasizing a long list of things we dislike. When we allow the negative emphasis to control our identity-even in our own minds-we are liable to attract more negative people than hungry truth-seekers who want to worship God.

We cannot emphasize too strongly the transformation that should be manifest in our lives because of our faith in Christ. Our American culture is saturated with people who claim to be Christian, but based on their responses to private surveys conducted by Christian organizations their moral and ethical compass barely differs at all from the unbelieving ordinary citizen. This fact is frightening. It predicts that robust Christianity may well not survive long in our culture. God shall surely preserve His truth, but He will do so among a people who respect it and honor its demands for a transformed life. We find a fascinating demonstration of this transformation in the identity of the apostles themselves. Prior to Jesus calling him to be an apostle, Matthew was a tax collector, a “publican.” Simon (not Peter) is identified as a “zealot,” a political insurrectionist who fought to drive the Romans out of Judah. If Matthew had continued being a tax collector and if Simon had continued being a zealot after their call to be apostles of the Lord Jesus, they would have likely spent so much time debating politics that they could not have focused their lives on their discipleship. Once we profess faith in Christ, that faith should define us, both in our own minds and in the eyes of others who see our attitudes and conduct clearly demonstrating our faith as our defining characteristic. Far too many Christians of all persuasions are perhaps more “hobby” Christians than serious “professional” Christians. They seek the identity and they likely want to live reasonably upright lives, but they don’t want to take their Christianity too seriously. As I write this chapter (May, 2004) recent news stories splashed the Catholic Church’s ruling that politicians who openly favor abortion will be denied Communion. In many instances the Roman Catholic Church leads society in moral issues. On the question of abortion Roman Catholic leadership has strongly opposed this evil, but many of the church’s members have simply ignored their church and both advocated and practiced it. If a person professes identity as a Christian, he/she should apply Biblical principles of conduct to every aspect of their life.

Paul has just concluded his warning about the intoxicating appeal of wealth, even to Christians. Now he cautions Timothy to avoid this error, to flee anything that might entice him to focus his life on money instead of his faith. Rather than following after wealth to the point of “piercing” himself through with many self-inflicted wounds, Paul urges Timothy to follow after the true wealth of spirituality; righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness. He is to “fight the good fight of faith,” not fight for his “share” of wealth. The energizing force in his life is to be eternal life, not the pursuit of money or envy toward those who have it.

“Greco-Roman moralists often described moral struggles in terms of warfare, as did Jewish texts influenced by them (e.g., 4 Maccabees, where it refers to martyrdom).8[1] The image in the Greek here is not that of a war, however, but of another image the moralists equally exploited in a figurative manner: the wrestling match or athletic contest.” 9[2] True, the man of God is to fight, but his battle is to be with his own appetites. “Vigor and intensity are suggested both in fleeing things that lead from the faith and in pursuing things pertaining to the faith.”10[3] Paul would not have tolerated the “laid back” view and conduct of many professing Christians in our time who claim to be believers but who refuse to allow their faith to excite or to control them. For them it is a nice piece of jewelry, but it is not a good thing to live by in the trenches of life. How sad.

Paul’s term, “Fight the good fight of faith,” is a military term. Inherent in a successful military campaign are a number of factors that carry over into Paul’s imagery. First, no soldier fights alone. He is a member of a larger force of soldiers. How many people do you know who claim to be Christians but who never darken the door of a church, a claim that may be more fiction than fact? Secondly, soldiers on the battlefield serve under the directions of a commander. They do not simply “do their own thing” as they wish. They have been trained intensely in the strategies and skills of war. They go into the battle with clear instructions that they must follow throughout the engagement. We live in a time when many people claim to be Christians who believe that their conscience is the supreme court of every act they perform. Try suggesting that they serve under a specific “chain of command” as set forth in Scripture and defended in a local church and you will likely hear the rebellious “I answer to God alone. My faith is no one else’s business.”

Throughout Scripture, “faith” often appears in a context that strongly implies “faithfulness.” No where in the Bible do we see true faith as a simple mental outlook that carefully keeps itself out of one’s personal conduct. James’ whole treatise on dead faith, faith that produces no works, builds on this premise. When you sign a contract to buy merchandise on installment, somewhere in the terms of the contract you will agree that you enter this contract in “good faith,” with genuine intentions of paying the debt according to the terms of the contract. The claim of “faith” for a Christian is the equivalent of a “good faith” promise to live by one’s faith.

To “lay hold” on eternal life means to get in touch with it, “get a grip on it,” as we might say in our contemporary jargon. The term in this context has nothing to do with Timothy gaining his salvation. At this point he is a faithful believer and minister of the gospel, hardly the kind of person the Bible describes as unsaved. The dynamic power of God, of eternal life, along with all of its related and Biblical values, is to govern Timothy’s conduct and choices in life. He cannot serve as an honorable example to the church in Ephesus and do otherwise.

The word translated “patience” has the primary meaning of continuing endurance. It is often used with reference to remaining faithful through hardship when it would be easy-perhaps even understandable-to give up and walk away. The idea is that Timothy is to maintain his faithfulness through good times and bad. Whether his service is comfortable or full of distress, his charge before God is to remain under the command of the Lord Jesus as set forth in Scripture. Whether he wins the particular battle in Ephesus or not, he must remain faithful.

Good synonyms for “meekness” in this passage would be gentleness or mildness. Christians must lead something of a revolutionary lifestyle. They march to the beat of a different drum. However, they should not march to their drumbeat with defiance or arrogance toward others. We will only win those who view life differently by living our faith with winsome delight and kindness. During the six months from the time that I write this chapter till our national election, many Christians will cloud the distinction between their faith and their political party affiliation. Some will advocate fiercely for one party or candidate; some for another. And some will equally advocate abandonment of the whole system as hopelessly corrupt. They forget the lesson that we find in Matthew and Simon. May we practice our faith with such godly kindness as to appeal to outsiders rather than turn them off.

Elder Joe Holder

2004/10/10 Christianity: Serious Business

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #41 October 10, 2004

Christianity: Serious Business

I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. {1Ti 6:13-14}

What is your personal assessment of Scripture? How do you view it in terms of its value to instruct and direct your life? Have you ever defended a particular action, either in your life or in your church, with the ``Well, the Bible doesn't condemn it so it must be okay'' argument? This defense is called the ``argument from silence.'' It is the weakest possible argument for a belief or practice. It outright rejects Paul's personal description of Scripture as God's thorough furnisher to all good works. Paul's response to this argument from silence would urge us to look for what we believe and practice in Scripture or to avoid its belief and/or practice. Scripture certainly contains many prohibitions, but it is primarily a positive book that exemplifies the Christian faith and life in terms of what we are to believe and practice, not merely what we are to reject.

However balanced we seek to live out our faith not a one of us has reached the point in our faith-journey that we can say we have arrived. Ever so subtly we allow little things to creep into our thinking and conduct that cannot find Biblical support. If challenged, we typically offer a ``What's wrong with it?'' defense. My first thought when I encounter something of this nature in my own life is rather ``If it isn't taught in Scripture, what's right with it?''

Christianity is not an entertaining hobby to be practiced for our personal recreation. Paul described it as a solemn charge to be observed before God at all times. What an incredible transformation such an attitude would make in our lives today if we simply started practicing this kind of Biblical Christianity. Are you ready to do it? Are you willing to do it? Do you want to do it? There is no better time than today.

Let the transformation begin,

Joe Holder

You occasionally hear people defend their private Christianity. ``I answer to God for my faith, not to another man.'' There is a half truth in the comment, but it misses a major component of New Testament Christianity. One has to wonder. What would have happened if Timothy had responded to Paul with these words? As well as being a personal faith, Christianity is preeminently a community faith. God places high value on community. Within the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are self-aware, but they are also in perfect harmony and communication with each other. {Joh 3:35; 5:17,20,23; 8:29; 10:15,30; 11:41; 12:27-28; 14:16} New Testament Christianity developed after Jesus' ascension specifically as a community of believers who banded together in worship and mutual support. The isolated, lone Christian will eventually become a lonely, defeated Christian. As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work in perfect harmony with each other and communicate with each other, so has God commanded His followers to establish and maintain a tight union of communication, fellowship, and community of worship.

Within the community of worshipping believers, this charge establishes the gravity with which all believers should regard their faith and conduct. We might easily deceive other believers into thinking that we are authentic in our faith while living as we wish outside their knowledge. We cannot deceive our God. Far too many contemporary Christians have made love more their God than the God of love. They sidestep the whole Biblical teaching regarding the fear of God in favor of a fantasy of God as something of a benevolent grandfather. No thinking believer can read these verses without realizing the gravity of our Christian faith.

When most ministers perform a wedding ceremony, they make a point that the charge of the wedding vows is made before God and in the presence of the witnesses gathered to celebrate the occasion. In the case of our passage we might draw a parallel. Our Christian conduct is truly before God, but it is also to be performed in the company of other believers, not in isolated privacy. God wants a marriage commitment from His children for life, not a flirtatious on-again-off-again courtship. He commands our faith all the time, not just when we consider it convenient or in our personal interest. We must not overlook the fundamental principle of Biblical faith. It is not merely a private trusting. It must be accompanied by compatible lifestyle. If you notice the language in any legal contract for a purchase on installments, you will find wording to the effect that you sign the agreement to pay the debt ``in good faith.'' What happens after a few months if you neglect making your payments? You will receive a notice in the mail or a phone call, reminding you of your obligation. ``Good faith'' means that you pledge faithfulness to your signature and your word to repay the debt according to the terms and conditions of the contract that you signed.

You cannot have faith without faithfulness. Isn’t that the point that James makes regarding the hypothetical “faith without works”?

By referring to God ``...who quickeneth all things,'' Paul reminds Timothy that God is indeed the Author of all life and therefore has a Creator's right to direct its course. He also takes the point beyond a Creator's right to a Redeemer/Savior's right. {1Co 6:19-20}

Paul requires that Timothy ``witness'' his faith with the same devotion and consistency that Jesus exemplified when, at the threat of His life, He witnessed His Person before Pontius Pilate. How can anyone claim to be a New Testament Christian while failing to give voice and credible conduct to his/her faith? Impossible. Peter joins Paul in teaching that the underlying premise of Christian apologetics, presenting and defending one's faith, is based on living so authentically in the ordinary course of life that people see the difference in your conduct and question how and why you live as you do. {1Pe 3:15}

``That thou keep this commandment without spot...'' presents us with an interesting challenge. What commandment does Paul have in mind? Is he referring to one or the other of his recent exhortations to Timothy? Or does he begin the conclusion of his letter and include the whole of his letter to Timothy? I suggest that the direction is all-inclusive of the whole letter.

Here we must touch somewhat sensitive ground for many believers. How often do various Christians of every stripe defend their personal favorite doctrine or practice based on the ``argument from silence''? If the Bible doesn't condemn the issue in question, why not do it? What can be wrong with it if the Bible doesn't say anything against it? A wiser and more mature spiritual guide for Christian faith and practice takes the mirror opposite view. If indeed Scripture is the ``thorough'' furnisher to all good works, why would you want to do it unless it appears in Scripture? The foundation of the argument from silence stands on a low view of Scripture, a view that specifically holds that Scripture is not the thorough furnisher that Paul declares it to be. {2Ti 3:16-17} Those who use the supposed silence of Scripture on a given issue as their defense of its practice view Scripture primarily as a negative, not a positive, document. In their perspective Scripture is a complicated list of ``Don't do...'', so if you can't find anything in Scripture against their favorite idea, there is nothing wrong with doing it. They make Scripture a complicated fence of unending prohibitions, not a fertile field with rich soil in which to grow our lives. This is precisely the attitude that the Pharisees embraced in Jesus' day. Over the generations from the giving of the Law through Moses (around 1500 B. C.) till Jesus came, they gradually modified God's Ten Commandments to some six hundred commandments. Not satisfied with them, they added additional prohibitions, actually calling them ``fences,'' to bring the number to over a thousand prohibitions. This issue calls for serious soul-searching. Do we want to identify with the Pharisees of Jesus' day or with Jesus? Do we want to make our faith a nearly endless list of prohibitions, or do we want to make it a fertile resource for a fruitful and joyful life? Will we add our ``spots'' to God's perfect revelation? Or will we devote our faith-faithfully-to preserving God's revealed way of believing and doing things?

Paul adds emphasis by the word ``unrebukeable.'' When we compare our view and conduct of faith with the model of Scripture, not only is there no violation. There is no gray area in which we leave ourselves open to rebuke. Paul makes this rule applicable from the time of his writing till ``the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.'' He did not intend his writings to Timothy as temporary rules to help the Ephesian church get out of its faltering state. He intended it to be timeless, as applicable to us today as it was to Timothy and the church in Ephesus.

None of us can claim perfect insights and understanding into all New Testament teachings, particularly those that deal with the way we are to live. For this reason, the faithful believer is to ``...give attendance to reading...''. {1Ti 4:13} The more we read Scripture with a clear devotion to practice what we learn from it the more we will refine our faith and conduct. Conversely, to the extent that we read and understand the teachings of Scripture, but choose to ignore it or even contradict it, the more we compromise our conscience and lose a pure and clear vision of Biblical Christianity as it should be lived out in our lives. Our only effective course is faithfully to live up to all that we understand from Scripture, and to maintain a regular and intense study of Scripture as our positive (not merely prohibitive) rule of life. If we adopt this view of Scripture and of our faith, we will work constantly to grow in our faith and conduct. We will never reach the point of becoming complacent and satisfied with our present conduct and state of spiritual maturity. We will carefully avoid the status quo in our conduct. ``Pressing toward the mark'' {Php 3:14} hardly describes a complacent status quo believer, does it?

I have known a number of believers who demonstrated admirable reading and study in their spiritual youth, but as they grew older they increasingly neglected in-depth Bible study (a vivid distinction from occasional devotional reading). Never allow rust to grow on your spiritual sword, the ``Word of God.'' Keep it sharp and fresh.

2004/10/17 Ancient Praise

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #42 October 17, 2004

Ancient Praise

Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen. (1Ti 6:15-16)

Ancient cultures often referred to their supreme rulers as “king of kings and lord of lords.” Some Greek writers referred the title to Zeus. To leave no doubt in the minds of Timothy or others who might read his letter, Paul added a word to emphasize God’s exclusive role as the one and only “Lord of lords and King of kings.” In this role God has no competition. D. A. Carson suggests that these two verses may well have originated as a first generation Christian hymn, quoted here by Paul. “Indeed the whole doxology has the appearance of a Christian hymn which Paul is quoting.”11[1] Contemporary worship hymns should follow the example of this and other possible New Testament quotations from the church’s first hymns of worship (Another example believed to be either a quote from a first generation hymn or a first generation confession of faith is 1Ti 3:16.). We throw around terms and titles far too loosely. How easily the words, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” flow from our lips, but how faithfully do our words and walk prove that Jesus is in fact our Lord and that we fully submit to Him and to His sovereign lordship over our lives? We cannot call Him “Lord” and refuse to submit to His rule over our lives. Such conduct would be fully as disrespectful as claiming allegiance to a king or civil government and then refusing to pay taxes or perform other legally binding obligations. In the case of a civil governor you would face immediate prosecution for breaking the law, hardly a credible testimony to your empty pledge of loyalty. In the case of the kingdom of God the judgment for failure to honor God may not appear as visibly, but they no less occur and are administered with infallible certainty.

What does Paul intend by the leading clause, “Which in his times he shall shew”? For faithful believers now, the fact of God’s supreme lordship and sovereignty are precious truths. When shall this truth be fully known by all? Paul clearly emphasizes a future epochal time when the fact partially known by faithful believers shall be known by all thinking beings in the whole universe.

“Who only hath immortality….” In other passages Paul refers to believers as receiving at some future time a portion of immortality. For example (1Co 15:53-54), in the resurrection our “mortal” bodies shall put on “immortality.” Again Carson makes a good point. “The use of the word immortal for God has already appeared in 1Ti 1:17. Is Paul implying that no-one else has immortality? He seems to mean that God alone is inherently immortal, whereas all other immortality is derived.”12[2] No other being in all of God’s creation possesses underived immortality. God alone claims the attribute ontologically. We shall derive it from Him in the resurrection.

Notice the next description ascribed to God, “…dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.” Often in Scripture light seems to be used as an analogy for either God’s glory or for the light of knowledge. In this case unapproachable light seems to be a reference to His glory. Most contemporary theological teaching falls short of this holy and glorious description of God. All who teach any form of synergistic (God and you cooperating in accomplishing your salvation) salvation diminish God incredibly, not only in their assessment of His weakness in failing to accomplish His supposed desire to save all humanity, but also in His almost “buddy” informal approachableness. The lost sinner is told to pray a certain prayer, to say certain words, to simply talk to God with grief over his/her sins, and God obligates Himself to respond. According to Paul in this passage, God in His glory cannot be approached by mortal man under any circumstance. We might ask, “How then can anyone approach God?” Scripture gives the answer. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” (Joh 6:44-45). The answer affirms God’s true lordship, His sovereignty, over all. We do not approach Him; He approaches us and draws us to Himself. I find it somewhat amazing that advocates of the synergistic systems of salvation so fiercely defend the bastion of their doctrine. Man’s will must be free. Even God cannot be allowed to violate man’s free will. However, at almost every logical juncture of their teaching, their doctrine repeatedly violates God’s will. Which is more sacred? Which is more inviolable, God’s will or man’s? Although Paul is here affirming God’s glory, his words also affirm the glorious truth that appears throughout Scripture regarding God’s sovereignty in our salvation.

Paul has still more to say about God’s glory, “…whom no man hath seen nor can see.” Scripture affirms that natural man is sufficiently intelligent to reason from the evidence of God in creation to the fact that this universe didn’t accidentally come into being as we know it today. The basic Christian argument for the existence of God from design builds on the fact. You look at the material universe and see such profound evidence of intelligent design that you must conclude that an intelligent Designer created it. From that point you reason that the designer of the universe must be so powerful that no being exists, or even could exist, greater than He. Therefore He is God.

Paul’s teaching here does not conflict with this truth regarding man’s inherent or intelligent ability to reason the existence of God from the design of nature. While the unregenerate, or unsaved, man may reason from the design of nature to the existence of God as Creator, he will remain oblivious to any spiritual significance of God as Savior. Paul affirms this truth strongly (1Co 2:11-14). A natural man cannot comprehend the personal, saving, redeeming character of God. He cannot know it; he does not possess the ability to comprehend this truth. This truth exists within the unapproachable light in which God exists, and which is described by Paul in our study passage. Unregenerate man can neither approach God nor see Him in this aspect of His holy and saving nature.

Paul’s conclusion arrives at its only logical point. God alone deserves—and shall surely receive—“honour and power everlasting.” How often do you hear the advocates of synergistic salvation boast about how highly rewarded they expect to be in heaven for their good works performed while living on earth? They expect to wear crowns on their heads, often giving voice to their selfish ambition to have more stars in their crown than other lesser believers. Such a self-glorifying attitude begs to be confronted with the obvious question. “What about the glory that Christ is to receive in heaven?” “How can you focus so intensely on your own glory in heaven and find the time, much less the inclination, to give any honor or glory to Him?”

We should plead with those who advocate these ideas to set aside their crowns and begin now to exercise the attitudes and habits that they shall enjoy perfectly in heaven, casting their crowns before the Lord Jesus Christ and falling before Him in worship, crying out His merit of all glory and honor throughout eternity.

“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." (Re 4:11)

“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." (Re 5:9-10)

Will you join me in unselfish and unrestrained worshipful praise to Him alone? Will you set aside selfish ambition to parade heaven’s streets with more stars in your crown than someone else has? Praise Him who alone deserves—and shall receive—heaven’s praise.

2004/10/24 Godly Wealth

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #43 October 24, 2004

Godly Wealth

Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1Ti 6:17-19)

Before breaking into his rich praise to God, Paul confronts the ever-present dilemma of folks who “will be”—who want to be—rich. When people set wealth as a goal, they often become obsessed with it to the extent that they compromise other more important values. Love for money can excite people to plunge into almost any evil that exists. I observe further that a person who does not have wealth, but is too preoccupied with money, is liable to becoming envious of others who appear to have more than they. It doesn’t take money, just the inordinate love for it, to create a world of hurt.

Paul now deals with a different issue. There are some believers who are wealthy. They don’t crave it; they already have it. He doesn’t direct them to throw it all away or to give it to worthy causes. He rather urges them to see to it that they put it to good use—to kingdom use—and that they make sure that they do not become too complacent with their wealth and that they avoid trusting it excessively.

“Highminded” suggests a spirit of carnal pride. Perhaps they might come to think that they are wiser in their money management than others. They might even think that they have been more righteous, so God rewarded them with wealth because of their superiority. Such pride inevitably leads to idolatrous trust. The next step of caution is that they not grow to trust in “uncertain” riches. Regardless of how wealthy people guard their wealth or use caution in its investment, it can slip away overnight. In a parable regarding this problem Jesus told the story of a man who continued to grow more crops than he expected. One harvest season after another he found himself stretching his storage barns with bumper crops. Finally he decided to build larger barns. In the “punch line” Jesus warns him that on the very night that he decided to build larger barns he could die. Then nothing that he grew would matter to him. All of his planning and pride in his wealth vanished in one night. Several years ago I was asked to preach the funeral of a dear friend who died after a lengthy illness. When his family started looking through his important papers, they found his personal note to them, telling them every detail regarding his burial and funeral service, along with other details that they would need to close out his estate. He had arranged with the local mortuary to be buried in a simple pine box. He had also arranged to be buried in his “birthday suit,” with only his old worn out Bible in his hands. Novel? Yes, but he had his reasons. He understood that whatever he possessed in this life would mean nothing to him upon his death. He understood the subtlety that Paul taught in this lesson. We may honor God with wealth that we possess, but we can corrupt our faith with wealth that possesses us.

Paul makes an interesting point by reminding Timothy that wealth itself does not guarantee enjoyment. Only God can give us all things, even poverty, to enjoy. And with God’s enriching presence and peace of mind, even poverty can become wealth in its own unique way.

Richness in good works, according to Paul, is of more value than money in the bank, however much you invest there. Along with the possession of wealth, Paul also urges that these folks be mindful to distribute their wealth in kingdom work. “Communicate” as used in this passage refers to the sharing of something. As we share our thoughts with words, New Testament writers use the word to describe the sharing of money or other material resources. A preacher once told me about a man who moved to his community in his old age. He had been an active church member in his prior church. As his health declined and he could no longer live alone, his new pastor helped him move into a senior apartment where he would receive assistance with the chores of living. On a regular basis the old man would call his pastor and ask him to take him back to his former residence. He had retained title to it. At first the pastor thought nothing about it and kindly accommodated the old fellow’s wishes. On one of these occasions the old fellow invited the pastor to join him in his former home. The pastor was appalled to discover that the old man had hidden a large sum of money behind walls and in various hiding places throughout the old house. He had not made these trips for the purpose of visiting his former home and reliving memories. He wanted to visit his money! He would spend several minutes checking on each stash of money, repeatedly running his hands through it. In the end the old man died. He could no longer find comfort in his hidden wealth. He could no longer visit it. For years this man had complained to others for their not making larger donations to their church, but he had made only meager contributions himself. He demonstrated the classic example of wealth owning the man instead of the man owning the wealth. He had the money, but not the joy.

“That they may lay hold on eternal life” does not refer to a lost sinner gaining salvation. Timothy is teaching Christians in the church at Ephesus. They are already saved. Laying hold on life refers to using one’s life effectively for the benefit and blessing of others. Does our use of our money tell us—or others—anything about our spiritual condition? Indeed it does. Christian stewardship includes our finances as fully as any other part of our lives. True Christianity calls us to the realization that God has a Creator’s and a Savior’s right to govern every aspect of our existence. In Php 4:18-19 Paul equated money donated by the Philippian church to his needs as a sacrifice that God accepted as a sweet incense offering. Few Christians mature to the point of viewing their regular contributions to their church as a true act of worship to God. Some give grudgingly. Others give fearfully and minimally. Only a few reach the state of spiritual maturity that prompts them to give sacrificially and with joy. How do you measure “sacrificial” giving? Some will teach you to give at least ten percent, often referencing the Old Testament tithe. Others will use various measures to determine the right amount to give. Paul’s use of the concept of sacrificial giving makes the whole process of giving far simpler. You give till it hurts! That makes it sacrificial. You don’t use your perception of the church’s needs as a barometer for your giving. You don’t adopt an artificial formula and give according to that rule, comfortably budgeting that amount. You commit to giving to the point of pain, and you faithfully, consistently give at that level.

This whole question of giving cannot be closed without a rather unusual point. We live in an era in which high-visibility preachers exploit Christians on television and radio for personal profit. I fear that many local pastors who would never consider exploiting anyone for any reason do not appreciate their personal role in church leadership where the practice of giving is involved. If Scripture requires that the pastor lead by example in moral and ethical matters—and it clearly does—we must realize that Scripture no less requires that the pastor lead by example in his giving habits as well. Sadly, many pastors view the church’s role as giving to them, but they fail to consider their personal obligation to give to the church in an exemplary manner. I would ask every pastor who reads this chapter a personal question. If every member of the church practiced exactly the habit of giving that you practice, what would be the church’s financial status? Would the church consider closing its doors because it had no funds to pay even the simplest routine costs? Or would the church have sufficient funds to meet its needs and even to reach out to help others outside its membership? Paul led the way in publicizing the need of the church in Jerusalem among predominantly Gentile churches. On occasion he actually used his personal funds to pay the rent so that he could receive and minister to those in need (Ac 28:30). Obviously he did not periodically engage in his secular profession of tent making for personal gain but for the furtherance of his ministry. I am convinced that a major flaw in many contemporary church situations must fall at the feet of the pastor who views giving only in terms of his receiving and not in terms of setting an example for the church by his personal giving habits.

I believe the New Testament teaches the necessity—not the optional luxury—of a full-time ministry. I also believe that pastors need to work harder at setting a personal example for the church by their own giving.

2004/10/31 Guards of a Sacred Trust

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #44 October 31, 2004

Guards of a Sacred Trust

O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen. (1Ti 6:20-21)

Repeatedly throughout First and Second Timothy Paul frequently touches the refrain that we see in these verses, “Keep the trust,” “Guard the deposit.” After almost fifty years of ministry, I increasingly realize that a very few core principles will either make a man’s ministry or break it. We touched one of them earlier in this series, “…He desireth a good work” (1Ti 3:1). Ministry is not about privilege or position; it is about work, about working for God. The man who pursues ministry for what he might derive personally out of it is doomed to failure. The driving force behind a man’s calling is a passion for work that is God-centered and that truly benefits others. He will realize blessings as a part of his ministry, but the motive for his ministry cannot be what he derives, either from God or from the people to whom he ministers.

I believe the theme that we see in our study verses here underscores this same principle. Timothy’s ministry does not belong to Timothy. It is a trust. It belongs to another and has been given to his safe keeping and distribution. He must give account to God for how he uses this trust. Stewardship, though often referring to the Jews’ stewardship of the holy writings of Old Testament Scripture, the “oracles of God,” forms one of the dominant themes in Jesus’ parables. Stewardship of ministry should find a similar emphasis in the thoughts and lives of every man who serves in, or seeks to serve in, the ministry. Are we willing to give up ourselves for God’s service to others? Are we willing to work tirelessly, knowing that often the only thanks we shall ever hear for what we did will be the “Well done” that we hear from our Lord at the end of our assignment. Often the reaction of the people to whom we minister may be more one of resentment or rebellion than of appreciation. Our fallen human nature does not like to be told that it needs to change.

Not long ago I had a rather minor, but quite irritating encounter with my bank. On two occasions someone at the bank lost a small check that I had put in an envelope for the night deposit. As I worked through my frustrations and concerns with the bank, the thought of such passages as this became more my focus that my bank’s administration errors. I realized that I expect my bank to keep meticulous records of every cent of my money that they hold in trust for me. When they failed that trust, I struggled with the disappointment of a broken trust. Normally we put trust in institutions and people whom we respect and trust to honor our commitment. While no man ever earned the trust of ministry by personal merit, Scripture imposes a distinct requirement that the man who aspires to the ministry, as well as the man who fills it, meet certain rather demanding qualifications. Throughout this series I have emphasized the necessity of honoring these qualifications as a condition for ordination to ministry, and, in my personal conviction, for continuing in the office after ordination. This thing we call ministry is a solemn trust from God, as well as from the people who seek our ministry, not something to be viewed as a hobby or pleasant pastime when we have nothing better to do.

“Timothy should guard the truth of the Christian faith that God had committed to his stewardship by proclaiming it accurately and faithfully (cf. 1Ti 4:12-14; 6:2; 2Ti 2:2). Another possibility is that what had been entrusted to Timothy refers particularly to his responsibility to oppose the false teachers and to keep his own life pure (cf. 1Ti 4:11-13; 5:22-23; 6:11-12). Specifically he should avoid the controversies and false teaching that Paul referred to previously that characterize the world system and are valueless, as well as the opposition of those who claimed superior knowledge. This last warning is apparently a reference to gnostic influence that was increasing in Ephesus. Gnostics taught that there was a higher knowledge available only to the initiates of their cult. Paul had already set forth his full rebuttal to their contention in his epistle to the Colossians. The appeal of these false teachers had seduced some in Ephesus who had wandered from the path of truth.”13[1]

Periodically we sadly encounter men in ministry who turn from the teachings on which they were ordained. In most cases we should not question their sincerity, but a man who serves in ministry must present more than sincere personal opinions. He is charged to keep the trust of truth that he professed upon his ordination. The moment a man allows himself to become the hub of controversy he has taken the spotlight off the Lord Jesus Christ in his ministry. No good can follow such a shift. Constable’s reference reminds us convincingly to guard the trust of the gospel and to keep it for future generations. How should a man react if he realizes at some point in time that he is not in agreement with the dominant theological and practical bent of the churches in his fellowship? I am convinced that he has only two honorable options. 1) He can assess the value of his convictions against the damage of controversy, not overlooking that he may be mistaken and not perfectly enlightened in his views. In this case he may still hold his views, but choose to keep them private for the greater benefit of the fellowship of believers with whom he serves. 2) If his views are sufficiently central to the beliefs of the people with whom he serves as to represent a material difference, he can honorably announce his sincere difference and seek fellowship with people who share his views.

In first century Roman culture the Gnostic philosophy was in its infancy. It lacked a broad basis of appeal in its own right, so it apparently sought a clandestine merger with Christianity. However, its primary tenets contradicted basic Christian belief and practice. The god of Gnosticism hated all material things and was viewed as remaining eternally aloof from all other beings, even his own followers. Gnostic teachers enticed new followers with the promise of gaining a secret and otherwise unknowable truth. Yet they lived with the constant realization that their professed god refused to reveal himself to them or allow them to approach him intimately and personally. Gnosticism had to live with the contradiction of never truly knowing the supreme deity.

Paul was likely not at all confronting scientific teachings of his day at all, but rather the claims of Gnostic teachers whose primary appeal to the untaught was their secret and supposedly superior knowledge. Neither Timothy nor the Ephesian believers could embrace true Christianity and Gnosticism. If they embraced Gnosticism, they erred in the faith, the core beliefs of the Christian faith.

On occasion believers have stumbled in their faith over scientific issues, but more often they err regarding their supposed higher knowledge of spiritual truths. Near the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, the scientific teaching of evolution was making its way into mainstream scientific thought. Some notable Christian leaders felt forced to find a way to accommodate Biblical creation and evolution, no less impossible than reconciling Gnosticism and Christianity. A. H. Strong was a leading Southern Baptist theologian and writer of this era. He espoused the idea of “theistic evolution,” the idea that God actually created the universe, but that He employed the processes of evolution to do so. This giant of a Christian man soon lost much of his respect and standing within the Christian community by this compromise.

We should be far more cautious at the significantly larger number of men who compromise their faith for aberrant spiritual views. Inevitably error leads to extreme views. For example, the Reformers in Europe rightly opposed the church of Rome and generally moved into a far better theological posture than their “mother church.” However, many of them went to the extreme by adopting fatalistic salvation by decree. They were immediately followed by Arminius and his altogether man-centric salvation by human works. Truth suffered in both camps. Today most Christian groups that hold to Arminian theology have little awareness of James Arminius and his influence on their core ideas, must less a major contributor to his thinking in the Jesuit teacher Louis de Molina. Sadly in the Reformed camp “Calvinism” has become a litmus test in which Calvin’s teachings become substantially the sixty seventh book of the Bible. You hear such phrases as “hyper-Calvinist,” “five point Calvinist,” “four point Calvinist,” or more recently “moderate Calvinist.” John Calvin becomes the standard of truth, not Scripture. The whole Christian world divides into Catholic and Protestant, or Arminian and Calvinist, plus any number of other similar hopeless divides. Much heat and little light shines over such a sad landscape.

This whole fragmented scene cries out the truth with which Paul closed his letter to his dear son in the faith and in the ministry. When we begin to follow our definitions of “truth,” of “science,” we easily become excessively subjective and err from the faith by following “falsely so called” knowledge. Polarity and winning arguments becomes the trademark of such corrupted Christianity. Winning people to the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, serving Him by work, keeping the trust of the gospel; all these Biblical objectives fall by the wayside in defeated disarray.

Sometimes within any number of historical Christian fellowships contemporary teachers will focus on past preachers or writers of high reputation. Similar to the Reformed emphasis on Calvin or Arminius, they will pour over every word that these men wrote and spend hours interpreting them as if they were Scripture itself. Often anything that these men wrote or believed will be presented with the same solemn and binding authority as Scripture itself. And with almost equal frequency differing interpretations of these men and their writings become the focal point of what we must believe. Biblical Christianity is indeed historical. We enjoy Biblical truth and light because God preserved His truth through past generations. We may profitably study the men of past generations within our tradition to familiarize ourselves with the shoulders on which we stand historically. However, we do ourselves, the people whom we teach, and the God whose trust we enjoy, a sad disservice when we make these men and their teachings as sacred as Scripture itself. Every one of them was a flawed vessel who gave his best, but he was not an inspired man who wrote under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration with flawless truth. Any of these men worthy of our respect would cringe to think that they or their personal writings would be used by believers in a subsequent generation as if they were nearly inspired. Often, sadly often, a study of Christian history in any tradition is a study in errors that we should learn about, and thus learn to avoid. We trace these errors through the writings of men who lived through them, sincerely embraced them, and believed them, but they, like we, were not perfect or flawless in their beliefs. We can only find that measure of purity in Scripture alone. Literally, you can study long enough within any Christian tradition and find past writers who taught almost anything that you wish to endorse. Biblical teaching, not past writers, must define the trust that we are to guard faithfully and without compromise.

May we each return to the mindset that our ministry, whatever it may be, was bestowed upon us by its Owner and Founder as a sacred trust that we are to guard with our life and with our honor, but never with our pride. May we seek occasions to serve others in the gospel and opportunities to guard the trust of the gospel as communicated to us in Scripture—and Scripture alone.

2004/11/04 Christian Culture: Regard for the Ministry

Gospel Gleanings, "...especially the parchments" Volume #19,Nu 36 September 4, 2004

Christian Culture: Regard for the Ministry

Dear Friends,

If you listen to media ministries for any time, you will quickly encounter a man who shamelessly nudges his listeners to fund his ministry as if he were the last minister on earth. Regardless of the worthwhile ministries that occasionally surface in the media (radio and television), the first financial responsibility of every believer is the local church of his/her membership.

This week’s chapter attempts to provide you with a balanced view of the New Testament church and its ministry. Paul did not make full-time ministry an option, but a necessity, a commandment. Over almost fifty years of ministry I have observed some highly successful full-time ministries that honored God and demonstrated the intense dedication and example of the minister, as well as the church involved. I have also witnessed sad failures in which either the church or the minister went into the full-time effort with a faulty attitude that doomed the effort to failure. The man who serves full-time is to be a working man. His ministry is to occupy his full-time. He cannot function as a hobby-preacher and expect the full support of the church that he serves. At the same time the church should respect their minister and support him in their prayers and in their personal Christianity, not just with their finances. He does not become their slave because he is their minister. A successful full-time ministry is—far more than most churches or ministers realize—a true partnership in Christian labor. Neither minister nor church can succeed alone.

Paul distinctly emphasizes the work of the minister, not merely his title. A minister who thinks a piece of paper that describes his ordination authenticates his position and requires honor, regardless of his labor or lack thereof, is similar to a man who graduates from college and then allows his mind to hibernate in idleness. That piece of paper on the wall becomes his honor. A true education gives you the tools for research and the foundation of knowledge to learn more, and to use what you learn in a lifelong pursuit of ever-increasing and useful knowledge. A man may buy a diploma and claim to have earned the degree, but his personal lack of knowledge and functional use of it will reveal his true deficiency. Through years of working in conjunction with the educational field, I have encountered any number of men who wore the title "Dr." with their names. In some cases their secretary wrote their doctoral thesis, not they themselves. These men, though holding the title, could not write a simple paragraph that communicated their thoughts clearly. In many cases they couldn’t write the paragraph without multiple misspelled words, simple words that a studious high school graduate should know and be able to spell and use comfortably. The title alone does not convey the honor. Only as the man demonstrates his learning and skill in personal conduct and knowledge does he attract honor to his degree. If this principle applies to secular learning, it certainly applies to Biblical ministry.

The word typically translated "ministry" or "minister" in the New Testament is often traced by linguistic scholars to a root word that meant "working in the dust," a reference to a farmer who vigorously worked his field. The honor of a godly minister does not lie in the piece of paper on the wall, but in the labor of his life. No labor—no honor.

How is a church to bestow "double honor" upon those who "labour in the word and doctrine"? Increasingly as I grow into the season of life where I think more in terms of preparing the church that I serve for the next generation than for anything that I might realize personally, I become more convicted than ever that a full-time ministry is a necessity for any healthy church that hopes for a future, not merely a luxury that would be "nice". "Double honor" requires "double giving." The man who hopes or expects to receive full-time support must give doubly of his labor in ministry. He must invest his time and labor full-time to the benefit of the church. A part-time preacher has no legitimate claim on full-time support from the church that he serves. And the church must invest full-time, both in its giving and in its attitude toward the role of Scripture and the church in the lives of its individual members. A "hobby" preacher cultivates a "hobby" church; as J. Vernon McGee often quipped, "Preacherettes delivering sermonettes to Christianettes." The giving habits of church members becomes more serious and more systematic. No longer do they look at the financial report and consider how much is needed to "pay the bills." New Testament giving is to be based on two foundational principles.

1. "...As God has prospered..." requires that each believer look into his life for specific evidence of divine blessing. The degree of giving is to relate to the degree of blessing.

2. "...Purposed in his heart..." requires a systematic thoughtful intent, not an occasional or casual attitude.

Both principles lead one to sacrificial giving. Sacrificial—it is no sacrifice till it hurts a bit! And, frankly, in this area the minister must set the example no less than in other areas of his life. He must not view the church’s giving only in terms of his receiving. His giving should exemplify what every member of the church should do toward the church’s needs. He need not trumpet his giving; he should not do so, but his personal giving to the church should be exemplary according to the Biblical model.

The "double honor" of this perspective of ministry will eventually appear in a tremendous "double blessing" that God showers upon His children consistently and predictably when they obey Scripture and willingly, purposefully, and joyfully practice the teachings of Scripture in their lives. In any area, this one included, failure to follow Scripture will result in loss of blessings that we often fail to realize or appreciate unless we have experienced the richness of the full blessing that comes with genuine obedience.

My friends, this is indeed a soul-searching topic that deserves far more consideration than we typically give it. May we prayerfully and thoughtfully consider its implications to our personal lives and to our individual churches in the days ahead. God has a "double blessing" waiting for those who obey.

God bless, Joe Holder

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. {1Ti 5:17-18}

Within the Christian community some discussion exists regarding this word elder. Does it refer to ministers or pastors exclusively, or does it refer to respected men who have earned a reputation for maturity in their faith, something of a "Board of Directors" for the church? In some denominations the title is viewed in the broader sense, and the pastor automatically sits as a member of this body or board. Thus the title includes the pastor, but applies to others as well. Given the fact that Paul specifically refers to elders who labor in the word and doctrine, and that he advocates the church’s financial support of the man in the position, it is my belief that the title in this lesson refers to the minister and/or pastor of the church.

This passage includes a number of interesting issues for our consideration. How do you evaluate a minister’s "rule"? Who rules well? How do you evaluate one man’s quality of "rule" or leadership compared with another’s? How do you credit "double honor" to the man who rules well? The passage raises all of these questions, but doesn’t fully answer them, does it?

Another fascinating issue in the passage appears in Paul’s use of two Scriptural citations, both of which he calls "Scripture." The first reference appears in De 25:4. The second reference appears in two passages from the gospels, New Testament letters, not Old Testament. The words appear in Mt 10:10 and in Lu 10:7. We must not overlook that Paul equated Moses’ Old Testament writings in Deuteronomy with the Holy Spirit’s recent inspiration of Matthew and Luke in their writing of the gospels. Paul considered one passage no less "Scripture" than the other. For the New Testament church and ministry, both Old and New Testament writings are to be highly respected and received as "Scripture," as holy writings given by God for the instruction of His people.

Over a lifetime of observation I have seen ministers who refused to give their full time to ministry. For them ministry was something of a glorified "holy hobby." Sadly, the churches where they served often drifted into thinking of their faith in similar terms. I have also observed men who refused to serve any church that would not support them full-time. Some of these men labored sufficiently to deserve a church’s full-time support. Others seemed almost to coast along, appearing to think that their position deserved full support, whether they worked at it or not. My personal experience falls between these two rather extreme perspectives. I have served smaller churches whose numerical size did not reasonably allow them to provide full-time support to their pastor. Notwithstanding I have lived with the conviction that Scripture clearly teaches that a pastor should devote his full time to his ministry and church. This situation has often been a source of significant tension in my personal life and ministry. To walk away from the small church almost surely predicts its demise. To stay almost surely requires some kind of secular work for the pastor.

Our passage imposes requirements both on the church and on its pastor. To the pastor it emphasizes that he works sufficiently to receive the support. He is the ox who treads out the grain. He is to be fed by his own labor, not by mere position. Interestingly, the word translated ministry in the New Testament is reported by some New Testament linguistic scholars to have originally meant "working in the dust." The idea was that the man works so hard and so consistently that he stirs up a dust in the field, but he continues working just as hard in the dust as at the beginning of the day. When Paul introduced the qualifications for the ministry earlier in this letter, he prefaced the position with the fact that the man "...desireth a good work." He doesn’t merely desire the position, but the work. A man who seeks the position must demonstrate the commitment to the work to receive the support that Paul describes. A minister should avoid pleading his title or position for honor. Instead he should invest his energy in working the work of the position.

The weight of the passage on the church appears in the fact that Paul does not make this support optional. He urges it with the weight of Scripture’s command. A church with a vision for the future should be a church with this goal firmly and clearly in its sights. In many cases giving churches that are small may need only to grow in numbers to have sufficient resources. If this is the case, they should make this growth a matter of personal prayer—and of personal evangelistic effort. If a church focuses only on growth in numbers, it has missed the mark, as is the case with many of the "church growth" movement folks in our time. However, the New Testament book of Acts clearly draws a parallel between growth in faith and growth in numbers. One seldom occurs without the other. If we accept the model of Acts, a church that is diminishing in numbers is not a strong church in the faith. Traditionally we have lamented faithful, godly people who comprise a dying church with an inexcusable misinterpretation of the

Mt 18. The reference to our being created in Christ Jesus to good works before ordained of God is altogether valid and clearly instructive to these doctrines. Our position in Christ relates to a spiritual creation, not to our personal self-generated evolution. However, Paul uses precisely the same word in reference to the church’s support of the ministry. {1Co 9:14} We cannot reasonably compromise one tenet any more than the other. Thus a church’s support of a full-time ministry is not a desirable option for Paul, but a necessity, a command.

Occasionally our people have fiercely opposed the idea of a "salaried" ministry. Perhaps we overstate the Biblical position. The two passages that Paul cited use the term "hire" and "meat." And Paul interpreted them as "reward." The Greek word translated "reward" in this passage literally means "dues paid for work, wages."

There is indeed a Biblical balance that we must strive to honor in this sensitive area of teaching. On one hand we must never appear to compromise Biblical teaching. The church that does so loses the blessing intended by obedience to this command. On the other hand we must not neglect small churches that simply do not have the fiscal resources to fund a full-time pastor. If we do so, we fail the New Testament example in which Paul himself worked at making and selling tents, paid the rent, and taught all who would come to him for teaching. We cannot doubt that he believed in, and was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write, about a full-time funded ministry. Yet he willingly worked personally to advance the kingdom of God through his own secular work.

The popular reputation of many public ministries today, particularly television ministries, has shamed Christianity’s honorable and unselfish ministries. Men who rob widows while living in lavish personal abundance are to be shamed and rejected, not honored. However, their excesses should not drive any conscientious church or minister away from a devoted effort, and the necessary teaching that brings about a full-time ministry in local churches.

It is my view—as well as that of many other more informed and scholarly minds—that far more than financial support is involved in this idea of giving "double honor" to those men who labor in the gospel. The man in the office should work so hard and so honorably that he will command compelling respect from the people who know him and serve under his teaching and ministry. I reject the idea that a church should provide such support for anyone other than a man whom they have seen living up to the respect that justifies both the honor and the support that Paul describes in this passage.

It would be an informative exercise for the members of a church to devote their minds and conversation during a potluck meal or other free time in their gathering to compiling a list of things that a full-time pastor might do in their church. It might encourage them to work harder for the idea as well as encouraging their pastor to work along with them. A successful full-time ministry requires an adjustment in the church’s thinking and conduct that is as dramatic as that required by the minister himself to shift from "bi-vocational" part-time to full-time ministry. May we follow the Word in all things.

Elder Joe Holder

2004/11/07 Love, Fear, Trust God: The Challenge

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #45 November 7, 2004

Love, Fear, Trust God: The Challenge

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. (Ps 19:7-9)

We sing hymns praising God for His love. We sing hymns admonishing believers to trust God and follow His teachings; “Trust and Obey,” for example. I can’t recall a single hymn that praises God for fear or that exhorts believers to fear Him. I suggest that it is highly likely that we have not only corrupted our concept of faith and love, but especially the Biblical principle of fear toward God. Let me illustrate.

Our concept of faith, of trusting God, often builds on the premise of “blind faith,” of trusting God that is wholly isolated from knowledge, either of God or of our circumstances. Biblical faith builds on the foundation of our knowledge of God and of His fixed character, His immutability. “He cannot deny himself” (2Ti 2:13). Scripture consistently urges us to trust God because of His revealed character that is knowable and trustworthy. We need not know precisely what God will do or how He will react to a given situation to know His character and thereby to trust Him.

Our concept of love toward God is often based on our Western sentimental corruption of the Biblical concept of love. For our culture love is a feeling, an emotion that floods uncontrollably over us and consumes us. For New Testament writers the love of God grew out of a moral conviction, not out of emotion. We view love as an act of the emotions; they viewed it as an act of the will. We cherish the passage that requires us to love God with all our hearts, but we fail to take note that the same passage equally requires us to love God with all our minds (Mt 22:37). Restricting our love for God to our emotions violates the Biblical concept of love as dreadfully as the idea of trusting God with no sense of His character, of “blind trust.”

The verses that appear at top of this page applaud the fear of God. In this work I will make the point that our minds have as dreadfully corrupted the Biblical concept of the fear of God as His love and trust. Our Western minds equate fear with guilt and with a paralyzing slavish sense of morbidity. The whole theological framework that uses fear of hell to motivate people to obedience and trust in God cultivates this false characterization of the fear of God. We allow error to frame our thinking on this issue, and then we impose our false views onto Scripture. No wonder then that we struggle to grasp the Biblical concept that applauds the fear of God as, not only something good, but something to be desired. We sense the tension between our ideas of fear and what Scripture teaches, but we typically just give up and embrace a rather thoughtless abandonment of ever reconciling our concept with Scripture. Do we ever consider forsaking our false premises in favor of Scripture?

The depth of this discord between our thinking regarding the fear of God and Scripture appears when you ask someone to define the fear of God. Perhaps the most frequent response that I’ve received to that question has been “reverential fear.” Basic science and basic language forbids that you use a word to define itself. You wouldn’t think of using quantum physics to define quantum physics, for example. Or you wouldn’t think of using cancer to define cancer. The answer reveals our utter lack of a reasonable concept of the fear of God.

Our pedestrian, almost vulgar, idea of Jesus as “my best friend, my buddy,” robs us of the profound dignity and glory that Scripture preeminently ascribes to God.

In this work I shall attempt to develop a more Biblical concept of these three basic elements to our concept of God. My focus will seek the basic foundation of knowledge upon which we are to build our trust in God. It will seek a moral foundation through which we may love God with our will, not merely our emotions. And it will seek to understand the Biblical idea that the fear of God is clean and desirable, not to be avoided and opposed.

It is no accident that David incorporated a series of spiritual concepts (six verses devoted to God as Creator and the remaining psalm dedicated to God as our spiritual Savior and director) into a psalm that begins with praise to God for creation. From the intricate order discovered in microscopic cells to the predictable structure and immense magnitude of constellations, nature shouts out the order and intelligence of its Creator. We join David in his opening words to this psalm, that the heavens also declare God’s glory. Regardless of the human language spoken in a region, God speaks His glory in ways that clearly declares His holy and powerful character, in ways that transcend human language with its inherent limitations. David shouts out to us, “There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” From time immemorial man has looked up into the skies and marveled at the magnitude and glory of space and the orderly arrangement of constellations. Can we overlook that most of the major constellations visible to the naked eye carry names given to them by ancient astronomers? Recent scientific discoveries reveal that no less order and intelligence appear in the microscopic design of cells. Micro or macro, God has imposed His divine fingerprint onto His creation.

I am convinced that man inherently opposes the idea of God as Creator of the universe because he understands that such a concession will impose transforming moral implications upon his conduct that he resists with fierce opposition. It is not that there is something profoundly unscientific about God as Creator of the universe that triggers man’s opposition. Rather it is man’s basic moral—or more correctly his basic immoral—disposition that prompts such consistent opposition to the idea of God as Creator of the whole universe. Either false notions of science or false notions of religion will pit us against the other viewpoint. A balanced and accurate view of God and of science will bring the two together in full harmony. Paul wrote about “oppositions of science, falsely so called” (1Ti 6:20). We typically interpret this passage as referring to false science. I suggest that it no less refers to false religion as to false science. The dominant religious error that challenged first century Christianity was Gnosticism. The Gnostics claimed a secret verbal tradition of knowledge that only their leaders could reveal to others. At the same time they very inconsistently claimed that the supreme deity was altogether unknowable and unapproachable. Do not overlook the profound inconsistency of this error. People who claimed superior knowledge also claimed that the most important being in their system of belief was unknowable. The Gnostics were actually agnostics. Inherent in this system of belief was the idea that anything material was inferior and to be avoided. I suggest that Paul was no less rejecting false religion in this verse than false science. We must not overlook that many of the most significant scientific discoveries were made by devoted Christians, who saw no tension between their faith and their scientific research. In several instances the Church of Rome fiercely persecuted these men for defending the true nature of the material universe. We do both science and Christian faith a disservice by accepting an unreconcilable tension between the two. If God created the universe, as Ps 19 and Scripture throughout asserts, God is the Creator of science, of knowledge, regarding the universe that He created.

While Christians occasionally throw all the rocks at the scientists who reject God, we might serve our cause better to seek balance within our own framework of ideas. As an example, most conservative Christians fiercely oppose evolution, but their theological perspective advocates spiritual evolution, the idea that man must be involved in his own salvation. If we hold that God created the material universe by His sovereign power, we should also consistently hold to the parallel truth that we are “his workmanship created in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:10). We cannot expect respect from scientific thinkers when we assault them for believing in natural evolution if we inconsistently hold to spiritual evolution.

Trusting God, loving God, and fearing God are not inconsistent or irreconcilable concepts. We have imposed our own difficulties onto these concepts by adding our errant ideas onto Scripture. This work will attempt to find a more Biblical view of all three concepts, views that will demonstrate the harmony of the three.

2004/11/14 How Should I Love God?

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #46 November 14, 2004

How Should I Love God?

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Mt 22:35-40)

Although the man who asked this question had an ulterior motive, “tempting him,” he asked a probing question. We do not know the precise context of his temptation. Perhaps the man wanted to “bait” Jesus into showing favoritism toward one or the other of God’s laws. Then he could find fault with Jesus for failing to respect all the law. If the man had succeeded, he would have gotten Jesus to view the law of God microscopically. Tear it apart and look at minute segments of it, preferring one segment over the other. Jesus responded with a telescopic view of the law. Although we have multiple aspects of the law that God gave to Moses, the fundamental moral code is summarized in ten broad precepts, the Ten Commandments. Jesus diverts the man from a microscopic view of the law to the basic ten moral concepts contained in the law. Then he further condenses the ten major moral principles to only two. We should learn from Jesus’ teaching in this lesson. All too often we try to complicate God’s commandments so hopelessly that we could never comply with them. We divide and subdivide God’s moral instructions to us until we are hopelessly confused and overwhelmed. We are champions at microscopic viewpoints.

If you read the Ten Commandments (Ex 20), you will notice an obvious division. The first four commandments instruct our relationship with God. The remaining six direct our relationship with people. In our lesson Jesus summarized the first four commandments into one principle, to love God with all your being. Then He summarized the final six commandments into another single principle, loving your neighbor as yourself.

What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? At one time I thought of this passage as affirming the three-part nature of man, but I rather doubt that point. Most likely Jesus intended to direct the lawyer, not to mention us as well, to love God with all our being. Since our Western culture has redefined love as a sentimental or “feeling” kind of thing, we might view Jesus’ words here quite differently than He intended them. We define “heart” as the seat of our emotions, and stop short of discovering a functional meaning for the terms “soul” and “mind.” The Jews may have shared this idea, but more likely they viewed the heart as the seat of conscience. If you look up the most common word for “love” in the New Testament in Strong’s or any other basic New Testament Greek dictionary, you will observe that the word refers to love in a “social or moral sense,” not to love in an emotional or sentimental sense.

The terms “heart,” “soul,” and “mind” are not completely distinct, watertight categories. They overlap somewhat and together cover the whole person. Taken together the meaning is that we should love God preeminently and unreservedly.

“Jesus loves God with his whole heart, for he is blameless in his fealty to God (Mt 4:1). Jesus loves God with his whole soul, for he is prepared to surrender his life should God so will (Mt 26:36). And Jesus loves God with his whole mind, for he lays claim for himself neither to the prerogatives of worldly power [cf. Mt 20:25,28; 21:5] nor to the security of family, home, and possessions (Mt 8:20; 12:50).”823

The “and” in verse Mt 22:38 is explicative. The one command is great because it is primary.

“The second greatest command is similar to the first in character and quality (Mt 22:39). It also deals with love. We should love our fellowman unselfishly (cf. 1Jo 3:17).

Mt 22:40 The rest of the Old Testament hangs from or flows out of these two commandments. All the other laws deal with specific applications of one or the other of these commands. The prophets consistently stressed the importance of heart reality with God and genuine love for one’s neighbor. Without these two commandments the Old Testament lacks unifying summaries. These are the most important commandments, but they are not the only ones.”14[1]

I doubt that we need another lesson on sentimental love. We’ve been flooded with this teaching. What does it mean to love God with your conscience? We think of conscience as our internal moral compass. It points us to what is right and away from what is wrong. Sentimental love can come and go, turn on and turn off at the drop of a hat. Nor should we think of the heart’s love for God in terms of our fallen and sinful nature (example; Jer 17:9). However to think of loving God with our conscience, though it stretches our concept of love, points us in a positive direction. The God-kind of Biblical love has moral and ethical implications. The man or woman who merely loves his/her marriage partner with a sentimental love may easily fall into the ever-present temptation toward infidelity without moral consideration. It seems that the dominant view of moral misconduct in our time has to do with discovery. If you can indulge in immoral activities and keep it secret, you are highly regarded. Society considers it wrong only if you got caught, and even then it looks for any available rationalization to justify the sin. A person who builds his/her marriage on Biblical love regards the spouse with a healthy measure of sentimental affection. They should be best friends. However they also build their marriage on a moral-ethical foundation that considers it wrong—sin to be sure—to violate their oath of exclusive faithfulness to each other. Thus the idea of love with moral implications is not altogether alien to our thinking. We simply need to expand its scope in our regard for God and our faith in Him.

“Soul” and “spirit” are difficult words in our study of Scripture. At times, particularly in the Old Testament, “soul” seems to refer to the whole person. In other passages it seems to refer to a distinct component of man’s basic nature. Although the moral implications take on material and observable actions, the whole concept of loving God is inherently immaterial. You can’t “see” love or put it in a box with a ribbon wrapped around it. Underlying this premise is the Biblical idea that the dominant theme of every person’s life begins in the mind, in the immaterial and thinking processes. What dominates our thinking will work its way into actions. So this passage drives the obligation to love God into the taproot of human conduct. Love God morally, beginning in the immaterial processes that eventually control our conduct

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Mind, though no less challenging in some aspects, is a bit easier for us to grasp. Dr. J. P. Moreland has written a delightful and challenging book, Love your God with all your Mind. He takes us to task for habitually checking our minds in the vestibule of the church auditorium on Sunday morning. We enter the auditorium in a semi-conscious and distinctly unthinking frame of mind. We enter the worship hour essentially expecting to be entertained, but seldom urged to give serious thought to what we hear. If we take Jesus’ words seriously, we will condition our minds to be at their sharpest and most alert when we prepare to hear a sermon. Most preachers struggled with members of their audience who semi-sleep through the Sunday sermon because they thought they simply had to sit up late on Saturday night for a late television show. Saturday activities, especially Saturday evenings, should be planned specifically with priority to our mental alertness on Sunday morning. If any particular activity might dim our mental alertness on Sunday morning, curb it or schedule it for another time of the week. Can we truly convince ourselves, much less anyone else, that we love God supremely with all our being, and do anything less?

2004/11/21 How Should I Love God?

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #47 November 21, 2004

How Should I Love God?

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Mt 22:35-40)

Not only does Jesus transform our thinking about how we should love God in this passage, but He also transforms our thinking regarding how we are to love our neighbor. In another lesson Jesus helps us understand who our neighbor is (Lu 10:29 and context). It is not our favorite friend or the person who lives next door to us. It is anyone in our world whom we discover in need. If they have a need, we have a job as their neighbor.

If we translate the first four of the Ten Commandments as containing a basic moral code that is to govern our conduct toward God (and its corollary in our passage of loving God with all our being), Jesus’ second summary commandment applies the remaining six commandments to the governing of our moral conduct toward our fellow-man. We are to honor our parents. Neither parent nor child should define honor as worship. Occasionally you will observe either parents or children who worship each other and claim that they are merely honoring the commandment. Your parents or children are human. They make mistakes. They are not sinless saints. Honor them, but don’t worship them. You respect human life so that you do not murder another. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus applied the principle of this Commandment to conduct that involves far more than murder. Unjustified anger constitutes murder in the heart, so we should curb even that conduct. Jesus further applied the same principle to marriage. As uncontrolled anger constitutes murder in the heart, unrestricted lust constitutes adultery in the heart. What is the implication? Jesus applied all of the Ten Commandments to our immaterial, mental processes, not just external conduct. In all areas involving our interaction with others we are to respect their person and property. In the greater context of the Sermon on the Mount (Although this message in one degree of detail or another appears in other places in the gospels, I suggest that you refer to Mt 5; 6; 7 for this study.) Jesus also added another one of those telescopic principles to reinforce what we have already examined. We call it the “Golden Rule.” Simply stated, you treat other people as you would like for them to treat you. This simple principle of conduct would transform most of our lives unbelievably. It drives our thinking from the external moral posture to the internal ethical. More often than I prefer to number I have encountered professing Christians who seem to be incurable gossips. They will shamelessly pry into your private life for personal details that invariably pop up in their conversation with other people when you are not around. Would you like to put them to the test of the Golden Rule? Try prying into their private lives. Try getting them to talk about their finances, their children, or other private matters. They will often react with a kind of “holy indignation” at your questions. Their finances are no one’s business. Their children are sinless, so don’t suggest anything less. If these folks made any progress at all with “Sermon on the Mount” ethics, they’d reform their lives and become far greater benefactors to those around them. This simple principle of applying the ethics of the Ten Commandments to our immaterial, thinking processes is indeed life-changing.

Now we come to the proverbial $64,000 question. How do you love your neighbor as yourself? Many folks attempt to build the rationale of this principle on man’s fundamental fallenness. We are all fallen creatures who are inclined to worship self. No one ever needed to learn to “love himself;” we are all experts at that process. I rather question that Jesus would build a summary principle that encodes six of the Ten Commandments on man’s fallen nature. In fact I consider this interpretation irretrievably flawed. Did Jesus build the first principle, to love God with all our being, on our fallenness?

Occasionally those who acknowledge man’s inherent, total depravity, will take this principle too far. I ask you to ponder a rather simple, but pertinent question. We can all agree that man in his unregenerate or unsaved state is depraved, totally so. Is it proper and Biblical to assert that the regenerate child of God remains in a state of total depravity? I answer an unqualified no. Read Paul’s references to Old Testament descriptions of man’s sinfulness in Ro 3. If the regenerate child of God retained all of these traits, preaching the gospel to them, teaching them to live moral and spiritual lives of faith would be utterly futile. While we retain some elements of our sinfulness after regeneration, we should never think of ourselves as depraved and fallen, but as redeemed. When Paul initiated a two chapter parenthesis to his theological teaching (Ro 6 and Ro 7), he began his teaching with a question, “Shall we continue in sin?”. He rejected the idea and promptly urged us to “count,” regard or formally classify ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. No where in the New Testament are regenerate elect commanded to regard themselves as depraved and hopelessly fallen under sin.

If Jesus intended that we “love” God in a social or moral sense with all our being, we may safely conclude that He intended a parallel instruction toward our love of our fellow-man. We are to love other men and women in a social or moral sense. God directs us to apply the moral and ethical principles of the last six Commandments both to our personal conduct (loving self in a social or moral sense) as well as to our relationship with others. We will neither murder them nor subject them to our irrational anger. We will not subject them to our lustful thoughts or actions. We will not covet for self things that belong to them. As we sincerely and robustly seek to apply both the literal moral and the applied ethical principles of the Ten Commandments to our own personal lives, we shall equally apply them to our relationships with others. Many of us grew up in homes where this principle was reinforced by our parents. The parent who urges his/her child to live when not at home so that he/she may look in the mirror at home without shame is imparting this principle to their child. Self-respect in the sense of living above board with moral integrity exemplifies this principle. Our generation has corrupted “self-respect” into something of a self-worship principle that has little to do with the “self-respect” that my parents taught me as a child. In their vocabulary “self-respect” had nothing to do with me viewing myself egotistically. It had everything to do with me living above board with moral integrity whether at home or away from home, in the presence of my parents or in their absence.

The contemporary rejection of Biblical self-love seems to ignore the basic definition above of love in a social and moral sense. We truly need to learn to love our self in a social and moral sense. I have seldom met anyone who excessively viewed self with moral integrity. We all have significant grounds for improvement in terms of our love of self when we define love according to its first century use of moral love. In this sense loving self consistently maintains personal moral integrity and honors such integrity, whether in self or in others, because it is right and God-honoring.

Not long ago I heard a preacher in the pulpit describe himself as socially abrasive and unacceptable. He devoted a sermon to demonstrating one abrasive example after another in his preaching illustrations and in his pulpit attitude. Rather than attracting listeners to his message and conclusions, he seemed intent on turning people off to them. One must ask the obvious question. Why preach if you work at turning people off to your message? I had the thought during this sermon that this man needs to learn to “love” himself in a “social” sense.

Whether we fail to love ourselves in a social or in a moral sense, we should grow in our realization that failure to love self in this sense certainly predicts failure to love others “as self.”

Someone has defined one’s reputation as referring to what other people think of you and character as what you are “in the dark” when no one is watching. Jesus’ teaching that we love our neighbor as our self brings these two principles into close harmony. They become one and the same. Our reputation becomes our character, and our character pervades our reputation. As we could all improve in our love of God with all our being, we could equally improve our love of our “neighbor” as ourselves.

2004/11/28 Fear God: What Does it Mean?

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #48 November 28, 2004

Fear God: What Does it Mean?

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. (Job 1:1)

Most of us hold to a dreadfully flawed concept of the fear of God. Ask most believers to define what they understand by “the fear of God,” and you will quickly grasp my point. The common idea imputes to God a variety of traits that Scripture does not allow.

The poetic books of the Old Testament contain more references to the fear of God than any other section of Scripture. The whole Bible reflects any number of thematic emphases that attract our attention. For example, if you want to study the doctrine of hell, you will discover that the gospels, particularly Jesus’ words, say more about hell than any other section of Scripture. The question of Christian suffering finds distinct emphasis in Peter’s first epistle.

We will examine the concept of the fear of God in the Old Testament poetic books to develop our thoughts regarding this doctrine. English poetry follows certain rules of metered lines (a pattern of syllables in each line) and rhyming word sounds at the end of each line. Unlike English poetry, Hebrew poetry follows the concept of rhyming ideas. When reading them, pay special note to parallel clauses. Instead of reading various ideas that expand a concept, you are reading a focused explanation of a single idea. Through the next several chapters we will look specifically at a number of passages that illustrate this idea. Job, the first of the poetic books of the Old Testament, begins with a description of the character of Job. We do not know where the ancient land of Uz was located, nor do we know precisely when the book of Job was written. Generally, Bible scholars hold that Job was written earlier than the first five books of the Old Testament that were written by Moses (ca. 1500 B. C.).

Let’s examine the opening verse of Job to assess the character of this unusual man and to learn what we may of the nature of the fear of God. This simple verse tells us three things about Job’s character.

1. He was perfect and upright. The idea of perfection does not imply moral sinless perfection. The Hebrew word translated “perfect” is defined; “…perfect, complete. 1A complete, perfect. 1A1 one who lacks nothing in physical strength, beauty, etc. 1B sound, wholesome. 1B1 an ordinary, quiet sort of person. 1C complete, morally innocent, having integrity. 1Co 1 one who is morally and ethically pure.”15[1] The word translated “upright” carries the idea of straight, indicating that Job was honest and straightforward in his character.

2. He feared God. For the moment we’ll hold our thoughts on this point.

3. He eschewed evil. “Eschewed” is a Middle English word that indicates avoidance. Job avoided evil. He consistently lived his life so as to avoid evil conduct.

Now let’s apply the Hebrew poetic theme of rhyming ideas to this verse. It suggests that there is a distinctly moral quality to the fear of God. Fearing God appears in our attitude toward moral conduct, particularly our own personal conduct.

As we observed in our brief discussion of love, we have corrupted and distorted the love of God to refer to an emotional or sentimental concept rather than to a conscious act of the will. I suggest that we have similarly distorted our ideas of the fear of God. While trying to define the fear of God in terms of the emotion of fear, we struggle with the idea that a leading idea of the concept refers to one’s moral conduct and attitudes. If we embrace these aspects of fear, we must move toward moral choices and the function of our wills in the choices that we make. Thus the parallel between our distortion of God’s love and of our fear of God is striking. If we truly fear God as set forth in Scripture, we will avoid sinful situations and choices. We will strive to maintain personal purity, a decision that must begin in the mind. We tend, somewhat simplistically at times, to divorce our control of our minds from our conduct. Scripture takes us down the opposite path. Whatever we do originates in our minds. The dominant ideas that we allow to occupy our minds will inevitably surface in our actions.

The whole book of Job documents this incredible man’s life and faith through life-shattering disappointments and losses. He lost family and fortune. He had to live with superficial and judgmental attitudes from friends who sought to comfort him with platitudes and irrelevant accusations that all his pain resulted from some secret sin. Some scholars interpret the book of Job so as to make Job become self-righteous and defensive. Others view the book so as to maintain Job’s high character. Regardless of our view, Job maintained an admirable sense of godliness throughout his trial. Wasn’t that the point that God made in the dialogue with Satan?

So what does this mean for you and me? How does it become a functional truth for our life in the twenty first century? I offer several points for your consideration.

1. Whether Job became self-righteous or not, he maintained a sense of faith in his God that did not waiver. Job’s faith did not stand or fall based on his retirement fund or on the comforts of life. Job treasured family and fortune, but he did not worship them.

2. Another way of saying much the same thing is that Job’s faith rested on his belief in the character of God, not on the status of family or fortunes. For us, circumstances often invade and color our faith far more deeply than they should. How often do we hear sincere believers make comments that blame other people or difficult circumstances for their failures of faith? A financial setback or a friend who disappoints us does not rise to the level that we should step back from our faith.

3. We prove our fear of God by the moral and ethical choices that we make. A person who fears God will avoid the moral and ethical low ground of relativism, of personal desire or choices over Biblical teaching. Fear of God will not motivate us to seek alternatives to Biblical teaching, however profoundly it confronts our personal attitudes and conduct. “The Bible doesn’t say anything about this idea, so I’m free to think whatever I wish about it,” is often the motto of the believer who fails to live according to the fear of God. One who truly fears God looks for guidance in Scripture for acceptable ideas and practices rather than looking for escape hatches to avoid Scriptural leadership.

In his book The Mystery of God’s Will Charles Swindoll offers some pertinent thoughts to our consideration of the fear of God, grounded in our belief in God and in the faithfulness of His character. Job’s life exemplifies this reliable truth. Our fear of God, our love for Him, and our trust in Him can be trusted without doubt. Unbiblical fear of God is typically based on faulty concepts regarding His essential character.

“Why is it important for us who seek His will to know that our God is holy? First of all, His holiness assures us that He is absolutely trustworthy. Being holy, He will never take advantage of His children; He will never abuse us, He will never manipulate us, and He will never lead us astray. His will may seem mysterious, but it’s never wrong. This holy Being who is sinless cannot do wrong. You and I can trust Him to do only what is right at all times.

“Second, His holiness guarantees that He has no deceitful agenda, no questionable motives. When God leads you into His will, you never have to wonder: Will this backfire? Will this somehow work against me? His holy will is free of question.

“Third, His holiness represents a model of perfection. Our God has not one flaw, hidden or observed, unwritten or recorded.

“In an earlier chapter I mentioned that God will never tempt us to sin, not even indirectly.16[2]”

2004/12/05 Fear God: Searching for a Definition

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #49 December 5, 2004

Fear God: Searching for a Definition

And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding. (Job 28:28)

When trying to understand a difficult concept, the first—and best—task is to ensure that we are working with a correct and clear definition of the idea. It is not sufficient to define the word. Sometimes words can take on so many meanings from their context. The wise task is to define the idea itself. What do we mean when we talk about fearing God?

The first point we need to confront is the idea that fearing God is taught in Scripture, and is consistently presented as a good thing; in fact a thing to be greatly desired. If we simply dismiss the idea of fearing God as inconsistent with loving God—and we’d rather love Him than fear Him—we will never come to terms with the noble Biblical idea of fearing God. I “fear” that many believers never get beyond this hurdle. They simply adopt an unclear idea of the fear of God and ignore it because they do not really understand the idea at all. If Scripture teaches me that fearing God is a good thing, I should accept that commandment and seek to learn what Scripture means by the idea. God does not issue contradictory commandments, so any idea that loving God and fearing Him are in conflict puts us on notice that we have failed to understand one or both of these ideas.

I have often heard people quote our study verse when trying to come to terms with the idea of fearing God. The verse presents two sets of parallel ideas. First let’s single them out.

1. The fear of the Lord is wisdom.

2. To depart from evil is understanding.

Wisdom as set forth in Scripture may be about as challenging an idea as fearing God, so the passage, viewed as superficially as we typically consider it, is not as helpful as we would like. Perhaps the fact that we often quote this verse as leading us to understand the idea of the fear of God indicates that we know intuitively, even if we don’t grasp clearly, that the verse reveals something worth our thought.

English poetry is characterized by various patterns of syllable counts in each line (Whether we remember the technical meaning or not, who among us does not remember the frequent literature class term “iambic pentameter”? English poetry is also characterized by a pattern of rhyming sounds in the last words in each line. Hebrew poetry, at least the psalms that were compiled for musical accompaniment, may well have a numeric pattern of syllables per line. However, in Hebrew poetry the rhyming scheme does not appear in ending sounds, but in ideas. This is quite significant when we start interpreting the poetic books of the Old Testament. Hebrew poetry is characterized by rhyming ideas. Given this basic trait of Hebrew poetry, let’s create the grammatical equivalent of mathematical formulae and see how many true equivalent relationships we can discover. Perhaps this approach will help us gain a better insight into our objective.

1. First “equation;” fearing God equals wisdom.

2. Second “equation;” departing from evil equals understanding. Based on the idea of rhyming ideas, we can add two additional equations to our list.

3. Third “equation;” this one is obvious, but necessary to establish our objective. Wisdom equals understanding.

4. Fourth “equation;” fearing God equals departing from evil.

A major component of fearing God surfaces in the fourth “equation.” Grammatically, equations 1 and 2 are obvious. The third is logically obvious. The fourth opens a fresh concept for us to consider in relationship to the fear of God. Departing from evil is conduct that reflects one’s fear of God. Not departing from evil conversely indicates that we do not fear God. When we assess our personal conduct in light of Scripture and a sensitive moral conscience, we come to a productive and interesting conclusion. We fear God to some extent, but not as fully as we should. The degree to which we perpetuate sin in our lives, regardless of the nature of the sin, reflects a direct corollary to our fear of God. To the extent that we do not root sin out of our life we do not fear God as Scripture commands.

To counteract our rather typical, faulty identifying the fear of God with a sense of dread, this simple verse from the oldest book of the Bible redirects our motives. Fearing God—and its logical conduct, departing from evil—is motivated by wisdom and understanding, not by morbid fear of consequences or punishment. There is no doubt that we should try to get away from the notion that the Biblical concept of fearing God equates with dread of punishment or evil consequences. In the New Testament Paul presents the correct motive for godly conduct. “For the love of Christ constraineth us” (2Co 5:14a). The only effective constraint against sin in the believer’s life is an awareness of the price that God’s love paid for our sins. The remainder of this verse and its context takes us directly to that point. He died for us because the consequence of our sins left us in a relational state of being dead to God. He had to stoop to our legal state in order to reconcile us to the legal state of salvation and peace with God. Knowing that our sins caused His suffering and death serves as a far more effective deterrent to sin than dread of punishment.

We seldom make a direct link between the fear of God and our conduct toward sin, at least from the perspective that this verse establishes. Intuitively we sense that we manifest our fear of God by our conduct, but we still struggle with how it all comes together so as to avoid fear as dread of consequences, as well as integrating the fear of God and the love of God in our attitude. Interestingly in the Second Corinthians passage, Paul completes the bridge by indicating that God’s love for us, manifested in Jesus’ suffering and death, constrains our personal conduct.

Based on this refreshing concept of the fear of God, I offer each of us, myself included, something of a challenge. If a person gauged our fear of God by our personal conduct, especially including our “besetting sins,” those issues or behavior patterns in our life that we jealously protect and defend, what conclusions would they draw regarding our fear of God? Would they believe that we truly fear God? Or would they conclude that God is not particularly significant in our moral and ethical choices? For that matter, we could ask the same questions, making our love for God the condition of the question rather than our fear of God.

Interestingly, we readily sing the hymn I Want to Love Him More with conviction. Would we sing a new version of the same hymn as readily if the words were “I Want to Fear Him More”? You see, this verse, enlightened by Paul’s thoughts from 2Co 5:14, not only eliminates the tension between loving God and fearing Him. It actually puts both attitudes toward God on the same footing.

I suggest that each of us has a significant—a life-changing—assignment ahead of us. What changes in our personal habits, especially in the area of our “besetting sins,” must we make to communicate both our love and fear of God to ourselves, as well as to the people around us who regularly witness our personal conduct?

Often these Biblical themes prompt me to ask a double-pronged question. One prong addresses the moral question of our conduct. The other prong addresses the “ethical” dimension of our conduct. Let me illustrate. If you want to study the ethical element of your Christianity, study the Sermon on the Mount. Most, if not all, of the people who will likely read this chapter live with a moral compass that would forbid them from remotely considering murder. You might well become angry with someone who fails to live up to your demands or expectations, but you wouldn’t murder them. However, I suggest that you look back over the last several episodes in your life that involved your interaction with someone who didn’t live up to your expectations. It might be the mechanic who failed to repair your car or a home appliance. It might be the UPS driver who left a package at your door in the middle of a heavy rainstorm. It might be a friend or family member who said something that rubbed you the wrong way. How did you react to them? If you reacted with angry, abrasive words, you broke the ethical rule that Jesus established in the Sermon on the Mount. Your angry words grew out of the same anger that—in some other people might evoke murder. In Jesus’ words you committed murder in your heart. May we learn to apply Jesus’ words to our emotions and our tongues.

2004/12/12 Fear God: More Moral-Ethical Implications

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #49 December 12, 2004

Fear God: More Moral-Ethical Implications

LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved. (Ps 15)

Simultaneously this psalm confronts, rebukes, and encourages me. It forces me out of my comfortable, private view of Christianity and demands that I look within to the deepest recesses of my mind and conscience. If we look that deeply within, none of us will like everything that we see. How does it comfort me? It reminds me that true Christianity, a true and Biblical God-honoring life, does not consist of mystical ideas. James reminds us of the same truth as he defines “pure religion” (Jas 1:27). Once again the Hebrew poetry concept of rhyming ideas enlightens this psalm. Let’s try to isolate the various parallel ideas that appear in this psalm.

1. Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? Rather than asking two distinct questions, David states one question in parallel form. God’s “tabernacle” and His “holy hill” are one and the same. The probing question of the psalm has to do with the characteristics of the people whom God shall allow access to authentic fellowship and blessings.

2. He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. An “upright” walk means righteous work in our conduct and decisions. It also invades that innermost bastion of our carnal inclinations, how we use our tongues, our speech. The verbally abrasive person cannot rightly claim Biblical authority for hurtful words. “I call it the way I see it” more expresses an over-sized ego than mature Christianity.

3. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. David digs deeper into our speech. What does the Bible mean with this term “backbite”? Talking critically about a person to others constitutes the equivalent of a vicious animal sneaking up behind you and clamping its powerful teeth into your back. It paralyzes you. When a person demeans you to others, if they believe it—and they often do—you become effectively paralyzed in that person’s eyes. You can say or do almost anything, but, however right and noble your deeds, that person will view you with suspicion. Often the “backbiter” will question your motives. They can’t reject your conduct, so they resort to imputing low motives to your actions. David then adds two parallel thoughts to this basic premise. The person whom God honors will not engage in any evil action toward his neighbor. Obviously in this setting evil action focuses on words as well as overt actions. The final parallel thought takes us to the heart of the evils of gossip. He will not take up a reproach against his neighbor. This thought drives us to consider how we react to “backbiting” words from people. If we allow their gossip to influence us against someone, even if we never repeat the gossip, we have taken up the reproach. Perhaps the best response to inappropriate gossip is to either confront the gossip (“How do you know what motivated him/her to do this?”) or to simply walk away and leave the gossip talking to himself/herself. It isn’t enough simply not to repeat the gossip’s tale; we should take actions to stop the process. If a gossip learns that you will not listen to their tales, they will stop talking to you about others. Sometimes gossips refuse to see themselves in this light. They might defend their conduct with righteous sounding motives. “I only speak the truth about them. Everyone knows it.” Or they might repeat an even more blatant rationalization, “I’m only telling you so that you can pray for them.” A great response to this kind of rationalization might be this. “If that is truly your motive, I need to ask a favor of you. Please simply pray for this person and their needs, but the next time you or someone in your family has a similar experience, will you immediately tell me so that I can pray for you and yours?” Gossips will never apply their rationalizations to themselves.

4. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. How often do you hear both Christians and non-Christians alike defend the worst of moral sins with “The Bible says that we must not judge lest we be judged”? “Judging” moral sin has become the greatest of all sins in our relativistic, valueless culture. It has invaded many Christians’ thoughts no less than non-Christians. How many of these folks have bothered to give serious and contextual study to Jesus’ words? If they did so, they would not embrace such amoral ideas. Jesus spoke these words in the Sermon on the Mount against harsh and inappropriate judgment of others. You judge others more severely than you judge yourself or your special friends. Jesus used these words to warn such people that God would apply the same grounds of judgment against them that they applied to the people whom they judged harshly and inappropriately. The context of this lesson doesn’t imply, even remotely, that Christians should never in any way judge the conduct of others. Do not forget that Scripture does not contradict itself. What David wrote in Ps 15 does not contradict what Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount (For purposes of this study, read Mt 7:1-5.). David clearly teaches that the servant of God whom God honors condemns a vile person. His/Her eyes do not look the other way or attempt to rationalize sinful deeds. The believer in God should give all diligence to avoid self-righteous or unjust, finger-pointing criticisms of others. However, this passage leaves no doubt that the acceptable servant of God does not hide his/her disdain of vile sinful conduct. Conversely, the parallel thought affirms that the servant who honors God—and whom God honors—honors people who demonstrate by their lives that they “fear” God.

5. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. The God-honoring servant applies his faith to his wallet. He does not worship money. Take some time to make a written list of the many decisions that we make on a regular basis that involve some consideration of money. Do these decisions ever hinder us from attending public worship? Do they influence our decisions regarding how much we give to the church and related ministries? Do they encroach on our need for regular study and meditation? If so, we are guilty of unlawful use of our money.

6. He that doeth these things shall never be moved. The psalm concludes with a reassuring affirmation that God will add stability and blessing to the person who lives life in this manner.

In the “Homiletics” section of the Pulpit Commentary J. Wilcocks makes an insightful observation. “THE PRINCIPLE BY WHICH WE SHOULD BE GOVERNED IS THE ‘FEAR OF GOD.’ This is the root from which the goodly leaves and choice fruit of a religious life will spring. If the word ‘fear’ had been used in this passage only, and we had not been at liberty to understand it in any other than its ordinary sense, one would be forced to admit that such a low motive could not be the mainspring of a vigorous and healthy religious life. But all through the Scriptures the phrase, ‘fear of God,’ is used as synonymous with a genuine, heartfelt service of him, and as rather indicating a careful observance of the obligations we as creatures owe to him, than a mere dread of his anger at disobedience. It is not to be denied that fear, in the ordinary sense of the word, is reasonably a motive by which sin may be restrained, but it is no stimulus to that kind of service which we owe to God.” Not only does Wilcocks give us a highly functional definition of the fear of God, but he also takes this concept to the Biblical idea that we see in Ps 15. To honor those who fear God is to give credit to the fact that our service to God will never rise to what He expects and will approve unless it is motivated by this concept of fear, not the low view that sees the fear of God as merely a desire to avoid punishment, the just consequences of sin.

2004/12/19 Fear God: More Moral-Ethical Implications

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #50 December 19, 2004

Fear God: More Moral-Ethical Implications

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. (Ps 19:7-14)

This passage goes into greater depth in its poetic parallels than the lessons from the last few chapters. Apply similar poetic rhyme or parallel thought to the lesson and see how many clues you pick up regarding the character of the “fear of God” as expressed in this lesson. Often we are inclined to imply that the “law” in Scripture always refers to the Mosaic code. I believe in this case the assumption could be correct, but the reference could also be to the overarching character of any “law” that comes from God. However in many contexts Scripture refers to other laws. As example, see Ro 8:2 where Paul refers to two distinct laws in one verse, neither of which is the Mosaic code.

D. A. Carson offers insightful points to this passage. Notice the various ways that he draws instructive parallels to the text. Although he never mentions Hebrew poetry rhyme, his construction fully reflects this feature. At the same time he keeps our focus on the law of the Lord, he uses each line and each description to enlarge our respect for the wonder of God’s law.

“The voice of the word: perfection. The Lord has not left us to the uncertainties of natural religion; he has spoken his word which has here six titles: law (7), ‘instruction’; statutes/‘testimony’, what the Lord bears witness to as valid; precepts (8), applicable to the small details of life; commands, intended for obedience; fear (9), worthy of reverence; ordinances, authoritative decisions.

“It has nine qualities: perfect in every part and in its wholeness trustworthy (7), reliable; right (8), upright, of moral rectitude; radiant, ‘pure’, free from contaminant; pure (9), (see Ps 12:6), of purity acceptable to God; enduring, changeless; surerighteous, ‘true … right’, corresponding to the objective norms of truth; precious (10), ‘rightly desirable’, full of intrinsic value; sweeter, full of true enjoyment.

“It has four results: reviving (7), (Ps 35:17; cf. Ru 4:15; La 1:16), restoring true life whether threatened by danger or diminished by sorrow; simple has the bad meaning of ‘gullible/credulous’ (Pr 7:7; 14:15; 22:3), lacking guiding moral principles, and the good meaning of ‘teachable’ (Ps 116:6; 119:30; Pr 1:4), giving joy (8), educating the emotions (heart); the eyes are the organs of desire, what is wanted out of life. The word of God instils true objectives, worthy values.”17[1]

Carson defines “fear” in this lesson as “worthy of reverence.” He maintains a high respect for the purity of God’s law, as well as its applicability “to the small details of life.” We live in a sad age in which many who profess faith in Christ and respect for the Bible as God’s Word often simply dismiss large portions of Scripture that they dislike as not applicable to them. You often hear the refrain, “Well since the Bible says nothing whatever about this question, we are free to make up our own minds, and God doesn’t care.” Often this dismissal grows out of either a calculated dismissal of—or an inexcusable ignorance of Scripture. Often a reasonable study of Scripture will reveal significant Biblical teaching on the question.

Who can understand his errors?” David takes us right past our human inclination to emphasize the errors of other people. He drives the question home to our selves. How objective am I at looking, much less understanding, my personal faults? As soon as David states this question, he responds as each true believer should respond. He prays for God to “cleanse thou me from secret faults.” What are my “secret faults”? They are the faults that I intentionally try to hide, rationalize, or justify. If each of us made a list of our personal faults, our own sins, we would unconsciously or in willful rebellion omit some of our most treasured sinful habits from the list. David took down the sacrosanct fence from his life and prayed for God to shine the divine spotlight of His law right on those sins so that David might not only see them, but eliminate them from his life.

Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.” David will not stop here. He works to apply God’s law to every nook and cranny of his mind and life. What is a presumptuous sin? The Hebrew word translated “presumptuous” refers to pride or an arrogant spirit. Here are some stimulating thoughts on the meaning and use of this word.

“zı̂d is frequently used to refer to three specific aspects of pride. One is presumption. Because a person is proud he presumes too much in his favor, especially in the sense of authority. ”…The second aspect is rebellion or disobedience. Because the person is proud he asserts his own will to the point of rebelling against one in authority over him. ”…The third, closely related to the second, carries the additional element of willful decision. If a person so asserted himself and killed his neighbor, his own life was required as punishment.”18[2]

Are we guilty of “presumptuous” sins? I fear so, but, like David and the nation of Israel, pride blinds us to the true personality of the sin involved. Rather than grieving our sin and repenting, we defend it, redefine it, and arrogantly defy any who suggest that it is a sin. Ah yes, we need to pray this prayer daily, for only God can protect us from our own pride and the trap of the presumptuous sin.

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” Our eyes and words serve as windows to our minds. What judges our thoughts and words? We prefer to keep that judgment to our selves and defend self against anyone who intrudes. David rose to the noble stature of a mature believer in God. He sought God’s approval of his conduct, so he worked to live so as to ensure God’s approval. Again, the common attitude of pride that attacks anyone who questions us with “I will answer to God and not to you” misses the point. Yes, we answer to God, but we gravely err if we think that we can flaunt our pride and prideful sins against God’s will as revealed in Scripture and receive any form of blessing from God. We cannot deceive Him. We cannot hide our true motives from Him.

The believer who truly fears God understands that he/she answer to God, but never forgets the demands such accountability imposes. The more we become sensitive to our accountability to God the more we will demonstrate a gracious spirit that responds with grace and deference to other believers. Study Php 2 as a model of this conduct. Our attitude is to follow Jesus’ Incarnate attitude. If I am arrogant and stubborn in my attitude toward my fellow-believer, it is likely that I am equally arrogant and rebellious toward God. May we use this lesson on the fear of God to grow more mature in our faith.

2004/12/26 Fear God: Jesus’ Example—Our Blessing

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 19, #51 December 26, 2004

Fear God: Jesus’ Example—Our Blessing

I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this. (Ps 22:22-31)

When we turn to Ps 22, our first interpretational task is to drop anchor into the glorious—and gloriously deep—waters of Jesus’ Incarnation and suffering. The psalm begins with Jesus’ words on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The whole psalm takes on a prophetic disposition as it leads us through Jesus’ private thoughts during His time on the cross. This point alone makes the psalm one of the most incredible passages of the whole Bible. We are allowed into the private thoughts of God Incarnate at His epochal moment in His mission and in our salvation.

Further, the writer of the Hebrew letter quotes Ps 22:22 (Heb 2:12). Most of the Bibles that I have on my desk show a paragraph break that begins at verse 22, so on the assumption that paragraphs as we know them are relevant to Hebrew poetry, we may begin our study with the idea that verse 22 states the major point of the last movement in the poem/ancient hymn. The succeeding verses unpack the idea and give it dimension.

We should also consider that the primary source of these words is Jesus’ thoughts, not David’s prophecy. Before we begin to apply the passage to ourselves, we should clearly orient our minds to their primary context.

In many circles of Christian thought it might seem a bit strange to assert that Jesus “feared.” However, the Hebrew writer specifically affirms this point (Heb 5:7). In that passage the Father’s hearing Jesus when He prayed is attributed to His fear, “…and was heard in that he feared.”

In this amazing lesson Jesus—albeit in prophecy—turns his interest to others, not to His incredible (excruciating; “out of the cross”) suffering on the cross. He urges “Ye that fear the LORD” to praise Him. He adds that we are to both glorify and to fear God. Briefly Jesus returns to His personal task, “I will pay my vows before them that fear him.”

What is it about fearing God that leads us from fear to worship and to personal acts that glorify Him? We can hardly find a logical basis for these progressions in the typical idea that fearing God means either to fear the bad consequences of our sins or generally to view God with a paralyzing and morbid fear. As challenging as this passage is to our study, it is also highly informative.

Dr. Tom Constable summarizes the logical sequence of the passage. “In view of the Lord’s deliverance David vowed to praise God publicly. God saved His Son from death just as He delivered the psalmist from it. In the latter case He did so by prolonging his life and in the former by resurrection. The writer of Hebrews quoted this verse in Heb 2:12 as an expression of the Lord Jesus’ praise to God for delivering Him from death in answer to His prayer (cf. Heb 5:7).”19[1] Constable blends David’s personal narration in the verse alongside Jesus’ fulfilling experience on the cross.

Take time to read these verses several times. Then make a list of the words that come to mind as rough equivalents to the idea of the fear of God that appears in these verses. The first word that came to my mind was “respect.” Considering the full content of the psalm and Jesus’ work on my behalf, I am overwhelmed at His amazing dedication to His divine assignment. I hold men who stick to their assignment faithfully in high regard. Anyone can start a noble venture and become distracted. It takes a special person to take on a difficult task and stick to it through “thick or thin.” I love Him for what He did. Indeed I hope that I “worship” Him both for who He is and for what He did on my behalf. But behind all of these activities this idea of profound respect stands out. This is the kind of man I want to rub shoulders with. I want this kind of man as my friend. If I were faced with a difficult business task, I’d want this kind of man on board with me to ensure success in the assignment. Interestingly, that is precisely what we have available to us in our Christian walk. We need to take Jesus with us through our business and personal challenges. No, do not treat Him as a mystical and magical mantra of sorts, something of a magical word that chases away all of your problems and makes every day trouble-free. Often in Scripture He leads His people through troubles to the path of spiritual growth. Can we overlook that Heb 11 presents a significant list of people who faced and survived incredible hardships “by faith” (Heb 11:35-39).

We find it a bit strange to “take Jesus with us to work” every day, but, when we keep our lives enriched in Scripture and in our studies of His noble example, we set the stage for just such an event. When we dare to draw on Scripture’s teachings to guide us through the maze of decisions and judgments that daily life forces upon us, we in fact do take Him with us into our daily activities. True discipleship is not a mystical fantasy of Jesus when we need to work our way through problems. True discipleship graciously and trustingly faces life’s darkest problems with Jesus and His very practical, literal teachings from Scripture immersed into our minds, using them to flavor the decisions that we make in every facet of life.

I have to confess that I’m something of a “worry wart.” When difficulties come, my first and most natural reaction is to think that the worst possible thing that could occur will in fact happen. Similarly, the Pollyanna Christian who avoids every problem with Scarlet O’hara’s, “Oh well, I’ll think of it tomorrow,” needs this truth to grab them by the lapel and pull them back into reality. Whether we are pessimistic or Pollyanna, we need our Lord’s personal example of fearing God to instruct our faith in the moment of trial.

Occasionally my wife and I have interesting philosophical discussions about the impact of Christian faith and preaching on people. Can you in fact so influence people that they truly modify their natural personality and bent to make their nature respond to life more like Scripture teaches? I believe that this is not only possible, but that the power for such transformation lies at the heart of the New Testament’s teaching regarding the divine intent of the gospel. It is not my teaching that lays a major load of guilt onto someone and drives them to a superficial appearance of change. It is not that my words are so profound as to overwhelm and alter a person’s worldview. If the gospel is—as Ro 1:16 asserts—God’s power to save believers (not the typical teaching that it is God’s power to save unbelievers), I must preach it, fully expecting and believing that God can and does use it to transform the lives of people who hear it with heart-ears. I must confess that I am occasionally discouraged when I preach to people over a prolonged period who listen, pay lip service to the teachings, and claim to be believers, but who never display any evidence of transformed lives. However, I can also celebrate those occasions when I preach it and see in a life here and there a true and delightful transformation. A “pedestrian” Christian miraculously grows into the stature of a mature believer in Christ and makes a difference, first in his/her own life, and then in the lives of others. We cannot embrace the New Testament message of the gospel without also embracing the fact that God’s power, as seen and put to work through the preaching of the gospel, can indeed transform lives.

I ask each of you this personal question. Looking over the years of your profession of faith in Christ, have you been transformed or merely petrified into a stubborn and unyielding rock that always responds to gospel exhortations with “This is just the way I am; I can’t change”? What will the real message of your life be? When the preacher delivers your funeral sermon, what will be the sermon of your life that people in the audience will recall on that day?

2005/01/02 Practical Implications of Fearing God

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #1 January 2, 2005 Practical Implications of Fearing God

Good and upright is the LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. For thy name’s sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great. What man is he that feareth the LORD? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth. The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant. (Ps 25:8-14)

Ps 25 is rich with truth for the task of living the life of faith. David begins and ends the psalm with a prayer. Our study verses contain various reflections on the character of God and on the impact that God should have on the way we live. Especially in Scripture, when you begin and end a thought with prayer, expect the reflections between the two prayers to be noteworthy.

Theologians might not affirm God’s goodness with the same points that David makes, but I’d rather follow David’s inspired line of reasoning than theirs. After all, God chose David to write a major segment of His book, something that no contemporary theologian can match. David’s teaching here resonates with sincere believers in the trenches of life. God supremely demonstrates His goodness in His gracious and merciful treatment of His people when they sin. He never approves of our sins. He won’t even look the other way and ignore them. The believer who thinks that God looks the other way when he/she sins is sadly out of touch with the black character of sin and with the holy nature of God, something of life in a fantasy world.

David corroborates the point as he moves us along the lesson. The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. The opening point reminds us that God demonstrates His goodness by teaching “sinners in the way.” Following the Hebrew pattern of rhyming ideas, he then expands the thought and reinforces it with this verse. The Hebrew word translated “meek” leads us to such parallel words as weak, poor or needy, humble, or lowly. It conveys the mirror-opposite attitude to the self-sufficient person who claims to have all the answers. It also is opposed to the person who consistently rationalizes sin in his/her life as either justified because of what others said or did, or because of the situation in which they acted. It is a near-universal truth; people who think they already have all the knowledge they need are not teachable, even by God. I have long been convinced that the folks who resist exhortation from fellow-believers equally resist divine exhortation. In our interaction with other believers we will reveal our deepest attitude toward God. If we react to our fellow-believers with stubbornness and resistance, we likely react in similar fashion to God. If we demonstrate a gracious openness and receptivity to the counsel of fellow-believers, we will also be more receptive when God nudges us to make changes in our life.

This sentence also makes another encouraging point. God doesn’t reserve His instruction to the elite and worthy. He sends it to those who confront and acknowledge their frailty.

All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. The divine character, God’s deepest nature, will not be—cannot be—fickle or duplicitous. God is in many ways mysterious and infinitely beyond our depth, but in things revealed He is open and predictable in terms of moral and ethical issues. He will not lead us to sin and then punish us for the very sin that He caused us to do. Those who impute this trait onto God commit a near-blasphemous betrayal against the holy and moral nature of God. That said, however, do not overlook the conditionality of the verses, “…unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.” Paul brings this thought to our minds in a New Testament setting (Ro 11:22, Paul will not allow us to overlook both divine goodness and divine severity. By our submission to God or by rebellion, we determine which aspect we shall experience from Him.).

For thy name’s sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great. Perhaps the greatest single discouragement that I’ve personally encountered in my nearly fifty years of ministry has been the significant number of occasions when someone in my pastoral care showed all the signs of trial in their life, but, when asked, put up a false front of self-control rather than acknowledging reality and asking for Biblical assistance. Christians have drunken far too deeply from the relativistic well of ever-changing moral values that has intoxicated our secular society. We have redefined sin so that we can pretend that dreadful three-letter word only applies to “them,” whoever “them” actually is. We may have a sickness or a “bad habit,” but we stubbornly and pride-fully resist applying the word “sin” to anything that we personally say or do. This prideful attitude is the opposite from David’s example here. Not only did he acknowledge his sin, but he specifically cried out to God for pardon because “it is great.” The first and most significant step toward divine forgiveness and inner healing from our sin problems lies in confession, sometimes both to God and to fellow-believers. Our silly pride will not fool God.

What man is he that feareth the LORD? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. If you stopped reading the psalm at this point, how would you define the person whom God will teach and lead to nobler faith and conduct? David simplifies his description of this person. It is the person who “feareth the LORD”. We would hardly define the fear of God in our life with such terms as humility or spiritual neediness, but that is the parallel that David draws for us.

David then encourages the one who fears God with a promise that God shall teach this person in the way that He shall choose. Linger for some reflective thought on this point. Who chooses the ways that you go in your daily life? For most of us, sadly, we make the decisions and choose the paths that we view as in our personal best interest. Then we try to convince God to bless our own choices after we made them with little or no prayerful consultation to Him. The person whom God promises to teach is the pliable and submissive believer. Do not miss the point; it is central to our lesson here, as well as to our study of the fear of God. God teaches us in His ways, “the way that he shall choose,” not the ways that we choose.

His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth. A sense of peace that transcends life’s circumstances often appears in Scripture as the blessing of faithful obedience to God. We all have met sincere believers who view their Christian life as something near to a life prison sentence. They are morally upright. You could trust them with anything that you own. However, they live miserable and unfulfilled lives. They are still trying to choose their own ways and negotiate with God to bless. In making this choice they shut themselves off from God’s teaching in the ways that He chooses, ways that lead to our dwelling “at ease” despite life’s ironic and sometimes cruel twists.

The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant. God is not so much in the secret-keeping business as in the revealing business, but He discreetly reveals Himself and His blessings to believers who will respond to His revelation in respect and worship. To see God’s covenant is not so much to become aware that it exists, but to see the personal application of God’s eternal covenant with His people to our personal lives and circumstances. “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Ps 37:25). In this verse David shares one of God’s major “secrets” with us, His absolute faithfulness to care for His own. We have no promise that God will supply our wishes, but we do have the promise that He will supply our needs.

So what do we learn from this psalm about fearing God? We begin to see some incredibly practical truths that should penetrate every aspect of our life. It should convince us to abandon once and for ever our common habit of trying to control everything around us by our personal abilities or strategies. Faith simply accepts the obvious. Who is better equipped to deal effectively and rightly with all the complexities of life that you and I face every day? No, faith doesn’t passively drift through life, trusting God to do everything for us. Neither does it run frantically through life trying to control everything around us that impacts us. This idea of the fear of God submits to Him and trusts Him to step into our lives and instruct us with wisdom above our own knowledge or abilities. How do we get from the proverbial “here to there”? We start by having a heart-to-heart talk with God in which we come to terms with His way, not our own. At that point He will start the teaching.

2005/01/09 How do we Teach Someone the Fear of God?

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments” Volume 20, #2 January 9, 2005

How do we Teach Someone the Fear of God?

Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD. What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. (Ps 34:11-14)

Scripture is clear that we do not “teach” someone to know God. In Jer 31:27-34 God describes a major premise of His “new covenant” with His people in these terms. They shall not teach every man his brother or neighbor to “know the Lord,” for they shall all know Him from the least to the greatest. God teaches us to “know” Him; He does not delegate that task to others. However, our passage specifically affirms that the fear of God is not only teachable, but that we should make it a priority issue in our active faith.

How do we teach someone else to “fear God”? Given the frightening ignorance of many Christians regarding the whole question of fearing God, I doubt that this theme appears in the “curriculum” of most Christian lives, much less Christian institutions of education. Get a copy of the class offerings from a local Christian college or high school. Do you see any courses offered on the fear of God? Sit for a season under most preaching in any Christian denomination, even the most conservative. In some of them you’ll hear an excess of teaching on the fear of consequences, on the fear of hell and the dreadfulness of eternal punishment, but you’ll hear very little indeed about what it means to fear God. Do we understand that fearing the punishment of hell is not the same as fearing God? That attitude refers to fearing the consequences of sin, but it has almost nothing to do with fearing God. You can find any number of people who fear the punishment that the Bible describes for the wicked. Who wouldn’t fear it? But you find few people indeed who have a solid grasp on the Biblical idea of fearing God, much less teaching that fear to others in His family.

What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? David begins his “teaching” with a question. Ah, few teaching methods work as well as asking questions. They engage the mind of the student. They make the student part of the learning process. This question is engaging. Who doesn’t desire the good life, longevity, and a “happy ending” to his life? Unfortunately, more happy endings occur in fairy tales than in real life. Why is it that so many lives are spent in constant struggle and end in frustration? If you suggested to people who live life in this mode that they may be suffering from a deficiency in their fear of God, they’d look at you as if you were mad. They wouldn’t even grasp why you made the statement at all. What does that have to do with their frustrations? According to David in this lesson, it may well have everything to do with our struggles. The form of the question acknowledges the universal appeal of a long and fulfilling life to our minds. The question also leads us to expect that we shall receive a positive answer. David will tell us how to ensure these fruits in our life work. The surprise of the passage is that he associates a long, happy life to our fear of God, something that he promises to teach us.

A careful study of David’s answer to the “teacher’s question” will reveal the rigors of the course entitled “Learning the Fear of God.” Most students in school score well below their intelligence and true ability because they refuse to invest the self-control and mental energy to truly do their homework and related assignments. They learn just how much they need to do to “get by.” They are satisfied with a “get by” grade. Sadly, many of these people leave school and spend the remainder of their lives in that same “get by” mode. They could do their work—and practice their faith—at a far higher level of skill and devotion with more effort, but they have become content with just “getting by.” Many years ago a friend who had been very dedicated to his faith developed Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease increasingly altered his personality, one day he volunteered to me, “It just doesn’t take as much religion for me as it does for most people.” At least this man had something of an excuse. The disappointment of ministry is that many professing believers who do not suffer from debilitating dementia have embraced a similar attitude.

How do you explain this lackadaisical attitude in people who profess to “seek first the kingdom of God”? Their obvious attitude toward their faith is far from making it first in their life’s priorities. We hardly realize the profound impact that early habits and attitudes make on our whole life.

I offer a rather simple observation regarding this verse and its amazing implications to authentic, robust Christian living. People with this attitude of doing just enough to “get by” either do not fear God as they should, or they certainly do not demonstrate the fear of God in their lives as they should. Not only can they not teach anyone to fear God, they lack the personal experience of a healthy fear of God and its cleansing, freeing impact on their conduct.

Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. David begins with one of the most common and accepted sins of Christianity, gossip. The incurable gossip fails the fear of God course right away. The cliché that the eyes are the window to one’s soul is partly correct, but perhaps one’s tongue provides a clearer view of the soul than the eyes. Quietly listen to what people say for very long, and you will readily grasp what is important to them, as well as their patterns of thought. Regardless of their efforts to keep up a flawless façade, they inevitably reveal their deepest attitudes for all to see.

Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. The parallel thoughts in these two clauses are instructive. People readily agree that we should depart from evil, at least as they define evil. I suggest that Christians should define evil based on God’s values, not their own. Parallel to departing from evil is the companion assignment of doing good. David doesn’t simply tell us that avoidance of disgraceful sins is acceptable; he tells us that we should engage our life and conduct that was formerly filled with evil-doing in the active pursuit of doing good. Doing good involves a moral-ethical factor. It also involves an attitude factor in us. Doing good involves our joyful and happy embracing of the Christian life as something to be treasured and enjoyed, not joylessly endured as if a prison sentence.

Seek peace, and pursue it. We suffer a lot of confusion in our Christian faith. Yes, Paul compares the Christian life with the life of a soldier at war (Eph 6). There are two essentials to being a good soldier. The first requires absolute respect for, and submission to, one’s superior officer. You may not agree with his orders, but in the heat of battle, you obey without question. The other essential of being a worthy soldier is to know your enemy. Most heated battlefields involve a lot of confusion and emotion. People are being wounded and are dying all around you. Your own life is on the line. The next bullet that is fired may find its way to you, not that soldier adjacent to you. In all the confusion and tension of the battle you must always keep the identity of your enemy clearly in your mind. One could hardly imagine a worse travesty than for a soldier to wound or kill one of his comrades due to mistaking him for the enemy.

As Christians, we demonstrate incredible confusion regarding the identity of our enemy. A Christian in a different church denomination or fellowship whose beliefs may differ from mine on various doctrines is not my enemy. A believer within my church or fellowship who announces ideas that are somewhat different from the dominant ideas within the fellowship is not my enemy. If he holds to ideas too diverse from the fellowship or church, perhaps he should find a church fellowship that is more compatible with his ideas, but he is not my enemy.

Many large churches today put all their focus on getting new converts through the front door, but they pay almost no attention to the mass exodus of existing members out the back door of the church. Many of these exiting Christians leave with scars and open infected wounds in their spirit due to the thoughtless actions of a fellow-believer. We are too proficient at wounding our own, at confusing a believer, a soldier in Paul’s metaphor of the Christian life, all the while leaving our arch-enemy free to move in on our compromised battle posture. In Eph 6 Paul makes a clear point of identifying the Christian’s enemy. He is not another believer who lives in flesh and blood. He is a spirit being who does not have flesh and blood. Our battle should not go on inside the camp of believers, even when our various beliefs differ.

I do not minimize doctrinal differences, particularly differences that touch on major Biblical issues. However, I urge us all to take a serious look at the New Testament’s defined strategy for dealing with them, kind and gentle methods more conducive to a difference within a family than methods commonly seen on a battlefield. Based on David’s lesson, our failure to follow these ethical strategies demonstrates an alarming fact. We lack a healthy fear of God, leaving us altogether incompetent to teach others the fear of God. David’s simple syllabus for the fear-of-God course requires that we demonstrate our fear of God, a clean and wholesome fear, by the way that we speak and live our lives. Our assignment is not to take the class but to teach it. Are we ready?

2005/01/16 No Fear of God in the Wicked

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #3 January 16, 2005 No Fear of God in the Wicked

The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful. The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit: he hath left off to be wise, and to do good. He deviseth mischief upon his bed; he setteth himself in a way that is not good; he abhorreth not evil. (Ps 36:1-4)

As we’ve developed the pattern of teaching on the fear of God from the poetic books of the Old Testament, we’ve discovered that a person’s moral and ethical conduct reveals his fear of God, or lack thereof. So far we’ve examined various lessons that deal with the influence of the fear of God on righteous people. This lesson deals with the lack of that trait in the wicked.

The structure of this psalm is unusual. David begins with this lesson regarding the wicked not fearing God. Then in Ps 36:5-10 he develops a tender theme that relates to God’s mercy and kindness to His people. Finally he closes the psalm (Ps 36:11-12) with an examination of the pride factor in the wicked. One could surmise that David thanks God for His goodness that gave him a healthy sense of the fear of God that is absent in the wicked.

How did David know that there was no fear of God in the wicked? His first clue addresses moral conduct, “The transgression of the wicked saith….” The wicked will not learn to respect the fear of God, but notice the rather subtle point that David makes, “…saith within my heart….” When David observed the lack of moral integrity in the wicked, he knew something about them that they may not have known about themselves. Notice the distinction between this lesson in which David confronts the lack of fear in the wicked, but deals with it in terms of his own thoughts, as contrasted with Ps 53 in which he deals with the same question, but focuses on the wicked.

At both the beginning and ending of Ps 36 David surfaces the pride factor in the immoral conduct of the wicked. Ps 36:2 indicates the wicked person’s inclination toward self-flattery, and Ps 36:11-12 include a prayer to be delivered from the “foot of pride” where the wicked are fallen. In 1Ti 3:6 Paul forbids ordination to ministry of a “novice,” one who is young and inexperienced in the faith “…lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” Whether in the wicked or among the righteous, pride has no legitimate role in human thought and conduct.

From the beginning—literally so, as a reading of Ge 3 will reveal—Satan has used the appeal to pride as one of his primary weapons. Consider the setting in the Garden of Eden as you examine Satan’s words to Eve, “…ye shall be as gods….” If these words appeared after the fall in the midst of Israel’s struggles against pagan neighbors, it would not be unusual, but there was no idolatry in Eden. I suggest that Satan was actually enticing Eve with the idea that she and Adam could become like God by eating the forbidden fruit. He appealed to pride, ambition, and equally diminished God’s goodness with the implication that God knowingly was withholding something of value from them. Human pride always reveals this two-sided coin, exaltation of man and diminishing of God. The Hebrew word translated “gods” is the common “Elohim” that Old Testament writers use for God. It is occasionally used of men in positions of high authority, but its most common use in the Old Testament is of God. Interestingly it appears in the plural form. Years ago in a conversation I had with a man who rejected the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity, I raised this passage as a subtle revelation of the Trinity at the very beginning of the Old Testament. His response was that the Hebrew language was not fully developed at this time, so the Hebrews didn’t have a singular form for this word at the time Moses wrote Genesis. Later in my research of the word I discovered that the most frequent appearance of the singular form of this word appears in the book of Job, generally believed by Biblical scholars to have been written significantly earlier than Moses’ writings. Thus Moses intentionally chose the plural form of the word in Ge 3:5. Albeit subtle, this verse does set the stage for the Trinitarian teaching of Scripture regarding the essential nature of God. At its core human pride seeks to compete with God. And, in the context of this psalm, human pride rejects the fear of God in favor of its own agenda.

When we encounter evil people such as the people whose conduct David describes in this psalm, you may easily become too preoccupied with their evil and forget about God. David is a realist in terms of his assessment of the evil wicked person involved in the passage. He sees and acknowledges the depth of the evil deeds, as well as the depth of the evil character. However, David refused to make such wicked people the centerpiece of his life, even in terms of his disapproval. God was the focal point of his life, and, even when considering the dreadful impact of the wicked, David realistically examined them and returned to his focus on God. He didn’t pretend they didn’t exist. He didn’t ignore them. But neither did he allow them to influence his life by their diabolical and cynical self-worship.

As there were “giants” in the land in the days prior to the flood (Ge 6:4), so “giants” have dominated human culture throughout history. I believe these “giants” were ordinary men who rose to the stature of highly influential men whose presence and conduct shaped the opinions and lives of the people around them, charismatic, dynamic leaders who knew how to mold the opinions of others. Had we lived in the time of Alexander the Great, no doubt we would have considered him a “giant.” For those of us in this country any number of “giants” might be considered. What about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Or in more recent times Franklin Roosevelt or Winston Churchill? Ah, and then evil “giants” also come along, such as Hitler. Our human culture seeks out giants to look up to. If we don’t look up to an individual “giant,” we might look up to institutional giants. Every four years in our country avid political loyalists spend six to twelve months worshipping one or the other political party and the person that party chose to run for president of our country. If you listen to the rhetoric during that time, you’d almost think people believe that this person is the herald for the Second Coming, a true “giant” of sorts.

Our human nature seeks an object of worship. God alone deserves that position, but, when folks decide that worshipping God isn’t sufficient, they will choose multiple gods of their own desires. The more we fall into this role of idolatry the more we cloud the question of our fear of God and of our exclusive worship of Him alone. We may create an object of worship in the things that we hate so viciously that we focus on them no less that idolizing the things that we love. How many people have you known who seemed determined always to have a mortal enemy whom they blamed for any and all of their personal problems? One of the most important points in this psalm for our personal discipleship is the incredible balance with which David deals with the question of wicked people. He acknowledges their existence. He examines their immoral (if not amoral) character quite realistically, but he does so in light of God’s moral compass, not his own. He then immediately turns his greater focus onto God and praises God’s attributes. How many divine attributes do you see in Ps 36:5-10?

Mercy, Ps 36:5.

Faithfulness, Ps 36:5.

Righteousness, Ps 36:6.

Judgments, Ps 36:6.

Loving kindness, Ps 36:7.

From these essential attributes of God, he develops the theme of God’s incredible goodness toward His people, establishing that, despite any conduct by anyone who has no fear of God, God’s goodness prevails on behalf of His children.

Given this balance of reality toward the wicked and adoring worship toward God, how much impact would you predict that these wicked people would have on David’s life? I’d say almost none at all. I can’t recall the source, but several years ago I read a brief quip that really caught my mind. “If you fear God, you will fear nothing else. If you do not fear God, you will fear everything else.” The truth and practical impact of this simple cliché should instruct each of us daily.

Given the delightful message of Ps 36, I ask you, and myself, a question. How strong is our fear of God? Do we equivocate back and forth between this false dichotomy of God’s love and our fear, not quite knowing what to do with either? Or do we group all fear under the heading of dread, something to be avoided and overcome? If so, this may be the reason that we live in such frequent fear of so many “things” in our life. Perhaps it is time to cultivate the fear of God.

2005/01/23 More Poetic Parallels

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #4 January 23, 2005

More Poetic Parallels

I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD. Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies. (Ps 40:1-3)

When asked to explain or define the fear of God, many Christians will use words such as reverence or respect. Few would immediately turn to the word “trust” or “faith.” If we follow the simple rule of Hebrew poetry, the rhyming of ideas instead of words, this passage leads us directly from fear to trust. We previously touched on our role in teaching others to fear the Lord. Here David expands this thought. God’s abundant blessings in David’s life are obvious to onlookers; “…many shall see it….” What happens when they consider David’s life as a reflection of God’s deliverance? “…fear, and shall trust in the LORD.”

We hear a New Testament echo from the apostle Paul, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2Co 4:5). It isn’t David’s willpower or devotion that captured the attention of his friends. It was God’s manifest deliverance in his life.

We should further note that the point of the passage is not David’s salvation, but his ongoing discipleship. He was already saved (born again) and in some particularly distressing trial he “waited patiently for the LORD.” Notice the long list of blessings that God sent to the patient waiter.

He inclined unto me.

He heard me.

He brought me up out of a horrible pit (interestingly, in the marginal note the word “horrible” is defined as “noisy.” This pit was not full of “happy campers,” but of clamoring people who were all looking for the escape. Perhaps they were looking for it through their own strategies, but David was delivered by God’s kind hand, not by his own ingenuity.).

He brought me up out of the miry clay.

He set my feet upon a rock.

He established my goings.

He put a new song in my mouth, praise to His name.

How do people respond to their perception of this blessing in David’s life? At least, how does David expect them to respond? “…shall fear, and shall trust in the LORD.” New Testament linguistic scholars indicate that often when “and” appears in a passage the primary significance is “even.” The writer is saying the same thing in different words. The concept of Hebrew rhyming ideas parallels this idea, so here the idea of fear means that they trust in God.

We should not neglect the fact that the writer of Hebrews in the New Testament quotes from this psalm (Ps 40:6-8) (Heb 10:7-10). In that passage the inspired writer applies the words as a prophecy regarding the Lord Jesus Christ, particularly as He came in the Incarnation to fulfill his office of priest on behalf of His chosen people. The most conservative interpretation would use that fact to interpret the whole psalm as prophetic of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we follow that hermeneutical guide, the specific words of our study passage refer to our Lord, not personally to David. At every point of His Incarnate life, the Lord Jesus waited on (attended to) the Father’s will and the Father responded according to the seven points noted above.

Perhaps this passage sheds an insightful light on a rather difficult passage in the New Testament. “…Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that?20[1] he feared….” The footnote indicates a corollary between “feared” and “piety.” If we read back to Ps 40 and relate fear to trust, we could also interpret the Hebrews passage, “…and was heard in that he trusted.”

In this perspective the Lord Jesus, not David, serves as our example in his fear-trust of the Father. Consider this thought from a personal and practical perspective. If we study the events of Jesus’ last week, often referred to as “Passion Week,” He endured a significant number of incomprehensible trials. He prayed to the Father. He celebrated a festive Passover feast with the disciples, though perhaps they struggled to muster up a “festive” mood, given the dire predictions that their Master had made as they traveled to the city. Ah, and He even prayed in Gethsemane so intensely that He sweat profusely. A careful grammatical reading of the sentence will indicate that He sweat profusely, as if bleeding from the pores, but not that He shed blood from His pores, “…as it were” (Lu 22:44). Again, the Hebrews writer refers to this ordeal in rather surprising and positive terms, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” In the midst of His most dreadful and agonizing moment Jesus kept His mind’s eye on “joy” that lay ahead after His victorious sacrifice for our sins.

Now contrast our Lord’s response to intense trials (far more severe than anything that we shall ever face) with our own response. Can we honestly say that, without exception or compromise, in our greatest trials that we keep our hearts focused on God, trust Him explicitly, pray to Him, concern ourselves far more with doing His will than with finding an escape for our dilemma? In the midst of our ordeal do we keep our own minds fixed on “joy set before” us?

I fear that in most instances our trials nudge us to work harder at our own self-will, as if by greater self-control, ingenuity, or other creative personal solutions we can escape the conflict. Since every single time that we walk down this path, we fall into a heap of failure, we should eventually learn to avoid this proven failure of conduct and trust God the next time trial comes our way. Sadly, many times we simply repeat the same old failed self-trust tactics and have to pick ourselves up again, bruised, disillusioned, and faithless. It is not an irrecoverable disgrace to say, “Lord I believe; help thou my unbelief” occasionally. It grievously dishonors our faith to make that statement a regular habit. Being a Christian means that we imitate and follow the Lord Jesus Christ in our thoughts and conduct. It doesn’t mean that we repeatedly refuse to follow Him and beat ourselves up for the refusal and the inevitable failure that ensues.

In an earlier chapter I observed that we prove by our failure to live according to God’s teaching as proof that we do not fear God as Scripture teaches that we should. In this chapter a major lesson to be learned is that our failure to trust God in trials also reminds us that we do not fear Him adequately.

Fearing God means obeying God; fearing God means trusting God. I suggest that this idea of fearing God may well be a collective term that includes the whole concept of our godly and trusting relationship with God. The authenticity of our Christianity cannot be measured by our good intentions alone. It must eventually stand or fall based on our habitual conduct. Difficult as it is to look in the mirror and compare our personal actions against those of our Lord (2Co 3:18), that is precisely the process of spiritual growth and effective Christianity. When I see something in myself that does not match what my Lord’s response would have been in a similar setting, I must consider that He has given me my next assignment for spiritual growth. Swallow some ego and pride? Indeed, but that is the precise point of true discipleship, self-denial and cross bearing.

We often hear the latest Christian culture’s motto, “What would Jesus do?” Or we see the letters “WWJD?” on bracelets or other pieces of jewelry. If these trinkets remind us to keep our Lord’s personal ethics and conduct prominent in our minds as we make our own choices in life, so be it. Thank God for the reminder. Professing Christians who regularly look for excuses not to practice their faith—or constantly have a long list of worn out “explanations” why they didn’t practice it—would do well to buy such a bracelet and start wearing it. Biblical Christianity is not measured by how much we rationalize not living according to Jesus’ teachings, but by actually living in harmony with His teachings and example. Rather than repeatedly saying, “Lord I believe; help thou my unbelief,” we might improve our faith by altering the sentiments to “Lord I believe; help me transform my life to prove it in habitual conduct.”

2005/01/30 Surprising Fear

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #5 January 30, 2005

Surprising Fear

Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually. Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah. Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue. God shall likewise destroy thee for ever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah. The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him: Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness. But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.? (Ps 52)

The header to this psalm indicates that David wrote it at an unusually dark time in his life. Matthew Henry summarizes the occasion.

“The title is a brief account of the story which the psalm refers to. David now, at length, saw it necessary to quit the court, and shift for his own safety, for fear of Saul, who had once and again attempted to murder him. Being unprovided with arms and victuals, he, by a wile, got Ahimelech the priest to furnish him with both. Doeg an Edomite happened to be there, and he went and informed Saul against Ahimelech, representing him as confederate with a traitor, upon which accusation Saul grounded a very bloody warrant, to kill all the priests; and Doeg, the prosecutor, was the executioner, 1Sa 22:9, etc.”21[1]

We might view either Saul or Doeg as the “mighty man” of the psalm. Perhaps it best fits Doeg in his scheme to gain favor with Saul at the expense of the priests. By his manipulation of events and his bloody murder of many priests, Doeg thought to gain favor with Saul and to eliminate David. A thoughtful corollary in our own studies might be the perennial question of “gratuitous evil,” such black evil in events that unfold that we cannot imagine why a righteous and loving God would even permit their occurrence. More contemporary events that might stir such questions would include the Holocaust, the current murder of Christians in Africa, or the atrocities of the former Iraqi regime against the minority citizens of that country. To make God the cause of such events violates every tenet of Scripture that repeatedly denies that God causes them. Examples of Scripture’s categorical denial of God in any way causing sin include the following: “confusion”(1Co 14:33), “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1Jo 2:16), along with child sacrifice and Baal worship (Jer 7:31, especially when coupled with Jer 7:9-10 in which the people claimed that God caused them to commit such sins). To make God the actual cause of any sin, much less this irredeemably black category of sin, and then to claim that God is in some mystical way not really the “cause” of sin is logical nonsense and irrational, let alone unbiblical and blasphemous to the Biblical teaching on the character and work of God. How do you make intelligent sense of the allegation that God causes sin but really doesn’t cause it?

The more balanced attitude that sincerely wrestles with gratuitous evil categorically denies that God causes it, but addresses the “why” question. The fact that the sin is so black as to merit this term likely takes it beyond human ability to explain. Often non-Christians will raise the question of gratuitous evil as a primary objection to Christianity, but no other world view has any credible answers for the problem any more than Christians have. We need not know the reasons that God permits—not causes—any sin to believe the Bible or its consistent teaching regarding the holy character and conduct of God. Most of the people whom I have known who attempt to go down this inconsistent path spend a lot of time trying to convince others that they have some inside knowledge of the “secret will” of God, as if God’s secret will in some way contradicts His revealed will. Given the clear teaching of Scripture regarding the nature and conduct of God, we may reasonably and safely conclude that God’s secret will in no way contradicts either His revealed will or His holy character as set forth throughout Scripture.

In this psalm David carries on a one-sided conversation with Doeg regarding the certain failure of his plot and God’s certain judgment against all sin, however successful it may appear at the moment. Notice the many points that David makes to neutralize Doeg’s temporary thought of success in his present evil.

God’s goodness continually endures. It doesn’t in any way fail when evil men seem for the moment to have succeeded in their sins.

God shall surely destroy (“beat down,” marginal reading, not annihilate) sin in the end.

The righteous shall have the “last laugh.”

In this context a rather surprising passage appears that relates to our present study of the fear of God. “The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him: Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness.” The righteous see God’s judgment against evil and “fear.” If we read such words as “celebrate,” or “rejoice,” here, there would be no surprise. We’d hardly pause as we read over the sentence, but why the word “fear”? What about this scenario evokes “fear” in the righteous? Once again Matthew Henry offers thoughtful reflections on this idea.

“They shall reverence the justice of God, and stand in awe of him, as a God of almighty power, before whom the proudest sinner cannot stand and before whom therefore we ought every one of us to humble ourselves. Note, God’s judgments on the wicked should strike an awe upon the righteous and make them afraid of offending God and incurring his displeasure.”22[2]

D. A. Carson (New Bible Commentary) describes “fear” in this verse as “…a joyful response to the intervention of divine justice.” Often Christians ponder how they shall react in the final judgment to God’s sentence against the wicked, particularly if they see some of their former family or loved ones in that number. Although this passage doesn’t specifically deal with the eternal state, it seems sufficiently clear that, when the righteous see things as God sees them, their first—and only—response harmonizes with God’s. If we confront this implication of the passage in the setting of this life, surely we shall have no mixed emotions when we stand beside our Lord on that final Day of Judgment.

If in fact we view the term “fear” in this passage as referring to awe at God’s incredible ability to deal with sinners of every stripe and in every situation, even when they appear at the moment to have succeeded, we discover the harmony and encouragement intended by the passage. Ah, my friends, how often have you and I faced inequities or evil deeds that impacted us personally and reacted with anger, frustration, confusion, and that nagging question, “Why, God, did you allow this evil to come my way?” David nudges us to back away from our human, emotional reaction to difficulties and to trust God in the most heated and difficult experiences of life. When you feel like a box of desert sand, it is indeed difficult to think of yourself as a “green olive tree in the house of God.” How do we avoid this trap, or escape it when it traps us? David answers this question in the last verse. “I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.” We gain the upper hand on our emotional quagmires by refocusing our thoughts—and our trust—in our God. We don’t deserve God’s deliverance. We won’t earn it. He will send it in due time because of His goodness.

2005/02/06 Fear Turned to Confidence

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #6 February 6, 2005

Fear Turned to Confidence

Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication. Attend unto me, and hear me: I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise; Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked: for they cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they hate me. My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.? (Ps 55:1-8)

Although this instance of fear in the psalms does not deal with the fear of God, I have chosen to include it as an example of the manner in which the psalms deal with the vivid reality of life in our fallen world. We live in an age far more characterized by pride among Christians than open honesty. They will pretend that their world is all together and “coming up roses,” when in fact it is falling apart. They will even proclaim from the pulpit that if you have ever for one moment doubted your salvation, you are likely not saved, so you should start the process all over again. In public they set the mark impossibly high and unrealistic. In private they deal with all their true problems and then beat up on themselves for their failures. If a perceptive Christian notices them showing their discouragement and asks, “Is everything okay? Is there any way that I can help you?” they will respond with a quick regrouping and denial, “Oh, no, everything is just great.” Scripture directs us to “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed.” (Jas 5:16). People expect you to pray for them, but dare not confess their faults. James makes both confession and prayer equal partners in the process of spiritual healing. Neither covering up your faults (sins included here) nor blaming others for them (fallen man’s favorite trick since the fall) will accomplish spiritual healing. Only honest confession by the person in fault and the informed prayers of fellow-believers will accomplish the spiritual healing that James promises.

Most commentaries locate this psalm during the time of Absalom’s rebellion when many of David’s allies forsook him and pledged their loyalty to Absalom. Some commentaries apply the psalm specifically to Ahithophel (2Sa 15:31). Regardless of the specific incident to which David refers, he deals with intense discouragement, not to mention fear that resulted from a former trusted friend’s desertion.

We must wrestle with the tension of passages such as this one that describe the knee-jerk response of fear in one of the Lord’s own children and the various New Testament passages in which Jesus teaches us to “Fear not.” I will leave you to this study. The major flow of thought and theme in this passage moves from this initial reaction to calling on God to intervene and judge the unfaithful friend to a peaceful reliance on God that dismisses fear. What does the lesson teach us for our disappointing moments? God allows us in our humanity to have a momentary reaction of fear and discouragement. He does not permit us to wallow in those emotions. He directs us to turn the problem over to Him and to regain our faith footing with him.

In the midst of the initial moment of fear David considers becoming a hermit. Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Those disappointing moments, whatever the catalyst that prompted them, can evoke this sentiment in the strongest of saints. The difference between a strong saint and a weak one appears in the psalm. The weakling in the faith will try to follow through with this idea of isolation. The strong saint will turn his problem over to God and continue in relationship with other believers.

In his recently published book, The DNA of Relationships, Dr. Gary Smalley identifies three major factors that he asserts are as ingrained into our being as our biological DNA.

We are made for relationships. Smalley expands this point to include relationship with God, other people, and self.

We are made with the capacity to choose. Here Smalley takes us back to the Garden of Eden. The first and most common characteristic of fallenness that Adam and Eve displayed was the inclination to deny personal responsibility for their actions and point the finger of blame to others. Blame others; that is the fallen way of living. We may not have the ability to choose all the people with whom we have relationships (parents, children, etc.), but we are able to choose how we will conduct ourselves in those relationships. Until we insert our own conduct into the equation of brokenness, we will always blame others for our problems, and we will continuously repeat the same failures and blame shifting habits. In our fallen world any broken relationship, any failure, results in shared responsibility, in bad choices by all involved. Smalley correctly insists that we can only avoid repeating our past hurts by examining our own choices and refocusing our minds on our bad choices or decisions, not blaming others.

We are made to take responsibility for ourselves. We, not anyone else, are responsible for our choices and actions. This point grows obviously out of his assertion that we are made with the capacity to choose. We are not passive robots in life, nor are we innocent victims of the bad things that other people do. The blame game carefully crafts attention on others and avoids personal responsibility for our own conduct. As long as we shift blame and avoid responsibility for ourselves, we will repeat the same painful errors that kill our joy and break one good relationship after another.23[1]

Our fallen nature shirks without second thought from accepting any responsibility for problems that we encounter. The fallen finger is always ready to point. In our fallen response that blames others we also jump at isolation. “Oh for the wings of a dove to run away from my problem and find isolated, uninterrupted rest.” Friends, one day you shall have that rest, but your body will be six feet under the ground, and your longed-for isolation will be realized inside a casket. God didn’t intend for us to live in isolation from Him or from other people in this life.

We easily set artificial goals too high to reach, but the problem with that inclination is that we are inclined to stop trying for the impossible. I believe it is acceptable for us to realize that the initial reaction to disappointment or trial is fear, but I also suggest that it is altogether unacceptable for us to stay in that state of mind more than briefly.

Bible commentators wrestle with the ethics of the imprecatory psalms, the psalms in which the inspired writer calls on God to bring down severe judgment on the writers enemies. They impose unnecessary tension between these psalms and the “Judge not lest ye be judged” tenets of the New Testament. As usual, they take the “Judge not” passage out of its context by this view. I find great comfort in the imprecatory psalms. I’d rather call on God to judge those who hurt me than to take the matter into my hands and try to judge or—as we more often do—try to punish them.

Beginning Ps 55:16, “As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me.” The remainder of the psalm redirects us from fear to God with unreserved confidence in His provision and gracious care for His own. I love reading the psalms in discouraging times. They repeatedly allow us to take our rawest and most broken emotions to God, but the pattern that we consistently see quickly repairs the broken pieces of our frailty and takes us to the throne of grace. While earthly friends may forsake us, we worship a friend who sticks closer than a brother, any brother. While sinister people may set traps to snare and destroy us, God turns the trap against the one who set it so that he is caught in his own trap, and we are preserved by His goodness. Similar to the New Testament passage that tells us (Yes, it tells us.) to be angry, but not to sin in our anger (Eph 4:26), this passage allows us to fear, but not to remain in its cold clutches.

2005/02/13 Obedience and Fear

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #7 February 13, 2005

Obedience and Fear

I will go into thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my vows, Which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble. I will offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats. Selah. Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.? (Ps 66:13-20)

Commentators differ in their assessment of the background of this psalm. Some attribute it to a specific occasion in which God particularly smiled in blessings on the land. Others attribute it to the season of the year when God sent rain at the precise time to benefit the newly sown seed, a great assurance of a good harvest to come. Regardless of the occasion, it is a psalm of thanksgiving for great blessings. It emphasizes God’s “godhood.” Accordingly, the psalm calls on His people to worship Him both collectively and individually. The first twelve verses indicate a collective worship and faithfulness. The pronouns are plural. Beginning with Ps 66:13, our study text shifts to the singular pronoun “I”. Apart from regular collective worship, individual worship seldom occurs. The lone Christian is similar to a lone soldier facing an opposing army. He doesn’t stand a chance of victory alone.

Throughout our study of the fear of God I have emphasized that our true attitude of fear toward God will appear in our conduct. Obedience manifests that we fear God. Sin in any form, either acts committed or godly acts omitted, manifests that we do not fear God. That point appears clearly in this passage. David invites those who fear God to witness his vows and sacrifices. He wants to share with God-fearers the blessings that God has bestowed upon him. Why does David specifically single out those who fear God to be his audience? I believe that he understands the quality of fearing God. He knows that they have a compatible experience with his own in terms of God’s blessings and in terms of their submissive obedience to God. Not only will they be a good audience to his praise, but they will also resonate to David with their own praise. As the angels sing their rounds of “Holy,” “Holy,” “Holy” in Isa 6:3, so God fearing people who gather in collective worship “sing the same song” of praise to God and submissive obedience to His Word.

David teaches us a double lesson regarding prayer. On the negative side he asserts that regarding iniquity in his heart, embracing it with pleasure instead of rejecting it, will defeat his prayers. God will not hear his prayer. He will not respond to it or answer it. But then David declares that God has heard his prayer and “attended” to his petitions. The idea of this word is that God has attentively heard and responded to David’s prayers. Few things are as encouraging to a struggling saint as the surprising discovery of answered prayer. You face complex problems that seem to defy resolution. You struggle to find answers, but none appear. You take the problem to God in prayer. You continue to hold it up to God in prayer. Perhaps in the darkest moment of frustration and struggle, by amazing surprise, the problem dissolves before your eyes. Those who do not fear God will suggest that the solution was merely a matter of coincidence or will tell you that your mind finally worked out the solution at the subconscious level. But those who fear God will join you in celebrating God’s merciful response to your prayers in the solution of your dilemma. Ah, here lies the reason that David seeks out those who fear God to hear the good news of answered prayer and unmerited blessings.

David associates refusal of iniquity with answered prayer, but he does not attribute answered prayer to his personal merit. He distinctly assigns the blessing to divine mercy. James makes a similar association between sin in our life and unanswered prayer. “Ye…fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (Jas 4:2-3). Whether we consider nations or individuals, fallen people seem programmed to fight to get their way and make their own case for their personal “manifest destiny,” something of their divine right to personal gratification. Several years ago a minister friend told me of a conversation he had with a woman who professed faith in Christ, but was in the midst of divorcing her husband of many years. He was a good provider who had been faithful to her throughout their marriage—her own confession. However, she no longer felt the thrill of excitement in their relationship. She was simply bored with the marriage and wanted out. She said to my friend, “God wants me to be happy, and I can’t be happy in this marriage.” Somewhere along the way she forgot that God “hates divorce,” and that preeminently God wants His children to be holy. True “happiness” grows out of a holy life, not out of a narcissistic appetite for personal pleasure.

Fight as nations or work individually to manipulate people to do what you want them to do, the person who works to get his/her way by devious methods will eventually fail. James takes us to the next step. The person who fights to get his/her way seldom considers the need to take matters to God in prayer and to submit to God. They never even ask God for His aide in the matter. Failure to ask predicts failure to receive.

The next step in self-indulgent pursuit desperately—almost as a last-ditch effort—goes to God with the request. However, God knows the motives of the heart. A prayer to God for self-serving reasons will not be answered. God grants answers to prayers that are offered for His glory and for the greater benefit of others, not for selfish reasons. If we ask God to answer our prayer, however good the petition might appear to our family or friends, He knows the motive of the request. If we desire the answer for selfish reasons, He will deny the request.

I find it fascinating that, from the Puritans to contemporary Christian “pollsters,” Christians who keep records of prayer requests and answers received testify that approximately two thirds of all prayers are answered by a merciful God. We could quite easily explain the other third of our requests under James’ rebuke as self-indulgent issues that are not in our own interest or to the honor of God.

Both David in this psalm and James in his teaching urge us to consider that our obedience, our willing and joyful obedience, to God predicts whether our prayers will be answered or denied.

We noticed earlier in this study that “fear” is associated with Jesus’ own prayers (Heb 5:7). Obviously Jesus had no dread of the Father. He didn’t pray with a conscience convicted of sin and fearful of divine judgment. Fearing God in the Biblical sense actually becomes a key attitude of godly worship, unique to prayers that worship God. We are all too often inclined to decide on our own basis what we want, what we will do or not do, long before we take matters to God in prayer. Decide first and then negotiate with God for blessing seems far more the habit of many who profess faith in Christ than the Biblical model that makes prayer the first step in the decision-making process. Such prayers typically fall under the category of unanswered prayers described by James than answered prayers such as we see in this psalm.

When we consider this question of prayer, we often hang up at the simple question. What should we take to God in prayer? If our minds are immersed in Scripture and refined by its teachings, we may take anything that concerns us to God. Prayer should seek God’s blessing and guidance, not appear as an after-thought that seeks to negotiate blessings on our preconceived decisions. If we occasionally pray for the wrong thing, God assures us in Scripture that He will correct our hearts and requests. In the midst of a painful “thorn in the flesh” Paul asked God three times for relief (2Co 12:7-10). Eventually God responded with an answer that surprised Paul. “No, I will not remove the thorn, but I will use it to refine you and to draw you closer to me.” Sometimes it isn’t the positive answers that we expect that most draw us to praise God, but His divine denials that come with divine explanations of a greater. God’s glorious strength is not magnified in our personal strength, but in our weakness. At times He allows us to fall on our faces. His denial of our prayer becomes our greatest blessing as it magnetically draws us to Him. The more we realize our utter dependence on Him the more we are equipped to praise Him. God-fearing people best understand this incredible truth. Are we willing to tell others about our prayer experiences?

2005/02/20 The Greater Solomon

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #8 February 20, 2005

The Greater Solomon

Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son. He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.? (Ps 72:1-5)

The caption at the beginning of this psalm reads, “A psalm for Solomon.” The closing verse of the psalm reads, “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.” Obviously the psalm records David’s prayer for his son Solomon. As we read the full text of the psalm and compare it with the reign of Solomon in Israel, we quickly realize that Solomon didn’t fully live up to his father’s prayer. Matthew Henry’s commentary on Ps 72:5 insightfully points us beyond Solomon. MHWBC: Ps 72:1

“They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure. Solomon indeed built the temple, and the fear and worship of God were well kept up, for some time, under his government, but it did not last long; this therefore must point at Christ’s kingdom, all the subjects of which are brought to and kept in the fear of God; for the Christian religion has a direct tendency to, and a powerful influence upon, the support and advancement of natural religion. Faith in Christ will set up, and keep up, the fear of God; and therefore this is the everlasting gospel that is preached, Fear God, and give honour to him, Re 14:7.”24[1]

Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem and restored worship as the centerpiece of Israel’s culture. However, upon his death, his son Rehoboam increased taxes and forced a heavy-handed rule on the people that led to rebellion among the northern tribes. The nation divided into Israel (most of the ten tribes in the north) and Judah, along with the remnant of the ten tribes that migrated to the south rather than continue to live in the increasingly pagan northern kingdom.

Rather than viewing Solomon as the ultimate fulfillment of this psalm, we should view it as a prophetic psalm that predicted the godly rule of the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. In this setting we find the words that focus on our theme, “They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.?”

The godly response of righteous people to the rule of Christ is summarized by “They shall fear thee….” In this passage the word “fear” is translated from a Hebrew word whose meaning varies from “fear, a state of great distress” to showing “high status and honor to one in authority” (Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew). Vine’s dictionary expands the specific meaning that likely applies to the word in our study lesson.

“Used of a person in an exalted position, yare? connotes “standing in awe.” This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. In this sense, the word may imply submission to a proper ethical relationship to God; the angel of the Lord told Abraham: “… I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Ge 22:12). The verb can be used absolutely to refer to the heavenly and holy attributes of something or someone. So Jacob said of Bethel: “How [awesome] is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Ge 28:17). The people who were delivered from Egypt saw God’s great power, “feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses” (Ex 14:31). There is more involved here than mere psychological fear. The people also showed proper “honor” (“reverence”) for God and “stood in awe of” Him and of His servant, as their song demonstrates (Ex 15).”25[2]

Paul echoes the sentiment of this verse in the New Testament. “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (Eph 3:21)

Let’s catalogue the leading characteristics of Jesus’ rule from the psalm. As we study these traits, try to view the passage as primarily referring to His rule in our present world setting. No doubt the ultimate and absolute fulfillment shall occur in heaven, but do not overlook the impact of His rule among His people now.

He shall judge the people with righteousness and judgment, even the poor.

The people under His rule experience peace as if grown out of the ground where ever they are.

His dominion is equated with rain on fresh cut grass or a newly planted crop.

His dominion is not restricted to “our little world,” but extends “from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”

He delivers poor and needy people, not just people who can return His favors.

He honors His role as a near kinsman-redeemer, delivering His people from the just debts that they incur.

He shall receive prayers and praise from His people.

His reign shall be perpetual.

For all of these reasons David sums up the impact of His reign in the terms of our focus verse. His people shall fear Him as long as sun and moon move through their circuits. They shall “render him proper respect.”

How do we frame our personal conduct so as to truly “render proper respect” to the Lord Jesus Christ, the greater Solomon? Sadly in our post-Christian American culture, the life of faith for many people who sincerely profess to be Christians shows little or no distinction from people who openly claim no belief in God whatever. They practice similar business ethics as unbelievers. They participate in their church based more on convenience than conviction. They exhibit pride far more than godly humility. Morality for them is based on personal taste and preference, not on the specific teaching of Scripture. Jesus’ words confront this casual attitude, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Mt 7:21). God looks at our actions, not at our words to assess our obedience or rebellion. At the end of the day it is not our personal view of ourselves, or even the view of others, that determines whether we please God or not. It is how fully we “render proper respect” to God in our conduct that measures our true faith.

I grew up in a rural southern culture. The churches in that region typically met one or two Sundays a month. Shortly after I was baptized at age 14, I began to hunger for more fellowship with my church family than once or twice a month. On a particular Sunday morning I was walking through our pasture with my father and asked him if we could attend one of our churches that morning. Dad dismissed my desire with a “too busy, don’t have extra money for the cost of gas to go” excuse. Since I owned a couple of cows and sold the milk separately, I offered to pay for the cost of the fuel to go. Dad still dismissed my petition. Soon I made arrangements with others to attend church every Sunday, and Dad started going with me. We cannot be selective in the Biblical commandments that we choose to obey. We manifest our discipleship by a conscientious effort to submit to all of God’s teachings and commandments in Scripture. I am grateful that most of these churches now meet at least once each week, and many of them meet more often. It is not our culture or personal convenience that should determine our conduct, but God’s teachings in Scripture. We manifest our fear of God by our compliance with the authority of Scripture.

A few years ago in performing a wedding ceremony for a couple whom I knew through my secular work I inserted into the ceremony a pointed suggestion that this couple should buy a Bible and spend regular time with it. I observed that the Bible is God’s “owner’s manual” for marriage, as well as all other honorable human relationships. Let’s become more familiar with God’s “owner’s manual” for our Christian life and thereby “maintain good works” (Tit 3:8).

2005/02/27 Fearful Judgment

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #9 February 27, 2005

Fearful Judgment

Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry? Thou didst cause judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared, and was still, When God arose to judgment, to save all the meek of the earth. Selah.? (Ps 76:7-9)

We have reviewed the fear of consequences in earlier chapters. The above passage deals directly with that question. Many professing Christians stereotype God so fully as a benevolent grandfather that they reject any sense of fear whatever toward Him. This idea is gravely flawed and void of Biblical support. Rest assured, if your name was Ananias or Sapphira, when Peter spoke to you, you would have good reason to fear (Ac 5). Further, Peter surfaces legitimate fear in the context of judgment in the house of God (1Pe 4:17). The writer of Hebrews specifically states, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). Conduct that fails to follow God’s divine model set forth in Scripture has every reason for fear. God’s judgments are as fearful as His goodness is gracious. The context of Ac 5 does not address whether Ananias and Sapphira were saved or not, only that they were numbered with the church in Jerusalem. Regeneration is not the point of this lesson; the danger of lying to God is the leading issue. In the other two verses the context specifically deals with regenerate elect who are not living according to God’s Word.

How do you know if you are doing what God wants you to do? I generally reject any form of alleged “revelation” as incapable of validation and therefore not sufficient as a basis for living. However, God has revealed His will to us in Scripture. Paul affirms that “all scripture” comes from God, so personal as to be breathed by Him, and that Scripture is intended to instruct the “man of God” “unto all good works” (2Ti 3:16). Therefore, we should not judge our conduct on the basis of how we “feel” or what we think to be right or wrong. “Let your conscience be your guide” can be either reliable or incredibly deceptive, depending on how the conscience has been trained. Outside of Scripture every rule, every authority must be tested by the rule of Scripture. The historical Baptist principle—and the correct Biblical principle—is that Scripture and Scripture alone is to be the Christian’s only rule of faith and conduct.

Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry? Several years ago a television commercial concluded with the quip, “You mustn’t fool with Mother Nature.” I haven’t fully identified “Mother Nature,” but I clearly perceive the God of Scripture as wholly serious about His teachings and His uncompromising commandments that we are to obey. A number of years back I was preaching a special meeting at a church in a different region of the country. A young seminary student in the community attended the meeting. During one of the intermissions the pastor and I visited with this young man. One of his questions was “What is your epistemology?” “Epistemology” refers to our source of authority or knowledge. As respectful as we should be toward our ancestors in the faith, faithful men on whose historical and ideological shoulders we stand, we are not to search out answers and authority for what we believe and what we do from them. Scripture and Scripture alone must be our only true “epistemology.”

The Old Testament documents multiple examples in which God’s own people drove Him to anger by their moral and idolatrous sins. Though Ac 5 does not specifically address the eternal state of Ananias and Sapphira, one could argue as effectively for as against their salvation. They were numbered with the Jerusalem church in a season when such identity endangered their lives. Would you be so bold in your faith if your life possibly hung in the balance? For this reason I will not limit the fear of this passage to unsaved people. Rather I believe that it primarily addresses the fact, often repeated in Scripture, in history, and in our personal experiences and observations, that regenerate children of God do at times so sin as to provoke God to anger. When we engage in such conduct, we should rightly fear the divine reaction to our sins.

In observing the conduct of professing Christians I get a distinct impression that many who profess faith in Christ view a significant number of New Testament commandments as casually optional in their personal lives. I’ll list just a few areas where this callous indifference to Scripture frequently appears.

Our finances. How do we determine how much to give to the church of our membership and to other church-related activities? Or do we ignore Scripture and its direct commandments regarding giving, living above our means and plunging ourselves so hopelessly in debt that we cannot give at all? What does Scripture teach regarding our giving? Various New Testament passages use terms such as “on the first day of the week” (a distinct indication that we budget our giving before other spending, not from the leftovers, if any), “as God has prospered” (attributing all of our income to God’s goodness and affirming the foundation that we are to give Him and His church some of it back), “as every man purposeth in his heart” (affirming that giving is intentional, thoughtful, and regular).

Church attendance. Christian magazines abound with comical scenarios about the attitude of many folks toward church attendance. One such story depicts the scenario at a sparsely attended Sunday morning worship service. The pastor announces the multitude of phone calls he received on Saturday from various members of the congregation complaining of their various illnesses, obligations, and “legitimate” reasons for not attending church on Sunday morning. On Sunday afternoon the pastor drives through the community to visit an older sick member of his congregation. He is amazed and praises God upon seeing every person who had phoned him on Saturday, so ill or otherwise impaired from attending church, but he now sees them busily shopping, attending sporting events, and attending to their professional careers on Sunday afternoon. He praises God for miraculous healing. My mother-in-law at times exhibited a rather negative “The glass is half empty” kind attitude. In her later years, when she was able to attend church, my wife and I would pick her up at the retirement apartment complex and take her with us to church. On several occasions as we drove into the church parking lot with more empty slots than parked cars, she would react, “Oh, it’s just what I expected. No one is here today.” Christians who identify themselves with a church are taught in Scripture not to “forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Heb 10:25). Even in the first century the inspired writer confronts the tendency of some to neglect faithful church attendance.

The practice of admonishing negligent believers—and its counterpart, the highly offended and prideful attitude of those who are admonished. Mt 18; Ga 6, and any number of other passages in the New Testament command us to confront and to encourage negligent believers. I must confess that at times I’ve allowed myself to avoid confrontation with the excuse that the person whom I thought to need the exhortation had shown excessive pride when others tried to admonish them, so why should I bother? I was wrong. If Scripture teaches us to confront and to admonish those who are delinquent in their Biblical duty, we should practice it. We should carefully avoid any appearance of pride in our methods, but we have no Biblical basis to simply ignore Scripture and refuse to confront those who are neglecting their Biblical obligations. And if someone approaches us with confrontation and admonition, we should carefully consider their words and attempt to improve our obedience, not strike out at them in hurt pride for their exhortation. What is the “bottom line” of this passage? If we choose to ignore, neglect, or disobey Scripture, we should prepare for severe divine judgments. We have good reason to fear the judgments of God against our sins.

2005/03/06 Fearless Obedience

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #10 March 6, 2005

Fearless Obedience

And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. (Ps 78:53)

This psalm narrates God’s rich care of His people in their escape from Egypt and their wilderness wanderings. In the last chapter we considered the valid role of fear in one of God’s children when they do not obey God. This lesson provides the counterpoint. When we obey God and follow Him, we have no reason to fear.

Consider the setting of the Israelites as they prepared to leave Egypt. Despite several miraculous demonstrations of God’s power, the Egyptians stubbornly refused to release Israel from slavery. Finally after God’s severe judgment against all the firstborn of Egypt, the pharaoh sent them away, but shortly thereafter sent his army to bring them back or destroy them. Various Bible scholars have estimated that the nation of Israel numbered around two and a half million people, including men, women, and children, at the time of their exit. Despite the significant number, they were wholly unprepared for a military confrontation with the most powerful nation on the earth at that time. Their people had lived in slavery for over four hundred years.

In the context of this verse (Ps 78:52) we read that God led the people as a shepherd leads his flock safely to green pastures. Slaves, however numerous, were no match for Egypt’s army, but Egypt’s army was no match for Israel’s God. Ex 14 records this incredible deliverance. God supernaturally parted the Red Sea, dried up the mud, and allowed sufficient time for His people to cross over. As the Egyptians approached the sea and observed the miracle, they foolishly plunged into the chasm, expecting to cross as Israel did, but, as soon as they went into the opening, the sea collapsed and drowned them. Exodus and Numbers record the wilderness wanderings that the poet surveys in Ps 78. We see one danger after another to the people, but God provided deliverance for His people from each of them in turn. Israel witnessed all those miracles in Egypt, the parting of the sea, and the ongoing miracles of God, providing daily food and water in the desert for two and a half million people, defeating their enemies one after another. Yet with almost every new danger we see these same people doubting, questioning God, and recoiling in fear at the next appearance of danger or deprivation.

Sometimes we criticize the Israelites for their callous failure to learn the powerful lesson of God’s secure provisions and protection, but we often sadly imitate them. My wife and I are working to transition from an active secular career into retirement, at least semi-retirement. I have to tell you that the threat of financial loss is a struggle. Almost daily I need to remind myself that my security is not in my retirement funds and investments, but in God. Together Sandra and I have lived through the normal cycles of growing together, raising three daughters, two significant health crises, and any number of lesser setbacks. At each point of test along the way, we have witnessed God’s gracious care. Sufficient grace and provision often surprised and blessed us. Yet we struggle as we face this new challenge. Ah, yes, we each in our own little worlds are far more like these ancient Israelites in their wilderness wanderings than different.

And he led them on safely…. When God leads His people, the course may appear difficult, but God ensures that the path is safe. In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we find Pilgrim on one occasion recoiling in fear as he sees a fierce lion near the path that he must take. He struggles with fear, but in the end trusts his God and advances on the path. As he nears the lion, he discovers that the lion is securely tethered so that it cannot reach him so long as he stays firmly on the path assigned. What a powerful lesson for us. We occasionally encounter dangers and painful difficulties, but often, if we would but examine our choices, we would discover that we had left the divinely assigned path and its assured safety. God promises safety as we stay on His path. He will not extend that safety when we choose our own way and leave His.

And he led them on safely, so that they feared not. At least for the moment on the safe side of the Red Sea, Israel could look back and see God’s powerful deliverance. The fear that had driven the adrenalin in their veins before the hand of God opened the sea for them vanished. Instead of dreading their fate with Egypt’s army, they stood on the safe side of the sea and sang a delightful song of deliverance. They had witnessed the hand of the Lord destroying the horse and his rider in the sea. Near helpless slaves saw a formidable army drowned in the sea. The very sea that had been their deliverance became the snare that destroyed their enemy. God’s surprising deliverance would be repeated many times during the next forty years.

What lessons can we learn for our lives from this experience? We live in a nation that is often far more characterized by pride than by humble dependence on anyone. We pride ourselves in being the only surviving “super power” left on the globe, but our success is bitter-sweet, to say the least. Not only does pride tarnish our national mood, it often characterizes people who claim to live by faith in Christ. We stubbornly resist the idea of confessing our sins to anyone. We refuse to consider that we personally may need the aide and exhortation of our brothers and sisters in the faith. Anything less than perfection for us and our loved ones is simply not acceptable. And if we appear—as we certainly are—less than perfect, we quickly point the finger of blame at someone or something else rather than looking at ourselves. We have received countless blessings of deliverance, no less amazing in their own right than God’s deliverance of His people out of Egypt, though perhaps less dramatic. Yet at the appearance of each new trial we recoil with the same pride, fear, and unbelief that these people demonstrated in the wilderness.

We resist the basic premise of Biblical Christianity, that our weakness is necessary to demonstrate God’s power and goodness. In 2Co 12 Paul describes a painful setback that invaded his life. Three times he begged God to remove it from him. Three times the problem remained. In the end the Lord reminded Paul that His grace was sufficient to enable Paul to live with the problem. Rather than celebrating the defeated problem, in this case Paul celebrated the residual problem! Only as Paul’s personal weakness appeared could God’s sufficient grace shine. Ah, too many Christians in our time have become intoxicated with the forbidden wine of the “health and wealth” gospel that builds on empty promises of utopia and personal luxury rather than on God’s sufficient grace for real trials that characterize the most faithful of Christian lives.

None of us can boast of our superior conduct in the face of trials. Isn’t that the point of Paul’s lesson? This same Paul earlier wrote this same church in Corinth and reminded them that the only legitimate basis for boasting is in God’s provision, not in self (1Co 1:31).

Further, in 1Co 10 Paul reminded this same church of the severe judgments of God against His own people in the Old Testament. These events appear in Scripture as a warning to us not to repeat their callous sins. We learn from those old lessons. We see God’s sufficient provision clearly demonstrated in their experiences. We even acknowledge that we are like them! Do we also realize that Paul’s point is that we are not to be like them? That we are to learn from their sins, as well as from God’s certain provisions so that we live our lives in the faith, not in our own “wilderness wanderings”?

The point of these lessons in Scripture is not to comfort us in stubborn sin and disobedience to God, but to enlighten us to a better way to live. The path of authentic and at times sacrificial obedience to God always proves to be a safe path, far better than any of the alternatives we might be tempted to choose. Doing what God commands us to do, even when it is difficult—even when it seems impossible—will consistently demonstrate God’s goodness, sufficiency, and wisdom in directing our conduct. As long as we walk in God’s way, defined and clearly set forth in Scripture (not mystically “revealed” to us in private esoteric visions; I find it amazing that people who make their private choices to disobey God always claim a higher revelation that contradicts the clear teachings of Scripture.), we may safely walk the path without fear. Obstacles? We shall surely face them. Challenges to the path? Yes, at every junction along the way. Difficulties? Absolutely, incredible difficulties accompany the Christian walk, but God proves Himself superior to every obstacle in our way. This blessing in Scripture is conditional. We only realize it as we faithfully obey Scripture and follow God in His way, not ours. Are you ready for fearless obedience?

2005/03/13 Truth and Fear

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #11 March 13, 2005

Truth and Fear

Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name. I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore. For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell. (Ps 86:11-13)

Based on his conviction of God’s goodness, David prayed for God to intervene against the proud hearted people who arrogantly exalted themselves against him. What a world of difference if we each took our frustrations with the proud folk who create problems for us to God instead of trying to “fix” them ourselves! Normally we try to “bring them down a notch” or otherwise manipulate them and their problems ourselves. David quietly took the problem to God. Divine goodness is not compatible with a silent God against proud hearts. He prayed for God to show His goodness by dealing with the proud people who opposed him.

If we revisit the Hebrew poetic style of rhyming ideas instead of rhyming sounds to this passage, an interesting parallel surfaces in the lesson.

1. Asking God to teach us His ways is equivalent to “uniting my heart.”

2. Walking in God’s truth is equivalent to fearing His name.

“Teach me thy way….” Tom Constable makes his usual insightful observation regarding this phrase. Ps 86:11, “…[D]oes not mean ‘teach me how to get out of this trouble’ but ‘teach me, while the trouble still rages, to live your way’. Undivided heart, ‘unite/unify my heart’, deliver me from being double-minded, two-faced with God; give me ‘a single, steady aim, unmoved by threatening or reward, to you and your great name’.”26[1]

In the midst of trouble have you ever tried to negotiate with God to help you get out of the immediate problem without considering that God might be allowing the problem to grow you to greater maturity in your faith, to change your sinful or spiritually immature attitude? Our American pride—or perhaps our “Adamic” carnal pride—readily steps into our lives to hinder any objective consideration of our own culpability in the problems that often plague us. Especially when similar problems repeatedly occur, do we consider that God may be allowing those annoying problems to repeat themselves because we failed to learn the lesson He wanted to teach us the last time we encountered the problem? We readily point the finger at others whom we quickly blame for our pain and problems, but do we consider that God is greater than any other person or being, so He could step into the situation in a heartbeat and alter anyone or any circumstance if He chose to do so? Why did He not intervene? Why did He not deal with the proud hearts that we perceive as causing our troubles? Perhaps God is more concerned with our learning a greater lesson than with our desire for revenge against our adversaries. If so, we must prepare to endure those problems over and over again, till we finally shift out of our defensive mood and try to look at our problem from God’s perspective, not ours.

I love Constable’s point that we should beg God to “teach me while the trouble still rages, to live your way.” I will not embrace the fatalistic idea that every single problem that I encounter is divinely sent or caused. Solomon makes the profound point that bad things happen to good people. Sometimes things happen that we cannot explain from our limited perspective (Ec 9:11). Much to the chagrin of those who are inclined toward fatalism, Solomon dared to say that “time and chance” happen to all, even to the best of people.

That point noted, however, we should live life with a sensitive heart to God as we encounter the difficult people and seasons of our lives. At times God may indeed allow trials to come our way because we need to learn how more to live life according to His way than to defend and perpetuate our own.

“…[U]nite my heart to fear thy name.” This simple statement grabs at our minds. So much is intended, but not stated. Unite my heart with what? Some commentators interpret the passage as referring to a double minded inclination. In the above quote Constable makes that point. I cannot reject the idea, but I wonder if it answers the passage adequately. A broader view that would embrace this idea would interpret the prayer as seeking God’s direction and providence to unite his heart with God’s heart. Perhaps the play on words is too simplistic, but I recall that God called David a man after His own heart (Ac 13:22). Did God coerce and manipulate David to become the man after His own heart, or did God use the difficult people and seasons in David’s life to “unite” his heart with God’s heart in the crucible of life’s trials? This interpretation appeals to me significantly more than the simple thought of eliminating a double-minded disposition from David’s heart.

A primary paradigm of Western Christianity in the twenty first century seems to be that we make our own choices, choices that we perceive as serving our personal interests, and then we negotiate with God to “bless our mess.” Much of the disillusionment at life’s trials in our Christian culture, I believe, grows out of this faulty perspective. Perhaps the surprising success of the “health and wealth—name it and claim it” carnal Christianity may build on this errant view regarding the true character of Biblical Christianity. Why should anyone for a moment expect God to compromise His moral character to “bless our mess” when He has clearly set forth diametrically opposite conduct in Scripture as His commanded way of living? Does Scripture teach us to choose our own way and bargain with God to approve it? Or does Scripture teach us in our most basic prayers to ask, “Thy will be done, not mine”? We do not understand the compelling Biblical truth that requires us to alter our lifestyle to match God’s rather than seeking to alter God’s teaching to comply with our private and personal ambitions.

Scripture teaches us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by a renewed mind (Ro 12:2). Somewhere along the way many sincere folks who claim Christianity view their life as a divine assignment to manage everyone else’s life, not their own.

If we build our most fundamental thought of our Christian faith in harmony with the prayer for God to unite our heart with His, we will begin to experience the transformation of which Paul wrote in Ro 12. We begin to think His thoughts regarding moral, ethical, and personal choices in our lives, in our families, in our careers, and in our churches. By reading—and living by—Scripture as God gave it to us, we are breathing the air that God breathed and repeating the words and conduct that God spoke when He inspired the writing of Scripture.

Which course does Scripture dictate? Should we make our decisions based on what we want and what best serves our personal preferences and subsequently ask God to bless? Or should we consider the challenges that lie ahead of us and take them to God, asking Him to teach us His way in advance of any choices or decisions that we make? Should we set our heart in cement and then plead with God to agree with us? Or should we pray for God to unite our heart—including radical, life-transforming change—with His so that we gravitate in our preferences more and more to His way, not our own?

I am convinced that Western Christianity has made a self-destructive paradigm shift away from Scripture, and away from the heart of God in favor of self-indulgence. Only to the extent that we shift our paradigm back to God’s ways can we regain vital, earth-shattering, life-changing Christian character. The Old Testament book of Hosea is one of the most unusual books in the whole Bible. God directed His prophet to marry a prostitute, live with her, suffer her betrayals, seek her return over and over again. Why? A full reading of the book provides the answer. Hosea was God’s man who had God’s message, but he was unprepared—unequipped—to deliver it to Israel. Only when Hosea had suffered the same heartbreak that God had suffered could he deliver the message to Israel convincingly. Israel, God’s Old Testament bride, had “played the harlot” repeatedly. She had broken God’s heart! Only after Hosea knew by personal experience God’s heartbreak could he deliver the message of God as God wanted it taken to the people. Are we prepared for such a radical change in our own Christian conscience?

2005/03/20 God: Greatly to be Feared

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #12 March 20, 2005

God: Greatly to be Feared

And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O LORD: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints. For who in the heaven can be compared unto the LORD? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the LORD? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him. O LORD God of hosts, who is a strong LORD like unto thee? or to thy faithfulness round about thee? Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them. Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm. The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fullness thereof, thou hast founded them. The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name. Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand. Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face. (Ps 89:5-14)

Apparently Ethan, not David, wrote this psalm. What is the theme of the psalm? How does the psalm expect us to show God the fear that we owe to Him? Matthew Henry’s commentary offers a notable focus of the whole psalm and its practical message for God’s people in all times and circumstances.

“The psalmist has a very sad complaint to make of the deplorable condition of the family of David at this time, and yet he begins the psalm with songs of praise; for we must, in every thing, in every state, give thanks; thus we must glorify the Lord in the fire. We think, when we are in trouble, that we get ease by complaining; but we do more—we get joy, by praising. Let our complaints therefore be turned into thanksgivings; and in these verses we find that which will be matter of praise and thanksgiving for us in the worst of times, whether upon a personal or a public account….”27[1]

How pertinent to our complaining human nature! “We think when we are in trouble, that we get ease by complaining….” Few believers indeed ever mature to the point that they realize that the only predictable consequence of complaining is more problems and more problems that they believe justify their complaining. David reminds us that the “Happy people” are not the complainers, but those who live by the motto, “…that there be no complaining in our streets” (Ps 144:14). Sadly, many who claim faith in Christ live more by complaining, as if it were a divine commandment, than by a thankful heart. Despite the problems with the king’s family and with the nation, Ethan focuses on God’s goodness and sovereignty, concluding that He is to be feared, loved, and worshipped joyfully.

Often those who are young in the faith, or those who do not profess faith, but interact with believers, complain about the way life treats them or their loved ones; “It isn’t fair.” “Why does God cause these things?” My response is that God doesn’t “cause” such things. Scripture consistently rejects the fatalistic idea that God causes everything that occurs. Typically, during seasons of distress and discouragement, people of faith resort to fatalism if they are inclined in that direction. For example, Jeremiah repeatedly rejects the idea that God caused Judah to commit Baal worship and burn their children in sacrifice to pagan gods so that He could punish them for seventy years in Babylon. If someone worshipped Baal or sacrificed their children, they could not blame God by saying, “We are delivered to do” these things (Jer 7:10). Many years ago a wise man observed that if a person suddenly starts blaming God in this fatalistic manner, he likely has just done something very sinful, or he is considering such an action. The world that we live in is not the world that God created. The unfairness that creeps into every life doesn’t come from God, but from the fallenness of man, often the very person who complains the loudest. A dear family member and her husband smoked heavily from early adolescence till their early sixties. When they started suffering from severe heart disease, emphysema, and various other related illnesses, she complained that “It isn’t fair.” Perhaps it isn’t fair, but she and her husband, not God, brought about these maladies by punishing their bodies with tobacco instead of taking wise care of their bodies. Quite often we contribute to the very thing that we complain about as being unfair. We, not God, are responsible for much of the unfairness that we experience. At times other fallen people cause things that impose unfairness onto their fellowmen. They, not God, however, should bear the responsibility for their actions.

The Biblical attitude toward calamity is not to blame God for it and passively resign ourselves to it because He is behind it. Rather it is to understand that He stands above all such matters and provides us with the grace and goodness to survive and to overcome them. That is His role, not causing them and then diabolically taking credit for delivering us from the very evil that He supposedly caused.

Why is God to be feared greatly in the assembly of saints? Let’s allow Ethan to give us some of the reasons.

As nature testifies to His wonders, the congregation of saints testifies to His faithfulness.

He is incomparable among humanity, or among any beings, real or imagined for that matter.

The enlightening parallelism of Hebrew poetry appears in Ps 89:7. Fear and reverence are set in parallel to each other. The Hebrew word translated “reverence” can mean anything from dread or fear to awe and astonishment. We have stereotyped the word fear to mean only something horrible and dreadful, but that is not the historical limitation of the word. We normally view “reverence” in a positive a light and “fear” in a negative light. Ethan puts the two words in a parallel relationship. If you understand the significance of “reverence,” you have the meaning of fear. Given God’s majesty in nature and his faithfulness among the saints, He is incomparable, worthy to be held in exclusive reverence. At some point in time ministers of the gospel embraced the title “Reverend,” but the Biblical basis of the word reserves it almost fully for God. At the moment I can only recall two passages where the word is used of anyone other than God. In Eph 5:33 Paul instructed wives to “reverence” their husbands. I doubt that worship is his intent here, but I suggest that this spirit in wives would transform many households and restore amazing order and grace to an otherwise toxic family dynamic. Then in Heb 12:9 the writer uses this word to draw a parallel between the attitude of young children to their chastening parents and our far wiser chastening God.

God’s strength and faithfulness are again praised in Ps 89:9-13, including both His rule over nature and His wise and righteous governance over humanity.

Justice and judgment; mercy and truth characterize His providential governance over His people, Ps 89:14, hardly the view of the fatalist’s diabolical god who creates sin, chaos, and pandemonium, and then with a pretense of goodness steps in to deliver people from the very chaos that he created in the first place.

Once again we realize from this passage that fearing God is a positive attitude of reverence and dignity, not a sinister dread of a tyrannical and unpredictable deity. The more predictable we realize that God is from Scripture the more we may safely trust and worship Him in Biblical “fear.” The more we come to the realization of His consistently righteous, gracious, merciful, and powerful character the more we may come to terms that fearing Him relates to His goodness and majesty, not to a sinister or diabolical and unpredictable disposition. Thus fearing God is a privilege and a delight, thanks to His reliable and unchanging disposition. Matthew Henry had it right. We gain far more in praising and thanking God in the midst of our trials than we will ever gain by complaining and blaming, either God or others for our trials. “I want to praise Him more.”

2005/03/27 Power: Both in God’s Anger and Fear

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #13 March 27, 2005

Power: Both in God’s Anger and Fear

For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. (Ps 90:7-11)

We are liable to opposite extreme and unbiblical views regarding the fear of God. On one side many folks who profess faith in Christ live in morbid fear of God, a near-constant dread of being sent to eternal ruin if they don’t live up to certain goals and divine expectations. Another form of this fear causes people to live in dread of something bad happening in their life, in their minds sure evidence that God is angry with them and will punish them at the drop of a hat. The other extreme idea views God as such a benevolent grandfather type being that He refuses to chasten or do anything other than indulge His children and their every wish. Here too the ideas range from the “health and wealth” or “name it and claim it” error to a basic attitude that refuses to view anything in life as divine chastening. The common refrain of this attitude is that God loves you too much to correct or chasten you for your sins. One idea violates the teaching of Scripture as dreadfully as the other. Solomon writes repeatedly that a parent who refuses to chasten his child will raise a spoiled and near useless child who thinks the whole world orbits around himself or herself.

Heb 12 clearly sets forth divine chastening as wisely and lovingly measured correction that brings pain and solemn warning to our lives of God’s displeasure with our sinful self-indulgence. Among any number of other Biblical examples, David’s family painfully exhibits the toxic failure of a self-indulgent family void of clear leadership and appropriate chastening.

In Ro 11:22 Paul juxtaposes God’s goodness and severity. Those of His children who “continue in his goodness” enjoy more goodness at His providence. Those of His children who fall away from God’s teachings shall surely experience divine severity. One is as certain as the other.

Ps 90 contains an incredible breadth of blessings and warnings that unpack the same idea that Paul taught in Ro 11:22. For the faithful followers of the Lord, He has “been our dwelling place in all generations.” For those who turn from God and follow their own ways, David accurately describes the divine response, “For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath we are troubled.” We may deceive our friends and loved ones, but we cannot deceive God. “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.”

The Christian life is not one big public relations campaign in which we put on a show of godliness while actually living life according to our self-serving wills. God knows our secret most thoughts and motives. We may deceive other people, but we cannot deceive God!

At first examination we are startled and troubled by the idea; “…even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.” The implication is that divine anger is every bit as frightening and severe as we most feared. To be sure, there is an element of truth to the idea. We should fear God for, despite His amazing love, He rightly commands us to live according to His teachings, not our own wills. If we fail to follow His will, not a mystical “God has revealed to me…” but the specific revelation of His will in Scripture, we will learn in the crucible of suffering that God’s wrath is wholly as severe as we feared.

The problem that we often develop in our thinking lies in our focus, the things that we most hold prominently in our minds as we make life’s choices. Do you live in constant dreadful fear of a divine swat? Or do you live in a constant anticipation of divine goodness? If we stopped reading Ps 90 at Ps 90:11, we could as easily reach one conclusion as the other. Based on the model of reasoning—and living—that Moses (the stated author of this psalm)—sets forth, what is the actual outcome of our coming to terms equally with God’s goodness and His severity? Consider the verses that follow.|

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. (Ps 90:12-15)

We may reliably judge the correctness of our attitude by the manner in which we react to divine judgment or chastening in our lives. In this model psalm Moses does not describe the reaction to divine chastening in terms of paralyzing fear, but in terms of learning. It is no accident that the New Testament word for a follower of Jesus, “disciple,” literally means a student.

The proper response to divine judgment—that inevitably falls on every one of God’s children at one time or another (Heb 12:6-8)—is repentance and learning. Moses prayed for a tender heart that learned from God to grow in wisdom and to enjoy divine “repentance” through the practice of personal repentance.

A parent who applies chastening to his/her children in anger will inevitably cultivate a bitter heart in the child, often the mirror opposite response to the desired objective. A parent who wisely measures predictable and suitable chastening to his/her child will nurture an attitude in the child that eagerly seeks to learn more fully the right way to live so as to honor the family and to eliminate the need for chastening. As parents in our families, we may often struggle with this fine balance. However God never fails to practice His wise and measured chastening to us so as to cultivate a healthy fear and—at the same time—a gracious and repentant transformation of our conduct. As the “rod,” wisely and properly applied, drives foolishness out of the heart of the child (Pr 22:15), so God’s “rod,” when properly understood, will draw our hearts to wisdom. Biblical wisdom means that we learn from God in our experiences to face life and respond to its difficulties according to God’s way. If we constantly realize that divine chastening continues on us, we should realize that we may have refused to listen to the divine “rod.”

Even in contemporary Christian thought, we often see more emphasis on the spirit of indulgence than on the value of loving and consistent discipline. There is no shortage of contemporary teaching on cultivating a positive “self-image” in the child, but cultivating an attitude in the child that self is at the center of the universe will not produce the wise child. It will produce a self-indulgent and unproductive person who will likely spend his/her whole adult life demanding that everyone and everything bow to the unsanctified demands of self. At the heart of this lesson we find a wise response to God’s correcting—and at times severe—judgment.

There is a certain irony to the time factor in this psalm. Moses, the author, lived to 120. He sets God’s eternal existence in vivid contrast with man’s brevity of life. According to Moses, man’s normal lifespan is from seventy to eighty. He compares our lifespan to “a tale that is told.” The skilled teller of tales knows that the only story that is remembered well is brief and quickly goes to the emphatic point for which it was told. The story that drags on without a clear purpose is as quickly forgotten as it was told. Did you ever notice how incredibly boring the person is who constantly talks about self? Equally boring and futile, according to this psalm, is the life that does not clearly and speedily focus on God and His goodness. The immature and adolescent mind typically focuses altogether on self. On one hand the adolescent wants to please one’s peers and to “fit in” with the crowd. On the other hand the adolescent constantly complains that everyone is “looking at me.” If we become stuck in our spiritual adolescence, we demonstrate similar traits. Someone has marveled that the adolescent mind would recoil in surprise if it realized just how little other people really notice or think of him or her!

Life gives us a finite number of days. They are spent so quickly. At the end of our life, we may be bitter or joyful at the journey that we chose during that brief time. Will we spend our time on self or in service to God and His children?

2005/04/03 Worship and Fear

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #14 April 3, 2005

Worship and Fear

O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the earth. Sing unto the LORD, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people. For the LORD is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the LORD made the heavens. Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts. O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth. (Ps 96:1-9)

As we’ve gone through our study of the fear of God in the poetic books of the Old Testament, we’ve observed that Scripture associates the fear of God with respect and reverence for God, as well as faithful obedience to His commandments. Our study verses in this chapter add another dimension to the list of adjectives that describe the fear of God, worship. Although true worship should occur when a church gathers on Sunday morning, it doesn’t always take place. Sometimes the gathering slips into rituals and forms without substance, conscience conviction, or life-changing power. I especially observe this problem in public prayers that are offered in church assemblies. Much of what folks say in their prayers is memorized and repetitive. Seldom do you sense that they are truly and spontaneously “talking with God,” what Biblical prayer should be. One wonders; is the person thinking as he chooses the words about talking with God or about how his words will sound to the people who listen? Many years ago I visited a church in west Texas. On that particular day the pastor asked someone in the congregation to lead the public prayer before the preaching service. He asked the man to “word” the prayer of the whole congregation. In other words the man speaking the words of the prayer was to prayerfully seek to put into words the collective prayers of every person in the audience. That term caught my attention and powerfully reminded me that this is what public prayer should be about.

To be sure, often the sermons that we hear from the pulpit after the prayer are barely less repetitive than the neatly memorized prayers that precede them. Did you ever hear a man preach several times and reach the conclusion that he was preaching the same sermon over, but just happened to start the sermon with a different passage of Scripture?

A study of the poetic books of the Old Testament is as enlightening to true worship as it is to our understanding of the fear of God. True worship, fittingly framed and offered to God, is alive and dynamic. It moves, and it moves us to examine our lives intimately. It sends us flat on our faces before a gracious, wise, and holy God, not in arrogant rebellion and self-directed conduct that ignores God and Scripture’s teachings. Worship is God-centered, not man-centered. Many of today’s “mega-churches” are praised as examples of success because they built the whole church to be “seeker-sensitive” and responsive to what people perceive as their immediate needs and desires. This description is a well framed way of saying that the church was formed to be man-centric, not God-centric. Perhaps its success more reflects its ability to please the people who attend than to transform their lives and nudge them to “…be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Ro 12:2).

The New Testament word for worship (as in Heb 1:6; “…let all the angels of God worship him.”) is the Greek word proskuneo. Literally it means to “prostrate oneself in homage to.” One of Strong’s dictionary analogies is that of a dog licking its master’s hand. Folks, worship of God doesn’t occur while we work to get our personal way or to do what we wish. It occurs when we surrender all of self to the glory and dignity of the God before whom we bow with no more self-serving than a dog that licks its master’s hand. Many years ago I visited a church not far from my home. As the visiting minister, I asked one of the church’s members to lead the morning prayer. This particular brother was quite ill. He stood slowly and with obvious pain to his body. He walked to the front of the auditorium with the help of a cane. Then with profound deliberation he stooped, but he didn’t say a word. He further labored till he was laying face down on the floor. Then he prayed. Oh, he truly prayed! I can’t recall much of my sermon that day, but I will never forget that man’s prayer. That day I witnessed a man truly worshipping God! And his profound act of self-effacing worship drew me like a magnet to join him in worship.

For the LORD is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods.” Follow the convention of Hebrew poetic parallelism. Acknowledging the greatness of God leads us to greatly praise Him. Such praise the psalm equates with fearing God above all the false gods that we invent to ourselves.

Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” This sentence adds more adjectives to our understanding of the fear of God; honor, majesty, strength, beauty. All of these words frame our attitude toward God that compels us to turn exclusively to Him in worship, to bow prostrate in homage only to Him.

O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.” If I asked you to define “holiness,” how would you respond? “Holiness” is about as difficult to define as the fear of God. Of the 468 times the Hebrew word translated “holiness” in this verse appears in the Old Testament, it is translated as “sanctuary” 262 times. It refers to something or someone wholly dedicated to God, set apart for God’s exclusive use. Likely this simple definition is not what you would have said if asked to define “holiness.” A double-minded person who tries to serve God at times and indulges self at other times dreadfully confuses observers. The lack of a consistent sense of “set-apartness” is striking in such a life.

If each of us took an objective inventory of our motives and conduct, we might discover more dividedness than we normally confess. Lack of consistency is fatal to anyone’s efforts to credibly represent the Christian faith to others. When our three daughters were in high school, they cryptically referred to a group of fellow-students as “Jesoids.” I asked what they meant by this term. Their response made their skepticism clear to me. They used this term to describe a group of students who were “hard-selling” Jesus one week and strung out on drugs the next week. They wholly lacked a life-changing commitment to Jesus that consistently altered their lives.

Sometimes our search for a clear sense of an idea is enhanced by finding antonyms, words that mean the opposite to the word in question. As I ponder this passage and the sense of Biblical holiness, “set-apartness,” that it describes, the word “hypocrite” strikes me as a near opposite.

In the New Testament the word “sanctified” picks up that same sense of exclusive dedication to God. We struggle with the idea because we fail to live it. Western culture tends to compartmentalize life. You live several different lives, all simultaneously. You live one life in your family, another in your career, another in your community, and still another in your church. Seldom do these various dimensions truly integrate. This fact confronted me rather dramatically recently. I am working to end my secular career in the near future. One of my daughters asked about a big party to celebrate my retirement. She had thoughts of inviting family, church members, current work associates, and former work associates who, in the process of work, became personal friends. I nixed the idea. When I reflected on all of these people, all associated with me in one way or another over the years, I realized that the only thing they really have in common with each other is me. I have tried to live my faith in each of these areas, but often that effort has required me to do things differently than my peers. I have worked for eighteen years in a company that—at best—has a questionable reputation for integrity. Yet insurance company representatives have sought me out because they knew that I would represent my clients with integrity. Despite my best efforts, my conduct hasn’t changed the ethics of many of my professional associates. We share professional careers, but not the same sense of ethics. At this stage of life, I am increasingly impatient with compromising ethics and the accepted—almost expected—double standard of conduct. Modern ethics says that if you can do anything, however underhanded or dishonest, and get away with it, you’ve done nothing wrong. Biblical ethics lives with the fact that God knows our deepest thoughts, motives, and secret-most actions. This realization alters the way we live.

May we learn the lessons of worship as we enlarge our sense of the fear of God.

2005/04/10 The Blessing of Fear

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #14.5 April 10, 2005

The Blessing of Fear

He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.? (Ps 103:10-18)

If God immediately responded to each of us based on our conduct, even our present conduct at its best, how would we fare? Indeed, would we survive? The theme of this psalm appears in the first verse, “Bless the LORD, O my soul….” In the sense in which the word is used here blessing God does not mean that we bestow a blessing on Him who is the source of all blessings. Rather it means that we bow in reverential respect before Him, quite similar to the New Testament word translated as “worship.” “When the Lord ‘blesses’ us, he reviews our needs and responds to them; when we ‘bless’ the Lord, we review his excellencies and respond to them.”28[1]

According to this psalm, the basis for our worship of God is not what we gain in the act, either in time or in eternity, but rather we worship God because of His inexplicable goodness toward us. One of the most selfish and self-serving attitudes you’ll ever observe among Christians is the attitude that we are working frantically in our Christian service now so that we will have more stars in our crowns in heaven. This attitude is rejected throughout Scripture and should be equally rejected by thoughtful and Bible believing Christians of all stripe. Worship now and likely in heaven is based on God’s goodness to us, not our goodness to Him.

Occasionally sincere Christians will claim that, since Jesus died for our sickness, we merely need to “claim it” and find immediate healing. They are correct in their premise, but wrong in the timing of the blessing. “He forgives and heals, though, as Scripture carefully indicates, not in parallel ways: in 2Sa 12:13, forgiveness was instantaneous, healing was withheld; sin and sickness were alike laid on Jesus (Mt 8:16-17) but just as, in this present life, though forgiven we still suffer the plague of sin, so sickness is still our lot according to his sovereign appointment until, in heaven, every disability, like every moral infirmity, will be gone.”29[2]

Three times in this psalm the writer specifically mentions God’s special blessings on “them that fear him.”

For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.

But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.?

Each of these points emphasizes God’s incredible goodness toward those who fear Him. Even a cursory reading will clarify the point that fearing God in this sense does not equate with our typical view of paralyzing dread. Respect, submission, obedience, bowing in worship all relate to the psalm’s concept of fearing God.

“David compares the magnitude of the forgiving mercy of Yahweh to the height of the heaven. That mercy is extended to those that fear him, i.e., godly souls. Sins are completely removed from the penitent “as far as the east is from the west.” Yahweh’s attitude toward the shortcomings of his people is that of a father toward his young children. His mercy is motivated by the human condition. “He knows our frame,” i.e., he understands that man is weak. His body ultimately returns to the dust from which it came.”30[3] Occasionally sincere Christians so emphasize God’s goodness as to exclude His chastening. God is never unreasonable or arbitrary in dealing with His people, but neither is He so lax as to ignore our sins. On one hand pure justice could annihilate us instantly for our sins. On the other hand emotional based believers make divine goodness so prominent that they reject Biblical chastening. In our permissive society where one’s “self-image” is preeminent the child often becomes the centerpiece of the family, and indulgence of the child’s every desire is viewed as a parent’s primary obligation. This concept is producing a generation of self-centered adults who enter life wholly unprepared for the reality of responsible, productive conduct. Not only should we thank God daily for His incredible kindness, as expressed in this psalm, but we should also thank Him daily for His severe judgments against our sins (Ro 11:22). This psalm does not indicate that God does not chasten, but rather that He always tempers justice with mercy in dealing with His children.

Increasingly in our permissive, self-centered culture professing Christians mold their lives and decisions around themselves and what they want. They have lost the foundational Biblical concept that true discipleship builds on self-denial, not self-indulgence. If Scripture sets rules that they are unwilling to obey, they presume that they can simply ignore the rules, live their compromised lifestyle, and retain God’s blessings. God is always kind, but He faithfully honors the law of sowing and reaping. If we sow compromised discipleship and fail to live according to His Word, we shall surely reap the whirlwind of our own confusion. God doesn’t promise blessings regardless of how we live, but only as we live according to His Word. When Jesus taught the lesson regarding the high price of discipleship (Lu 14:28-33). Obedience in actions, not merely the window dressing of words, ensures God’s blessings in our endeavors. The idea that sincerity and good intentions alone guarantees God’s blessings grows out of the relativism of our corrupted culture, not out of Scripture.

Balance is an incredibly difficult thing to accomplish and maintain. We readily reject the self-serving idea that man earns his salvation by good works. We equally reject the idea that God causes all things that occur, both good and bad. We seem to have lost sight of the Biblical truth that God requires more than sincere words and good intentions. He requires submissive obedience to His will and Word. He promises no blessings upon our compromised and anemic professions of submission to Him. In Eph 5 Paul used the analogy of marriage to exemplify the godly Christian life. Christ loved the church as husbands should love their wives. The wife is to submit to her husband as the church is to submit to Christ. This simple truth would transform many homes, not to mention churches, in our upside-down culture. As the home goes, so goes the church. For that reason Paul made a man’s leadership of his family a prerequisite for his filling the role of minister. Submission is as taboo in the contemporary family as it is in the contemporary church. Only by a return to God’s model will we ever regain the refreshing vision of God that we discover in this psalm. Fearing God means obeying God. How novel!

2005/04/17 Fearing God: The Beginning of Wisdom

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #15 April 17, 2005

Fearing God: The Beginning of Wisdom

He hath given meat? unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant. He hath shewed his people the power of his works, that he may give them the heritage of the heathen. The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness. He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever. (Ps 111:5-10)Ps 111 is an acrostic psalm. It is likely that Hebrew poets used the acrostic structure in certain psalms to call attention to the importance of the psalm’s message, as well as to make the psalm more easily memorized. “Ps 111 and Ps 112 are closely connected in structure, content, and language. Both are regular acrostic psalms of twenty-two lines corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Ps 111 celebrates the power, goodness, and righteousness of Yahweh; Ps 112 describes the blessedness of those who serve him. Both psalms draw largely from older psalms and from Proverbs.”31[1] Smith suggests that the redemption mentioned in this psalm refers to God’s deliverance of His people from Egyptian slavery. “By that great deliverance Yahweh revealed himself as a God who is holy and must be feared. To fear him, therefore, is the starting point of all true wisdom. That wisdom manifests itself in obedience to Yahweh’s commandments. In obedience one gains insight. All the attributes of God which demand man’s praise are eternal. Therefore, people should praise God forever.”32[2] Whether we can reach such a specific conclusion as Smith’s or not, the point of the psalm remains the same. God’s goodness requires the wise response of both worship and fear from His people. The Old Testament principle of redemption involves an intimate family relationship. Only a near relative could step into a man’s private world and pay the debt that he was unable to pay, redeeming him from personal, though temporary, servitude. By the many Old Testament references to God’s redeeming His people, we are instructed that God views His people as His intimate family. He never makes redemption possible. He never offers redemption. He redeems His enslaved people from their just debts. This principle carries over to the New Testament doctrine of redemption in which the Lord Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, entered His world and suffered to redeem His people from their indebtedness to divine justice (Mt 1:21). Following the rich comment regarding redemption, the psalm mentions “…he hath commanded his covenant for ever.” Men, even the most conscientious of men, may break their words or vows. Occasionally they break them because they simply promise more than they are capable of delivering. At other times they change their minds and break their promises out of their fickle nature. If we translate the Old Testament concept of “covenant” to our culture, we apply the idea to every aspect of our conduct in which we “sign on the dotted line.” Apply the idea of covenant keeping to every financial contract or agreement that you have signed. Then review the number of financial disasters that appear in our time. Someone is signing financial agreements to gain more money, to live above their ability to pay, with less than an honorable intent to pay their debts. Years ago I worked for a company that sold its products and also offered to finance the cost of the product. As the company’s sales grew and the press for profit increasingly nudged the business climate, the firm increasingly approved sales to people with less than desirable credit history. Increasing effort was required to collect payments from people who became delinquent. On one occasion I reviewed a letter from a many who wrote our credit manager, trying to get out of the debt. He pleaded that he was a minister in a particular denomination and was busy doing God’s work. For this reason, as he argued, we should simply forgive his legal debt. He apparently had no sense that his Christian ministry required him to pay his debts, not use his faith as an excuse not to pay. How much credibility would he have trying to minister to our company’s credit manager? According to this man who made credit and collections his career, the religious plea was far more common than one would expect. The Biblical concept of the fear of God should motivate a professing Christian—far more a minister—to faithfully pay his debts, not use religion as a convenient vehicle to avoid paying. The psalm’s depicting of God as commanding His covenant for ever means that God always honors His covenant. We may safely depend on God to keep His covenant. He does not live above His means and use credit cards to fund excessive debt. The proper motive for serving God—for fearing God—relates to His goodness, not to what we stand to gain. “The Beginning of Wisdom. The fear of the Lord. The psalm closes with a familiar maxim of the Wisdom writers. This kind of fear is best understood as and that pervade every area of life. It is the beginning of true religion in that insight and understanding follow. It is also the consummation, for it is never replaced in true religious expression.”33[3] Notice the companion adjectives that Smith uses to define the fear of God, “and that pervade every area of life.” Far too many professing Christians exhibit model reverence and awe during those brief weekly gatherings in a church building, but far fewer allow the same reverence and awe toward God to permeate their careers, families, and other personal activities. We occasionally sing “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,” but how do we live in His presence? “It is not only reasonable that we should fear God, because his name is reverend and his nature is holy, but it is advantageous to us. …It is the head of wisdom, that is (as we read it), it Men can never begin to be wise till they begin to fear God; all true wisdom takes its rise from true religion, and has its foundation in it. Or, as some understand it, it is the chief wisdom, and the most excellent, the first in dignity. It is the principal wisdom, and the principal of wisdom, to worship God and give honour to him as our Father and Master. Those manage well who always act under the government of his holy fear. …“Where the fear of the Lord rules in the heart there will be a constant conscientious care to keep his commandments, not to talk of them, but to do them….”34[4] Consider this generic, but common scenario in today’s feminist culture. You are married to a spouse who refuses to mold either his or her personal conduct toward the marriage according to the basic teaching of Scripture. For purposes of this illustration, let’s consider the two most basic New Testament principles of the godly marriage relationship. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and the wife is to respectfully submit to her husband (Eph 5). A wife insists on domineering her will over her husband and family, privately boasting that she can get her husband to do whatever she wishes without him even knowing that she motivated his decision. As the husband, what do you do? Do you go along because the price you’d pay for any other conduct is simply too high? Many husbands choose this course and are later bewildered at the pandemonium that destroys their family. Why should they be surprised? They failed to insist on their wife following the most obvious principle of a godly, Biblical marriage. The question in light of our lesson is this. Did the husband who failed to love his wife enough to insist that she, along with him, follow God’s model, fear God or his wife? Obviously, he feared the consequences of his wife’s displeasure more than he feared God. In the Biblical marriage neither the husband nor the wife seeks to dominate and control the spouse. They mutually submit to God and to the Biblical model of marriage.Fearing God means that we live every aspect of our life according to God’s rule, not according to our perception of convenience or accommodation, that we fear God more than we fear man, be that man our employer, our spouse, or anyone else in our life. We cannot view God with and and ignore His commandments for our lives. The true Christian ethic holds God in higher regard than the conveniences of any human relationship. May our awe for God translate into joyful and submissive obedience to Him.

Ps 111 is an acrostic psalm. It is likely that Hebrew poets used the acrostic structure in certain psalms to call attention to the importance of the psalm’s message, as well as to make the psalm more easily memorized. “Ps 111 and Ps 112 are closely connected in structure, content, and language. Both are regular acrostic psalms of twenty-two lines corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Ps 111 celebrates the power, goodness, and righteousness of Yahweh; Ps 112 describes the blessedness of those who serve him. Both psalms draw largely from older psalms and from Proverbs.”31[1] Smith suggests that the redemption mentioned in this psalm refers to God’s deliverance of His people from Egyptian slavery. “By that great deliverance Yahweh revealed himself as a God who is holy and must be feared. To fear him, therefore, is the starting point of all true wisdom. That wisdom manifests itself in obedience to Yahweh’s commandments. In obedience one gains insight. All the attributes of God which demand man’s praise are eternal. Therefore, people should praise God forever.”32[2] Whether we can reach such a specific conclusion as Smith’s or not, the point of the psalm remains the same. God’s goodness requires the wise response of both worship and fear from His people. The Old Testament principle of redemption involves an intimate family relationship. Only a near relative could step into a man’s private world and pay the debt that he was unable to pay, redeeming him from personal, though temporary, servitude. By the many Old Testament references to God’s redeeming His people, we are instructed that God views His people as His intimate family. He never makes redemption possible. He never offers redemption. He redeems His enslaved people from their just debts. This principle carries over to the New Testament doctrine of redemption in which the Lord Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, entered His world and suffered to redeem His people from their indebtedness to divine justice (Mt 1:21).

Following the rich comment regarding redemption, the psalm mentions “…he hath commanded his covenant for ever.” Men, even the most conscientious of men, may break their words or vows. Occasionally they break them because they simply promise more than they are capable of delivering. At other times they change their minds and break their promises out of their fickle nature. If we translate the Old Testament concept of “covenant” to our culture, we apply the idea to every aspect of our conduct in which we “sign on the dotted line.” Apply the idea of covenant keeping to every financial contract or agreement that you have signed. Then review the number of financial disasters that appear in our time. Someone is signing financial agreements to gain more money, to live above their ability to pay, with less than an honorable intent to pay their debts. Years ago I worked for a company that sold its products and also offered to finance the cost of the product. As the company’s sales grew and the press for profit increasingly nudged the business climate, the firm increasingly approved sales to people with less than desirable credit history. Increasing effort was required to collect payments from people who became delinquent. On one occasion I reviewed a letter from a many who wrote our credit manager, trying to get out of the debt. He pleaded that he was a minister in a particular denomination and was busy doing God’s work. For this reason, as he argued, we should simply forgive his legal debt. He apparently had no sense that his Christian ministry required him to pay his debts, not use his faith as an excuse not to pay. How much credibility would he have trying to minister to our company’s credit manager? According to this man who made credit and collections his career, the religious plea was far more common than one would expect. The Biblical concept of the fear of God should motivate a professing Christian—far more a minister—to faithfully pay his debts, not use religion as a convenient vehicle to avoid paying. The psalm’s depicting of God as commanding His covenant for ever means that God always honors His covenant. We may safely depend on God to keep His covenant. He does not live above His means and use credit cards to fund excessive debt. He makes no promises that He does not keep.

The proper motive for serving God—for fearing God—relates to His goodness, not to what we stand to gain. “The Beginning of Wisdom. The fear of the Lord. The psalm closes with a familiar maxim of the Wisdom writers. This kind of fear is best understood as reverence and awe that pervade every area of life. It is the beginning of true religion in that insight and understanding follow. It is also the consummation, for it is never replaced in true religious expression.”33[3] Notice the companion adjectives that Smith uses to define the fear of God, “reverence and awe that pervade every area of life.” Far too many professing Christians exhibit model reverence and awe during those brief weekly gatherings in a church building, but far fewer allow the same reverence and awe toward God to permeate their careers, families, and other personal activities. We occasionally sing “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,” but how do we live in His presence?

“It is not only reasonable that we should fear God, because his name is reverend and his nature is holy, but it is advantageous to us. …It is the head of wisdom, that is (as we read it), it is the beginning of wisdom. Men can never begin to be wise till they begin to fear God; all true wisdom takes its rise from true religion, and has its foundation in it. Or, as some understand it, it is the chief wisdom, and the most excellent, the first in dignity. It is the principal wisdom, and the principal of wisdom, to worship God and give honour to him as our Father and Master. Those manage well who always act under the government of his holy fear. …“Where the fear of the Lord rules in the heart there will be a constant conscientious care to keep his commandments, not to talk of them, but to do them….”34[4]

Consider this generic, but common scenario in today’s feminist culture. You are married to a spouse who refuses to mold either his or her personal conduct toward the marriage according to the basic teaching of Scripture. For purposes of this illustration, let’s consider the two most basic New Testament principles of the godly marriage relationship. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and the wife is to respectfully submit to her husband (Eph 5). A wife insists on domineering her will over her husband and family, privately boasting that she can get her husband to do whatever she wishes without him even knowing that she motivated his decision. As the husband, what do you do? Do you go along because the price you’d pay for any other conduct is simply too high? Many husbands choose this course and are later bewildered at the pandemonium that destroys their family. Why should they be surprised? They failed to insist on their wife following the most obvious principle of a godly, Biblical marriage. The question in light of our lesson is this. Did the husband who failed to love his wife enough to insist that she, along with him, follow God’s model, fear God or his wife? Obviously, he feared the consequences of his wife’s displeasure more than he feared God. In the Biblical marriage neither the husband nor the wife seeks to dominate and control the spouse. They mutually submit to God and to the Biblical model of marriage.

Fearing God means that we live every aspect of our life according to God’s rule, not according to our perception of convenience or accommodation, that we fear God more than we fear man, be that man our employer, our spouse, or anyone else in our life. We cannot view God with reverence and awe and ignore His commandments for our lives. The true Christian ethic holds God in higher regard than the conveniences of any human relationship. May our awe for God translate into joyful and submissive obedience to Him.

2005/04/24 Fearing God: Trusting God

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #16 April 24, 2005

Fearing God: Trusting God

O Israel, trust thou in the LORD: he is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD: he is their help and their shield. Ye that fear the LORD, trust in the LORD: he is their help and their shield. The LORD hath been mindful of us: he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron. He will bless them that fear the LORD, both small and great. (Ps 115:9-13)

J. E. Smith suggests that this psalm was sung in the congregation in something of a responsive reading style. “Here a leader would sing the first line of each verse addressed to God in the second person; then the congregation would respond with the second line in the third person. “Israel,” “the house of Aaron,” i.e., the priests, and “fearers of Yahweh” are called upon to trust in the Lord because he is the “help” and “shield” of his people.”35[1] This style would certainly give a touch of clarity and emphasis to the lesson. Many of the psalms in this section of the psalms are not identified in terms of author, occasion, or date. They take on a common, and timeless, issue for the people of God. There is some indication that the original author of the words that we sing, “How firm a foundation…” originally submitted these words anonymously so that as the people sang them they would only concentrate their attention on the message. In any case where the worship of God is involved the major issue is not who said what, but God—God alone. “We preach not ourselves…” (2Co 4:5). The preacher who makes himself the centerpiece of his message has a poor theme for his sermon. More often preachers, and sometimes others in the faith, will attempt to leave the appearance of Christ-centric teaching or living, but their motive eventually appears. Take them out of the limelight, and they quickly show a different side to their Christianity. Reject their wishes, and they will reveal the sad fact that they are more interested in getting their way, their personal satisfaction, than in Biblical truth and self-denying Christian faith. The psalmist begins this psalm with a God-centered focus that emphatically rejects the self-serving motives from any attempts to serve God, “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake” (Ps 115:1).

The author of this psalm is rather blunt in his debunking of idols. “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them” (Ps 115:4-8).? Contemporary Christians sometimes dismiss idolatry with the prideful “How silly, no one today would be so ignorant as to worship an idol.” However, take a look at the time and ventures that command their attention. Their “idols” are no less senseless and vain than Old Testament Israel’s.

Consider this simple truth. Who made the silver and gold that people used to carve out their idols? God made it. Used according to His direction, silver and gold can be put to noble use for the glory of God. The same subtle truth holds for twenty-first century idols no less than ancient idols.

Many people today worship their family. You doubt it? Identify a family in crisis. They show all the marks of a disaster looking for an excuse to occur. Quietly and helpfully ask someone in the troubled family, “Is everything all right? Is there anything I can do to help?” How do they respond? “Oh, everything is just wonderful. I don’t know how it could be any better.” Often one or more members of this family made a conscious choice to structure their family in direct violation of Biblical teaching. They have all the rationalizations at the tip of their tongue, but they show a stubborn resistance to any question regarding their family’s spiritual or familial health.

Another contemporary idol has to do with one’s career. Offer a professing man a big promotion and title, and watch how he deals with it. Often he will accept the career advancement without giving any thought to how it will impact his faith. It involves relocating to another part of the country. Does he investigate the existence of godly churches in the area near his new assignment, especially prior to his acceptance? I have lived through most of my adult life involved in bi-vocational ministry, serving as a pastor, along with working in a secular profession. More than once I declined promotions that required me to relocate out of the area where I believed my ministry assignment called me to live. However, I have often stretched the fabric of my personal energy and intellect so that I was too tired and far too preoccupied with my secular work to give my best to my ministry.

I believe that a careful examination of a person’s calendar and checkbook will readily expose the priorities of their life. If they have an idol, you will see it in these two faithful indicators.

God created the family. God kindly makes career or livelihood opportunities available for our needs. He even blesses the wise use of money and devotes a lot of ink in Scripture to instructions on how to use it so that it does not use us. In precisely the same way that ancient Israelites abused and misused silver and gold, part of God’s material creation, turning something good that God made into an idol, contemporary Christians abuse and misuse family, career, finances, and any number of other things into their own contemporary idols.

The psalm urges those who fear God to trust God. During this study of the poetic books to uncover Biblical teaching regarding the fear of God, we have repeatedly discovered that fearing God and obeying God are inseparable. I suggest that this psalm adds another dimension to the equation. We cannot separate fearing God and trusting God. Inherent in an attitude of trust is one’s confidence in the integrity, character, and reliability of the one trusted. Paul instructs Timothy to warn his congregations not to “trust in uncertain riches…” (1Ti 6:17). What does Scripture teach us about the character of God that leaves us with the conviction that He is unshakably trustworthy and righteous in every aspect of His Person? Scripture affirms God’s consistent goodness, His predictable faithfulness, His utter lack of fickleness, His faithful awareness of His people and their daily needs, and any number of other attributes that leave us with a clear indication of His reliable faithfulness, His trustworthiness.

Occasionally people will promote theological ideas not supported by Scripture that compromise the character of God. For example, the advocates of “double-predestination” teach that God’s “revealed will” always promotes and produces good for His people, but they often also teach that God’s “secret will” either actively or passively causes all the evil in the world. This idea diabolically imputes a moral fault upon God. Sometimes advocates of this idea will try to evade the problem by saying that God causes evil in such a way that He is not the Author of sin, but their conclusion contradicts their caveat. Interestingly, if God has a “secret will,” we do not know its contents. Otherwise it would not be His “secret will.” Inevitably the advocates of this error profess to be proficiently informed as to the contents of God’s “secret will.” The god of the “secret will” contradicts the moral character of the God of the Bible. I do not deny that God has a will wholly unknown to mortals, even the most informed and spiritual of men. However, I emphatically do deny that men can know the contents of His secret will. I deny with equal emphasis that God’s secret will in any way contradicts His moral character as faithfully displayed in His “revealed will” in Scripture.

We may comfortably join the anonymous author of this psalm in urging those who fear God to trust in Him. You may trust Him more than you trust a contentious spouse, a rebellious child, an unscrupulous and money-driven employer, or any other person in your life. Will trusting God change their disposition or moral character? Likely not, but trusting God and obeying Him in every aspect of your life will put God on your side, not in an adversarial role to you. It will bring His kind providence to your assistance in the trenches of life. You may “…boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb 13:6). The options are rather simple. We trust God, or we have nothing reliable to trust. Do you fear God? Then trust Him!

2005/05/01 Trusting God: Always the Best Option

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #17 May 1, 2005

Trusting God: Always the Best Option

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. (Pr 3:5)

He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: but he that putteth his trust in the LORD shall be made fat. (Pr 28:25)

The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe. (Pr 29:25)

For several months we’ve examined the fear of God. I hope that this study has been as enlightening for you as for me. Like so many folks who discuss the question of fearing God, I was far too fuzzy on the concept. I must thank a faithful member of the church where I serve for nudging me to study and write on this question of fearing God. May her tribe increase.

We now move to our study of trusting God. Our studies have taken us through the tension involved in loving God and fearing God. With this chapter we will begin our study of trusting God. We will see one common thread to our prior two themes. Loving God and fearing God are not emotional reactions, but rather lifestyle perspectives and choices. Trusting God follows this same pattern. It is not a mere emotional state of mind; it is truly a lifestyle choice that builds on the firm ground of Scripture, not personal preferences and choices. Far too often contemporary professing Christians make their choices with little consideration of God or God’s handbook for life, Scripture. Only after they have firmly made their decisions without considering God do they go to God, more to negotiate His approval than to seek His input in the decision. This approach to life will create a life that is primarily lived without God or His influence and blessing. Followers of this philosophy typically appear much like a “deer in the headlights” of life. The disciple of this lifestyle will dupe himself/herself into believing that he/she is really conscientiously following Scripture. The follower of this error will live in constant bewilderment because the blessings promised in Scripture to the faithful simply never appear in his/her life. The reason is obvious to all except the followers of this deceitful, and basically godless, lifestyle.

Scripture requires us to seek God’s direction before we make choices, not afterwards. It requires us to order our lives according to God’s handbook for life, Scripture, not our personal desires and our perception of what is good for us or “right” for us according to our private perception.

We live in an age of intense relativism. Our culture praises an “open mind,” values quietly held, but not publicized, certainly never set forth so as to expect others to live according to “our” values. People flippantly speak of “my truth” and “your truth,” as if each individual is the god in his/her own private universe, fully responsible for setting values, right and wrong, within their own private world. So what if the values in one world are different from the values another person sets for their world. Such mass confusion is praised in our culture, the desired spirit of a “multi-cultural” society where everyone is tolerant of all other values and cultures. This line of reasoning is fatally flawed in that it confuses morally neutral cultural perspectives with moral values. God, not we, sets universal moral values. However tolerant and relativistic men may be today, on Judgment Day God’s moral values will prevail!

The sad thing is that many who profess conservative, Biblical Christianity fully embrace this godless, valueless concept. Read a Bible verse that contains a moral absolute, and you may well hear a professing Christian respond, “Oh that is just your interpretation.” At their heart, the Ten Commandments are moral absolutes to be respected and followed by all. Although the judgment of the last Day will be rendered on the basis of God’s law from a broader perspective, these ten primary moral absolutes embody the same moral code of God that will prevail in the final Judgment.

I raise this question of relativism in moral issues to emphasize the choices that are clear in our three verses from Proverbs.

1. Trusting God with all your heart is not a mindless trust. Leaning to our own understanding is mindless trust. The cliché “leap of faith” frequently surfaces in the mindless relativism of our time among professing Christians. We are led to think that true faith requires us to “leap into the dark” and trust God for a safe landing in the promised land. Biblical faith is not a leap into the darkness, but a leap out of darkness into the light and knowledge of God. In Heb 11:1-2 we have a working definition of faith. Substance and evidence are the two key adjectives that define Biblical faith. Trusting God with all of one’s heart means bringing all of our private emotions and thoughts into subjection to the will of God as set forth in Scripture. It is not a mere sentimental or emotional “I trust God with all my heart” where “heart” is about as specific and defined as a starry-eyed young man telling his latest girl friend, “I love you with all my heart.” What is “heart”? How does Scripture define it?

2. In the second verse cited trusting God is contrasted with a proud heart. One causes strife; the other causes “fatness,” or spiritual and personal blessings in abundance. The person with a “proud heart” trusts in self, in his/her own emotions, more than in God or in God’s revealed will in Scripture.

3. The third verse cited contrasts the fear of man and trusting God. In Scripture the object feared is typically the object worshipped. The person who “fears” his boss, spouse, himself/herself, or other people of influence in his/her life functionally worships those people, not God. No wonder Solomon equates this attitude with a snare, a trap that captures and destroys a person. According to Solomon, trusting God, the point of contrast with the fear of man, brings safety. Controlling other people by manipulation, distrusting other people who do not wholly agree with, and submit to, us will promote insecurity and the desire for more control and manipulation, not a sense of accomplishment or security. For the faithful believer in God, trusting God brings the only true, reliable sense of safety. Any other choice is dangerous and will eventually prove the reality of the danger.

The book of Proverbs is not primarily a book of theology, but rather a book that describes and observes “life under the sun” with all of its myriad styles, values, and choices. For the inspired writers of the proverbs, primarily Solomon, wisdom is the ability to face life from God’s perspective—and values—and to deal with life God’s way. As exemplified in our three verses, many of the proverbs depict life as lived by people who do not consider God and His ways in their daily choices. Inevitably and clearly the proverbs reveal the calamity of choices that ignore God and His ways. Often they do so with appropriate humor.

We simply cannot ignore God and Scripture without incurring the devastating consequences of our rebellion and disobedience. "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." (Isa 1:19-20) God does not offer us a third option. With every choice in life, with every decision we make, we have two simple choices. Either we obey God willingly, or we refuse to obey God, the essential attribute of rebellion. One choice will bring spiritual health and spiritual prosperity. The other will bring God’s judgment and destruction of peace, joy, and a sense of spiritual well-being. The typical response to this simple life-choice is to rationalize a third or fourth alternative, but the first step down Rationalization Avenue is also the first step down the path of refusal and rebellion. The consequences are inevitable!

The proverbial “bottom line” of Proverbs urges us to trust God; more than we trust other people, more than we trust our career, more than we trust anyone or anything else, even self—especially self. The blessings are far greater than the price you will pay for the alternate choice.

2005/05/08 Trusting What You Know

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #18 May 8, 2005

Trusting What You Know

So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word. (Ps 119:42)

At the heart of reasonable and rational trust is knowledge. You cannot trust what—or whom—you do not know. Much of today’s “decisionism” salvation teaching demands that a sinner trust God before he knows God, a highly inconsistent point, not to mention an unbiblical idea. God makes Himself known to His people in regeneration (Jer 31:34; 2Ti 2:19; Joh 17:3, one of the most frequently misquoted and misinterpreted passages in the New Testament. Jesus did not say that “Knowing Christ is eternal life,” the typical interpretation. He said that He gives eternal life to those whom the Father gave to Him, and that a primary purpose of this eternal life—which He gives—is to “…know thee….” Notice the simple word “that” in the verse; “that they might know thee.” The typical interpretation actually reverses the true order of spiritual life and knowledge. You do not gain knowledge that you might gain life, but rather God gives you eternal life that you might know Him. We will spend some time on the Biblical truth of trusting Christ, but in this chapter we will examine David’s trust in the word of God.

David’s specific point in our study verse refers to his trust in God’s word, not his trust in God. Ps 119 mentions God’s “word” by mentioning various kindred terms in each of its 176 verses. It is an acrostic poem. The psalm is divided into sections, each titled by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order, “Aleph,” “Beth,” etc. Each section contains eight verses, and in each section the first letter of each line begins with that letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Clearly the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of this psalm to enhance our trust in the Word of God, Scripture.

We live in an age of professing Christians who demonstrate amazing creativity in evading the message of Scripture rather than trusting it. Some will focus on a series of favorite passages and seldom, if ever, mention other passages that contradict their forced interpretation of their favorite verses. Others will cite given verses with a pretentious “That is not in the original Greek,” in most cases having little or no knowledge whatever of New Testament Greek language, much less of the manuscript history relating to that passage. For example, if you discuss the doctrine of the Trinity with a Jehovah’s Witness and mention 1Jo 5:7, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one,” the Jehovah’s Witness, if well rehearsed in their teachings will promptly respond that this verse “is not in the original Greek” manuscripts, or at least in the earliest ones. Sadly, most textual advocates of Scripture today have surrendered this verse to hostile attacks. Look it up in a modern translation. Either the translators will simply omit it or include it with a footnote that references its lack of early textual support. In his commentary on this verse John Gill addresses these questions and provides ample historical evidence in support of the verse.

“…[I]t is cited by many of them; by Fulgentius, in the beginning of the “sixth” century, against the Arians, without any scruple or hesitation; and Jerom, as before observed, has it in his translation made in the latter end of the “fourth” century; and it is cited by Athanasius about the year 350; and before him by Cyprian, in the middle, of the “third” century, about the year 250; and is referred to by Tertullian about, the year 200; and which was within a “hundred” years, or little more, of the writing of the epistle; which may be enough to satisfy anyone of the genuineness of this passage; and besides, there never was any dispute about it till Erasmus left it out in the, first edition of his translation of the New Testament; and yet he himself, upon the credit of the old British copy before mentioned, put it into another edition of his translation.”

Gill trusted God’s word more than its critics. Modern textual scholars would improve their credibility by following Gill’s example. Often Bible teachers will chase words all over the Bible to make their favorite case for their private ideas from a single word or set of words, while repeatedly ignoring the context of every passage that they cite, another favorite strategy of folks who distrust the word of God. As an example, listen to the typical lesson of our day on the word world as used in Joh 3:16. How many of these teachers bother to tell their audience that the Greek word translated “world” in this passage has at least eight different meanings? How many of them interact with these various meanings to find the most appropriate meaning in the greater context of Joh 3? How many of them research the way that the word was actually used in first century culture, especially the Jewish culture in which the author wrote these words? They go to the passage with a preconception regarding the death of Christ and the way of salvation and make their case with no trust for God’s word to form their ideas and to lead them to God’s truth.

“So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me.” How do you respond to someone who challenges your Christian faith? Far too many Christians today are able to offer little more than a sentimental response to their critics with such empty words as “I can’t answer your question, but I know whom I have believed.” You say you know whom you have believed, but if you know Him, why do you exhibit ignorance of His personally inspired writings to you? The only way any believer can intelligently—and spiritually—respond to the reproaching critic or the inquiring mind is by an intense study of Scripture, not a casual devotional chapter a day reading. Study is the operative word here. We readily grasp the intent of study in the classroom, whether we are the teacher or the student. Our educational system has developed multiple teaching tools and study methods that enhance one’s working memory of important written material. Yet, sadly often, we park our minds and plunge mindlessly—and thoughtlessly—into our Scripture reading with no reflective engagement whatever of its teachings for us and for those who look to us for answers to their spiritual needs and questions. A Christian radio program that focuses on apologetics, The Bible Answer Man, founded by the late Walter Martin, used to end most programs with the challenge, “Are you willing to do for the truth what the cults do for error?”

A thinking Christian should never engage anyone without prayerful and studious preparation. As much as possible, become acquainted with this person’s worldview. Avoid having to think on the fly or react spontaneously to whatever they might say. “Be prepared” is a Biblical mandate (1Pe 3:15), not an “unspiritual” idea. Once you know this person’s mindset, study not only your strong verses to counter their ideas, but study their favorite verses and develop sound counter-arguments and interpretations that are more sound and Biblical than their view. Find words and forms of reasoning to present to them from their own favorite verses that support your—and hopefully, a more Biblical—view of the lesson. When you set up the person’s ideas, avoid the sadly common “straw man” tactic of misrepresenting his/her views in a highly unfavorable light, and then attacking the false view. Articulate their views so correctly that they will congratulate you and appreciate the fact that you fairly know and describe their ideas. Then you should be prepared to offer them a better way of viewing Scripture and God than they now embrace.

David’s response to those who reproached him was to grow out of his knowledge of the word of God, a word that he knew intimately and trusted without reservation.

In confronting and interacting with those who teach error we should prepare as fully in terms of a gracious and Christian attitude as with a solid base of knowledge from Scripture. Often disciples of false teaching will argue their own Scriptural logic till they realize that they are not on the solid ground that they presumed. Rather than graciously considering your interpretation, they will react to you with vicious hostility. A reaction in kind will not help your case for Biblical truth. Regardless of the attitude from the other person, we are commanded to be gracious and truly “Christian” in our attitude (2Ti 2:24-26). Paul inserts a “must” into this lesson, leaving us with no legitimate option other than the gracious instruction of the passage. Our divine assignment is to win people, not arguments. We accomplish this noble assignment by our attitudes no less than by sound and informed Biblical reasoning.

How fully do we trust God’s word? Enough to resign our personal ideas, perhaps even some of our personal conduct and habits, to live closer to it? Enough to allow it to rule over us rather than trying to force it to fit our preferences? Do we attempt to correct Scripture, or do we allow Scripture to correct us?

2005/05/15 Unconditional Trust

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #19 May 15, 2005

Unconditional Trust

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments. Hab 3:17-19)

We might offer any number of conditional statements of trust in God from Scripture, but each of those passages likely deserves special consideration in its unique context. Although this passage does not mention the word “trust,” the reality of its pristine truth anchors in the writer’s deep trust in God. His joy in God is not contingent on banner crops, growing herds, or other external signs of prosperity. The crops can fail and the herds die, but this man pledges, nonetheless, that he will rejoice in God. Not only does he view his joy in God as unconditional, he also realizes that his ability to view life in this way comes itself from God. Apart from a divine empowerment, he could not embrace such a solid commitment to joy in God.

Over almost fifty years of ministry I have visited many sick people, some of whom were in the dark shadows of the valley of death. Some of them voiced fears and other concerns, but most of them spoke of their joy in God and of their forgiveness toward people who may have hurt them through their life. Interestingly, most of them also voiced sincere concern that people who had taken offense at their conduct over the years would be able to forgive them. I am convinced that, as we grow older, we will either become increasingly bitter and cynical, blaming others for all of our problems, or we will become increasingly mellow, forgiving and considerate of others. One attitude is Biblical, exemplified in our passage; the other attitude grows out of a me-first sinful disposition that reaps the bitter harvest of a lifelong sowing of bitter seeds.

The underlying concept of the health-and-wealth gospel heresy of our time is conditional trust. You only trust God because you believe that in trusting Him all your problems will disappear. It is a form of unsanctified bribery. Trust God enough, and He will liquidate your debts and put money in your bank account. The most carnal atheist might “trust” God if he thought this premise were true. We call these kinds of decisions “no-brainers.” This error directly contradicts Scripture; it certainly isn’t based on Scripture. For example, “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2Ti 3:10-12) If health, wealth, and a peculiar absence of difficulties are characteristic of true faith in God, Paul must have been a champion unbeliever! We should not overlook the closing thought from Paul that all who truly live a godly life in Christ shall (There is a unique certainty to the point!) suffer.

Translate the ideas of our passage from an ancient agricultural culture to our world, indeed, to your personal world. It might read something like this. “Although I lose my job due to no fault of my own, and the unemployment fund of the state runs out of money, the administrator of my retirement fund robs the fund and flees to a foreign country, and my health insurance policy is canceled a week before I must enter the hospital for major life-threatening surgery, I will rejoice in God.” Can you honestly make such an unconditional statement of trust in God, much less joy in Him under such adversity? Given that ancient Jewish culture’s intense dependence on agriculture, the contemporary statement is no exaggeration of the original confession from the prophet.

Not long ago I heard a message that interestingly complained that our American culture has all but lost the present tense. We recall events from the past with the memory of an elephant, typically bad things, and we use them to keep score and justify a rebellious and unforgiving spirit against all those folk whom we believe have wronged us over the years. When Peter questioned Jesus regarding the number of times he could forgive someone who wronged him, he imagined that he was stretching the limit by suggesting “…till seven times.” (Mt 18:21) No doubt his feathers wilted when Jesus responded, “…seventy times,” not seven. No thinking Bible student would dare suggest that Jesus expects us to keep count and forgive four hundred ninety times, and then on the next time to claim justification for not forgiving. Jesus constructively was teaching Peter to stop a habit that is ingrained in our fallen, sinful nature, keeping score of all the wrongs that we imagine that people commit against us. You only know you’ve been offended seven times if you are keeping score. Jesus’ real lesson was to immediately stop keeping score and to follow His imperative, “Forgive, forgive, forgive, and forgive again.” Stop living in the past and keeping score of all the wrongs, real or imagined, that you’ve suffered. Never attempt to justify the sinful attitude of “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget.” Don’t you understand? Biblical forgiveness is forgetting. You can’t forgive till you’ve forgotten!

If we avoid the trap of living in the past, we ignore the present and live in anticipation of the future when we are out of debt, when we will surely enjoy better health than now, when we can start enjoying our retirement, or so many other reasons to avoid really living in the present. A convicting lesson from Scripture surfaces in the Old Testament laws of manna. God gave over two and a half million people supernatural food and water every day except the Sabbath for forty years during their wilderness wanderings. What is the lesson for us? Every sliver of useful manna came “today.” Yesterday’s supply served yesterday’s need, but was rotten the next morning. No matter how much a man gathered for tomorrow, it was spoiled the next morning. Here is the powerful point. The only manna available to us—the only blessings God sends our way—come today. There is no manna in our yesterdays, and no manna in our tomorrows—only in today. How would this truth change your present attitude and conduct toward life?

In addition to our discarding of the present tense in our lives I’d add our failure to trust God unconditionally. We claim to have inoculated ourselves against the health-and-wealth gospel’s materialistic error, but it contains a highly infectious virus. If we base our trust of God, and our joy in Him, on external things, particularly material things, we show distinct signs of the virus. Few practical teachings in today’s Christian culture are as contradictory to Scripture as the health-and-wealth teaching. It runs diametrically opposite to New Testament teaching. It succeeds because it appeals to the pride and vanity of our carnal minds. After all, says our carnal mind, “I deserve good things,” or “God wants me to be healthy, wealthy, and wise,” or “God wants me to be happy, and I need these things to be happy, so God wants them for me. If I trust Him enough, He’ll provide them for me.” The more mainstream version of this self-centered attitude appears in the idea that we are presently working for more stars in our heavenly crown, as if our present superiority over others will gain us a higher position in heaven, making present discipleship a search for selfish gain, not greater service and glory to God.

Those folks whom I visited on their death beds who voiced gracious forgiveness of others and a sincere desire that others would forgive them were growing into this delightful Biblical concept of unconditional trust and joy in God. Must we wait for that degree of spiritual maturity till we are on our death bed? Must we live our entire lives in self-absorbed spiritual adolescence? The very best time to grow into that mature and distinctly “other-centered” Christianity that trusts and celebrates God unconditionally is today in the prime of life and its activities. The prophet was not writing from the perspective of a retired farmer who no longer depended on the crops, the herds, and the vineyards for his livelihood. He was active in his life and dependent on these things for his support. Spiritual maturity clearly convinced him that the greater support in life comes from God, not from crops, careers, and “things.”

Despite this passage not mentioning the word “trust,” why did I choose it for this chapter’s theme? It goes beyond the word to the concept. Only as we trust God will we ever achieve the contentment and joy described in the passage. The prophet wrote a message based on the fruits of unconditional trust. It wasn’t something that he urged people to do. Rather it was something that he realized in his own travels of faith.

When I was young in the faith, I recall a hymn that some folks sang occasionally. I can’t reconstruct the words, but I recall the leading words to the chorus, “And that’s enough for me.” Take a long hard look at your contentment quotient. Start working toward Habakkuk’s goal.

2005/05/22 The Rule of Faith

The Rule of Faith

Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. (Hab 2:4)

You frequently see this verse cited by various Reformed teachers as an explanation of the basis on which God saves people. The typical explanation links this verse with Abraham’s faith (Ge 15:6). This interpretation misses the primary language of the passage. It does not say that an unjust man, by exercising faith in God, shall become a just man. Rather it describes the rule by which a just (justified) man orders his conduct, by the rule of faith. That is faith guides his conduct and decisions in life.

Before making the point regarding faith, the prophet sets a contrast between the lifted up soul and the faith soul. A man who exalts himself and magnifies his personal importance is the lifted up man, but the prophet reminds us that such a man is not an upright man. The Christian life is not “all about me,” despite the dominance of that attitude among contemporary professing Christians. “Me-centered” Christianity fails the first test that Jesus assigns to authentic discipleship, self-denial. The typical self-centered profession of Christianity in our time actually denies Christ in favor of self. Jesus emphatically stated that no man can serve two masters. To the extent that we focus our faith on self, we precisely measure our spiritual distance from Christ and New Testament discipleship. Paul makes the same point in Ro 6:16. In fact most of Ro 6 deals with the true role of the faithful believer as a servant. A servant doesn’t live in constant self-assertion. The servant’s whole identity appears in his/her master, not in self. Jesus taught a number of parables that dealt with the self-assertive and self-serving servant. In all of these parables the master returned and called the selfish servant to account for his failure. Inevitably the self-serving servant ended up in rejection and failure.

Habakkuk introduces the lifted-up soul in contrast to the soul whose conduct is characterized by faith. Faith draws us out of self and into the One whom we trust, the One in whom our faith rests. Paul will remind us of this point in terms of our preaching. “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2Co 4:5). Paul draws precisely the same contrast as Habakkuk, an exalted self versus the servant who preaches and walks by faith.

Early Christians often referred to the guiding principle that governed their life as “the rule of faith.” In First Apology Justin Martyr wrote his defense of Christianity to the Roman emperor. Rome viewed established religions in conquered cultures with rather benign neutrality, but she fiercely stamped out any new religion. The Jews opposed Christianity on the basis that it was a new religion. Justin made dual assertions in his apology. First he asserted that Christianity is not a new break-away from Judaism, but Judaism’s ultimate fulfillment. Secondly, he asserted that Christianity is the full expression of the philosophy of many of the ancient Greek philosophers and poets.

The distinction that Christianity brought to its Judaistic roots was that it replaced a near endless list of rules and regulations with the simple “rule of faith.”

Roy Zuck views the contrast of this verse in its historical setting as referring to proud Babylon.

“As an introduction to the woeful taunt-songs Habakkuk was instructed to record, God gave His summary condemnation of the conceited character of the Babylonian: He is puffed up. Like a bloated toad, these arrogant people hopped along toward destruction. They were swollen (the Heb. verb ‘ap_al is used only here in the OT) with evil passions. Their desires were not upright.

“Yahweh then declared that a righteous person, by stark contrast, will live by his faith (emûnâh, ”steadfastness or faithfulness“). A righteous Israelite who remained loyal to God’s moral precepts and was humble before the Lord enjoyed God’s abundant life. To “live” meant to experience God’s blessing by enjoying a life of security, protection, and fullness. Conversely, an apparently victorious but proud and perverse Babylonian would die. Faithfulness (NIV marg.) and faith are related. One who trusts in the Lord is one who relies on Him and is faithful to Him.”[1]

Notice Zuck’s interpretation of the phrase “live by his faith,” to “experience God’s blessings by enjoying a life of security, protection, and fullness.” Given that the Babylonians were rapidly ascending and would soon defeat Judah, Habakkuk’s theme is the question of why God would allow an evil nation to ascend while His own people suffered. In a few short years many thousands of Jews would be captured and taken against their wills to Babylon for seventy years of slavery. Yet, the faithful among them would enjoy “security, protection, and fullness.” This truth harmonizes with our study verse in the last chapter from Hab 3:17-19. Faith in God is not contingent on external success and comforts.

Our human nature loves to see everything in vivid contrasts. We love blacks and whites, but life often forces us to look at a steady parade of mixed hues. At the time of Jesus’ Incarnation the Jewish culture had become hopelessly steeped in legalism. From God’s simple Ten Commandments, they continuously added interpretations and extraneous rules till the number of binding rules exceed a thousand. Imagine having to filter each decision and life choice through the maze of over a thousand different rules. You would need to be a trained lawyer to make any reasonable effort to comply with all these rules!

Christians often draw their own neatly defined contrasts between legalism and antinomianism, rejection of all Biblical rules for personal conduct (“God loves me too much to expect me to obey all those rules and regulations.”). Sadly both of these lifestyles miss the mark that God set in our study verse. The verse rejects both views as faulty and deficient. It denies the legalist’s view of pleasing God by adding just one more rule that will make everything right, and it equally rejects the antinomian denial of any rule of personal conduct.

For the subjective, emotion-based contemporary professing Christian, faith is little more than a vague, never clearly defined concept that deals with how “I feel” about God. Do you see the dominance of the self-centeredness in this attitude? For this person faith has almost nothing to do with God and everything to do with the way the individual wants to look at life. Zuck correctly elevates faith above the subjective emotionalism of our time and defines it as faithfulness. Biblical faith does not deal with our individual emotional “feelings” about God and life. It deals with the degree to which we grow out of, and above, self and live life according to God’s way, not our own. God’s way appears in the clear moral and ethical teachings of Scripture, not subject to how anyone feels. In the Ten Commandments, a timeless reflection of God’s moral character and His expectation of His people, there is not a single word about any of the commandments applying only if we “feel” like obeying them. You may feel wonderful or dreadful; those principles equally reveal God’s fixed moral code.

The “rule of faith” for the just man is not how he feels, but how God views conduct. God’s way rules over our individual preferences. And God’s way is revealed in Scripture, not in the individual’s subjective “feelings.” When our granddaughter was just beginning to talk, she had rather sensitive feelings about how others treated her. Often she would cry and complain that someone “hurt my feelers.” This childish attitude sadly characterizes far too many professing Christians of our time. Faith is not all about our “feelers,” but about what God teaches us to do in Scripture. James is not dealing with salvation, but with discipleship when he writes that faith without works “is dead, being alone.” Scripture consistently affirms that our God is trustworthy. The only faithful response is to walk by faith according to His teaching, not our own preferences. Do you want those whom you love and respect to see you as a truly faithful Christian? Follow Habakkuk’s teaching. Avoid Babylon-like pride in yourself, and walk by faith. The more faithfully you follow the teachings of Scripture the more you walk by “the rule of faith.”

2005/05/29 Trusting God in Practice

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #21 May 29, 2005

Trusting God in Practice

?For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.? (1Pe 3:5-7)

How easily we become so involved in our theological and theoretical ideas that we neglect, if not altogether forget, the practical side of the New Testament’s teachings. The fine tapestry of Scripture interweaves the theological and the practical so seamlessly that we cannot remain true to Scripture and separate these two dimensions of Biblical teaching.

At the heart of the question, trusting God is right because the character of God is altogether trustworthy. He is not diabolical or deceptive. He does not publish one agenda in His “revealed will” and a duplicitous contradiction in His “secret will.” If in fact God has a “secret will,” we can safely conclude that it is wholly compatible with His revealed will and with His holy character that makes Him trustworthy.

As much as we occasionally criticize the entertainment industry and its “Helly-wood” moral void, often it holds up before us a thought-provoking mirror that accurately depicts our actual conduct. For those who saw the movie that unfolded the drama of a wedding between a Greek woman and a non-Greek man with all the cultural clashes and conflicts that characterize diverse cultures, most will recall the Greek mother’s comments regarding her husband. He viewed himself as the unquestioned head of the family. When her views and desires conflicted with his, she described the situation with a line that quipped something to the effect of, “He is the head of the family, but I’m the neck, and the neck turns the head any way it wishes.” When my wife and I saw this movie, there was a notable chuckle in the audience at that line. People either know someone who follows this deceptive practice in their marriage, or they pride themselves in being rather skilled at the practice themselves. I am rather amazed at the number of professing godly women who make no pretense of following any other course in their relationships with their husbands and families. And, to be honest, at times I’ve also seen men who played a similar role with their wives. The fundamental teaching of Scripture rejects and condemns such a manipulative attitude in any human relationship, much less in that most intimate bond of marriage. Whether in ministry, career, or in marriage, God sets forth His rules regarding human interaction, rules that compel a disarming and winsome transparency that avoids deception and manipulation rather than praising it. Our failure to practice such transparency may well reveal our deep lack of trust in the God who gave us these instructions.

The person who resorts to manipulation and deception effectively says by his/her attitude and conduct that he/she does not trust God and His way of doing things. Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus include rather specific requirements for the marital and family relationship of men who fill either office of minister or deacon. The man need not be a tyrant in his family. In fact such an attitude would disqualify him from the office as quickly as his passively allowing his wife to play the role of the “neck” in their marriage. Insightfully Paul observes that a man’s handling of the intimate and difficult role of his personal marriage relationship will predict how he will deal with the almost equally challenging and intimate interpersonal issues that he will frequently face as a minister of the gospel. If he fails to deal with his marriage relationship according to God’s way, he will also fail to deal acceptably and wisely with relationships in his ministry.

I believe that we should work to maintain the distinct, but equally obligatory, responsibilities of both husbands and wives as we approach this teaching in Scripture. In this lesson Peter addresses both, as does Paul in Eph 5. Rather than thinking himself the divinely appointed tyrant who demands that his wife “submit” to him without question, the husband is to love his wife unreservedly so as to compel her by his love to submit respectfully to his leadership in the marriage. Here Peter makes an interesting—often overlooked—point. The wife who refuses to submit in this way to her husband, or who deceitfully plays the role of the neck, actually reveals an inherent lack of trust in God!

At the heart of the matter, the woman’s trust in God, not her confidence in her husband, compels her submission and harmony within the marriage. No less, the husband who fails to lead in love, not by tyrannical despotism, reveals his own distrust of God. God commands one pattern of conduct no less than the other. And He does command both.

For the godly husband or wife, this attitude is not an idealized, but hardly practical, option. It is in fact a Biblical commandment. Occasionally in our age of harsh feminism sincere, Bible-believing Christians tend to take the man’s role in the marriage as far overboard as the feminists take the woman’s role. In Eph 5 Paul never permits the man to play the despot and dominate his wife by demanding that she submit to him. He is required to lead and to motivate her by his unselfish and sacrificial love. And indeed she is equally required to trust God and to submit. Her submission is no more contingent on her husband’s merit than his love is contingent on her merit. A godly marriage will cultivate life-transforming emotions and conduct, but the foundation for the Biblical marriage is not how we feel, but about a vow that each partner takes to follow God’s way in the marriage “…till death do us part.” The alarming rate of broken marriages in our culture today offers vivid testimony that emotion alone is not a sufficient foundation for a lasting marriage. The greater alarm for me is that the divorce rate among professing Christians is fully as great as among non-Christians! A professing Christian woman once told a friend of mine in ministry that she was no longer “happy” in her marriage, and, above all else, God wanted her to be “happy,” so God had no problem with her getting a divorce on no other grounds than her lack of being “happy.” Somewhere along the way she failed to read Mal 2:16 where God said that He hates “putting away,” divorce. Any godly man or woman who has lived through a divorce will join that testimony. Above all else, God wants His people to be holy, to live lives dedicated to Him and to follow His commandments in their lives and interpersonal relationships. To the extent that we live holy lives God will add the “icing on the cake” of contentment or happiness. The truly happy people are those who serve God, not personal interests (Ps 144:15).

Scripture does not assign a role of greater value or moral superiority to the man in marriage. It assigns a division of labor and responsibilities. Both husband and wife equally honor God by living within God’s assigned role, not by rationalizing why they must violate that divine assignment. Peter clearly states that both husband and wife are “…heirs together of the grace of life.” When a husband and wife learn the Biblical pattern of their role in the marriage and trust God enough to live consistently and faithfully to that assignment, they will find the joy and harmony of a godly marriage. When they do not trust God enough to obey His assignment, rationalization and deception rule, and the marriage falls into dishonor, even if the couple never ends up in divorce court.

Men, this passage is no less compelling on you than on your wife. Do you show your Christ-like love for her so strongly and consistently that she is as comfortable trusting you, as she should be trusting God? Do you abandon your Biblically assigned role so frequently that she feels justified in crossing the line and violating God’s assignment to her, thinking that her violation is the only way to preserve her family and marriage?

I offer that the heart of a godly marriage, as the heart of a godly life, has far more to do with how fully we trust God and far less to do with how much we respect, or disrespect, our spouses. If God is as trustworthy as we teach that He is—and as the Bible consistently teaches that He is—we should comfortably live every aspect of our lives under His governance and according to His rules. How incredibly practical—this thing we call “trusting God!”

2005/06/05 Trusting God to be Faithful to His Character

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #22 June 5, 2005

Trusting God to be Faithful to His Character

For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. (Ac 27:23-25)

This passage narrates a fascinating episode in the life of the Apostle Paul. Not only did God want Paul to preach in Rome, He also arranged for Rome to buy the ticket for his journey to its capital city! In the midst of storm and shipwreck Paul assured the crew and passengers that, though the ship and its cargo would be lost, there would be no loss of life.

We need not elevate the subjective human experience so as to allow it to compete with Scripture in authority by the weight of this passage. Nor should we allegorize or spiritualize the lesson so as to miss the obvious natural deliverance that God sent that day. Additionally, in acknowledging the truthfulness of Scripture that here affirms God’s mighty deliverance of the crew in the face of immense threat, we need not draw the false conclusion that God personally causes every shipwreck and every calamity or sinful event that occurs. This conclusion exemplifies the logical fallacy of the “part to the whole.” The idea of this logical fallacy imposes onto the whole of something a truth that is known to apply only to a part. The only safe and clear conclusion that we can rightly draw from the event is that God was involved in preserving the crew and passengers in this particular shipwreck.

As we examine God’s trustworthiness in this series of lessons, it seems appropriate to go to the heart of the matter. Without any excessive allegorical burden, it is notable that Paul fully believed in the trustworthiness of God whose angel told him that the people on board this ship would be spared. Paul felt no need to wrestle with God’s “secret will” or with any other idea that implies that God possesses or acts from a dualistic and distinctly Eastern mystical moral ambivalence. The idea of God’s “secret will” as being in direct conflict with His “revealed will” imposes non-Christian, Eastern mystical dualism onto God, and cannot stand the scrutiny of Scripture. In fact it directly conflicts with the consistent pattern of Scripture’s assertion of God’s consistent, holy, and unified morally perfect character.

I have been both amused and frustrated over the years at the rationalization demonstrated by those who use the “secret will” of God argument to explain the disasters, calamities, and sins of humanity. If God causes all of these things to occur through His secret will, advocates of this idea must claim to have discovered the secret! Thus God’s “secret will” is no longer a secret! Multiple passages contradict the Eastern mystical idea that God causes both good and sin, but at its heart this idea faces two insurmountable hurdles. First, it distinctly violates the consistent moral character and holiness of God. However convoluted the arguments to evade this problem, at the end of the day adherents must face the reality that their “secret will” idea imposes the ultimate cause of sin, evil, and calamity onto God. They hopelessly compromise the moral character of God. Secondly, this idea exemplifies the logical error of the “part to the whole.” That one man was born blind to, later in his life, glorify God (Joh 9) or that God intervened in one storm to preserve human life speaks to God’s selective involvement in the world of real human life and experience, but it does not force—nor even imply—that God necessarily must therefore in some way cause all events that occur, either directly or indirectly.

The theological issue in place, we now examine Paul’s practical conclusion. He does not give us great details regarding the angelic visit, but he clearly felt comfortable that God had sent this messenger, and his message, for the assurance of the people and for the affirmation of His unwavering presence with Paul. As human error tends to draw universal conclusions from specific and unique events in terms of God’s causing sin and evil, so human error at times equally errs in trying to elevate the subjective human experience as equal with—or at times even superior to—Scripture. This common error of the charismatic element of the Christian community serves as another example of the logical fallacy of the “part to the whole.” The ultimate test of every human thought lies, not in the human’s sincerity or subjective experience, but in Scripture alone. When anyone’s subjective experience or personal conclusions contradict Scripture, we may safely conclude that they are in error, and Scripture is right.

Why could Paul so comfortably state “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” I offer that Paul’s comfortable conclusion relied on his conviction that God’s faithfulness to His “revealed” will and character is never in any way compromised. In his first letter to the Corinthian church Paul twice affirmed this conviction (1Co 1:9; 10:13).

I do not offer subjective “feelings” as the basis for my conviction of God’s faithfulness. I rather offer the consistent and clear testimony of Scripture. Regardless of the trials that you face, the disappointments of life, the sins that overtake you, or the calamities that our fallen human natures reject as “unfair,” we may uncompromisingly live with the Biblical truth that God is eternally—without a single exception—and wholly faithful to His holy and moral character as set forth in Scripture. Nothing in Scripture, and nothing that will occur in your personal experience, can shatter that resounding Biblical truth.

We need not over-extend God’s sovereignty to imply that He, either directly or indirectly, is causative in all things in order to rely on Him and on His faithfulness to His holy nature. Divine sovereignty does not mean that God absolutely causes and controls every thought, act, and deed of every human who ever lived. It means that, where He chooses to inject His power and will into the human experience, He has a right to do so, He does so effectively, and, when He does so, He shall accomplish His will. If God’s will were absolutely performed in every event, thought, word, and deed, the model prayer’s petition, “Thy will be done,” would be senseless. We pray for His will to be done in our lives so that we may see His glory, and live exclusively to His glory. Isn’t that the point of this petition in the model prayer?

We need not impose moral contradictions onto God’s holy character to rationalize life’s confusing and contradictory events. On the contrary, we may safely live in unreserved trust in God, and in His consistently holy character, because He has revealed Himself with unqualified consistency throughout Scripture. He does not cause all events in history, either directly or indirectly, but He consistently promises to be with His children throughout their lives as a faithful and merciful Father, High Priest, and Helper. When you hear dreaded news from your doctor, disappointing reports from your retirement plan, heartbreaking desertion from a trusted friend, or think of inexplicable calamities that occur, you may safely and consistently trust God to be and to do exactly as He reveals His holy self in Scripture. He will never leave nor forsake you. He will never play the diabolical role of the Eastern mystical god by heaping calamity and sin upon you and then hypocritically delivering you from the very calamity that He created.

When you read of God’s gracious faithfulness to His people in Scripture (Try reading Ps 23 the next time you face a life-shattering trial.), you may “believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” in Scripture. You may claim Isa 43:1-7 in your deepest valley, in your most heart-breaking disappointment, and in your greatest temptation. “But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life. Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.?”

2005/06/12 Trusting God When Your Life Depends on the Outcome

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #23 June 12, 2005

Trusting God When Your Life Depends on the Outcome

For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf. (2Co 1:8-11)

Often Scripture presents us with refreshing and surprising truth. If you were asked to list the surprises that you discover in this passage, what would you say? My first surprise has to do with Paul’s authentic and open honesty. Unlike the storefront “perfect” Christians of our time, more a demonstration of carnal pride than of true Christianity, Paul acknowledges that he faced a grave trial that sent him into despair. If someone had noticed Paul during this ordeal and asked him how things were going or if he had a problem that needed prayer, he would not have quickly regrouped and denied any problem with the typical contemporary, “Oh, everything is just fine. I have no problems at all.” Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul openly acknowledges that he encountered a major problem greater than his human and natural ability to control. He confesses without apology that it drove him to despair. It touched him at every point of his personal ability and discovered to him that it was greater than his ability.

Our pride-filled contemporary Christian culture seldom discovers God’s transcendent power because it is too confused with carnal pride and the compelling need to present a picture-perfect image to others that denies the reality of intense trials, even trials that threaten our survival. To follow Paul’s thought, we must look death in the face, and be honest about it, even with others, before we can truly appreciate the power of the resurrection that we have in Christ. The “sentence of death” in us must be carried out before we can possibly learn to appreciate, or even know, God’s resurrection power. During past generations of Christians, especially persecuted, suffering Christians, the Biblical truth of the resurrection was a sustaining and relevant truth to life’s intense struggles. Christians faced burning at the stake, being eaten by wild animals, or otherwise being subjected to intense pain, humiliation, and the likely consequence of death itself. For us the surprising truth is that they endured these ordeals with amazing courage and power, courage and power that we intuitively sense is not present in us today. We will acknowledge its absence, but we refuse to look deep into the mirror of Scripture to see ourselves against the model image of the faithful Christian as defined by Scripture alone, a comparison that is essential if we are to come to terms with our deficiency and overcome it. For the typical contemporary Christian the cross is a nice piece of jewelry hung on a chain around the neck or a place marker in the Bible. We refuse to view it as the symbol of death, true death, to self that it communicated dramatically to first century Christians. Die to self? We refuse to consider such a preposterous idea. Such an idea would not enhance our “self-esteem” or do anything beneficial for our reputation among other believers around us. But Paul’s point will not let us off the hook. Before we can rejoice in the power of the resurrection, we must face the sentence of death face to face, eye to eye in its glaring reality.

Only as we stand faithful and tall with God in the face of adversity will we ever experience the reality of which Paul writes in this lesson. Paul doesn’t blame God for his adversity, but he runs to God for preserving deliverance and strength in the adversity. Only when we have gone through the “valley of the shadow of death” and walked out on the other side with God holding us tightly in His gracious care will we realize the meaning of trusting in God who raises the dead.

For most contemporary Christians trusting God means signing a pledge card or repeating a pathetic memorized prayer of commitment that typically lasts only a few weeks. They typically view it as something they do altogether for personal benefit. After all, who would want to spend eternity in the lake of fire if they could alter that outcome by such a simple and superficial action? This heretical form of Christianity has come to be known, even among many who practice it but increasingly realize its unbiblical shallowness, as “easy decisionism.”

For Paul trusting in the God who raises the dead was a life-changing concept that stuck with him through the fiercest of trials for the remainder of his life. It was not something that came to him automatically by the signing of a decision card or the repetition of a prayer. He only realized the full impact of this trust when he had faced death eye to eye and by God’s trustworthy and gracious power survived the experience. Only after he had tasted the ugly stench of death and survived to relish the fragrance of a heavenly breeze of divine grace could Paul celebrate the true significance of trusting in God who “raiseth the dead.” For Paul, as for us, the challenge that made such trust so difficult was the natural inclination to trust in self. Only after the episode could Paul begin to confess that this event cultivated him away from self-trust into an incredible trust in God.

Not only did Paul trust God after the fact, that victory of divine grace empowered him to look to the future, unknown and, for him in his day, ominous and full of adversaries, with equal trust. The God who delivered him from his past trials he fully trusted to deliver him from future and unknown trials yet to come. The validity of this trust appears in Second Timothy where Paul fully realizes his imminent death as he sits in a Roman prison pit for months, possibly more than a year. The day he escaped the pit was the day that Rome beheaded him. Yet Second Timothy displays an amazing optimism and an exemplary other-centeredness that only appears in the life of the believer who has lived the death of self and has then lived in excited amazement at the resurrecting power of God in his daily life.

Three years ago I spent three weeks between a life-threatening cancer diagnosis and surgery to remove the tumor in morbid fear. For a long time I struggled with my reaction. Why couldn’t I muster the courage and faith that I had preached for most of my life—and urged others to embrace in their trials? Immediately after the surgery God brought me to that sense of peace and comfort. Why couldn’t I have faced the ordeal with that same comfort before the surgery? I have few absolute answers to such questions for myself or for you in your trials. Paul’s experience in this lesson, and his transparent openness in confessing to his personal despair, comforts me as I look back at my own relatively minor trial.

I also am learning from this lesson, as well as from the personal experience, that we never gain the upper hand over our trials by pity parties or by blaming other folks for our pain. Paul confessed to a moment of despair, but he did not spend the rest of his life in depression because of the episode. In rather short order, based on the passage, he grew in his faith from a despairing Paul to a comforted and rejoicing Paul.

Several years ago I was approached by a person in his/her (Gender or identity doesn’t matter.) seventies. “I am a victim of child abuse,” was the person’s opening comment to me. We must not minimize the pain or the atrocity of child abuse of any kind, but we must come to more Biblical terms with how we deal with it, as well as with any number of other contemporary horrors of a sin-cursed culture. Like most folks in our culture, this person was living in the past and dwelling on its pain. Is Jesus’ resurrecting power able to heal the wounds of child abuse? I say without hesitation that it has such power and more. A far more Biblical confession might be “I was a victim of child abuse, but God’s power and goodness have delivered and healed me of its wounds.”

Trusting God is a far more amazing event than our superficial Christian culture paints it to be. We have been brainwashed with the idea that trusting God will change where we spend eternity, but it will have negligible impact on the way we face tomorrow’s difficulties. The Biblical description of trusting God is nearly the mirror opposite of this idea. Jesus’ substitutionary and atoning death for our sins is the essential factor in our hope of eternity with God, but a truly Biblical trust in our trustworthy God will transform the way we face tomorrow’s problems. It will also deliver us from every painful disappointment of the past and shift our life focus to a bright future that lies ahead for us, regardless of what our past has been.

The principle point is that we may trust in God when faced with the severest of trials because He is trustworthy!

2005/06/19 Trusting God: What is our Prime Objective?

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #24 June 19, 2005

Trusting God: What is our Prime Objective?

In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:11-14)

We frequently hear Christians speak of seeking God’s will in “my life.” On the surface this focus is admirable, even commendable. However, I increasingly fear that many who use this or similar terms put far more emphasis on the personal pronoun “my” than they place on God’s will. They still view their life as their own private possession with life’s primary pursuit to be gratification and fulfillment of self, not an unselfish—even self-denying—pursuit of something outside of self and far greater than self. Paul’s exemplary attitude profoundly instructs us regarding the proper emphasis of the Christian life and God’s will for our life. "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake." (2Co 4:5) Notice the emphasis on Christ Jesus as Lord and Paul’s attitude toward himself. The theme of the message, and necessarily the theme of the life behind the message, is not self or “my life,” but Christ Jesus the Lord, the Ruler and Master of life. Only to the extent that we invest our deepest commitment to the truth that Jesus is Lord will we ever be willing, much less able, to regard ourselves as servants to the people whom we serve as ministers of the gospel. Many strong-willed ministers will gladly profess to be servants to Christ, but they often with equal stubbornness boast that they are servants to no man. Such a self-centered attitude directly violates Paul’s truth and example. Only to the extent that we truly serve Christ are we willing to serve His people. During the Incarnation, did Jesus assert such independence from His people? No, He repeatedly affirmed, “I am among you as he that serveth.” (Lu 22:27) To serve, truly serve, God’s people simply follows Jesus’ example. Service in this model does not mean doing everything that others require you to do. Sometimes they may demand the impossible or the unreasonable. Occasionally they may insist on your going against Scripture. However, even in these instances, the devoted and Biblical servant will use the occasion to instruct with grace and humility, not rebel with arrogant pride.

According to Paul in Eph 1, not to mention many other similar passages, our position in Christ as children of God did not occur by our own doing, but by the will of God that initiated the process in eternity past. God predestinated both our inheritance and us to it before He created the material universe. All the steps and requirements that God considered necessary to accomplish our ultimate salvation He provided to us—and for us—in Christ. Our salvation is not a synergistic Jesus and us, but Jesus alone. First to last, in its entirety our salvation is according to God’s will and working.

What is God’s ultimate objective in His gracious design to save sinful creatures? “That we should be to the praise of his glory….” Notice the emphasis is not on us but on Him and His glory. I believe that the term “who first trusted in Christ” refers to the “us” of the verse, a likely reference to the apostles, among whom I include Paul. Prior to the crucifixion the disciples engaged in a private argument over who should replace Jesus as their chief, their ruler, when He left them. (Mr 9:46-48) After the ascension we see a different attitude dominating their lives and ministries. A cursory reading of Acts leaves us with a clear understanding that Jesus continued to “rule” as chief among them through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Ac 13:2-3 as only one example). They didn’t chase their personal dreams of ministry. Nor did one apostle assume the role of absolute ruler. They united in their godly submission to the leadership, indeed the ruling of the Holy Spirit. We should note that the Holy Spirit did not privately direct Paul and Barnabas to go to their work, but rather He directed the church to send them. Even the office of apostle is set “in the church.” (1Co 12:28) No minister will ever succeed in ministry apart from the intimate involvement and support of a local church. When a man follows the leadership of the Holy Spirit, he should expect that leadership to appear in the form of direction and support from his church. As a culture, we admire the rugged individualism of the “Rambo” spirit, but in Biblical Christianity that independent “loner” spirit consistently and predictably spells disastrous failure. Both passages referenced above (Ac 13:2-3 and 1Co 12:28) affirm the New Testament model for church growth and ministry.

In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation….” The faithful Ephesian church followed the apostles’ example, trusting in Christ and living for His glory, not their own. Such profound trust in Christ does not grow spontaneously. It grows slowly and only in the heart of one who lives (both ears and the whole life) under the instruction of the gospel.

We must not forget the primary objective of the apostles and their trust in Christ, for Scripture does not permit us to follow a different goal. The Baptist heritage historically has been the adage that “Scripture is our only rule of faith and practice.” Regardless the issue, be it in faith or practice, the moment that we begin to justify any idea or practice that we do not find affirmed in Scripture we deny our Biblical heritage, as well as endanger our blessings, present and future. No church will ever reach perfection in its pursuit of holiness in faith and practice, but Scripture does not permit a lesser objective as our goal. We should never elevate our church in the present, or in past generations, to become the absolute in terms of faith or practice. Christianity, to be sure, is historical, but we reject the Roman Catholic concept that the church and its decisions regarding faith and practice are equal with Scripture in authority. Rather than seeking to rationalize or justify beliefs or practices that are not affirmed clearly in Scripture, our goal should be an ever-increasing pursuit of the New Testament model for the church’s activities and beliefs. To the extent that we urge ideas or practices not set forth in the New Testament we also compromise the primary objective that our study passage sets before us, the glory of God in Christ. To the extent that we urge any idea or practice not affirmed in Scripture we imply that our Lord failed to provide the full authority and example for a healthy, spiritually thriving church. Glory slowly seeps away from Him and rests on the inventors and defenders of the alternate idea or practice.

Because of the Biblical promise that God would preserve His truth and church in all generations (Mt 28:20; Eph 3:21), we must study our own history carefully. However, when our own history becomes the “rule” of our faith, we demonstrate the same error that we criticize in the Church of Rome. Scripture never permits church decisions to supersede, equal, or compete with it as our exclusive source of authority in all things. Any belief or practice that cannot claim Biblical origins inherently lacks the controlling norm of Scriptural authority. Typically such ideas and practices first of all self-justify themselves by human rationalization. More troubling to vibrant Biblical authority, they slowly evolve over time. Without the fixed authority of Scripture to govern them, human reasoning takes over and justifies, not only the practice, but also the constant evolution of the practice into something different than its beginning.

With every gathering of the church we should examine our beliefs and practices against the only reliable and acceptable governing authority, Scripture alone. If we discover something that cannot claim Scriptural authority and example, we should joyfully release it to allow for the clear and refreshing spring of Biblical truth to govern our lives in all things spiritual.

The glory of God will not occur in a reluctant, tentative, or resentful decision. We might make the right choice, do the right thing, but do so with reluctance and resentment. God will not bless resentful obedience! Only a willing and joyful obedience tugs at His heart and brings blessings. We often see this truth demonstrated in the Old Testament. Divine judgments and prophetic warnings temporarily drove Israel to reluctant abandonment of Baal worship or other sins, but reluctant obedience consistently predicts a return to the favored sins. God’s blessings flowed freely only when His people “from the heart” responded to His Word with joyful willingness.

No other than the willing heart is empowered to do all things for the glory of God. The source of such glory lies in the “word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” May we live in all things to the worthy glory of our Lord.

2005/06/26 Trusting God: Earnest, a Future Inheritance and a Rich Present

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #25 June 26, 2005

Trusting God: Earnest, a Future Inheritance and a Rich Present

In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:11-14)

We continue our examination of this rich passage. At the core of historical theological study lies a central question. What does belief in Christ produce? Does it cause the new birth? Does it begin the trek down a human-centric salvation, initiated by God but dropped mid-stream for man either to complete or lose?

On one hand we see belief in Christ misappropriated from something that glorifies God into something that magnifies man. On the other hand we see either what contemporary Christian thinkers have labeled “easy decisionism” in criticism of their own theology. The leading “evangelical” personalities often conduct mass crusades in which they preach a man-centric gospel, followed by an emotional plea for anyone who has not initiated his own salvation to walk down to the podium or sign a card pledging to “give your life to Christ.” Typically they will define such trivial actions as the road to salvation, in their mind a road engineered by God, but then left for man to build by his own initiative, will, and work. On the other extreme you will occasionally see folks who so devalue belief in Christ that one would hardly think it worth anything of value to anyone, so why bother? I offer that all of these attitudes toward belief fail the New Testament description of belief in Christ, the foundation for trusting Him. Since the apostles and many other Christians in the first generation of New Testament Christianity willingly gave their lives for their faith in Christ, we must conclude that they placed an incredibly high value on Him and on their trust in Him. Clearly they believed that, even in death, He would not disappoint their solid trust in Him. For them there was no alternative to wholly trusting in Christ and walking in His steps (Joh 6:68).

In our study lesson Paul leads us through a Christ-centric view of our salvation directly into a subsequent life of equally Christ-centric living that includes trusting in Him.

We will examine two analogies in the passage that focus on the blessings of faith and trust in Christ.

1. “[Y]e were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” What is the significance of being “sealed”? First century Roman culture did not have “Certified mail” or other secure courier services that took sealed envelopes over hundreds of miles from sender to recipient. Documents were written on typically bulky media, often in scroll form and sent by a known and trusted person to the recipient. How could the sender know that the document would reach its intended recipient, but remain unread and unaltered by the courier? Especially official documents, but often other important documents, were sealed over the lip of the scroll with a piece of melted wax. While the wax was still soft and warm, the sender would imprint his official signia into the soft wax. If the wax seal was unbroken when the document was delivered to the recipient, he would know that it had been delivered unaltered. The seal didn’t contain or create the important message in the document. It served to validate the authenticity of the document upon arrival. In this analogy Paul equates our belief in Christ with the seal of His blessing to us. When we come to the knowledge and belief of the gospel, we realize the authenticity of God’s salvation. Our belief in Christ no more causes our eternal salvation than the seal caused the document to be written. Validation of authenticity is the function of the ancient seal. Paul extends the same idea to our trust in Christ.

2. Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession. Paul draws from another ancient custom to further enrich our thoughts regarding our blessings in Christ, as confirmed by our trust in Him. In fact property attorneys still use the term “earnest” in real estate dealings in our time. Strong defines the Greek word translated earnest, “…money which in purchases is given as a pledge or down payment that the full amount will subsequently be paid.”36[1] Few people carry enough cash in their pockets to pay immediately for a piece of real estate, something of significant value. How do they secure the property till the necessary steps for full payment and taking possession of the property can occur? They deposit a down payment in escrow or with some trusted resource till the full transaction is completed. This money must be of significant value to convince the seller that the buyer intends to complete the transaction, that he is not frivolous in his intentions to purchase the property. Paul draws from this ancient custom to enrich our thinking regarding the reality of our eternal standing with Christ, a standing that will not be completed till He “redeems” our bodies from death in the final resurrection. How do we know that He intends to complete the purchase transaction? We know it by the witness of the Holy Spirit’s “seal” on our belief. God will not give assurance to anyone not included in His eternal saving purpose and work. Does this mean that everyone who claims to believe in Christ is saved? That everyone who claims to be a Christian is saved, even when their life shames the name of Christ? No, it does not. What Paul is dealing with in this passage is a private transaction between God and His child alone, not a public profession or storefront image. The passage does not license us to put brands on other people either denying or certifying their salvation. Such an attitude is an arrogant supplanting of the Holy Spirit’s work with frail human folly.

The whole process that Paul describes grows out of the inner work of God in the soul of His people. The gospel no more puts that saving work in the soul than the seal writes the legal document. However, the incredible value of the gospel and of a profound, life-changing trust in Christ appears clearly in this lesson. We are the recipient of the official document, not the author. We are the possession being purchased, not the buyer. The Holy Spirit enriched Paul’s message to the Ephesian church with these words to assure us of God’s serious design to complete what He began without loss or failure.

The idea of salvation by human cooperation with God contradicts this lesson. It makes man the writer of the document and the buyer of the property, reducing God to the role of the neutral escrow company that holds the down payment till completion of the saving transaction.

What is the value to you and me of trusting in God? In the midst of every disappointment that life can foist upon us, in the heat of the struggle for meaning and purpose, we may joyfully claim God’s eternal design as the answer to life’s major focus. Our reason for being is not to discover ourselves, or develop a “positive self-image,” or any number of other self-serving ideas that always tend to put man in the center of the universe and God on the convenient outer edge. Paul leads us gently but clearly to the final conclusion of God’s design for us, “unto the praise of his glory.” My Christian life, my ministry, my service to God and to His people— my ultimate goal—is not personal gain of any kind or sort, but rather to praise God for His glorious work on my behalf.

Without doubt everyone redeemed by God’s “redemption of the purchased possession” (Do you see the clear indication that the actual price in full has already been deposited in escrow; that the only thing remaining to complete the transaction is for Him to take possession of what He already purchased?) shall praise His glory in eternity. Our trust in Him empowers us to praise His glory now instead of seeking our own interests or glory. Regardless of your ministry, its only legitimate objective is to praise His glory. To Him be the glory!

2005/07/03 Trusting God, Not Self

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #26 July 3, 2005

Trusting God, Not Self

For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.? Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.? (Php 3:3-6)

Sometimes the best way to grow in our trust toward God is to look at both sides of the “trust” question and compare them. What—or whom—can I trust? The more a person focuses on self the more impaired his/her ability to trust in God. “It is all about me” may well describe the dominant Western twenty-first century theme of Christian culture, but “It is all about God” defines New Testament Christianity. I am convinced that most contemporary Christians in our culture desperately need a true paradigm shift to realize anything near New Testament Christian faith and blessing.

More than almost any person living, Paul could have claimed self-trust as a viable lifestyle, but he chose not to. He could not trust self and live by faith in God. Notice the foundation of his teaching in this chapter. He listed three specific activities that defined his view of the Christian life.

We worship God in the spirit.

We rejoice in Christ Jesus.

We have no confidence in the flesh.

I suggest for your consideration that a full engagement of the first two points will create the third. Those who trust in their “flesh,” however loudly they proclaim their faith and joy in Christ, are deficient in their true worship and in their choice of things that cause them joy.

Only after Paul established this basic worldview and lifestyle did he offer that, if anyone had grounds to trust in themselves, it was himself. From this basis he goes on to list all the reasons that he could have—and at one time did—trusted in himself. The folks who live by self-trust in fact have far less basis for that attitude than Paul had. Consciously Paul rejected the human inclination to trust in himself and chose the simple—the profound and profoundly simple—lifestyle of God-centered Christianity, not self-centered religion. We typically define the self-centered attitude in religion as Pharisaical, but we tend to avoid application of that understanding to our own life and attitudes. If you examine the dominant attitude of the Pharisees in the New Testament, you will readily grasp the spirit of the Pharisee. In the lesson of the two praying men (Lu 18:9-14) we see this attitude that distinguishes the Christian from the Pharisee. Luke introduces the lesson as directed toward those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” How can I detect the Pharisee in others or in myself? The answer is rather simple. In essential theology the Pharisees were closer to the true teachings of God than the other first century sects of Judaism. Their attitude toward themselves and toward others defined our Lord’s disdain for them and their conduct. The Christian will focus on his own sins and be rather transparent about them, both with God and with other believers. The Pharisee always focuses on the sins of others and views self as wholly right and righteous. The Pharisee will keep a detailed record of all the wrongs that others have committed, both personal wrongs, real or imagined, against him/her self, and general sins. The Pharisee freely pointed the accusing finger, even in his prayers, at the publican, the tax-collector, and thanked God that he was not like that dreadful excuse for a human being. The publican was oblivious to the Pharisee in his prayers. He stood afar off rather than stepping up to the most prominent place for prayer. He smote his breast. There was intense emotion, not against the Pharisee or others, but against himself and his own sense of sin in his life. He didn’t thank God that he was not like anyone else, especially the Pharisee. Rather he begged God to be merciful to him, the sinner. The person who claims to be a believer in Christ, but who constantly accuses others of sin, quickly pointing out their sins, but vigorously denying ever doing anything wrong, dreadfully exhibits the heart of the Pharisee.

I fear that many in the contemporary Christian community have fallen prey to the spirit of the Pharisee. We still sing about the reality of sin in our lives. We imply the fact in our theological teaching of salvation by grace. However, we conspicuously avoid the mention of personal sins in our prayers and in our preaching. We will reluctantly confess to being sinners “by nature,” but we carefully avoid any confession of personal sins in our own lives, all the while gleefully pointing out the sins of others with surgical precision. Friends, this attitude precisely depicts the heart of a Pharisee, not the heart of a faithful believer who trusts in God and keeps him/her self busy worshipping God and rejoicing in Jesus, the “friend of sinners.” Oh for a return of the transparent spirit of authentic New Testament Christianity in which those who claim faith in Christ busy themselves with these worthy activities and readily confess their sins, making their reliance on Christ as the Savior of sinners a reality in their profession.

The word “spirit” appears in lower case in this verse. Does Paul intend the human spirit as opposed to external rituals such as were the emphasis in Judaism? Or does he intend the Holy Spirit? Matthew Henry in his concise commentary leaves the door open for either interpretation, making good points for both. A. T. Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament) offers three views, all anchored in the idea that the word “spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit, not the human spirit.

We worship God by the Holy Spirit, not by external rituals and ceremonies.

We worship God, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, so we worship Him, not rituals and traditions or our culture.

We worship God in the Spirit. Only those who possess the indwelling Holy Spirit are able to worship, or have any interest in worshipping God.

In several instances in the King James Bible the word “spirit” appears in lower case, but it distinctly refers to the Holy Spirit, so we should not draw our interpretation purely on the question of capital or lower case letters. For example, Joe 2:28 refers to the future day when God would pour out of His “spirit” (lower case) upon all flesh, but the clear reference is to the Holy Spirit, a fact confirmed by Peter on the day of Pentecost (Ac 2:18 where the word is capitalized, “Spirit”).

Robertson’s three-point view, consistently emphasizing the Holy Spirit, not the human spirit, seems consistent with the immediate context of this passage, as well as with the general teachings of the New Testament. Grammatically one, not all three ideas, was Paul’s intent. Robertson indicates that there is some doubt as to the case of the verb in this phrase, leaving him to offer the three possible interpretations, depending on the case of the verb. Based on Paul’s teaching in Ro 8:5-8 and 1Co 2:14, the “spirit” of natural or unregenerate man cannot worship God, and additionally isn’t interested in worshipping God. Only those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells worship God. Thus Robertson’s first interpretation is true. Since the Holy Spirit is God (Ac 5:3-4; 1Co 12:11, especially notice the personal pronoun “he,” not an impersonal “it”), it is appropriate for Paul to teach worship of the Holy Spirit as God. Due to the unique ministry of the Holy Spirit (Joh 16:13, in fact the general teachings of Joh 14; 15; 16), I am less inclined toward this interpretation, but I applaud Robertson in his emphasis on the fact that the Holy Spirit is God, not God’s impersonal “force.” Robertson’s third point is also true in that any true worship of God occurs in the Holy Spirit, not in any way apart from Him or His divine influence.

Spend some time with this chapter, specifically listing all the various accomplishments that Paul names as possible reasons to trust in the flesh (Php 3:4-6), but pay special attention to the bridge from Php 3:3 to Php 3:7-17. Paul unequivocally rejected all grounds for trust in self and in his accomplishments and in fact categorically discounted all of them so that he could become absorbed in his Lord Jesus Christ, both worshipping and rejoicing in Him alone.

Is this your vision of true Christianity? Is it your vision of your personal life? How well does your vision live up to the way you live and the things that you most emphasize in your daily life and in your interaction with the people around you? If you said nothing whatever, would the people who know you discern by your attitude and conduct that you trust exclusively in God and not in yourself?

2005/07/10 Trusting the Untrustworthy

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #27 July 10, 2005

Trusting the Untrustworthy

Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen. (1Ti 6:17-21)

We live in an increasingly materialistic culture. Although Scripture teaches the faithful believer in God to alter the world in which he/she lives rather than being molded by it, many who sincerely profess faith in Christ commonly allow the culture to mold them. Before reading this chapter, be forewarned that it hits all of us hard, but I believe it presents the New Testament’s model for a Christian’s life, including money and any other blessing that God graciously sends our way. Such passages typically motivate self-reflective time during which I seek ways to change my personal conduct increasingly into the mold of New Testament Christian living. We live in a sad age in which many who profess faith in Christ focus all of their teaching on money that they often use for personal pleasure, not for wise spiritual work. Their abuse does not excuse the faithful Christian from his/her Biblical obligation to follow Scripture’s teachings regarding how we gain money, and how we use it, both for personal necessities and for greater “kingdom” investments. I hope that you will use the passage as your guide in your use of what you possess by God’s gracious gift to ultimately honor Him.

Normally we view this lesson as applying to someone else, particularly to those who enjoy a reasonable amount of wealth. Clearly the lesson applies to the wealthy. However, the passage equally instructs the paupers among us in that it warns us that “uncertain riches” may be more of a liability than an asset to vibrant Christianity. Given the preoccupation of our culture with material wealth, I must be cautious to present balance in this study. To avoid stereotype, I note that I have known a number of wealthy Christians who ordered their lives wisely and never fell into the traps mentioned in this passage. I recall a godly man a few years ago who invested a significant amount in the stock market. The week before I preached a special meeting at his church the stock market hit a “black September” cycle. When his pastor spoke to him at the church, he asked the man if he had survived the market decline of the last week. The man casually observed that he lost around $25,000, but that life revolved around more important treasures than money. I’m sure the next week he reallocated some of his investments, but his attitude clearly indicated that he didn’t worship money. I have been blessed by a number of godly people who freely invested their possessions in activities that served to minister to God’s people, often doing so with no desire for applause to themselves. May their tribe increase.

Given the fact that most first century Christians were slaves or held other lower cultural standing, I have come to believe that this passage also serves to warn the poor of the dangers of trusting in material possessions at the expense of their faith. In some fifty years of ministry I have known a few “poor” Christians who envied anyone who possessed more than they. Often they were far more controlled by money that they didn’t possess than other godly believers who wisely used their wealth. I have also known a significant number of Christians who consistently lived above their means to the extent that they compromised their Christian witness and choked their faith into fruitless philosophy by a near obsession with gaining more—or with consistently living above their means and stretching their emotions and energies in a futile attempt to cover their debts. “Credit card” debt is a growing and sadly common feature of many households in our time. Given the typical interest rate imposed on credit card balances, it is gross fiscal mismanagement for someone to allow their credit card balance to grow to $50,000 or even more. Any family may encounter an occasional emergency that requires debt, but the financial habits that use a credit card and its functional usury (excessive interest rates, used in Scripture to refer to unlawfully excessive interest) to the extent of building such a large unpaid balance reveals a broader habit of living consistently above one’s means.

The simplest principle of godly money management does not require a college degree in economics to understand. It does not employ a secret gimmick or strategy. You consistently spend less than your income!

Unusual situations, financial emergencies, are a normal part of life, so the first step of godly money management is to budget for them and set money aside for them rather than spending every penny of every month’s earnings and then having nothing in reserve for the unexpected.

I am convinced that the siren song of possessions, of “keeping up with the Joneses,” or of raw self-indulgence rather that self-discipline, drives many family money decisions that lead the family to financial ruin, if not bankruptcy. Thus our passage is as pertinent to those who do not possess wealth as to those who do. Can any thinking Christian miss the obvious, that the word discipline is related to the word discipleship? A lack of self-control, of self-discipline, whether related to our budget or to any other aspect of our life, betrays our lack of discipleship! At the end of the day discipleship does not appear in our words, but in our deeds. I believe that a careful examination of the way we use our two most common assets, our time and our money, will reveal our spiritual health—or lack thereof. For many who profess faith in Christ in our culture, the unwise use of these two assets may reveal their inherent idolatry more than their authentic faith in Christ.

Paul instructed the church in Corinth regarding their giving to the financial needs of the church, that they were to set aside “on the first day of the week,” according to a single specific gauge, “as God hath prospered….” The measure of our giving is not to be the “leftovers” after we have mismanaged and over-extended our personal budgets. Nor is it to be our assessment of what the church needs. There may be any number of needs of which we know nothing at all. The “first day of the week” defines both the regularity and the priority of our giving. The first priority of a believer’s budget is to be his support of the church. Further the measure of that amount is not to be what he/she can “afford’ after over-extending limited assets by indulgences and “unexpected emergencies.” The measure of our giving is to be based on our assessment of what God has done for us, “as God hath prospered.” Believers who give little or nothing to the support of their church make a startling comment, intentional or not, regarding their assessment of God’s blessings in their life. No gift specifically indicates that they believe that God has not prospered them at all.

Paul instructs Timothy to warn his hearers to trust, not in “uncertain riches,” but in God, “who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.” In De 8:17-18 Moses indicates that God is personally and intimately involved in our financial affairs. The passage warns that ill-gotten wealth leads to false pride in one’s ability to gain it. However, Moses reminds the people that it is God, not their financial prowess that gives them the power to “get wealth.” I am convinced that God withholds excessive money from many of His children because He knows their character weaknesses. They couldn’t wisely handle it. They would begin to trust in “uncertain riches” more than in their God.

Thus our passage equally warns us to avoid envy toward those who possess more than we and to trust God, not our investments, if we do possess material riches. The greater warning of the lesson raises a question. Do you possess your wealth, or does it possess you? And if you find yourself in the position of not having excess wealth, or of having fallen into the habit of living consistently above your income and looking at envy toward those who are better off than you, it confronts you with the same warning. Does the desire for more possess you, or do you possess it? Whether you possess it or desire but do not possess it, Paul warns us that the “love of money is the root of all evil” (1Ti 6:10).

How should faithful Christians manage their money? “That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate….” They possess their money; it doesn’t possess them. “Ready to distribute” indicates longstanding preparation. They have managed their funds wisely so as to build reserves that they may give “back” to God for His use and the benefit of His people. Secondly, they are “willing to communicate” their holdings to others. “Communicate” is frequently used in the New Testament with reference to material possessions, not simply words.

Paul further instructs us in our use of money and in our personal discipleship, “Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” The believer who mismanages his/her budget likely mismanages his/her discipleship as well. “Laying…hold on eternal life” does not refer to gaining what one does not presently possess as much as it does to how we use what we already possess. Paul integrates godly money management and authentic discipleship.

What then should be the financial posture of godly believers in Christ?

They apply the same self-control to their material possessions as to their other appetites. They refuse to consistently live above their income and allow money to possess them.

They are to be “givers,” not “takers.” Rather than living on the handouts of others, they are to work to gain more than they personally need so that they may give to others. “Neediness,” seasons when we encounter legitimate needs that exceed our ability to meet them, may invade the life of any believer, and the church whose members give wisely will be prepared to help, but no faithful believer should develop a lifelong habit of living off of other people. Rather than programming their life around the “gifts” of others, faithful believers should work toward the goal of earning enough both for their personal needs and building surplus funds to share with other believers in their time of need. The ability to help other believers in need should be a primary financial goal of the faithful believer.

They are to keep life’s priority clearly and consistently on spiritual values, not material possessions. This objective will avoid over-extension of our available funds and excessive debt.

They should avoid “covetousness,” the attitude of desiring what one does not possess. This attitude is so common to humanity that God included its prohibition in the Ten Commandments, His ten basic moral precepts for mankind. Looking with envy to another believer who possesses more than we, consistently spending more than we make, or justifying questionable habits are clear indications that we may have compromised our moral posture by covetousness. What are questionable habits that a faithful Christian should avoid? Cheating on one’s income taxes with the “Everyone does it” excuse, or claiming one endless stream of “emergencies” that could not possibly be avoided, though the “endless stream” should provoke the wise disciple to budget specific money every month to cover them are just two examples.

Giving to one’s church should be the first item on our budget priorities, not the last. The New Testament rule of giving does not exclude rigid tithing. It seems more flexible, but not at all less significant. As wise spiritual teachers have said, “When did the law ever outdo grace?” The specific rules of New Testament giving build on specific criteria: 1) regularity, “On the first day of the week,” 2) priority, “On the first day of the week,” before you obligate your budget for other things, 3) based on the degree to which God has prospered you, not based on your perceived sense of the church’s need, and especially not based on your excessive debt. I suggest that in this category, no less than in moral, theological, and spiritual matters, the pastor should set the example, not expect the church to do all the giving.

O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust. Given the context of this verse and Paul’s warning against trusting in “uncertain riches” instead of trusting in “the living God,” I suggest that the “trust” committed to Timothy is broader than whatever wealth he possessed, but that it distinctly includes his possessions. If God gives us the power to get wealth, we should live with the constant sense that everything we possess, not just ten per cent of it, belongs to Him. If we do not possess wealth, we should respect God’s wisdom and work to develop wise habits to live within our means, not spend excessively and tempt God (another prohibition in God’s Ten Commandments) to “bail us out.” Be it much or little, everything we have is ours as a divine “trust” that God charges us to use wisely and for His glory, not for our indulgence.

2005/07/17 Trusting God in Life's Most Intimate Relationship

This week's chapter deals with trusting God in marriage. We are all far too inclined to compartmentalize our faith to Sunday morning and occasional disasters in life that require more of us than we possess. The Biblical model of trusting God calls on us to trust God-and to faithfully follow His teaching-in every aspect and area of life. In last week's chapter I dealt with the concept of trusting God sufficiently to implement His teaching in our management of money. This week's chapter applies similar emphasis to trusting God in our interpersonal relationships, particularly in marriage, the most intimate interpersonal relationship of life. As a person views and manages his/her marriage relationship, you can predict how he/she will view and manage every other interpersonal relationship. In all the teaching that we do regarding the "touchy" concept of the husband-wife relationship we typically neglect what I believe to be the most fundamental point. How much do we trust God in the perspective of this relationship? Typically men trust their physical force, an unbiblical idea that they are mentally and intellectually superior to women, or a self-serving demand that the wife submit to them as the church is to submit to Christ. Equally typically, women commonly trust their feminine wiles, their ability to manipulate their husbands into doing what they want, even deceiving them into thinking it is their idea, or to a more brute emotional reaction to gain their wishes. Both attitudes equally reveal an inherent distrust of God, if not an outright rejection of His specific teachings in Scripture regarding a godly marriage. The godly husband will be too busy loving his wife as Christ loved the church to build his position on constant reminders to his wife to submit. The wife will be too devoted to following Christ and obeying Scripture, trusting God, to resort to her ability to manipulate or to using emotions overtly to get her way. Godly transparency and honesty should rule the marriage relationship no less than they should rule every other relationship in our Christian profession. Once a professing Christian sacrifices transparent honesty he/she has lost the convincing power of Biblical faith and credibility. Specifically set forth in this lesson is the fact that both husband and wife voluntarily and willingly agree to follow Scripture as it defines their relationship and roles. The husband or the wife who reluctantly and resentfully attempts to practice the Biblical model will fail! No less here than in the basic premise of discipleship, a joyful willingness to follow Christ and to implement the Biblical model of the Christian life is required if we hope to succeed in our effort to model a better way to live before those outside our faith. The choice for Christian husbands and wives is perhaps clearer here than in almost any other area of our faith-life. Will we ignore the culture in which we live in favor of the Biblical "high road," or will we buy into the corrupt and confused culture of our time? Our decisions will impact our families directly and decisively. They will mirror confusion, outright chaos at times, or they will mirror godly respect for Biblical truth and conduct. The credibility of our Christian witness is at stake. How important is it to us? How fully do we desire to live the faith that we profess? Enough to re-examine and reshape our marriage relationship? Enough to transform our life so that both our words and our conduct speak the same testimony to the wisdom of God in our faith? God bless, Joe Holder

Trusting God in Life's Most Intimate Relationship

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. (1Pe 3:1-6) We live in an age that increasingly rejects Biblical values and lifestyles. Since God made a godly marriage and family the foundation of all healthy cultures, we should not wonder that a God-rejecting culture attacks the Biblical model of the family. Periodically in recent years Southern Baptists have published their beliefs regarding the Biblical role for husbands and wives. Immediately the media picks up on the theme and ridicules the "cave-man" mentality of "such an idea." They wouldn't dare attack the Bible directly with such fierce rejection, but they feel free to attack a denominational position statement of the Bible view. The greater concern for Christians should not be the culture's or media's rejection of our values. Since when is that a surprise? Our concern should be that we live the Biblical values in our lives, particularly in our interpersonal relationships, the most intimate of which is marriage. In recent years I have heard professing Christians openly reject this Biblical truth with as much acceptance as the anti-God culture, if not with as much acrimony. In a conversation that I overheard regarding the Biblical qualifications for ministers and deacons, qualifications specifically and simply stated in Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, a professing Christian stated, "Well, if we really enforced those rules, we'd never ordain anyone." At the point of that comment the conversation was dealing with the husband-wife relationship. The person's viewpoint obviously holds that no man or woman, even Christians, still practice the Biblical model of husbands and wives. In another case a family member of a person who held one of these church offices responded with an observation that was painfully obvious to all who knew the family, "Well, everyone knows who wears the pants in our family," a pointed reference to the fact that the man who held the office was not the head of their house. In another instance a woman whose husband was a minister, and outspoken regarding his belief in the Biblical model of marriage, smugly confided to some relatives that she considered herself to be unusually skilled at manipulating her husband into doing what she wanted while thinking it was his idea in the first place. She used the "He's the head of the family, but I'm the neck" long before the quote appeared in a popular movie. Her quiet rejection of her Biblical role destroyed any effort her husband might attempt to implement in teaching on this Biblical theme. These specific observations could be repeated many times over. What did Peter intend for us to understand about his directive that women should be "in subjection" to their own husbands? Strong's enhanced electronic dictionary identifies the various English words used for the Greek word here translated "subjection," and then defines and illustrates the word, "1 to arrange under, to subordinate. 2 to subject, put in subjection. 3 to subject one's self, obey. 4 to submit to one's control. 5 to yield to one's admonition or advice. 6 to obey, be subject. Additional Information: A Greek military term meaning 'to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader'. In non-military use, it was 'a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden'."{1} There is no indication that the word implies inferiority in the person who is subject to another. Rather the word refers to a functional arrangement, to order. In the setting of a military organization it refers to the "chain of command." In voluntary relationships such as a church or a marriage the word refers to "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden." Simply put, the word as it relates to a marriage conveys the idea that the wife voluntarily accepts and practices this role. Later (1Pe 3:7) Peter will identify that husband and wife are equally "heirs together of the grace of life." He does not build the Biblical family structure on superiority or inferiority, but on a voluntary relationship. I suggest for our consideration that the alarming frequency with which Christian husbands and wives fail to practice this clear Biblical model for their marriage reveals a refusal to "trust God" as the "holy women" of the past did. I offer that contemporary Christian culture is suffering from a two-fold problem. First, men have resigned themselves to a role of passive submission rather than gentle and godly leadership of their families. They'd rather "switch than fight," but Biblically they have ignored a nobler alternative, leading with gentle, but forceful, love and respect, earned in the eyes of their wife by consistent regard for her and her Biblical contribution to the relationship. Secondly, professing Christian women, have either consciously or unconsciously bought into the feminist philosophy of the day and try to dress it up in Christian clothes so that they can practice it, even as they criticize it. The husband's attempts to force his will onto his wife from the perspective of superiority, claimed as a Biblical position, leaves the wife with a sense of devalued worthlessness in the relationship, so she feels compelled to resort to a manipulative, clandestine control of her husband based on dishonest gamesmanship more than on godly trust of her God. Both men and women must accept equal responsibility for this alarming breakdown of the Biblical model for the family. How often have we heard men, both in and out of the pulpit, misinterpret Paul's teaching on the husband-wife relationship from Eph 5 by emphasizing that the wife should submit to her husband even as the church should submit to Christ her head? Do you detect the subtle sidestep of this teaching? Paul directed the man to love his wife even as Christ loved the church, not constantly remind her to submit. The Biblical husband is not the brow-beating man who harangues his wife with this reminder that Paul directed to the wife, not to the husband. I suggest that the unhealthy state of many families and churches grows out of an unbiblical application of Paul's true lesson. He and Peter are fully agreed, and both, if we respectfully honor their roles as writing under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, are teaching the same truth. Which part of their teaching applies to women? Which part applies to men? Women are bound by the Holy Spirit to trust God more than their feminine wiles and to strive to make their family harmonize with the Biblical model of the home. Men, likewise, are to show full respect and honor for their wives and to lead them with unselfish love, not with browbeating brute force that may appear in words and attitudes, even though they never raise a hand physically against their wife. Paul's reason for including the man's leadership of his family in the specific qualifications for church office appears in that context. As a man leads, or fails to lead, his family in love and respectful authority, he will also demonstrate in his leadership, or lack thereof, in his role as an officer of the church. If he fails in his family leadership, he disqualifies himself from church office. Both Paul and Peter affirm the same truth regarding the godly marriage and family. Failure to follow this Biblical model in a marriage reveals at its heart a deep distrust toward God. If the man relies on his legal position of Biblical leadership, he reveals lack of trust in God fully as much as the wife who relies on her feminine wiles to manipulate her husband. What is the solution? It is quite simple. Both husbands and wives should consistently trust God more than themselves and work in partnership to reshape their relationship into the model of New Testament teaching. The husband should avoid playing the "Because the Bible says so" authoritarian attitude, and the wife should avoid dishonest and subtle manipulation. Both husband and wife should be profoundly and intimately transparent and open with each other, voluntarily working to shape their lives and marriage into the image of a godly Biblical marriage. Do you trust God enough to risk it?

{1} James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible Showing Every Word of the Test of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurence of Each Word in Regular Order., electronic ed., SGreek: 5293. hupotasso (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996).

2005/07/24 Trusting God for Now and for Eternity

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #29 July 24, 2005

Trusting God for Now and for Eternity

But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf." (2Co 1:9-11)

People who reject God’s sovereignty in saving sinners typically offer their reasoning, “What security is there in thinking that your eternal destiny is not in your hands?” I counter with the precise opposite point. Given the Biblical revelation of what man typically does with holy things committed to him, what security do you have with the idea that your eternity depends on you? God committed the moral simplicity of one law to Adam and Eve in an ideal world, and they failed. God committed a comprehensive way of life, including His laws, to the nation of Israel, and they failed. What security do you have in thinking that you can, or will, do better than they?

In our study passage Paul skillfully weaves together his trust in God, both for his survival in the trials of life, particularly the trials that resulted from his ministry, as well as for his joyful participation in the final resurrection of the dead. God’s deliverance in one situation provides assurance of His deliverance in the other. In no way did Paul reject his own mortality in this passage. Second Timothy records the manner in which Paul realized that his work and time were ended and he would soon die the martyr’s death and be with Christ in glory. He did not at that time change his mind regarding God’s deliverance. Rather he embraced death itself as his final deliverance into the glorious presence of his Savior.

As Paul looked back on past trials that had tested his metal and threatened his life, he could thank God for intervention and deliverance. He could even thank God that the trial nudged him to trust God more and himself less.

As we conclude our exploration of the three-pronged features of our relationship with God, loving, fearing, and trusting Him, we should anchor our thoughts in this bedrock truth. The single most significant truth of Scripture is its proclamation that God is trustworthy. Regardless of the trial or the circumstance, we may trust God without reservation to be God, to be righteous, kind, and holy. We may equally trust Him to be true to His promise never to leave nor forsake His own children. There is no Bible teaching that God’s faithfulness will prevent His children from suffering the trials, difficulties, and uncertainties of life, but Scripture consistently records that He will never forsake us in those trials.

This theme at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church sets the tone for the letter.

“This is, indeed, a theme which provides a key to the whole epistle. Is Paul assailed by anguish of spirit? It is God who always leads him in triumph in Christ (2Co 2:14ff.). Do we have the treasure of divine glory in earthen vessels? It is that it may be seen that the exceeding greatness of the power is of God, and not of self (2Co 4:7ff.). Is the Apostle always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake? It is that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in his mortal flesh (2Co 4:10ff.). Is the outward man decaying? Yet the inward man is renewed day by day (2Co 4:16). . . . The climax is reached in 2Co 12 where Paul explains how through the endurance of a ‘thorn in the flesh’ he was taught that God’s grace is all-sufficient and that His power is made perfect in weakness (2Co 12:7ff.). This was a principle to which even our Lord submitted in providing our salvation, for He was crucified through weakness, but is alive through the power of God (2Co 13:4). It is a theme, therefore, which points to the unity of the epistle, and which in particular links the concluding to the opening chapter.”37[1]

In our frail perspective of God’s workings we often tend to isolate our eternal security from our timely experiences. Scripture makes no such concrete distinction. God works differently in our daily lives than in His work for our eternal security, but we should never doubt that He remains faithful in both dimensions of our life.

The contemporary “health and wealth” gospel is one of the most diabolical errors of Christian history in its blind rejection of the Biblical fact that faithful believers often suffer trials and difficulties. While advocates of this error would claim that any difficulty in one’s life indicates that he/she simply didn’t trust God enough, Paul affirms that the Holy Spirit warned him and prepared him that in the very act of serving God, “…bonds and afflictions abide me” (Ac 20:23). Paul further affirms this same point in our study passage. Sometimes our faithfulness leads us to our greatest difficulties. Is this not the point that Jesus made when He described the way of the faithful life as a “strait” (difficult) and narrow way? Health and wealth advocates set up sincere believers for an incredible sense of guilt at the very time in life when they most need assurances of God’s faithfulness. Logically they must infer that Paul was incredibly lacking in faith to have suffered so much hardship in his life. This teaching categorically contradicts Scripture’s teaching.

The assurance of Scripture for each of us is that God remains true to His character, to His gracious providence on our behalf, and to His promise to go with us through the trials.

The passage actually blends three assurances together. God’s past deliverance encourages us to believe that He shall stand by us in future trials. His faithfulness in standing by us throughout life assures us that His eternal provisions for us are secure. Whatever difficulty life brings, we may safely trust Him that we shall ultimately experience the resurrection of the body and enjoy Him for all of eternity.

In addition to assuring us of God’s faithfulness Paul uses this passage to reinforce our thoughts regarding the benefit of the spiritual community of believers, “Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.” Successful Christian living never occurs in isolation from the community of believers. None of us is so stalwart in our faith or unwavering in our conduct to succeed alone. Nor does God lead us to isolate ourselves from His people and “go it alone.” Satan loves to isolate believers, for he knows that he can destroy them when they stand alone and apart from the influence of other believers. They may well avoid his enticements to fall into major moral sins, but they cannot avoid the many other pitfalls that he instigates against them, including bitterness of spirit, and at times the “Elijah complex,” the idea that “they” have all forsaken the right way and “I alone” am left holding to God’s true ways. God rejected Elijah’s idea that he alone was left to stand against the sins of the day, and He equally rejects our own prideful thought that we alone are left as God’s faithful followers in our world. This “I’m the only one left who is faithful” idea actually cultivates human pride, one of Satan’s most successful tactics against God’s children.

We may trust God faithfully to stand by His people in trials. He remains consistently true to His word. How about your own commitment? During the last week, how much time did you spend in prayer for the believers whom you know? Did you pray for God to under-gird them and give them His blessings and comforts in their trials? Did you pray for them to be blessed in their work and walk? Many years ago a faithful preacher told a delightful experience he had. His ministry took him to a different part of the country from where he grew up. After years of successful ministry, one day he was visiting an older member of the church that he served. The old fellow mentioned in the conversation, “It just seems that your preaching nowadays is not as powerful as it was when you first came to our church.” The pastor immediately questioned, “Dear Brother, are you praying for me as earnestly as you did in those days?” The man choked back a tear and began reflecting on his passivity toward the ministry and his church. The next Sunday after the morning sermon the old man walked up to his pastor, tears running down his cheeks, and said, “The Lord blessed me today powerfully.” Many times when a mediocre sermon is preached the preacher must take responsibility for his own neglect, but I suggest that often the lack of power reflects a lack of powerful prayer in the pews. How strongly do you pray for your pastor before each sermon? How much do you help in his ministry? Try praying harder and see how he preaches.

2005/07/31 Ecclesiastes: Vanity or Victory?

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #30 July 31, 2005

Ecclesiastes: Vanity or Victory?

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? (Ec 1:1-3)

Theologians have debated the message of Ecclesiastes. Heretics have appealed to it for support of their errant views. Sincere believers have read it and wondered about its purpose and message.

Preacher, we take the word for granted, but it seems a strange choice for an Old Testament book written a thousand years before Christ. The title of the book in our English Bibles, Ecclesiastes, comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament and refers to someone who calls together a group of people to hear a formal proclamation. The Hebrew word (English form) is “Qoheleth.” It corroborates the meaning of the Greek word.

In Ec 12:11 Solomon describes his words—I believe his specific words in this book—as “given by one shepherd.” A number of commentaries, I believe correctly, interpret this phrase as a claim to inspiration for the book of Ecclesiastes. Thus our interpretation of the book should reflect the Holy Spirit’s direction, not merely the autobiographical reflections of a man whose life was at best a confusing mixture of incredible wisdom and incredible indulgence.

How do we start with such a pessimistic view of life and yet end the book on such an insightful and proper view of God and of life? It is likely that we have failed to follow Solomon’s reasoning, as well as his perspective, especially in the early stages of this book.

Meaningless translates a word which includes ideas of brevity, unreliability, frailty and futility, lack of discernible purpose. Real progress cannot be found. Gain is a term used in ancient commerce. It refers to substantial achievement, observable evidence that something worthwhile has been done. Labour and toil may refer to physical effort (see Ps 127:1; Ec 2:4-8)or to mental and emotional heaviness (see Ec 2:23; Ps 25:18). Mr Teacher refers to what he observes under the sun. In view of its frequency and the sharp distinction made in Ec 5:2 the phrase must be significant. It is attested in various ancient cultures and refers to the earthly realm as opposed to ‘heaven’, where God supremely reveals himself. The phrases ‘on earth’, ‘under heaven’ and ‘under the sun’ are synonymous. See further in the Introduction. Mr Teacher explicitly confines his outlook for the moment to the limited resources of the world he surveys.38[1]

I believe that Carson captures the point of Solomon’s early perspective. Solomon may well be confessing his own failure, but he also takes us on a frighteningly honest exploration of life “under the sun,” in the world made by God, but attempted without God’s “above the sun” perspective. Solomon repeatedly throughout the book reminds us of God’s presence and governance so that life as we should live it in godly wisdom is not vanity. Only life confronted without consideration of God’s fixed and wise directions is “vanity and vexation of spirit.”

Our generation of Christians has more information available than perhaps any in the past. Yet it seems that most believers in our time and culture want a “quick-fix” “TV dinner” answer to life’s complex questions and issues. They prefer to check their serious, thinking abilities in the parking lot of the church with their cars and enter the church for a brief and often superficial “pep-rally” sermonette that makes them feel good, but avoids confronting the difficult and uncomfortable questions of life “under the sun.” Given this superficial penchant, it is no wonder that Ecclesiastes will seldom appear on anyone’s list of favorite Bible books.

We have allowed the godless existentialist philosophies to dominate our culture while we have often passively ignored the deeper issues addressed and answered in Scripture. Consider these nearly parallel comments, but focus on the incredible distinctions that put them in opposite camps of worldviews.

1. The existentialist “motto” of sorts is “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.” The intent of this saying urges subscribers to indulge all of their appetites for their sensual and self-satisfying urges because there is nothing after death. It is all useless. If you wish to see the cultural consequences of such a philosophy, take a hard look at modern Europe.

2. Solomon modifies this blind alley attitude. “Eat, drink, and be merry; enjoy life as God’s gift.” Some six times Solomon scatters this exhortation throughout Ecclesiastes. While at first glance sounding similar to the existentialist’s view, this worldview is as nearly the mirror opposite as a view could be to the existentialist’s conclusion that life is meaningless and empty. Not only does this view change the way we look at life, it also changes our appetite for—and our definition of—what is good.

If we follow Solomon’s reasoning as he urges us to do in Ec 12:9-12, we will discover the wisdom of this challenging book. We will take the roof off the multitude of deceptive and self-serving ideas that often parade under the flag of Biblical Christianity, but with deceptively false and cruel colors.

Supporters of a number of errant doctrines appeal to Ecclesiastes as supporting their ideas. Among them you will find the following:

1. Soul-sleep. This idea teaches that when a person dies, they lapse into unconscious existence (or non-existence?). Advocates of this view appeal to the Ecclesiastes passages that equate men and beasts. Both die. However, Solomon emphatically distinguishes the death of man and the death of the beasts. The “spirit” of the beast at death goes downward to the earth. The “spirit” of humans “goes upward” to “God who gave it.”

2. Fatalism. Advocates of this idea will appeal to a false interpretation of the first eight verses of the third chapter and teach that God has absolutely fixed and ordained the precise nature and time of every event in human existence, even including Hitler’s holocaust and our own 9/11 tragedy. At times advocates of this idea will assert that God’s fixed determinism even includes the precise location and timing of every drop of rain that falls. Inevitably advocates of this error will fall prey to the logical consequences of their error and teach that God either causes or “permits” sin. Often they will attempt to avoid making God the cause of sin by saying that He “permits” sin and then uses it for His glory. When I drive my car down a California freeway, I see occasional signs posted that inform me of the “permitted” speed at which I may drive my car on this road. Permission implies approval, something that God never does in Scripture toward sin. Difficulties and inconsistencies abound with this dreadful view. In terms of Solomon’s teaching they ignore the fact that in this book he warns against foolishness with a question “Why shouldest thou die before thy time?” (Ec 7:17), along with a significant number of other passages that deal with variables that alter the time of an individual’s death. This view also ignores the primary meaning of the Hebrew word translated “time” in this verse, “a season.” We will examine this error more fully when we explore these verses.

Albert Barnes in his Old Testament commentary addresses the significance of the frequently used word “vanity” in Ecclesiastes.

Vanity—This word lbh hebel, or, when used as a proper name, in Ge 4:2, “Abel”, occurs no less than 37 times in Ecclesiastes, and has been called the key of the book. Primarily it means “breath,” “light wind;” and denotes what:

(1) Passes away more or less quickly and completely;

(2) Leaves either no result or no adequate result behind, and therefore

(3) Fails to satisfy the mind of man, which naturally craves for something permanent and progressive: it is also applied to:

(4) Idols, as contrasted with the Living, Eternal, and Almighty God, and, thus, in the Hebrew mind, it is connected with sin.

In this book it is applied to all works on earth, to pleasure, grandeur, wisdom, the life of man, childhood, youth, and length of days, the oblivion of the grave, wandering and unsatisfied desires, unenjoyed possessions, and anomalies in the moral government of the world.

Solomon speaks of the world-wide existence of “vanity,” not with bitterness or scorn, but as a fact, which forced itself on him as he advanced in knowledge of men and things, and which he regards with sorrow and perplexity. From such feelings he finds refuge by contrasting this with another fact, which he holds with equal firmness, namely, that the whole universe is made and is governed by a God of justice, goodness, and power.

We will visit Solomon’s excursions into “life under the sun,” but we must keep our minds clearly focused on his wise conclusion, that life under the sun is indeed a precious gift from God to be enjoyed, something that we can do only as we live it with a distinctly “above the sun” perspective. It is interesting that, as Barnes notes, the name of the first son born to Adam and Eve after their fall into sin, Abel, is a derivative of the word translated in Ecclesiastes as “vanity.” I believe that Solomon will make a convincing case that any pursuit, even noble and righteous pursuits, engaged without God and a right perspective of God, will come to nothing. We may deceive ourselves. We may deceive our closest friends, but we can never deceive God.

What is wisdom, Biblical, God-given wisdom? The meaning of this word—this idea—is almost as evasive as the concept of the fear of God. Interestingly Scripture blends the two concepts together. The nearest to a working definition that I have found for Biblical wisdom means “skill in the art of living.” The truly “wise” person develops skill in facing life’s demanding and often difficult questions—always and only—from a balanced and proper view of God and of His teachings in Scripture. This view of life will soundly refute the cliché “I’m so heavenly minded that I’m of no earthly good.” The most effective and functional of Christians is incredibly “heavenly minded.” God created this world, so it seems reasonable to think that, when we approach life from His instructions, we will be effective in our work. “Mr. Preacher” has much to teach us. May we sit at his feet and learn the lesson well. If we learn the lessons that he seeks to “set in order” in our minds, we will discover that the real message of Ecclesiastes is victory in life, not vanity.

2005/08/07 Profitable Labor

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #31 August 7, 2005

Profitable Labor

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? (Ec 1:3) There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. (Ec 2:24)

As a believer in the inspiration of all Scripture, I do not believe that any passage contradicts another. When I see what appears to be a contradiction, I take the appearance as a clue to dig deeper and to research both passages till I find harmony between them. This sentiment of Ec 2:24 appears at five strategic points throughout the book (Ec 2:24; 3:12; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7-9). Walter Kaiser in Everyman’s Bible Commentary: Ecclesiastes: Total Life notes these passages (with the exception of Ec 3:12) as conclusions to Solomon’s various excursions in search of meaning “under the sun.” He defines the sections of Ecclesiastes as follows:

1. (Ec 1:2-2:26) Investigation of personal experiences and observations.

2. (Ec 3-5) God’s schemes and seasons.

3. (Ec 6:1-8:15) Inequities.

4. (Ec 8:16-12:14) Mysteries need not hinder joy.

At the conclusion of each logical section, and after concluding that each pursuit is vanity, engaged without considering God and His directions, Solomon adds a delightful punctuating alternative. When any of these pursuits is defined by God’s will and presence, and engaged according to His ways, life is transformed from “vanity and vexation of spirit” to a meaningful and joyful experience.

I believe Kaiser rightly follows Solomon’s reasoning. We live in an age when our culture at large exhibits a highly indulgent, “It is all about me” attitude. This culture is collapsing before our very eyes, but few people in positions of leadership in our culture show sufficient courage to stand up and remind the culture that its decline is self-imposed by this hedonistic bent.

That a human culture is indulgent and self-absorbed is no new thing. The focused history of mankind in Scripture, as well as general history texts, document that self-absorption is a significant factor in the decline of almost all extinct cultures. The greater alarming feature is that our Christian culture presently seems to have taken a deep drink from the same “It is all about me” philosophical well. If we talk about discipleship and cross-bearing in terms of superficial change, the idea will be readily accepted. If you define self-denial in New Testament terms, a growing number of people within the Christian community reflect a puzzled look, as if they have no idea whatever about such a radical form of Christianity. The Barna group occasionally publishes survey data that compares ethical values among Christians compared with the culture at large. Their reports show no significant moral or ethical distinction between people in the general population who profess no faith in Christ and Christians who claim to be “Christians.”

Solomon confronts the hard questions of life head-on and pursues the answers with sufficient determination that the superficial Christian will become very uncomfortable. Scarlet O’Hara’s “Oh well, I’ll think about that another time” attitude is alive and well among many professing Christians. We’d rather live within our self-defined cocoon, even if it exists only in our imagination, than to face those hard questions of life as it really is and have to risk changing the way we live. It is no surprise that you will likely not meet many modern Christians who tell you that Ecclesiastes is their favorite book of the Bible!

I recently had a lengthy conversation with a person whose church had just suffered a tragic melt-down (not a Primitive Baptist church, but tragic in its failure to follow basic New Testament ethics in what should have been a simple church decision). “It isn’t fair” was this person’s repetitive response. Of course it isn’t fair. We live in a fallen world, fatally flawed by the entrance of sin, not the ideal world that God created in the beginning. Did God create the universe and impose robotic control over everything that occurs? Or did He create the universe, bestow moral perception upon man, and assign moral responsibility and consequences to man for the conduct that he chooses?

In the chaos of the Babylonian captivity the people left in Judah looked around at the near-hopeless condition of the nation and apparently decided that God had caused everything by absolute determinism. They even claimed that their own cruel idolatrous worship of pagan deities was divinely ordained (Jer 7:9-10). Jeremiah fiercely rejected this abominable error. He didn’t affirm it! On several occasions throughout his prophecy Jeremiah specifically rebuked the people and reminded them that their idolatrous worship, the true cause of their present pathetic condition, was in no way caused or permitted by God. In Ec 9:11 Solomon will affirm that “…time and chance” occurs in every person’s life. If God determined every event, either causatively or passively, directly or indirectly, there could be no such thing as “time and chance.” All events would be absolutely determined and fixed. Rather than affirming this idea, Solomon, along with Scripture generally, rejects it as false.

Solomon’s final conclusion in Ec 12:14 is a warning of final and certain, though delayed, divine judgment of every work, even of the intentions that evoked the works. If God directly or indirectly caused sinful actions, He could not then judge man for committing them. Imagine the first sin committed in the Garden of Eden. If Adam and Eve’s sin were divinely orchestrated, Adam finds himself in a senseless dilemma. If he obeys the spoken command of God not to eat the forbidden fruit, he obeys God’s spoken will. If he disobeys the spoken word and eats the forbidden fruit, he does so by divine force that he cannot resist or do otherwise. Either way he is obeying God, and either way he is disobeying God. Paul’s detractors accused him of this senseless error, but Paul intensely rejects it (Ro 3:1-8). He specifically makes the point that if our sins in some mysterious way honor God, God has lost His moral integrity and cannot then judge mankind for sins committed.

Solomon restores meaning and moral integrity to an otherwise hopeless scene by his assurance that God shall judge all actions and motives of mankind. For my friend who complained that his/her church fell prey to a lapse in spiritual integrity, “It isn’t fair,” Solomon’s answer is clear. Of course it isn’t fair, so what? We live in an unfair world, but God knows every unfair and sinful deed. Divine memory is infinite. Solomon never tells us when or how God shall judge every sinful deed and motive, but he assures us that He shall indeed do so.

If I embrace Solomon’s assurance of God’s righteous judgment, however long delayed, I am then free to live my life with dignity and righteous conduct, regardless of what happens. I have hereby relinquished my usurped position of judge and jury, leaving those roles rightly in God’s hands.

Is there value in honest work and godly living, or is it all “vanity and vexation of spirit”? Solomon will repeatedly shout out to us that life is a gift of God to be lived to the fullest and to be enjoyed. However, the realization that not only life, but enjoyment of life is a divine gift will transform how we live and what we do for our joy. The transformed Christian who joins Solomon in applying life-changing Biblical truths to his/her daily choices and conduct will sing with conviction “This is my Father’s world” and live life to the fullest.

Is it realistic to preach the gospel and honestly expect people to change the way they live? I say it is not only realistic, but that failure to apply gospel truth to our lives so that we are radically transformed falls distinctly short of Biblical Christianity. If we hope to “turn the world upside down” by our faith, we must live differently than the world that is morally upside down. Solomon will challenge us to be bold and forceful in our pursuit of life and godliness. His exhortation mirrors a New Testament truth, "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men." (Col 3:23)

2005/08/14 Seasons: What Time is it?

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #32 August 14, 2005

Seasons: What Time is it?

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. (Ec 3:1-11)

Is Solomon teaching that every event in human history is divinely ordained and so fixed that it cannot be otherwise? If so, he chose the wrong words in “season” and “time.” Various Hebrew dictionaries are fairly consistent in their definition of these words as relating to seasons, particularly the seasons of the year that would be engrained in an agricultural culture. There is a season when a wise farmer will plant his crops and a season a few months later when he will harvest his crops.

Solomon contradicts this notion of deterministic fixedness related to the time of death in Ec 7:17. If every individual lives under a fixed and ordained time for their death, no one could possibly die before his time. Hezekiah could not have fifteen years added to his life. And honoring one’s father and mother, one of the Ten Commandments, could not result in prolonging one’s days; as Paul observes, the only one of the ten that is specifically associated with a promise of blessing in its keeping, prolonged days. And if there is no divinely fixed and ordained time for each person’s death, there is also no divinely ordained and fixed moment for the other events mentioned in the list.

Rather than teaching deterministic and divinely ordained cause for every event in the human experience, an idea that will inevitably lead to blaming God for man’s sins and for the various tragedies imposed by evil humans upon each other, Solomon is instructing us in the matter of wisdom. In a sermon from Ecclesiastes Haddon Robinson defined Biblical wisdom as “skill in the art of living.” I’d only add one point to Robinson’s predictable insightful thought. Biblical wisdom is skill in the art of living life as God directs us to live it. I believe that Solomon in these verses tells us that God has established seasons for us to practice the various godly activities that He has commanded, though He no where in Scripture teaches that He absolutely ordains and causes every act of obedience any more than He teaches that He absolutely ordains and causes every act of sin. Immediately following these verses Solomon will complain at the injustice of sinful men against each other, something that is never “in season” in God’s commandments and way of living.

We respect seasons of life in our normal daily activities. At times we also observe, either in ourselves or in those around us, occasions of foolish conduct that is not at all seasonal. The middle aged man who wears flashy sport shirts and too much jewelry, trying to look and act younger than his true age has missed age-appropriate dress and conduct for his “season” in life. The middle-aged woman who dresses like a teenager and puts on multiple layers of makeup, trying to look years younger than he true age has equally missed the wisdom of living life in harmony with the season in which we find ourselves. Few pastors indeed who have served for any length of time have not seen one of the members of the church that they serve failing to act in harmony with what should be their level of spiritual maturity. The inspired writer of the Hebrew letter confronted some of his readers with this problem of unseasonable immaturity (Heb 5:11-14). When we observe a Christian in a difficult situation react with godly and insightful wisdom, we sense the incredible maturity of the action, “skill in the art of living.” It is living in harmony with the spiritual seasons of life.

In Ec 3:11 Solomon makes this point in his observation that God makes every thing beautiful in “his time,” his “season.” When we live life in harmony with God’s direction and ethics, we realize the beauty of God’s way, the “good way” to live life “under the sun.”

Interestingly in Ec 1:3 Solomon asks a question. Then in Ec 3:9 he asks the same question but without the qualifying point that appears in Ec 1:3, “…under the sun.” What is the true profit of life? What is its satisfying meaning and purpose? It is to live life in constant and faithful respect for the seasons that God has revealed in Scripture, in terms of our Christian service and obedience to the faith, to be “instant in season, out of season” (2Ti 4:2). There are no occasions when our fickle moods should be allowed to govern our Christian conduct. Whether we are blessed at the moment with a sense of overarching rightness or not, godly obedience to God’s commandments in Scripture are always in season.

There is something of a pattern of the things covered in Solomon’s list.

1. Verses 2-3 (Ec 3:2-3) deal with beginnings and endings. Solomon lists four examples: a time to be born-die; a time to plant-pluck up; a time to kill-heal; a time to break down-build up.

2. Verses 4-5 Ec 3:4-5) deal with emotions: a time to weep-laugh; a time to mourn-dance; a time to cast away stones-gather stones (likely referring to the ancient practice of filling an enemy’s filed with stones, a strong emotion; a time to embrace-refrain from embracing.

3. Verses 6-7a (Ec 3:6-7) deal with ambition and/or possessions: a time to get-lose; a time to keep-cast away; a time to rend-sew.

4. Verses 7b-8 (Ec 3:7-8) deal with our talk: a time to be silent-speak; a time to love-hate (The action of love or hate is words.); a time to talk war-peace.

What is Solomon’s message? I believe he intends to teach us that God’s Word, His commandments, cover every aspect of our life and conduct. In nothing can we claim divine speechlessness and choose our own way. Jg 21:25 describes in one verse the root cause of the abysmal conduct of Israel during the entire era of the judges, “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” This sentence is not a description of the way things should be, but a disclosure of the reason for the failure of the nation to maintain consistent and faithful obedience to God. God does not leave us to make our own way, however we decide or define it to be. He is God after all! He sets the mark. He issues the commandments. We are to do what is right in His eyes, not what is right in our own eyes.

For a child to enjoy childishness and act his/her age is as honoring to God as for an older person to demonstrate responsible maturity in their life. This thing that Solomon calls “season” and “time” reflects the concept of Biblical wisdom. We may well learn from our experiences. We may actually use that knowledge to improve our conduct and to grow as Scripture direct us. Sadly, far too many who profess Christianity spend far more of their time justifying their own ideas, what is “right in their own eyes,” than learning from their mistakes. Equally far too many who profess Christianity fail to grasp the seasonal timeliness of God’s ways—and God’s way of living. They never see the beauty of God’s way, nor find the joy of serving God that Scripture sets forth as the blessing of the faithful.

How is it with you? What season of life are you in today? Do you live according to the wisdom of God for that season? Or do you recoil in bitterness because things are not as you wish them to be? Our attitude will reveal our spiritual wisdom and maturity, our sense of the seasons that God has created for our growth and blessing, for the “beauty of holiness,” a term that Solomon’s father used in his inspired writings. And the final question; how much are you willing to change your life to discover that wisdom and beauty?

2005/08/21 The Problem of Injustice

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, #33 August 21, 2005

The Problem of Injustice

And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there. I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work. (Ec 3:16-17)

We have all watched the unfolding of human legal processes and concluded that a multitude of factors other than facts and justice controlled the process. We’ve seen presidents lying with straight face while saying, “I am not a crook,” or trying to redefine the simple verb “is” to avoid responsibility for their sins. (I use examples from both current political parties in our country to avoid the appearance of favoring one party over the other. I am thankful for the existence of two political parties to prevent one group of people from gaining excessive power, a scenario that inevitably leads to tyranny. However, neither political party has the answers or can remedy the increasingly complicated problems of a culture that seems determined to forget its moral and Christian roots in favor of just about any worldview other than Christianity.)

In this lesson Solomon sets the stage for his final conclusion in the last verse of the book. At times of intense injustice we need to revisit this profound truth. Without its impact on our thinking, we will not—indeed we cannot—“Fear God and keep his commandments.” We’ll be too busy complaining at the injustice, asking the proverbial “Why” question, or otherwise falling hopelessly into cynicism, an attitude that will choke out a person’s Christian convictions and testimony.

It would require a concerted effort to miss the obvious point that Solomon makes in this context. God has established seasons for everything that He commands us to do. He has made obedience to His Word a beautiful thing. When we understand the seasons of God’s goodness and live in harmony with those seasons and teachings, our life takes on an artistic form of moral and ethical beauty. God has made everything that He has commanded beautiful in His time. However, immediately following this lesson Solomon calls our attention to injustice among men and complains at the ugliness of it, not its mystical beauty. There is nothing beautiful about human injustice, particularly among people who are by their position responsible for justice. The beauty appears in the counterpoint, not the injustice of sinful men. Despite injustice where justice should prevail, God is the final judge, and He shall bring every work to justice in His time. The final Day of Judgment is not a thing to be feared for a person who knows the truth of God. After Solomon reminds us of God’s eventual and certain judgment, he revisits the point of divine seasons. For the family of God, the Day of Judgment will be a delightfully beautiful and “seasonal” thing that will magnify God’s justice and holiness.

God’s original relationship with mankind in the persons of Adam and Eve was based on moral law, not mystical divine orchestration. The advocates of what is typically called “double predestination” teach that God caused Adam and Eve to sin so that He could later gain more glory through redemption and judgment than if they had not sinned. Occasionally advocates of this idea will use double-speak in an attempt to evade the blasphemous idea that God caused sin or causes all the subsequent events of sin and human atrocities against other humans. They will say that God “permits” sinful things with the objective of turning the outcome of every event to His glory. Permission implies approval, and no Scripture even implies that God permits sin and human atrocity. God “permitted” Adam and Eve to eat of every tree in the garden with one notable exception. He forbade them to eat the fruit of that tree. Based on Scripture’s clear and consistent teaching, God’s first relationship with mankind involved moral directives, coupled with blessings in/for obedience and consequences in/for disobedience. There is no Scripture that teaches or even implies that God openly gave the moral commandment, but secretly orchestrated (or permitted for that matter) Adam and Eve’s sin. In Ro 3:1-8 Paul unequivocally rejected the inherent idea of double predestination, along with the related idea that God in some way “permits” or causes human sin so that His righteousness might be further “commended,” a word that means

1 to place together, to set in the same place, to bring or band together. 1a to stand with (or near). 2 to set one with another. 2a by way of presenting or introducing him. 2b to comprehend. 3 to put together by way of composition or combination, to teach by combining and comparing. 3a to show, prove, establish, exhibit. 4 to put together, unite parts into one whole. 4a to be composed of, consist.”[1]

Notice particularly the first of these meanings, “to place together, to set in the same place, to bring or band together.” Paul unequivocally states that human sin does not “work together” for good to those who love God! Therefore when we read Ro 8:28, we should not isolate that verse from its context (nothing of which implies that God is in any way involved causatively or “permissively” with some mystical allowance or approval in human sin) or interpret it so as to create a contradiction in Paul’s writings to the Romans or elsewhere.

The overarching point in Ecclesiastes is that God shall bring every act of sin to judgment, both sins committed by righteous people and sins committed by wicked people. This truth affirms what Scripture consistently affirms—that God’s relationship with mankind is one of moral directive. You could comfortably call God’s relationship with man a “moral covenant.” To be accurate, it is a “unilateral” moral covenant. God does not negotiate with man to decide right and what is wrong. He issues the commandments and requires obedience. If disobedience occurs, He shall inevitably impose judgment and appropriate punishment. In the “place of judgment” among men injustice often appears. Jesus even framed a parable around a destitute widow and a corrupt judge. However, in God’s court there is no injustice. Divine justice may at times appear slow to our liking, but we may live in the full assurance that God shall judge every sin and deal with them righteously.

God has no “secret will.” Any argument for sin based on God’s “secret will” is groundless in terms of Scriptural support. If not a single passage in the whole Bible ever mentions God’s “secret will,” why should anyone defend aberrant views based on the supposed existence of such a “secret will of God”? This point is particularly important when advocates of this idea attribute, either directly or indirectly, the cause of sin and human atrocities to God (under the guise that He either caused it or He “permitted” it for a secret and mystical greater good).

Both Solomon’s conclusion regarding God bringing every sin to judgment and Paul’s strong denial that human sin in some mystical way “commends the righteousness of God” are in agreement and affirm that God does not cause sin, either actively or “permissively” and selectively. Paul makes the logical point that exposes the fallacy of this argument. If God in some way is involved in human sin for purposes of a greater good, to “commend the righteousness of God,” we inevitably define God as a schizophrenic and despotic tyrant who orchestrates evil for His own purposes, thus losing the position of righteous Judge.

Thank God, injustice does not invade the courts of heaven! And thank God, in the end—we know not the time—God shall have the last word with every sin ever committed. He shall judge righteously in every case. Whatever sentence He imposes against sinful humans will be deserved and appropriate to the sin committed. Given this assuring truth, despite human injustice, we can live faithfully to Him and not become distracted at the injustice of sinful men.

2005/08/28 The Rat Race

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, Number 34                                                                                August 28, 2005

 

The Rat Race

 

Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit. The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh. Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit. (Ec 4:4-6)   

 


            In The Message of Ecclesiastes J. A. Motyer gives the title to these verses “The Rat Race,” a fitting title.  Years before reading this volume I heard a quip, “The only winner in a rat race is a rat.”  On Sunday morning, well insulated in our religious best, we may dismiss the daily struggles of life that we cryptically refer to as the “rat race.”  However, during our normal Monday to Friday life, we find such disinterest in the mundane issues of life far more challenging, if not at times seemingly irresistible.  Oh, we will rationalize our excessive investments in the various activities that we pursue for financial or other gain with noble motives.  “I’m working these long hours to afford the best for my family” sounds great.  However, if you die of a heart attack before your child gets to college, what favors have you bestowed?  More often than suffering a premature death you may become a near-stranger to your family in the process of “going for the gold” and seeking what you consider to be the “good life” for them.  They will suffer daily from your absence, sometimes a physical absence, but often an emotional absence because you are so emotionally involved in your work that you aren’t really “home” when you are home. 

            I grew up in a home where the parents instilled the values of hard work and accomplishment into the children very early—and very consistently.  Solomon in a later lesson will exhort us to do whatever we do with vigor.  In the New Testament (Col 3:23) Paul will urge us to do whatever we do heartily as unto the Lord and not as unto men. 

            Between the “rat race” assessment of our study verses and these verses we discover a certain tension.  However, a more careful examination of Solomon’s lesson will resolve the tension and define a sense of balance in our thinking.  Be prepared; Solomon will not allow us to rationalize the competitive urge to make more money or in other ways accomplish more than our neighbor.  When the urge to do well takes on a “one-ups-man-ship” over others, pride more than godliness controls our motives.  Therein appears the resolution between the passages dealing with godly devotion and sinful pride to prevail over others. 

            Verse 4 confronts our sometimes mixed motives.  If the desire to outshine someone else—or not to be outshined by someone else—lies at the heart of my drive to succeed, I may reasonably rest assured that my attitude will appear in one form or another, and the other person will sense my true spirit.  Often people intuitively sense deeper motives in others without being able to articulate them.  God has a righteous sense of humor.  He assures us that our own true motives will eventually turn back against us and come home.  If your neighbor envies your success, be wise.  Assess your neighbor’s attitude, but do not overlook the possibility that your own attitude may have contributed to his envy. 

            We have met folks who live their whole lives in the “slow lane,” doing as little as they think they can do and get past the minimum requirements of life.  At times these folks will merely resent the accomplishments of more successful people without any help.  These folks are not my primary concern, nor are they likely Solomon’s in this verse.  He will deal with them in the next verse.  He specifically refers to envy in our “neighbor,” someone who lives near us, not merely by street address, but in worldview and life choices.  Excessive “driven-ness” is contagious, and the disease is persistent.  You will not cure it with two aspirin and a good night’s sleep.  The symptoms may not appear as an excessive hunger for money, but for any number of other things. Whatever instills an incessant drive to gain or master can be fully as consuming as the drive for money.  Often people who give up on gaining a fortune will exhibit a similar all-consuming drive for other things.  The give-away point appears when they view themselves as privileged over others by their pursuit. 

            If we were to construct this lesson in the allegorical style of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we’d likely name this first person Mr. Ambition.  Verse 5 takes us to the opposite extreme; we’d likely name this fellow Mr. Drop Out.  Actually Solomon names him for us, Mr. Fool!  He may appear to be a noble fellow in his disdain for raw ambition, the competitive urge, and all the other trappings of the over-ambitious fellow in Verse 4.  However, the wise man takes us beyond the superficial appearance into what the man is truly all about.  After all Solomon by inspiration calls him a fool!  Not only does he waste time and opportunity by his “drop-out” mind set, he eventually begins to erode his very personality.  In Solomon’s words he eats “his own flesh.”  These people often live in a dream world that avoids many of the basic realities of life.  Motyer warns of the true danger that these folks face.  Their aloofness endangers their self-control (No one can live in such artificial form for ever.), their grasp of reality, their capacity to care for others—especially those folks who are so consumed in the “rat race”— and eventually when reality invades their imaginary world their self-respect. 

            Consider that both the ambitious and the drop-out are involved in their own version of the “rat race.”  Neither will succeed in terms of life’s meaningful and worthwhile accomplishments.  The ambitious person dehumanizes self by reducing life’s primary objective to an appetite for more, whatever his “more” happens to be.  In Verse 8 Solomon describes the lonely ambitious person as facing the stark reality of his choices, “For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good?”  In fact this whole verse rather clearly exposes the problems related to the ambitious lifestyle.  He becomes incredibly lonely.  There is no safe companionship at the top of the heap.  Did you ever consider the words to the Simon and Garfunkel song “Sound of Silence”?  He may be part of a large family, but he is lonely.  He has sacrificed family, often the very thing that he used to rationalize his ambition, for his pursuit. 

            The “loner” life will always fail.  God did not design our nature to strike out alone and destroy the relationships that assure balance and blessing to our life.  For this reason He instituted a national worship among His people in the Old Testament and a collective church community of worship in the New Testament.  Several years ago a delightful man from the Middle East lived directly across the street from us.  On more than one occasion he talked with me about being a Christian.  His father-in-law had first introduced him to the faith.  Over the years that his family lived in our neighborhood I observed that he never took his family to church on Sunday, or any other time for that matter.  I also observed significant character flaws in this man’s conduct toward his family and others in the neighborhood.  While claiming to be a Christian, he developed entrenched non-Christian habits that glaringly exhibited his failure, not his success, in his Christian profession.  When the pilgrims settled the eastern seaboard of our country, they did not migrate in isolation, but in community.  The most remote evangelist in a foreign culture, if he succeeds, will keep close ties and communication links with his friends on the home front.  In observing folks who attempt to strike out on their own as isolated Christians I have yet to see a single person succeed.  Eventually error of the greatest magnitude will slip into their thinking, and they have no supportive community to provide course correction. 

            After examining the two typical extremes of human life, the ambitious and the drop out, Solomon shows us the godly balance.  “Better is a handful with quietness….”  In the New Testament Paul will use these words, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1Ti 6:6).  In the fourth verse at the beginning of this lesson and again in the sixth verse Solomon describes the errant life choices as “travail,” a word that refers to a pregnant woman in labor.  A woman who delivers a healthy baby looks back and considers that the result justified her pain.  However, in this case look at the baby!  Solomon nudges us to ask the probing question.  When we look at the results of our choices, “Was it worth the price that you paid?”  A godly life, lived in the community and fellowship of other believers, is a beautiful baby, worth the effort.  Both alternatives, the excessively ambitious and the drop out, deliver a hateful and deformed baby that leaves the exhausted “mother” with the probing question, “Why did I invest so much of my life for this?” 

            The Hebrew word translated “quietness” in Verse 6 is significant. 

 

“Our root signifies not only absence of movement but being settled in a particular place (whether concrete or abstract) with overtones of finality, or (when speaking abstractly) of victory, salvation, etc. For synonyms cf. šābat, connoting the absence of activity (or, of a particular activity), šāqa which connotes the absence of disturbance from external causes, šālam, connoting wholeness, i.e. the state of well being, and dŏmı̂ ‘quiet,’ rāga˓ ‘to be in repose.’”[1]

 

            Whether we choose the ambitious “fast track” lifestyle or become drop outs, we choose a life that Solomon describes as “under the sun,” and predicts the outcome of loneliness and a dreadful lack of contentment.  When we submit our lives to God and begin to live according to His master plan, not our own, we increasingly discover a sense of “victory, salvation…the absence of disturbance from external causes…wholeness…the state of well being.” 

            The most significant step in refining our lives to this “above the sun” model occurs when we cease the invasive habit of devaluing the Bible as our in-the-trenches resource for how we live and order our lives.  Rather than minimizing what the Bible has to say about a particular issue, we seek—and delightfully discover—wise and pertinent Biblical truth for our needs.  Rather than rationalizing why we chose to ignore clear Biblical teaching regarding a particular issue, we repent—regardless the price of repentance—and build our life around God’s teaching, not our own rationalizations. 

            The “quietness” of the faithful and obedient believer is deafening in its peaceful and godly impact, as is the opposite “noise” of rationalized and self-justified rebellion in its chaotic influence. 

            Which lifestyle do we choose?  How will we be remembered when we are dead and gone?  We refer to this lasting aroma of a life lived out to completion as a person’s legacy.  We get to choose our legacy every day that we live with every decision that we make.  May we go to the Scriptures of God—and to the God of Scripture—and make the right choices. 

 

Little Zion Primitive Baptist Church

16434 Woodruff

Bellflower, California

 

Worship service each Sunday    10:30 A. M.

Joseph R. Holder                                                             Pastor



[1]R. Laird Harris, Robert Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, electronic ed., 562 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999, c1980).

2005/09/04 Companionship

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, Number 35                                                                            September 4, 2005

 

Companionship

 

Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun. There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail. Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ec 4:7-12)    

 


            I recently had a rather extended conversation with a member of a church in a different fellowship than my own.  This person’s church, though somewhat small by contemporary mega-church norms, appeared to be healthy and gracious.  Then the senior pastor retired, and the church began trying to reach agreement to name the younger associate pastor to the senior post.  Intense polarity abruptly invaded the church’s culture, and an apparently healthy church quickly degenerated into a deadly political body, far more interested in each side getting their way than seeking God’s will and vision for a New Testament church.  The change so discouraged my friend that he is threatening to drop out of not only this church, but any church at all.  The frequency of this scenario is rather disheartening.  Rather than seeking God’s will and instructions first, fallen humans, even regenerate humans who profess faith in Christ, easily slip into a “me first” attitude that puts self at the center of their world and rejects anyone or anything that does not support their world view of self-at-the-heart-of-everything. 

            Having just concluded his assessment of the rat race (one rat striving for mastery and the other striving to drop out), Solomon’s transition to this topic follows a rather logical progression.  Intense ambition, typically in the form of a fiercely competitive spirit, tends to isolate people.  Instead of building relationship bridges with others, it seems more inclined to move onto the island of self-first and burn all bridges to and from its lonely fortress.  It often even alienates immediate family members and close friends.  A dead-give-away to this attitude is the cynical question, “Why am I doing all of this?” or as Solomon frames the question, “For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good?”  You see self at the center of this attitude.  The speaker focuses on all that “I” have done. 

            Then in somewhat more rapid fashion that his typical Ecclesiastes strategy Solomon moves to his wise insight, the better alternative to the lonely world of ambition and personal gain.  “Two are better than one.”  The simplest interpretation of the passage is “Companionship is better than loneliness.”  The lonely person who has difficulty making and maintaining close relationships should examine self carefully.  What is he/she doing that so quickly erodes what appeared to be a solid friendship? 

            In the Old Testament God instituted a community form of worship through the nation of Israel.  God rejected Elijah’s “I am left alone…” self-pity and directed him to leave the cave and get busy doing what God wanted him to do, not what his own self-pity determined to do. 

            In the New Testament the Lord Jesus instituted a community form of worship in the New Testament church.  Long before the first formal church began its function, Jesus anticipated its formation and function.  He promised to build His “church” on the foundational rock of His deity.  He instructed individuals with interpersonal problems to work through their personal and private efforts to resolve their problems, but, if those efforts failed, to “tell it to the church.”  Here the church is to function as a wise judge, not as a disciplinarian. 

            We could apply the companionship principles of this lesson to marriage and families, as well as to churches.  I’ve observed a number of marriages in which the couple lived under the same roof, but were seldom really “on the same page,” resulting in a lonely life, even in the marriage.  There is a certain compromise involved in any harmonious relationship.  You give up the privilege of doing things your way in favor of living in sensitive harmony with your companion. 

Equally a minister or church that turns from gracious and cooperative interaction with other ministers or churches is crossing an ethical line of godly fellowship that contradicts the New Testament model for a church and its Founder’s example.  While we have no example of one New Testament church invading the internal business of another New Testament church, we find a consistent pattern of one New Testament church interacting respectfully and graciously with other New Testament churches, not ignoring them or acting in ways that offended them.  Churches or ministers that isolate themselves from the body of their fellowship are in every bit as much spiritual danger as an individual who strikes out on his own and deludes himself into thinking he is God’s last bastion of faithfulness and truth.  Pride and the “I am left alone” arrogance that God rebuked in Elijah will eventually consume the healthy spirit and lead to ever-increasing departure from the New Testament model for church and minister alike.  Local churches or ministers who isolate themselves from regular and intimate interaction with their fellows are prime targets for Satan, doomed to personal failure.  The cunning lion stalks the strays in a herd of wildebeests.  He seldom goes after the pack.  “Two are better than one.” 

            In Mt 18 Jesus outlined an extended strategy for His disciples to follow when they encountered personal conflict with other believers.  Sadly, this simple model of godly conduct is seldom practiced.  Sinful pride hinders our willingness to be open and respectful toward others, especially when their judgment might well require us to make some changes in our way of thinking and acting.  However, Jesus added a bright encouragement to the lesson.  "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Mt 18:20)  The gathering in His name in this context specifically refers to individuals who follow His instructions as they work through their personal disagreements.  When we follow Jesus’ way as outlined in the passage, He promises to add His presence (I believe a similar point to Solomon’s reference to the “three-fold cord;” when we violate God’s way, loneliness and broken relationships are sure to follow.  When we follow His way, He adds His presence and blessing to ensure a wise and godly resolution to the problem.), and to be in their midst.  I am amazed at the frequency with which professing Christians resort to gossip, backbiting, and any number of other ungodly attitudes and habits; yet seem to sincerely expect God to bless them despite their flagrant breach of His teaching.  His promise of blessing is a direct corollary to our obedience in this passage.  To the extent that we follow His instructions, He promises to add His third strand to the cord of our relationships.  To the extent that we fail to obey His instructions, we must live with the tenuous strength of two rotten cords, tangled and not smoothly stranded at that.  We should not be surprised when relationships fail after we refuse to follow Jesus’ teachings.  How else could they go? 

            Lonely people are typically full of great rationalizations, and the most frequent explanation they will give for a broken relationship will point the blaming finger at the other person.  The broken relationship is all due to what “he did” or what “she said.”  Like the ambitious and overly competitive person in the prior lesson, folks who consciously choose to avoid Jesus’ instructions in favor of their own way will work hard and long to avoid accepting any responsibility for their failures.   

            Gracious partnership will constantly consider one’s partner and seek to build strength and integrity into the relationship.  It will seek the benefit of the other person more than self-interest.  The godly and wise Christian understands that Jesus had wise intentions when He instituted community fellowship and worship. 

            The supreme example of wise relationship is Jesus Himself.  Study the entire second chapter of Philippians, but note especially 2:4, "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others."  The next step in Paul’s progression exemplifies Jesus’ personal submission to the Father in the Incarnation.  The number of professing Christians who exhibit the courage to practice this verse seems fairly small.  Professing believers abound who claim to have all the answers and to be constantly and infallibly right, but few indeed can be found who make conscious decisions that are in the best interest of another, not self. 

            Would you like to see the strength of a godly “three-fold cord”?  It can happen so easily, and it will bless you immensely.  God promises the third strand in the cord as we submit our lives to Him and to His teaching in Scripture.  Obedience, not impunity, assures His blessing and the third strand in the cord of our relationships, be they personal, family, ministerial, or interchurch. 

 

Little Zion Primitive Baptist Church

16434 Woodruff

Bellflower, California

 

Worship service each Sunday    10:30 A. M.

Joseph R. Holder                                                             Pastor

2005/09/11 The Old and the New

Gospel Gleanings, “…especially the parchments”

Volume 20, Number 36                                                                           September 11, 2005

 

The Old and the New

 

Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor. I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead. There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit. (Ec 4:13-16)     

 


            In his brief but informative commentary on Ecclesiastes Derek Kidner observes:

 

“This paragraph…portrays something familiar enough in public life: the short-lived popularity of the great.  It shows the faults on both sides, beginning with the stubbornness of the man who has been too long in the saddle—who is out of touch and out of sympathy with the times, forgetting what it is like to be young, and fiery, and hard-up, as he once was himself…So it may come to it that a better man supplants him—and he is better if he has the right qualities, whatever his lack of years or standing…Yet he too will go the way of the old king, not necessarily for his faults, but simply as time and familiarity, and the restlessness of men, make him no longer interesting…It is yet another of our human anticlimaxes and ultimately empty achievements.”[1]

 

            Whether in families, professional organizations, or even in churches, Solomon depicts the nearly inevitable process of human behavior.  Especially in churches a distinct tension grows as a pastor’s tenure turns into long years.  On one side the church benefits from the man’s experience and his personal friendship/knowledge of them and their families.  On the other side of the tension is the human inclination to become bored and disenchanted with the man.  “Predictable” can be at the same time both a blessing and a curse.  Some churches seem more inclined to this problem than others.  Have you ever known of a church that seems programmed to change pastors every five or ten years, regardless of the qualities of the man presently in the position? 

            There is an equally challenging tension in the man who fills the office.  At a point in time he begins to think he has taught the church everything that he can teach them. Either his own tiring spirit or their growing and callous attitude of taking him for granted—or both—lead to a “business as usual” acceptance of things as they are, not as Scripture teaches that they should be.  “For the perfecting of the saints” (Eph 4:12) indicates that saints are not perfect in their knowledge or in their personal discipleship.  The function of a pastor is to inspire, nudge, and motivate members of the church, as well as the collective church culture itself, to constantly evaluate self and make the necessary changes to mold their lives more into the image of a New Testament “saint.”  When churches and individual members begin to give a “Ho-hum” response to the gospel and think that they are as godly as they need to be, the signs are clear for change!  No believer is ever as godly as he/she needs to be.  When we stop growing and improving, we stagnate, becoming prime targets for spiritual failure.  There is no such thing in any area of human behavior as remaining constantly the same.  If you believe in the resurrection of the body, even death does not leave us in such a fixed state of rigidity. 

            Does the gospel really change people?  Should the pastor expect that the people in the congregation will listen to his preaching and actually make observable changes in the way that they live and deal with life’s challenges?  I answer an emphatic yes.  When either the people in the pew or the man in the pulpit become so complacent as to reject the need for growth and change, the signs are clear that it is time for change. 

            There is no indication in the passage that the “old king” is a bad man.  His fault seems to be that he has become too entrenched in his outlook and has lost touch with his culture.  A fresh outlook and a man in touch with his congregation (employer, or kingdom with equal applicability), even with his frightening lack of experience, may be more effective than the stubborn old man who has become so sure of himself that he has lost touch with his culture. 

            In counseling young preachers I emphasize the need for constant and engaging eye contact while the man is in the pulpit delivering his message.  A preacher who closes his eyes, looks at walls and floors, or for that matter who stares in the direction of the congregation, but never fixes his eyes on anyone in the congregation, demonstrates by his lack of engaging eye contact that he is not in touch with his congregation.  His preaching efforts will fail, for there is no mental energy going back and forth between the man in the pulpit and the people in the pew.  By engaging eye contact the preacher carries on an intimate conversation with the people in the pew.  By observing their eyes, the gateway to the soul, not only does the preacher speak to the people, but the people speak to the preacher without uttering a sound.  The wise preacher listens to his congregation and interacts with them in this manner.  “What happens if I sense that the people are not with me?” a preacher might ask.  To him I would reply, “If they are not with you, nothing you say will edify them.  Look for the quickest possible way to end the message, and try to learn from the failure so that in your next message you will be able to reach them effectively.”  Sometimes the ineffective preacher thinks if he tries harder, speaks longer, or otherwise prolongs the failure that he can redeem the message.  In most cases prolonging an ineffective message merely prolongs the misery for both preacher and congregation.  We cannot always assess on a given occasion why a sermon crashes to the ground and fails.  It may be the preacher’s fault for lack of prayerful and engaging study or preparation for the message.  Despite the protest of slothful preachers, God doesn’t pour word for word messages into preachers’ mouths.  The preacher who boasts “I never give thought to my sermon; I simply walk into the pulpit and say whatever comes to mind” will typically soon demonstrate to his congregation that he gave no thought to what he said.  Jesus told the apostles in a special commission not to give thought, but the occasion was defending their faith against adversaries, not preaching the gospel.  Paul admonished Timothy to study intently and constantly to ensure that his words were informed and edifying (2Ti 2:15). 

            Preaching the gospel is far more than a simple speech that explains a passage based on the context and grammatical structure of the passage.  It is molding the intent of the message into words that invade the life and mind of the congregation so compellingly as to command their attention and inspire change.  In spiritual matters this challenge is far more than a motivational speech.  It must come with a divine anointing that drives it to the deepest elements of a person’s mind and emotions. 

            No pastor should conduct his ministry as if he were the only preacher necessary for his congregation.  A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, defines an effective pastor as the man who leaves the congregation, regardless of the time spent with them, more spiritual and more capable of doing spiritual business than when he went to them.  Inherent then in a godly pastor’s “job description” is the reality of an eventual exit!  Until—not if—that time comes, he should strive with every sermon and every effort in his pastorate to grow the people more into the spiritual maturity of a New Testament believer/church than they were the last week when he preached to them.  In this way no preacher should ever consider another preacher his “competitor.” Rather he is to be his own greatest competitor.  With every sermon he should strive to preach more clearly, more inspiringly, and more powerfully than in his last sermon. 

            The human traits described by Solomon exist, but spiritually mature folks should grow beyond them so as to view their church, including pastor and people, as God’s instrument, not their own private entertainment committee. 

 

Little Zion Primitive Baptist Church

16434 Woodruff

Bellflower, California

 

Worship service each Sunday    10:30 A. M.

Joseph R. Holder                                                             Pastor



[1] Kidner, Derek, The Message of Ecclesiastes: A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1976) 51-52.

2005/09/18 Thoughtful Choices

Dear Friends,

"Let's have a party," or "Let's go to a funeral;" which would you rather do? All too often we allow personal pleasure to drive our life's choices, but then, when we crash and burn, we wonder what happened. We seldom put the cause with the effect and realize that we programmed our lives for crash and burn by our daily choices for pleasure over godliness. This point hardly means that godliness is painful and distasteful. Quite the contrary, but it does mean that God associates a rather steep price with true discipleship and godliness. Let's see. I hear Him telling us that discipleship requires that a man deny self (Ouch, that is a major challenge for the pleasure conditioned individual.), and take up his cross, the ancient vehicle and symbol of capital punishment. We miss the point of the lesson most of the time. Perhaps if we reworded the statement to ".take up his electric chair." we would get more of Jesus' intent. For Jesus and His apostles, one's cross did not relate to a piece of jewelry. In fact it did equate with capital punishment. How can we learn the invaluable lessons of godly discipleship and put them to practice in our daily lives? Solomon simply teaches us this lesson in this week's verses from Ec 7. Ah, it is such a painful lesson to learn, but we learn it only in the manner described by Solomon in these passages. We tend too often to justify, rationalize, blame others, or in any other creative way evade personal responsibility for our sins and bad judgments. We'd prefer that discipleship be equated with an entertaining, and exciting, joy ride in an amusement park than with a funeral! Only in the death of self do we experience the transforming power of Biblical discipleship that raises us above our pleasure-seeking, ego-satisfying sin-addictions into the bright light of God's kingdom and what Scripture refers to as being "disciples" of Jesus Christ. Are we willing to pay the price? We need not think we must report to our fellow-believers, though in fact they will clearly see our true decision. God is the final Judge of our decisions, and we cannot "sweet-talk" Him or deceive Him by our store-front window dressing. He knows our deepest thoughts as well as every act that we ever commit. What are the lessons of life that we will learn so convincingly and practice so consistently that people will remember us by them after we have died? That is Solomon's lesson for us this week. It is indeed a difficult lesson, but the blessings of learning it well are tremendous. God bless, Joe Holder

Thoughtful Choices

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (Ec 7:1-4) While we are studying the section of Ecclesiastes that presents Solomon's thoughts in brief proverb-like sayings, we should look for thematic continuity just as we've seen in the other sections of the book. Admittedly, in this section continuity at times is challenging, but finding it will uncover gems of wisdom to our minds. In the verses for this week's study the challenge is obvious. How can we find continuity in one verse between a good reputation and celebration of one's death? Our pleasure-seeking human nature shirks at the mention or presence of death, and sometimes, though we want to have a good reputation, we are reluctant to invest the necessary effort to earn it legitimately. D. A. Carson interprets the first verse in this chapter as forming a contrasting statement, "As-so also."

"As inner character is more crucial than outer fragrance, so the lessons derived from a funeral are more instructive than the lessons of a birthday party. The funeral may bring us to think about life but the party probably will not. In this sense sorrow is good for the heart (3), i.e. enables our innermost thoughts to make true evaluations."[1]

Given the choice of attending a funeral or a wedding, which would you choose? If we answer honestly, most of us would far prefer the wedding. A spiritually-oriented wedding will stimulate godly and reflective meditation, but many weddings are more fluff and flutter, pomp and circumstance, than spiritual events. A funeral will evoke sobering thoughts in us to contemplate life's serious issues, and even our own death. Tom Constable corroborates Carson's reflective thoughts, but with a slightly different emphasis.

"It is better to end life with a good reputation than to begin it auspiciously but then ruin it through folly. This emphasis on the importance of living wisely continues through the rest of the book (cf. Ec 2:26; 11:9; 12:14). The mother rubbed the "good ointment" on her baby and supposedly got it off to a good start in life by doing so.

"Ec 7:2-4 The point of these verses is that it is wise to bear the brevity of life in mind as one lives. The "heart," mentioned in all three verses, is where we make moral decisions (cf. Pr 4:23). Thoughtful rather than thoughtless living is wise (cf. Ps 90:12). Sobriety contrasts with self-indulgence." [2] Constable implies that the "good name" in the passage refers to the reputation that a person builds through a lifetime, how he/she is remembered after death. Typically in Bible times medicine was infused into various oils and ointments, so Solomon's first analogy seems to refer to the greater value of a good reputation at one's death, if we accept Constable's assessment, compared with a "good dose of medicine." After attending a wedding ceremony and the following celebration, what life-changing reflections do you discover in your meditations? None? Now ask yourself the same question regarding a funeral. Solomon takes us face to face with a reality that we each experience, even if we dislike its implications. The greatest and most valuable lessons in life are not learned at parties and celebrations. Rather they are learned in the crucible of difficulties such as the death of a loved one or a life-threatening illness. A Masters Degree in Wisdom is not earned in the School of Joviality. Our American culture increasingly demands the hedonistic entertainment of the party in almost every arena of life. "It is all about me" could be written over the life cycle of many Americans, in fact, over the life cycle of many professing Christians. We are inclined to evaluate experiences and approve them based on how much pleasure they give us, not on how much they put a hand on each cheek and force us to look reality and death directly in the eyes. A favorite response of Christians to the Sunday morning sermon is "I enjoyed it." While one's "enjoyment" of the Sunday sermon is not equivalent to one's enjoyment of the Saturday night party, the pleasure sensation appears in the term. American Christians en masse typically refuse to consider the fundamental teachings of Scripture that require the gospel to rebuke, reprove, and exhort. Preach a sermon that requires them to face their personal sins, and you can expect them to get mad and point fingers at all those other folks who are "to blame" for their sins. As I read through the New Testament, I realize that God holds each of us accountable for our sins. He heard the first "blame-game" excuse for personal sin in Ge 3, and He's been hearing them ever since, so they do not impress Him. I've faced some of my greatest discouragements in pastoral care as I've tried to rebuild broken relationships that could have easily been strengthened-or never broken in the first place-by a faithful application of the often cited, but seldom practiced, process of Mt 18 in which people with differences honestly work face to face and as privately as possible to resolve their problems. On more occasions than I care to recall, even as I reminded a person of his/her obligations under Mt 18, the person immediately responded with tale-bearing, accusing, and blame-casting toward the other person rather than agreeing to follow our Lord's simple, straight-forward instructions. These folks are quite willing to talk to the whole world about the person with whom they disagree, but they refuse to do what Jesus taught in this lesson. Young Christians often wear a small piece of jewelry with the initials "WWJD," engraved on it. "What Would Jesus Do?" If someone offended Jesus, what would He do, blame and accuse that person to all others who would hear, or quietly go to that person and sincerely, graciously, and honestly talk with him/her in a noble effort to resolve the problem? We never learn this godly discipline at the "House of the Party." It only comes home in the house of mourning and affliction. We struggle with Solomon's lesson here because we have allowed ourselves to become conditioned with the pleasure sensation, even in our profession of faith. Constable refers us to Ps 90:12 in his thoughts, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." "Teach us to number our days," to think about life in terms of the ultimate reality; it will not last for ever. Someday it will come to an end. I believe Moses, the stated author of Ps 90, intends for us to reflect on the brevity of life so that we live every day as if it would be our last. I have known a number of people who lived most of their lives with a lot of vinegar in their personalities and conduct. Some of them merely add more vinegar as they grow older, becoming increasingly bitter at life and at the people they've known. However, an impressive number of people seem to take this verse to heart. As they grow older, they become more winsome and mellow. Forgiveness becomes more important than keeping score of the wrongs that other folks committed against them. Making peace becomes more important than declaring war. Don't you see the point? These folks are learning the lessons that the day of death teaches. That is the point of Solomon's lesson in these verses. May we learn it well.

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

[1]D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary 21st Century Edition, Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970., 4th ed., Ec 7:1 (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994).

[2]Tom Constable, Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible, Ec 7:1-2 (Galaxie Software, 2003; 2003).

2005/09/25 Judgment: Human and Divine

September 25, 2005 Dear Friends,

"It isn't fair" is a frequent response to the fallen and sinful events that occasionally invade the life of even the most faithful of believers. Rather than attributing these sinful events to God, Scripture consistently reminds us that the source of sin and evil is either man or satanic in origin and cause. Whether we consider human sin or natural disasters, such as the recent hurricane that hit the gulf area of our country, people are prone to ask, "Where is God when these things occur?" Professing Christians are inclined to respond to such problems with one of two reactions.

Some are constantly ready to attribute the sin or catastrophe to God. "God is judging our country by the terrorists' acts of 9/11." "God is judging New Orleans and its reputation for sin by Katrina." Or they will simply assert that God causes everything, so He must have a benevolent and greater reason for either causing or "allowing" such events. I haven't done so, but, when I hear someone make such assertions, I am inclined to ask, "And how do you know with such certainty that this particular event is the result of divine judgment?" The fact that God occasionally used either evil men/cultures or natural disasters in Scripture as His instrument of judgment does not justify the claim that every such event is the result of divine judgment. The theological error of determinism, the idea that God causes or orchestrates everything that occurs, builds on the logical fallacy of composition, occasionally referred to as the logical fallacy of the "parts to the whole." If one part of something possesses certain specific characteristics, this logical fallacy errantly concludes that the whole of the thing must possess identical characteristics. I drive a brown Toyota Camry. The logical fallacy of composition would errantly conclude that every Toyota Camry must be brown. No thinking Bible student will deny that God on occasion used evil nations and natural disasters as His instrument of judgment in the Scriptural record, but this obvious fact does not justify the errant and illogical conclusion that God either causes or uses every such event.

Others react in the opposite direction and question the power or goodness of God. "How could a good God allow such things to occur?" Advocates of this conclusion clearly reject the error of determinism, but they inconsistently seek a deterministic explanation for the moral dilemma that they raise. We live in a fallen and sinful world, not the perfect world that God created, as described in Genesis chapters One and Two. Man's sin, not God's errantly presumed robotic governance, is assigned as the Biblical explanation for such events.

I offer a third alternative that I believe more affirms the Biblical teaching. Rather than causing or orchestrating every event that occurs, Scripture affirms that God is faithfully, reliably, and constantly present with His people as they face every problem, calamity, inequity, or disaster of life. Heb 13:5-6 comforts the child of God with this amazing truth. Whether we "feel" God's presence in our moments of trial or not, He assures us that he is there and that His grace and support will never leave us to face our trials alone. This truth contradicts both of the typical alternatives that either blame God (directly or indirectly) or question His power and goodness. I offer for your consideration that one of these choices is as errant and unscriptural in its foundations as the other. Scripture consistently rejects the idea that God causes either sin or every natural disaster that occurs. Often advocates of determinism will join Biblical Christians in rejecting the idea that God causes sin. However, their bent toward determinism forces them to the logical idea, even if they deny it in words. Around 1900 our own Primitive Baptist family faced this precise problem. The advocates of determinism—for the most part—rejected the idea that God causes sin. However, they affirmed that God "unconditionally" causes our discipleship and good works so that we cannot do otherwise. They never quite explained rationally the problems of failed discipleship or partial discipleship. For example, if we examine the life of Lot in Genesis, we dislike the man on clear moral grounds. The final chapter of his life appears in a disgraceful moral collapse in a cave in drunken incest with his daughters! The typical response of advocates of determinism is that such conduct indicates that Lot was never really a child of God at all, or he would never have fallen so low into sin, especially in the final chapter of his life as recorded in Scripture. However, Peter (2Pe 2:8) mentions Lot's rejection of the sinful lifestyles of Sodom and Gomorrah, and refers to him as "that righteous man." Obviously Peter is not referring to Lot's sins in the cave, but—by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—he concludes that Lot was in fact a truly righteous man, though the final chapter of his life in the Biblical record faithfully reports his moment of sin and shame. One would think that, if God causes our discipleship, we would be perfect disciples. Christian determinism seeks to avoid the contradictory idea that God is holy and altogether righteous, and at the same time the cause of sin, but its conclusions led many advocates of this idea in following generations to reach that precise conclusion. Similar problems appear in a study of historical theology in the form of the ancient debate between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism explanations of sin and salvation. The "infra" view stops distinctly—and intentionally—short of imputing the cause of sin to God, while the "supra" view, though typically denying the idea that God causes sin, logically faces difficulty supporting its denial of God causing sin. I am convinced that a number of folks today who claim to be "infra" are in fact "supra." The "supra" determinist will observe a sinful confusion and schism in one of the Lord's churches and observe that "God had something really good in mind for these folks, and it had to come about by this problem," despite Scripture's specific rejection of such a notion (1Co 14:33). The Bible believing "infra" Christian will see the same events and recoil at the disrespect shown by anyone who fosters such schism in one of the Lord's churches in their sinful conduct, correctly laying the responsibility for this sinful act at the feet of the people who caused it, not to God. In these verses Solomon attributes the choice of sin to sinful men, not to God, the same teaching that Scripture consistently presents for our instruction. The "supra" mindset offers the fact that Job's "miserable comforters" repeatedly told Job that God had caused his losses and suffering, but they fail to grasp the major point at the conclusion of the book of Job (as well as the primary purpose of the book of Job as defined by Jas 5:11). Either Job or his "miserable comforters" was wrong; both could not be right. In the end God rebuked them and required that they bring their offerings to Job, whose sacrifices God would accept. If God rejected these fellows-and He did-we should hardly use them as authorities for our own theology! The reality of a final, comprehensive, and righteous judgment for the Christian who understands Biblical teaching on the subject is not a truth that stirs fear or anxiety. Rather it is a doctrine that instills comfort and joy. Regardless of the inequity and the apparent success of sin in this life, God assures us in such lessons as these that He will have the last word against sin—and it shall be a righteous judgment. This major Biblical doctrine answers the question of inequity and the appearance of success in sin and failure in righteousness far better than any other available explanation. God bless, Joe Holder

Judgment: Human and Divine

Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God. (Ec 8:11-13) Criminologists may vary widely in their assessments and explanations, but few would disagree that our country's penal system has hopelessly failed in its professed task of "rehabilitating" criminals, or for that matter of even discouraging them from repeating their criminal activity. I am inclined to question the validity of the idea that prison rehabilitates hardened criminals. Humans cannot fully know what is in the heart of another human, but we may safely conclude that putting a hardened criminal in the same facility as a person who commits a single crime and shows genuine remorse for his deed will not improve the moral character of the fellow who committed a single crime. It will more likely further corrupt him than rehabilitate him. Perhaps our culture should seek out ways to distinguish between the hardened criminal who will, short of divine intervention, not be rehabilitated and the "one-time offender." Incarcerate the one to protect society from his evil deeds, and use effective rehabilitative activities with the other. Aside from an interesting and quite pertinent philosophical discussion regarding our nation's penal system, Solomon reminds us of one fact that transcends personal philosophy. Proof of guilt or innocence should be thorough, but once guilt has been determined, the sentence should be executed speedily. The longer delayed the sentence the more fully the criminal thinks he has escaped the consequences of his crime. Sadly, in our country's penal system the criminal is correct in his thinking. Often it would seem that the funds a man has to spend on an attorney has more to do with the outcome of his trial than the facts of his guilt or innocence. The principle of a speedy administration of justice, of imposing on the wrong-doer the consequences of his wrongs, lies at the heart of Solomon's lesson. This principle not only applies to criminal conduct against society, but it equally applies to individuals and our interpersonal relationships. When a person ignores reality (or in our increasingly post-Christian culture creates his on fantasy "reality"), we do him/her no favors to assist their self-delusional attitude that they have done no wrong, and thus have no consequences to face. There is a place for patience and longsuffering in the Christian worldview, but the role of these neglected virtues does not conflict with Solomon's principle of speedily bringing the consequences of a person's actions to bear upon his mind and liberty. Whether in the case of a criminal, a child in a loving home, or a brother or sister in a Bible believing Christian church, failure to live within the defined moral and ethical limits of God's Word reinforces a person's sinful inclinations. "Dr. Phil" in his daily television show typically deals with families in once crisis or another. He consistently reminds people that they reap the harvest of what they sowed, that their unhappy and failed relationships resulted from their own failures. He rather forcefully insists that people focus on their own faults, not blame others for their unhappiness and failures. In the case of children whose conduct has run out of control Dr. Phil often observes that the parents of these children adopted a faulty perspective of parenting. Quite frequently one of these parents will say, "I don't want to be a 'parent' to my child, I want to be his best friend." Dr. Phil will rebuke this populist attitude with "Your child needs a parent who has the courage to set boundaries and be a parent, not a parent who abandons that role." During an era in public education when the "open classroom" (the idea that you merely put information in the child's environment, but never impose structure and enforced homework and order onto the child) was in vogue, but obviously failing miserably, I was privileged to hear a leading educator make his case against this failed philosophy. In clear terms he said, "I gladly give children open choices. Do you want to do math this morning or this afternoon? But I will make doubly sure that their math has been done before the end of the school day!" Children, citizens, employees, and church members alike prefer a culture with clearly set boundaries and definitions of acceptable—and unacceptable—conduct. The only way any cultural unit can possibly fulfill this need is to first clearly state and define such conduct. However, a defined acceptable conduct that is not enforced is as futile and "fuzzy" as the "open" culture that never says anything about its expectations. Solomon reminds us clearly that, while human justice—or human expectations of personal conduct within moral, ethical, and acceptable limits—often fails, divine justice—and personal divine expectations—never fail. From our brief perspective, it may appear that the sinner is prospering in his sin, and the saint is suffering in his righteousness, Solomon anchors his thoughts, and ours, with a firm conviction, "…surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him." In Scripture fearing God has almost nothing to do with the emotion of fear and everything to do with conduct that honors the one feared. If we fear God, we will order our lives according to His commandments and not according to our personal appetites and whims. Solomon injects an obvious tension into the passage. In one sentence he states that the sinner's days are "prolonged" in his sinful course, and in the very next sentence he says that the sinner cannot "prolong his days, which are as a shadow." Make a note; anytime you see such an obvious tension point, often in the form of an apparent contradiction (apparent only, not a real contradiction), stop and examine the lesson closely. This tension point aims to get our attention and to challenge us to probe deeper into the matter to understand something important. It doesn't take a lot of thought to conclude that Solomon in this passage is reminding us that the appearances of this life are not the final chapter in divine justice and judgment. Some sinners may well live and prosper throughout a long life (Job 21:7-15 makes this point in significant detail.), but their long life is amazingly brief compared with the "time" that they shall face in divine judgment after their death. Regardless of the time delay, death is certain, and divine justice/judgment is equally certain. D. A. Carson offers an instructive assessment of these verses. "Ec 8:12-13 The answer of faith. The wicked person's sin might be great (a hundred crimes) and his life long, but the viewpoint of faith says I know. (The “I saw” of Ec 8:9 puts forward what all can see; the “I know” of Ec 8:12 is a viewpoint not appreciated by everyone.) From one angle the wicked man lives a long time (Ec 8:12), yet the wicked person will not lengthen his days like a shadow. The contradiction hints that wickedness will not flourish beyond the grave, whereas the righteous will in some way flourish after death."[1] We are so dreadfully inclined to view present inequities as if they represent the final outcome of sin—and righteousness—but Solomon reminds us of our myopic view. God always gets the last word! While divine longsuffering prevails at the moment, Scripture repeatedly reminds us that God's judgment is certain, and cannot be thwarted or misguided as human justice often is.

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

2005/10/01 Wisdom: Its Own Reward

October 01, 2005

Dear Friends,

Not only does Scripture teach us what to do; it also teaches us to guard our motives for doing. This week's study deals with Solomon's story regarding a poor wise man who delivered a city, but was soon forgotten. Without question, Solomon concludes that wisdom is right and worthy in its own merit. We do not justify wisdom by exhibiting it for others to view and praise. If no one ever noticed or said a word, wisdom is the right thing to do. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus' personal guide to—and for—disciples in their daily lives. One of the anchors that stands out in the Sermon on the Mount is the danger of doing things "to be seen" rather than doing them because Jesus taught us to do them and because they are the right thing to do, whether anyone ever sees or praises us or not. A significant number of sincere folks in contemporary Christianity believe that they literally work their way into heaven by their own good deeds. They seem more intent on working for more stars in their crowns than for the glory of God. We readily sense the self-serving spirit of this faulty theology and reject it, but our pride-filled and sinful humanity often allows similar motives to creep into our own thinking and conduct. If you had the raw, bare choice to make—work for Jesus or work for the notice and appreciation of folks whom you respect, but you could not have both—what choice would you make? I fear that many professing Christians would struggle intently with such a decision. There should be no struggle! The only acceptable and godly motive for everything that we do in our Christian service, even the most difficult of labors, is for the glory of God, not for our own selfish and personal gain, whether it be the fictional "stars in my crown" or the approval and praise of our peers. Self-examination is never easy, but it is essential if we hope to refine and purify our motives for what we do. May we serve the risen Savior and not our selves, Joe Holder

Wisdom: Its Own Reward

This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me: There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard. The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.? (Ec 9:13-18) How do we go about making sense of this lesson? Is Solomon telling us how things should be or warning us about how they are? Can we invest godly wisdom into every situation of life and reasonably expect that it shall always be recognized or heeded, much less appreciated? As a pastor and minister, I can't tell you how many times over some fifty years that I've observed various people who invested personal effort in a church activity, only to complain bitterly, if at times privately, that their hard work and dedication were not recognized or appreciated. One begins to wonder; did they invest their effort for recognition and appreciation or because it was needed and beneficial to the church's spiritual function? Our humanity craves recognition for what we do that is good. Often we must struggle with frustration and disappointment when we do something worthwhile, and no one notices or voices appreciation. Our "all about me" humanity wants to cry out, "Why bother? I'll just let someone else do it next time." In the Sermon on the Mount, His handbook for Christian living and wise discipleship, Jesus warns us about our human and sinful craving for attention and appreciation. In several of the examples Jesus takes the roof off our sinful humanity by exposing our motives, "to be seen of men." With a touch of humor, he promises that such folks shall have their reward. They shall be seen of men! The Greek word translated "to be seen" in these verses is the Greek root for our English word "theatrical." If our motivation in doing something is to "be seen" and appreciated by people who see what we do and praise us, we are guilty of being "theatrical" about our Christianity rather than being God-centered and doing things for His glory, not for the praise of people who see what we do. The "to be seen" theatrical attitude is not merely something we should avoid in others. It is in fact something that we should keenly avoid in ourselves. However devoted you and I seek to serve God and His people unselfishly, our fallen human natures love the praise and attention of people when we do something that triggers our pride. Rather than teaching us how things should be, Solomon uses this lesson to warn us not to do things with the expectation of notice and praise. In the unfolding story he tells about the little city, the great king, and the "poor wise man" Solomon confronts the fact that the king presumably had no problem taking the credit for delivering the city. He would use his position to regularly remind his subjects of what a good king he is, exemplified by his deliverance of the city in its moment of danger. No one would protest the king's selfish grabbing of credit from the "poor wise man." In fact Solomon confronts us with the simple point of hard reality. No one remembered the wise man. Soon both the king and his subjects would come to believe that the king really was responsible for delivering the city. Put yourself in this city. Specifically put yourself in the position of the "poor wise man." Given the opportunity and knowing the outcome, if the city were again threatened and you had the wisdom to know how to deliver the city, would you do so, or would you retire into the background and let the city fall to its enemies? This question takes us to one of the major points of the lesson. Do we view wisdom as its own reward, or do we seek recognition and praise from people who see us demonstrate wisdom? I recall many years ago an interesting experience that my wife and I had. There are several Christian counseling subgroups who conduct seminars and workshops for interested believers. We had heard good reports about one of these organizations, so when we received an announcement that this particular organization planned a three day seminar in San Diego, just over a hundred miles from our home, we were anxious to attend. Honestly, the people who conducted the individual seminars were delightful Christians with godly insight and worthwhile information for our consideration. Throughout the various workshops, we were regularly reminded that the ideas being presented originated with the man who founded the organization. Finally the time came for a general assembly of the whole group. The founder was scheduled to make the keynote speech at this gathering. As he entered the auditorium, we heard people gasp, and many people started pointing and whispering as they saw the founder. The thought occurred to me that this man rather enjoyed this adoring attention. Would he have been as creative and assertive in his programs if no one knew him or ever mentioned his name in near-worshipping tones? He seemed a bit too comfortable with this excessive attention and praise. Despite some beneficial information, my wife and I were not interested in attending the next seminar conducted by this organization. For us the position of the One whom we worship has been taken and is sufficiently exclusive that we have no desire to inject a competitor into our thoughts. D. A. Carson draws some instructive analogies out of this story. "The Teacher recalls an incident in which there was a struggle between prestige (powerful king) and insignificance (small city), between strength (huge siegeworks) and weakness (small city). The precise incident is unknown but was similar to the events of Jg 9:50-55 and 2Sa 20:15-22. The last sentence of v 15 would mean that no-one remembered the poor man after his help was given. However the line could be translated, 'he could have saved the city by his wisdom'. This fits v 16: the humble circumstances of the poor person count against him and his wisdom is unheeded. But this is not a call for us to abandon wisdom as useless but rather to persevere in its light and leave the outcome to God."[1] Notice Carson's conclusion, "…persevere in its light and leave the outcome to God." If godliness and wisdom are right, whether we receive credit and praise for our actions or not, we are obligated—no, honored and blessed—with the opportunity to use the wisdom that God may bless upon us for the benefit of His family. Are we willing to do what is right, regardless of someone seeing and praising us, because it is right? Are we willing to "leave the outcome to God" when the alternative would be praise from people? I suggest that, just as faithfully as Jesus promises that a "theatrical" performance, a godly act done "to be seen" and praised by people, shall surely earn its expected reward (People will see what you do and praise you.), even more so a godly deed done solely for the glory of God shall also receive its reward. Whether a single human sees or knows what you do that is godly and commendable, or your good deed goes wholly unnoticed, when you do it for God and His glory, He shall see it and respond with blessings. Would you prefer the fickle praises of another human being or the approval and blessing of God? At some point you may actually face an either-or choice between the two. A decision for one eliminates the other.

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

2005/10/09 Wisdom or Folly: Eventually Revealed

October 09, 2005

Dear Friends,

During my formal education, I encountered a poem "Ode to a Louse" by Robert Burns. The poet sits in church behind one of the proudest and best dressed women in the congregation. She has a highly inflated view of herself. As he sits in the church behind her, his attention turns from the sermon to the woman's hair and hat. He is amazed to see a tiny louse surface and crawl around her head. He is amused at the incredible difference between this woman's inflated opinion of herself and the way he thinks of her as he watches this little bug crawling around her head. The closing verse of the poem reads

"O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!"

Loosely translated into our contemporary language, the poem would read as follows:

"Oh would some Power the gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!"

Ah, my friends, how often do we allow that subtle—and at times not so subtle—sin of pride to invade our thoughts and conduct. The simple act of seeing ourselves through the eyes of others could serve such a delightful benefit to our sinful pride! Whether in ministry or in other Christian service and conduct, the profession of faith in Christ is divinely ordered to force us to abandon pride that promotes self-first attitudes and actions in favor of service to God and to others. We, like the proud woman with the louse in her hair, even pretend "devotion" to God in our pride. But godly devotion does not focus on ourselves and how we appear in the mirror of pride, but rather on God and our service to Him through our service to His people. That same deceptive pride displayed by the woman in Burns' poem, or by Solomon in the ancient pharmacy, may well be the Christian's greatest single hindrance to a truly Biblical life of service to others rather than attainment for self. When Paul wrote Timothy regarding the qualifications for church leadership, either as minister or deacon, he started the lesson by a startling observation. The man who should be considered for these positions "desireth a good work." The word "work" is central to qualifications for any functional position of service, ministry, or value in God's kingdom. The person who desires the office for prestige, authority, leadership, or other personal motives should not be remotely considered for it at all. Solomon's lesson reminds us that eventually our conduct will reveal our true motives and actions. Solomon's lesson reminds us of consistency in our conduct. If we wish to live according to God's wisdom, we must strive to do so all the time, under all circumstances, even the most difficult. Our pride could lead us to read this lesson and think of one or more people whom we have known who fit Solomon's (and perhaps Burns') description of the fool who considers himself/herself to be wise. The greater lesson, however, requires us to hold the mirror of Scripture in front of our own faces and look at ourselves. In Burns' poem the proud woman spent much time that morning looking in the mirror of pride, arranging every item of clothing and makeup so as to contribute to her self-image of superiority and self-proclaimed perfection. Burns silently chuckles to himself as he discovers the lowly louse making himself at home in this proud woman's hair. Ah, when we look into the mirror of Scripture, let us ensure that pride has been sent away, and that we are looking first and foremost, for the image of our Lord Jesus Christ in that mirror. As we see His image, we see—for the first time—clearly our own true persons and the many areas where our image does not mesh with His. Rather than fostering pride, the "look in the mirror" of Scripture should enlighten us in terms of those "secret sins," even that little annoying ethical "louse" that enjoys himself in our "head." May we live worthy of the position that we claim in Christ, Joe Holder

Wisdom or Folly: Eventually Revealed

Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour. A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left. Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool. (Ec 10:1-3) I have never heard a person boast about his ignorance! People tend to "put their best foot forward," or at least what they think to be their best foot. Given the time we've spent with Solomon, we may reasonably conclude that many people think themselves wise who are more comparable to the fool in Ecclesiastes than the wise man. During an era when people did not deal as wisely with mental handicaps as in our time, I heard a story about a country store owner whose young child was mentally handicapped. One day the father had to leave the store for a couple of hours, so he left his handicapped child to watch the store alone. He cautioned the child, "If anyone comes into the store, don't say anything to them. If you do, they will find out about your problem." When the father arrived back at the store, he asked the child how things had gone. The child responded that someone had visited the store. "Did you say anything to them?" asked the father. "No, but they found out about my problem anyway," responded the child. However much a person boasts about wisdom, his conduct will reveal the fact. The obvious question surfaces; does a truly wise person boast about his wisdom? I have strong convictions about the value of education. I have lived for most of my professional career in the presence of highly educated people who dedicated their lives and careers to the field of education. During this time I have observed a significant number of people who could add any number of abbreviations to their business cards to show their various degrees and accomplishments. Some of them proved by wise and professional conduct that they had earned their degrees and demonstrated their skill with every difficult situation they encountered. Others boasted of their degrees, but showed minimal abilities to relate to people and to understand the realities of the work they were assigned to perform. We do not reveal wisdom by our claims to it, but by our conduct and words in the trenches of life where we make daily decisions and choices. The more a person boasts about his degrees and accomplishments the more suspicious his true attainments. A true education humbles a person by exposing him/her to the world of knowledge that he/she has not mastered. A limited education inflates a person with pride, prompting them to boast about their learning. In his wisest moment Solomon didn't boast of wisdom and authority; he melted in humility under the weight of his responsibilities and viewed himself as a little child. Did not Jesus use the same analogy to describe the person who gains true stature in the kingdom of God? An "apothecary" is an old word for a pharmacy. Imagine visiting your local pharmacy and watching as the pharmacist prepares an ointment prescribed by your dermatologist. As the pharmacist stirs and mixes the various chemicals prescribed by the physician, you notice large flies buzzing around the room, often landing in the container where he is mixing up your prescription. The pharmacist ignores them or occasionally waves his hands to move them away. When he finally hands you the container of ointment, how comfortable are you with the medication? The conflict between the man's role as an expert in medications and his oblivion to the contamination potentially injected into the drugs by the flies destroys your trust in his competence and shakes your confidence in the medication's ability to heal your problem. This scenario depicts the problem that Solomon wants to teach us regarding the intimate and consistent quality of wisdom in our life. Wisdom is not something that we put on and take off at will. It is not something that we exhibit when put in the spotlight by a Bible question by a friend. It is something that we either possess or not, either applying it to our daily life or living like a fool while claiming to be wise. A person views himself/herself as wise. Frequently the self-proclaimed wise person possesses many admirable and commendable traits. At times this person may well present a convincing case for wisdom. Imagine such a person. Then in the midst of a true-to-life situation observe this person say or do something that is so out of character, so "unwise" as to shock your expectations. This scenario is precisely what Solomon has in mind with his lesson to us from the ancient pharmacy. The pharmacist holds a title and position for knowing about the world of medications, how to make them, and how to use them. However, when knowledge translates to action, he ignores the most fundamental principles of cleanliness, jeopardizing his reputation, but, more importantly, endangering his patient rather than providing the healing balm that is needed. In a time when "right" and "left" hold toxic and divisive political and moral we need to exit our own world and visit the world in which Solomon wrote this lesson. Tom Constable takes us there. "'The right' and 'the left' (Ec 10:2) are not the correct way and the incorrect way. They are not the political right and left, conservatism and liberalism, either. They are the place of protection and the place of danger (cf. Ps 16:8; 110:5; 121:5). The "road" (Ec 10:3) is not a literal highway but the fool's metaphorical way of life. The wise man does not quit his job when his boss gets angry with him. He maintains his composure and so gives the impression rightly or wrongly that his boss did not need to be angry."[1] D. A. Carson further clarifies the "right-left" concept. "Since lefthandedness was linked with incompetence (see Jg 3:15; 20:16), to have one's heart inclined to the right is to be upright, skilful and resourceful in one's daily life. To have one's heart inclined to the left is to be fumbling and incompetent at the 'wellspring of life' (Pr 4:23). Such incompetence will become visible (3)."[2] The third verse in our lesson takes us to the practical reality that Solomon teaches us. "Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool." It is not our words that necessarily reveal whether we are wise or foolish, but our deeds. In the trenches of life wisdom will shine, while the pretense of wisdom will crack. How do we apply this lesson to our personal life? First of all, do not put other folks under the spotlight to see if they are wise or foolish. Put yourself there! At times every one of us has miserably fallen below our desire—and perhaps our personal claim—of wisdom, saying or doing something foolish. Pride rushes in and tries to mask the failure. We are adroit at rationalizations. One point remains in the end. We viewed ourselves as being the wise pharmacist, but we ignored the "fly in the ointment" and thereby damaged our reputation and claim to wisdom. In such times the humility of true wisdom abandons rationalizations and confesses the fault. Jesus reminds us of this point in the Sermon on the Mount with the analogy of specks and beams in eyes. Will we be wise or fools?

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

2005/10/16 Bold Faith: First Conclusion

October 16, 2005

Dear Friends,

In Ecclesiastes Solomon presents us with a candid and honest confession of his greatest failures and his greatest blessing, God's wisdom in his life. Although the historical books of the Old Testament clearly document his compromises and failures to live consistently by the wisdom that God gave him, Ecclesiastes reflects an autobiographical insight into his final conclusion about life and ultimate meaning. Beginning with Ec 11, Solomon begins to lead us to his final conclusions for life according to God's will, not our own. Throughout this book he has reminded us on occasion that life "under the sun" can only end in futility, but life lived according to God's way leads to joy and contentment. We discover meaning in God, not in self-indulgent pursuits. Before taking us to the ultimate "conclusion of the whole matter," Solomon will gently lead us through three practical, life-changing conclusions regarding how to live life according to God's way. You could give three titles to these three conclusions: "Bold Faith," "Bold Joy," and "Bold morality." We often classify the people we know as "givers" or as "takers." Solomon will lead us boldly down the path that affirms an unselfish, giving disposition as the only acceptable walk of faith for the man or woman who seeks to follow God and to live life according to God's commandments. We have all met people who invest admirably in their Christian service for the wrong reason. Be it a man in public ministry or that quiet, but very sincere, believer in the pew, the motive for every act of Christian service that pleases God deals with giving and serving, not with getting. If I am to admire Solomon for his honest confession, I should do no less regarding my own life. I made a public profession of faith in Christ, was baptized, and began my ministry in my mid-teen years. I came to terms early on that my ministry would be in a different region of the country than where I lived at that time. This conviction motivated me to travel among godly churches in various regions of the country. I was in a frantic search for "my place," for "my ministry." Every effort failed! Several years later I began to grow in my view of Christian living and ministry to the point that I realized that my ministry was not about "my place." It most definitely was not to be "my ministry"! My role, if it was to be blessed, had everything to do with God and unselfish service to His people, not about "my place." For the first time in my walk of faith, I began to experience contentment and joy in my Christian service. Scripture consistently leads us down a well marked path. The more I strive to get for myself the less I shall have. The more I strive to give of myself to and for the benefit of others the more I shall have of what is good and noble in life. We pay ready lip-service to this concept, but we struggle intensely with its practice. From beginning to end through a variety of scenarios, Solomon in six brief verses leads us to the consistent "bottom line" of meaning in life. We do not realize true value and meaning as long as we do things for self. We only reach those profound insights and conclusions to the extent that we give, give, and give some more in service to others. No less than what we do, motive—not always known by others, but always clearly known by God—is essential to godly living and the realization of meaning that values something greater than ourselves. May we learn Solomon's lessons well so that we will not repeat his empty pursuits during his long, lean years. God bless, Joe Holder

Bold Faith: First Conclusion

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be. He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good. (Ec 11:1-6) In his commentary on Ecclesiastes Derek Kidner gives the title to these verses "Be Bold." He views these verses as the beginning of Solomon's conclusion in which three practical conclusions are reached from his reasoning through the book before the final "conclusion of the whole matter" appears at the end of chapter twelve. A number of commentaries make commerce the primary objective of the lesson. However, I doubt that Solomon would devote ink to commerce in the midst of a spiritual and personal pursuit for meaning and purpose. We occasionally sing a hymn that builds its words on this passage. The hymn urges liberal giving, not at all in conflict with New Testament teaching, but it is almost as far from the context as the commerce view. Both views offer an unduly narrow interpretation that misses the greater context and flow of Solomon's thought, at least from my perspective. D. A. Carson includes the commerce view in his commentary, but he also broadens his interpretation in a more contextual direction. "Everything in Ec 11:1-6 could be summarized in the word 'faith'… Neither an ominous outlook (clouds full of rain) nor the unexpected event (a tree falling) must hinder our enthusiasm for life. We cannot control events even when we can anticipate them (the clouds and the rain). Nor can we precisely determine how events will work out; the tree falls where it will. Next is a warning against procrastination (4), and a warning that we are not to be put off by ignorance (5). 6 Then the Teacher calls for vigorous sowing of seed. The proverbs concern not merely agriculture but the whole of life."[1] The analogy of "casting bread" is often made synonymous with sowing seed. Perhaps the idea is present, but "bread" and "seed" are not the same word or the same idea. The Hebrew word translated "bread" in this passage typically refers to literal bread, a basic part of the Hebrew diet. Imagine that you are hungry and have a limited amount of food, "bread." What is your inclination; to eat it or to throw it onto the surface of a body of water nearby? The option of throwing your bread on the water should catch our attention. It is not the normal or usual thing to do with bread. In fact we could view it as shockingly unnatural. Once thrown onto the water you never expect to see it again. It is gone. However, Solomon adds a second "attention-getter" to the first by his assurance that you "shall find it after many days." Our "natural" human disposition is to hoard up whatever we can for our personal needs and future. The altered "nature" of a regenerate (saved, born again) person urges a gracious, giving disposition that is as foreign to our fallen, sinful disposition as throwing away your last loaf of bread when you are hungry. Solomon adds emphasis to this theme by his numeric progression in the admonition to give to seven—and also to eight. The idea is to give, give, and then give some more. Consider the typical attitude of people regarding the idea of Biblical service and the New Testament concept of self-denial and cross-bearing. The cross in the New Testament does not refer to a pretty piece of jewelry or a logo that appears on the cover of your Bible. It was a brutal sign of Roman capital punishment. Self-denial is as foreign to man's sinful self-worshipping disposition as a hungry man throwing bread on the water instead of eating it! The common human reaction to giving defends not giving on the basis of all the uncertainties that might come in the future. "I'm saving for a rainy day" captures the idea. To be sure, Scripture does not direct us to be frivolous or foolish in our management of our resources or our planning for our personal future. However, it also does not permit us to live the "me-first" mindset that prevails in our culture today. Carson captures the point of the passage in his observation that neither "an ominous outlook" nor "the unexpected event" should hinder our Christian conduct. The walk of faith is not a paranoid and self-preserving way of life. Whether we consider the blowing of the wind and the movement of the clouds or the mysterious wonder of a baby growing inside its mother's womb, Solomon's first conclusion advises a steady course in "bold faith" and optimistic living according to God's Word. Finally, at the end of the lesson rather than at the beginning, he takes us to the field and advises us to sow our seed liberally. The farmer who clutches his seed and refuses to let it go in sowing will have nothing to show for his labor in the harvest season. The only way to gain for the farmer is to sow his seed; let it go, plant it in the ground. Some of the seed sown will die in the ground, but most of it will sprout and grow into healthy plants, producing a good harvest and increase for the farmer who was willing to let it go in the constructive process of sowing. Interesting, isn't it, that from beginning to end in this passage, Solomon follows a consistent pattern of urging us to give, even when the act contradicts our perceptions of self-interest and signs of an uncertain future. Carson's opening comment, "Everything in Ec 11:1-6 could be summarized in the word 'faith'," captures a broad and contextual view of the lesson, fully compatible with Kidner's "Be Bold" idea. After confessing in distinct autobiographical terms his own pursuits, at times his foolish pursuits, Solomon stays the course and leads us to conclusions in the end that restore our respect for the wisdom that marked him in his youth. God bless his honesty in confronting the sins and foolish ventures that marred his life for a time. You question that he pursued folly. Consider Ec 7:25, "…to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness," (The word translated "know" in this verse can mean either to know by observation or to know by experience.). Whether we study the Old Testament or the New, Solomon's wisdom writings or Paul's epistles to New Testament churches, the primary characteristic of Biblical faith leaves uncertainty with God and boldly follows God's instructions for life, not one's own perception of convenience or personal choice. Giving, not getting, characterizes true Biblical faith. Although this concept distinctly includes our financial support of the church of our membership, as well as other godly ministries, the passage defines a holistic attitude and way of life. It covers every aspect of the "faith-walk," not just our checkbook. Would people describe you and me as "givers" or as "getters"? If we act according to our personal interests and not the gracious benefit of others, Solomon gets in our face and rebukes us. I truly believe a person's calendar and checkbook profoundly reveal the person's whole life, but these material evidences represent more the symptom than the cause of a deeper spiritual malady. Living above one's financial means to the extent that no money is available to contribute to the church of one's membership and related godly ministries is symptomatic of the person's spiritual condition. If you were able to look into this person's heart and mind, you'd see a person who is self-indulgent, lacks self-control, and lives life more by impulse, emotion, and appetite than by godly wisdom. The checkbook provides the evidence, but the lack of self-control, or the investment of self in personal indulgence to the satisfaction of one's own appetite, whether for material things or for attention and compliments from others, is the true culprit. In this amazing lesson on giving Solomon breathes a deep breath of New Testament air into his ancient letter of wisdom. Christian living for the benefit of others is as natural for a godly conscience as for the farmer to give up his choice seed in sowing. Despite the sense of rightness in this giving spirit, far too many professing Christians continue to live life as if "It really is all about me." At some level they likely realize that the life they are living lacks the enthusiastic vibrancy of bold faith, but they have allowed self to rule on the throne of their life too long to consider a new ruler. "I know I should…" often flows from their lips, followed by a long string of rationalizations that attempt to justify why God's rules for authentic Christian living do not apply to them. Neither Solomon nor Jesus makes such exemptions for self-indulgence! The more you keep the less you have. The more you give the more God adds to your life. This amazing rule applies not only to our wallets, but also to every aspect of the life that we live each day. "I'm doing this for me" is a dead give-away to the self-indulgent spirit that predicts spiritual famine with infallible certainty, even if the claim relates to Christian service. It is as self-serving and as Christ-denying as the dreadful hymn "Will there be any Stars in my Crown?" Will heaven really be about the all capital "ME" and "MY" crowns of merit? Forget the theological heresy that views heaven itself as all about "me" and "my" crowns. Why do you live the Christian life today? What do you hope to gain by it? If your answer focuses on benefit for self, you need to revisit Solomon's earlier chapters in which he pursued every aspect of self-indulgence and reached the predictable conclusion that such a lifestyle of self-worship is "vanity and vexation of spirit." In our time the name Hugh Hefner exemplifies the self-indulgent, hedonistic lifestyle. Despite incredible indulgence—perhaps because of it—this lifestyle offers nothing of lasting benefit to its followers. Not long ago as I was "surfing" across the channels of my television, I stopped on a channel in the middle of a Hefner interview. This wrinkled, pathetic old man was still trying to convey the appeal of his hedonistic philosophy. He was wearing loud colored silk pajamas! My first response was one of disgust, not attraction. When they take Hefner to the mortuary, what will he wear? His hedonistic pleasures shall abruptly end! Solomon could have surpassed Hefner many times over, but he possessed a wisdom that realized the utter folly of such a lifestyle. He tried it and walked away from it! Ecclesiastes is his final commentary on his life. Living for the benefit of others, not self, clashes with our sinful disposition, but it is the right and the blessed way to live. Our final question for this chapter deals with motive. Why do we live the Christian life of self-denial? Why do we invest in ministry to others? Far more often than we should, many of us do the right things for the wrong reasons. If we work for our church, visit the sick, or otherwise minister to those who cannot care for themselves, all to receive notice and praise from others for the noble things that we do, we've missed Solomon's point. Wise, godly living, living for God and for others, is its own reward. Jesus makes a repetitive point in the Sermon on the Mount. God will see to it that we get the "reward" that we seek. If we perform exemplary Christian service "to be seen" of men, we shall have our reward. They shall see, and they shall praise us. However, if praise from other people is our true motive, we should expect no more! The better godly motive provides its own reward. If we live a sacrificial life, invested in service to, and for the benefit of, others, with no interest in good words and compliments from other people, simply because God taught us to do it, and it is right, God becomes our rewarder. We cannot expect a "Well done" from other people and a "Well done" from God as well. The desire for either of these rewards de facto excludes the other.

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

2005/10/23 Joy without Regret

October 23, 2005

Dear Friends,

After following Solomon through his self-indulgent autobiographical account of pursuits and vanity "under the sun," we come to see the moral and ethical value of his honest and humble confession in his concluding lessons. A common refrain of youth is "I need to experience these things for myself." Solomon's autobiography rejects such self-indulgence. He tried it all and gave us the conclusion of such pursuits. They will bring pain, regret, and a life that sums up its views with "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." Faith that is bold in its trust of God, joy that is vibrant and implemented in actions that never produce regrets; these are the evidences of mature and godly wisdom. May we study Solomon's life carefully and learn his lessons well. It is far better to learn at his feet than join him in rebellion against the very God who gives inhuman wisdom to each of His beloved children in the form of a law written in their hearts that leads them to actions that transcend human philosophy and insights that crumble in the trials and storms of life. "It is all about me" sums up far too many lives of professing Christians. Last week as I was studying these thoughts and passages a friend sent me the following poem that struck at my heart. It clearly illustrates the lesson that Solomon is trying to teach us in our study passage.

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In black and bitter cold
Each possessed a stick of wood,
Or so the story's told. Their dying fire in need of logs,
The first woman held hers back
For on the faces around the fire
She noticed one was black. The next man looking 'cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn't bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch. The third one sat in tattered clothes
He gave his coat a hitch,
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich? The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store,
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy, shiftless poor. The black man's face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight,
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white. And the last man of this forlorn group
Did naught except for gain,
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game. The logs held tight in death's stilled hands
Was proof of human sin,
They didn't die from the cold without,
They died from the cold within.

May we follow Solomon's wise counsel and be ever-vigilant against the "cold within" our own souls. God bless, Joe Holder

Joy without Regret

Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun: But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity. (Ec 11:7-10) Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, "?For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death" (2Co 7:10). His implication is that other kinds of sorrow exist that may well motivate a person to do or say things that later cause regret, but that godly sorrow (sorrow toward God) brings a quality of repentance that later will not require another act of repentance. Similarly Solomon develops his second practical conclusion in our study verses that direct us to a quality of joy that will not later cause regret. Paul will echo this refrain in Php 4:4. Scripture often uses the analogy of light and darkness. On occasion the analogy may refer to the literal state of life (light) or death (darkness), but often the analogy refers more to our attitude while we live. Paul described the young widow who abandons her faith as being "…dead while she liveth" (1Ti 5:6). During the course of our study of Ecclesiastes, Solomon has bruised our ego with a rather large volume of questions that we cannot answer—things that we do not, and cannot, know. Finally as he begins his conclusion, he leads us to specific conclusions that we may comfortably "know" and embrace. In the last study we examined bold faith. In this study we shall examine wise joy. His description of "light" uses two adjectives, "sweet," and "pleasant." If in fact Solomon's reference to light has to do with our attitude toward life—though "under the sun," but, if lived correctly, lived with the constant awareness of God, who is distinctly "above the sun"—then we may conclude that he affirms a bright, positive view of life when lived in fellowship with God and according to His teachings. While we should joyfully and eagerly embrace life as "sweet" and "pleasant," we shall surely face our seasons of storm and trial. Paul's Philippian admonition requires that we rejoice in the Lord "always," not just when the sun is shining on a beautiful spring day. The idea of a "pessimistic" Christian is something of an oxymoron, despite the sad fact that many Christians approach their faith and put it to practice in life with an attitude that conveys to those around them that a gracious smile borders on sin. "Rejoice, O young man…" is not a statement of license for young people to follow their youthful and fallen flesh into excesses of sin, something of the modern "Do your own thing." Rather it is sage counsel for the young to practice their youthful joy wisely so that they will not face regrets for youthful sins later in life. An old sacred harp hymn states the point concisely, "Let's live so in youth that we blush not in age." The young man's "heart" should be viewed as the changed and cleansed heart that hungers for God. Dr. James Dobson wrote a book entitled Your Emotions: Can You Trust Them? In which he wisely cautioned against following our emotions where ever they lead us. Our emotions are as trustworthy, or as fickle, as the higher moral character that trains them. We may teach our emotions to follow the low road of self-indulgence, leaving them sinfully flawed and wholly not trustworthy. We may also subject them to the moral and ethical disciplines of Biblical teaching, transforming them into a more trustworthy guide, actually a trustworthy follower of the guide of Scripture. I am amazed at times to see professing Christians who react to every emotion that surfaces in their mind, followed by incredible moral and mental gymnastics to rationalize and to justify their total lack of self-control. "…for all these things God will bring thee to judgment." We tend to follow a flawed stereotype of divine judgment that sees all events in God's judgment as negative and condemnatory. "Well done, good and faithful servant" is a judicial pronouncement from God to a faithful disciple! If we live according to the teachings of Scripture, we can look forward to God's judgment with joy rather than dread. It is likely that Solomon's point is to advise the young man to order his life with the conscious awareness that God knows all about his thoughts and deeds, so he should make decisions and walk paths that he knows in advance will ultimately face God's judgment, not merely man's. "Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh." I have several King James Bibles produced by various publishers, along with a number of other translations (I distinguish a true translation from paraphrased Bibles or Bibles presented as translations that are heavily flawed by interpretations of the editors or translators.). Every text that I've checked includes a footnote to the word translated "sorrow." The literal meaning of the Hebrew word is rather broad. Its meaning ranges from grief or sorrow to anger and frustration. Rather than narrowly rejecting pessimism, Solomon here urges the young man to practice early a consistent and broad rejection of the various strong, and consistently destructive emotions of our sinful disposition. "I really gave him a piece of my mind" is usually spoken by folks who truly don't have any mind to spare! The prideful attitude revealed by this comment betrays the very attitude that Solomon urges the young man to "remove…from thy heart." Rather than boasting of its practice, Solomon rejects the heart attitude that permits such words to cross our lips. When you realize that anger or frustration are rising in your heart, it is time to be very silent, not at all the time to give full liberty to your tongue! If you speak at that moment, you will inevitably say things that are destructive, things that you will later regret. The greater problem that people have who vent their anger with devastating words does not relate to their lips as much as to their heart. Solomon goes to the "heart" of the matter by telling the young man to eliminate these inclinations at the source, "from thy heart." If we think that we can foster such strong and destructive emotions in our hearts, but restrain them from our tongues, we deceive ourselves. Whatever we cultivate in our heart will inevitably produce a crop in our mouths. The "young" man may well be an older person. Chronological age does not de facto produce spiritual or emotional maturity. David prays for spiritual maturity in Israel in Ps 144:11-15. "That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth" makes my point. Some folks grow up while they are young in age. Others develop slowly, finally growing up later in life. Ah, sadly there are some folks who slip into old age with the spiritual and emotional immaturity of adolescence. I can't recall the name of the disease, but there is a dreadful disease that causes a child's body to age rapidly, so that before the child leaves adolescence his/her body looks like a very old person. The anomaly of this disease is frightening and grotesque. Can we not equally appreciate the frightening and grotesque appearance of the professing Christian who, despite a mature chronological age, acts and speaks like a "baby Christian" still in spiritual adolescence? Solomon's point echoes his father's in Ps 144. If we wish to learn God's lessons from life, we must grow up into spiritual maturity and live our life as spiritually wise and mature, not in the folly of sinful and undisciplined youth. Live life with optimism and joy as you live it according to God's pattern and not your own private and self-indulgent appetite. That attitude, my friends, displays Biblical and godly wisdom. Be wisely joyful in God.

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

2005/10/30 Gracious Morality

October 30, 2005

Dear Friends,

I find it fascinating how over forty writers who lived across more than fifteen centuries could approach God and life with profound harmony and clarity. While the Roman Catholic faith holds that Scripture is true and valid because the church affirmed it, most non-Catholic Christians who hold to the inspiration of Scripture (that it is a supernatural book, given by God's personal will and expressing His personal message) because of the internal evidence of the books themselves. In other words they are "self-affirming." Solomon will look at his (and our!) vivid mortality, but lead us to the conclusion that God rules and commands the order of our conduct. Paul and other New Testament writers will deal with our fallen and sinful mortality as directly as Solomon. Like Solomon, they will also conclude that the final Day of divine Judgment and resurrection condenses all the complex and varied lifestyle choices down to two simple options. Either we live life as God directed in Scripture, discovering the joy, peace, and fulfillment that He infuses into authentic obedience to Him, or we live life by our personal choices and eventually conclude with empty, frustrating, joyless, and cynical bitterness. In Scripture there are no other options! I give the title "Gracious Morality" to this chapter. We have all met (sometimes when looking in the mirror!) folks who practice a highly moral lifestyle, but who do so with anything but graciousness. Satan could use some of the most zealous professing Christians on his billboards, advertising joyless moralism under the guise of Christianity, and often—in fact—he does just that. Biblical morality is not pietistic, finger-pointing, or "preachy" in its tone. It is delightfully gracious. On more than one occasion I have known godly Christian people who told their personal story. Despite rejecting Christianity as they perceived it "from the outside looking in," they encountered a winsome, gracious Christian whose lifestyle quietly but convincingly spoke of the transforming and joyful impact that Biblical Christianity makes on those who follow the Bible as it leads us into authentic faith. Their personal testimony harmonizes with this word "gracious." "I don't know what it is about you, but I know that you have something that I do not have, and it is something that I profoundly need." What a testimonial to winsome Christianity! May we follow Solomon and all the penmen that God used to give us His Word for our life into this life-changing testimony. God bless, Joe Holder

Gracious Morality

Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain: In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low; Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. (Ec 12:1-8) Why should we serve God? Why obey the obviously stringent and consistent moral and ethical requirements of Christian faith? Without it life could be simpler and—purely from the human perspective—easier. Does this sentiment sound a bit strange coming from a Christian? Perhaps, but the answer to these questions will serve to deepen and strengthen your faith, as well as your Christian ethic. Sadly, too many professing Christians say all the right words, but in fact their personal conduct and ethics barely reflect any significant influence from their supposed faith. They react to problems and pressures far more like a non-Christian than like a robust Christian. A superficial pretense that is barely noticeable to other people seems quite satisfactory to them. I suggest that they would become far more authentic in their profession of faith if they spent more time with such questions, particularly if they investigated Scripture for answers. Solomon's thesis in Ecclesiastes could have been written last week! Its relevance to our contemporary culture is astounding. First he explored the incredible variety of lifestyles and moral options. With admirable honesty he acknowledged that he had personally explored and experienced many of them. The typical contemporary pride that spoils so many professing Christians' credible testimony is conspicuously missing—thank God! Never does he point the blaming finger at others for his choices. He confesses to his conduct with openness, but, true to the honest confession of sin, he discovers a better way to live and shares it with us insightfully and convincingly. "I have sinned" are the three most painful and difficult words to utter for someone whose mind is clouded with sinful pride, but they flow like a mountain stream from the heart that has felt the hand of God and the conviction of sin from the Holy Spirit. We either yield to the "pricks" of the Holy Spirit, or we rationalize our sins with pride. Despite the amazing complexity of life choices that ignore God, Solomon in the end condenses our options to two simple alternatives. One will lead to vanity, to a sense that everything in life, including the personal details of one's own life, is empty and bitter. The other will enrich the life with wisdom that transcends our human perspective and leads to a profound sense of peace and joy that is both obvious and contagious. We may not always know the details of another person's conduct, but this "peace of God" that surpasses understanding is both obvious and contagious. We cannot "fake it" with any credibility whatever. Solomon confronts our mortality in rather painful but honest details that will get in our face, regardless of our present age. As you read through the roadmap that age imprints on your physical body, not to mention your mind, take the time to look in the mirror. Solomon shows us the vivid reality of our two ultimate choices in "living color." We can focus our life and emphasis on the visible, but in the end the most personal and visible thing in our life, our own body, will reveal the frailty of the visible and the self-centric lifestyle. Solomon's description of the alternative is simple and refreshing, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth." A time will come when a person who has lived with too much emphasis on the material will be forced to look in the mirror, face personal mortality, and say, "I'm useless. There is no purpose left for my continued living." Interestingly the word translated "pleasure" in this passage is the same word that is translated "purpose" in Ec 3:1. Consider the impact of age on our body as outlined by Solomon in these verses. Given this glaring reality, why would anyone who truly believes in God want to choose the material over the spiritual?

The "keepers of the house," the hands, develop tremors.

The "strong men," the legs, bow themselves, are bent with arthritis.

The "grinders" cease because they are few. The teeth either lose their ability to chew, or they fall out—you have few of them left.

Those that "look out of the windows" are darkened; eyesight fades. Cataracts and other vision problems leave the impression that everything is too dark to see clearly. "I need more light."

The "doors" are shut; the mouth can't function as it once did, either in speaking or eating. You can't remember the names and details of people and past events or knowledge.

The "sound of grinding" is low. You can no longer eat hard food; you are confined to soft food.

You "rise up at the sound of a bird;" you sleep lightly and are awakened at the slightest noise.

All the "daughters of music" are low. You lose your hearing; you can't hear all the nuances of music clearly as you once could.

You are afraid of "that which is high." You develop a fear of falling or of "the way," of stumbling and falling when you walk.

The "almond tree flourishes." When an almond tree blooms, it is covered with white blossoms; your hair turns white with age.

The "grasshopper" becomes a burden. A crippled grasshopper drags itself along—can no longer leap and fly. You are crippled with age-related arthritis or other similar diseases.

"Desire shall fail." You'd like to do a lot of things that you can't do; your body no longer cooperates.

"Man goes to his long home"—he dies—and those who mourn his death remain.

The "silver cord" is loosed. The spinal cord that connects the brain to the whole body, perhaps the whole central nervous system, breaks down.

The "golden bowl" is broken; the brain, the control center of the central nervous system, degenerates and fails.

The "pitcher" is broken at the fountain. The heart that gathers and circulates the blood breaks down.

The "wheel is broken at the cistern." The circulatory system that moves blood through the body breaks down and no longer functions as it should.

Death occurs. The physical body returns to the dust as it was (Ge 2:7). The spirit, the immaterial part of man, returns to God who gave it. While Solomon forces us to look face-to-face and personal at our own mortality, Paul will teach us the same lesson in the New Testament, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (1Co 15:58) Solomon introduces the final day following these verses; Paul teaches the resurrection prior to his conclusion, but both men lead us to look beyond our mortality and to live life with the constant realization of God and His way to live. "The just shall live by his faith" is the Biblical conclusion that leads us above the sun and into a full and joyful live rather than the life of futility and vanity. May we study Solomon intensely and learn his lesson well.

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

2005/11/06 Thoughtful Teaching in Word and Example

November 06, 2005

Dear Friends,

"Throughout our extended study of Ecclesiastes, we have discovered that Solomon's teaching is as relevant and instructive to us as if written yesterday. In twenty-first century Western culture we need the message of Ecclesiastes desperately. Up to this passage we discovered the relevance of Solomon's message to our general lifestyle. Here he appears equally relevant to preaching and the function of a Biblical New Testament church. The wise preacher of the gospel gives careful—and prayerful—thought to his studies and teaching/preaching. His source is inspired Scripture. He labors equally hard to find "acceptable" words to communicate a sometimes intrusive and shocking message of the gospel. The preacher who deals with the issues of life in a manner that offends people rather than instructing them violates his charge. We must confront, for example, sexual sins that are rampant in today's world, but we must do so in a manner that does not itself offend our hearers. We need not describe the details of these sins to teach people to avoid them. Such an insensitive approach would rightly offend rather than instruct a godly congregation. We may write many books. There is no end to them! However, when we seek the words and truths to transform the lives and instruct people in spiritual matters, we must acknowledge that the one Book that is reliable and authoritative has been written! It needs no revisions, no editing, and no additions. It is God's Word, a holy Book. May we remember our only acceptable textbook and its powerful message, Joe Holder

Thoughtful Teaching in Word and Example

And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ec 12:9-12) Was Solomon referring to his writings in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in this lesson or to a larger life mission? Can we use these words as a guide for ministers today? What is the Biblical charge to a minister of the gospel? And how may he successfully accomplish that mission? Many years ago someone asked me how he could know if a man is called of God to preach. An interesting question, I thought a minute and gave the simplest answer that I could frame. He preaches! Speaking before a church from the pulpit is not preaching. Teaching a solid Biblical truth, essentially an instructive lecture, is not Biblical preaching. Today I would add an additional trait to my original response. Look at the people to whom this man speaks. What impact does his teaching have on them? If the people are made stronger and more stable in their faith by his teaching, and if his teaching motivates them to godly conduct, he gives evidence of a true calling from God. If the people respond with approval, but more like they just heard a good lecture that is interesting and informative, but not motivating to godliness and good works, he does not give evidence of a calling. A life changing power accompanies Biblical preaching that gets into the hearer's life and transforms (Ro 1:16-17). Mental energy—indeed, spiritual energy—accompanies true preaching that sets it apart from lectures, however true and informative. Perhaps we tend to view spiritual "gifts" too narrowly, thinking that the only worthwhile gift is preaching. Important as preaching is according to the New Testament, the Bible lists a surprisingly wide variety of spiritual gifts. In fact in the most extensive passage in the New Testament dealing with spiritual gifts Paul compares the complexity of the New Testament church with the human body. From that basic analogy he lists a wide variety of spiritual gifts that are all necessary for a healthy spiritual "body" to exist. Another evidence of true Biblical preaching appears in its content. If a man studies to find a novel (obscure rather than the obvious) meaning, nudges the passage toward a mystical (rather than the literal and transparent) interpretation, he fails the test of his position as well. The power of Biblical preaching appears when a man presents the old and obvious truth of the passage, but with a freshness that causes the hearers to be excited and motivated, as if they were hearing this old truth for the very first time in their life. Should a preacher give thought to his sermon before entering the pulpit? Or should he simply enter the pulpit with a mental vacuum and hope that God will fill his empty mind with whatever He wants the congregation to hear? When Jesus told the disciples to "give no thought" to what they would say, He was referring to their being arrested for their faith and appearing before their accusers, not to ordinary preaching. Solomon sets the example some nine hundred years in advance of Paul. The wise preacher will work long and hard to gain sound Biblical knowledge. He will further work long and hard to find ways to present that truth simply and understandably so that the people will clearly understand his message. He will apply what he teaches others to himself (give good heed), not contradict his pulpit message with his "foot message," his personal conduct. The sermon lived out by the preacher will have far more influence on people than the sermon preached from the pulpit. Goads were long pointed sticks used by shepherds to prod slothful sheep into staying with the fold where safety was provided. On occasion believers in Christ, however sincere, become careless about their church attendance. Or they faithfully attend, but carefully put up walls around themselves, avoiding social contact and true "fellowship" with their brothers and sisters in the church, thereby losing a protective shelter from spiritual dangers. Those old popular music philosophers, Simon and Garfunkel, touched a crucial point in one of their songs, "Sound of Silence." They depict a person living in the midst of a large city, always surrounded by people, but who carefully remain apart from people. What is the result? The deafening sound of silence! No perfect church exists today. Every church is an imperfect group of people who are trying to grow into the perfect model of a New Testament church that is described in the New Testament. Why did the Lord institute the church? We are social beings who need and respond to other people. He knew that true and regular fellowship would insulate His people from the dangers of a fallen and unfriendly world. Thus He instituted His church and directed His first century inspired writers of the church's handbook to write of its value. The New Testament uses the word "church" in only two ways. In most instances it refers to a local body of baptized believers who live and function together. In a few instances it refers to the final and eternal gathering of all of God's children in heaven. Despite the common reference to a whole fellowship or denomination of people—or at times to all of "organized" Christianity—as "church," this use of the word never appears in the New Testament. Faithful attendance that is mandated by Heb 10:25 cannot occur while we visit other churches than the church of our membership. We only fulfill this New Testament directive by regular and faithful attendance at the church of our membership. I recently visited a church in Texas, requiring that I miss a Sunday at the church of my membership. While I was involved in preaching and fellowship, I was not specifically fulfilling my obligation to my home church on this particular Sunday. While the church that I serve was quite happy for me to attend this special meeting, I could not constantly travel, however busy ministering in other churches, and fulfill my personal obligation to the church of my membership, either as a member of that church or as its pastor. Contemporary pseudo-church organizations reject the idea of specific "church membership," rather teaching that, if you are merely present under one roof on a given occasion where Christians meet and attempt to worship God, you are on that occasion a "member" of that church. This obtuse concept is altogether alien to the New Testament. Specific and formally defined churches existed in various locations. When visiting them or writing to them, inspired New Testament writers addressed them as a specific body of believers. In 1Co 5 Paul confronted the church in Corinth for its toleration of a member in that church who had an affair with his step-mother. He directed the church to grieve both the man's sin and its own failure to confront and rebuke that sin, in the end instructing the church to excommunicate the man. However, some eighteen months later in 2 Corinthians, he instructed the church to restore the man who had subsequently repented of his sin. This whole scenario would be senseless and impossible if there were no formal identity of a local church body and formal membership in it. A gospel "goad" motivates people to remain faithful both to their God and to the local assembly of their membership. Nails are used by carpenters to firmly attach one piece of lumber to another in building a building. Do you sense the analogy of a nail in 1Co 15:58? Paul's preaching on the reality of a literal, bodily resurrection served to "nail" the Corinthian church together and to "nail" them to faithful steadfastness in the gospel. Without a firm grasp of the resurrection this church had no stability. Thus we find the value of both goads and nails in the New Testament description of the gospel. As with many of the lifestyle issues that appear in Ecclesiastes, Solomon is as contemporary and relevant in this lesson as in his other teachings in this book. May we eagerly embrace his exhortation and seek the power of the gospel to transform our lives.

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

2005/11/13 The Final Word: Timeless Truth

November 13, 2005

Dear Friends,

"We come to the last chapter in our study of Ecclesiastes. As I researched and re-examined former views of this book—and for that matter, of Solomon as well—I had formed something of a dim view of both. Despite a dreadful detour into a life that failed to demonstrate the wisdom that God bestowed upon him at the beginning of his reign, I believe Ecclesiastes, likely Solomon's last writing that appears in Scripture, indicates that he in some way returned to the way of wisdom. At the least he came to realize the folly of his sins and to see his own life through the lens of that wisdom. Through his lifetime he moved from the simple—trusting and fearing God and living according to God's way—into the complex world of sin and hedonism, a self-indulgent lifestyle that involves far more than our view of the Hugh Hefner "mansion." Based on Solomon's view of the correct way of life, many professing Christians are far more hedonistic than they would ever admit, for they live their life primarily based on self, not on God. I have grown in this study to hold tremendous respect for Solomon's honesty. He openly and honestly confessed his faults, his sins, and repeatedly in the early chapters summed it all up as emptiness, of no more value than a soap bubble after it bursts. Would that professing Christians today would be so open and honest. I have heard every name and title imaginable for sin, all designed to rationalize and to excuse what the Bible repeatedly calls sin. Pride rules too many hearts to their own destruction. In keeping with Solomon's example John Newton never allowed his parishioners to forget that he, their respected pastor, was at one time a black-hearted slave trader. The Bible is always the most up-to-date book ever written. It never becomes obsolete. Despite the fact that Solomon lived around nine hundred years before Jesus' birth, the wisdom—the timeless moral wisdom—of the book is as relevant to life today as if Solomon wrote it yesterday. When politicians try to evade the consequences of their sin by attempting with straight face to parse the verb "is," we need Solomon's message. When politicians say with straight face, "Your president is not a liar," we need Solomon's message. When Christians consciously evade the teachings of Scripture in their lives in favor of the rule of their own bitter emotions, we need Solomon's message. In the end the sum total of all that is worthwhile for each of us appears in these two simple truths, fearing God and keeping His commandments. Notice in your King James Bible that the word "duty" in this lesson is italicized, meaning that it was supplied by the translators. "This is the whole man" would be a literal translation of the actual language. The whole of what man should be, think, and do if he hopes to live life as God commanded, is summed up in these two principles. May we learn the lesson of the godly, simple life that Solomon teaches. God bless, Joe Holder

The Final Word: Timeless Truth

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (Ec 12:13-14) Perhaps the greatest challenge in life appears in the maze of complexities that confront us almost every day. Choices multiply in every facet of our lives. How do you know which way is right? In the early chapters of Ecclesiastes Solomon confessed his exploration of this endless array of options, choices, and indulgences of the human appetite. However, once he rejected any choice that does not involve a genuine consideration of God, meaning submission to His way in all our life choices and conduct, he took us down a road that is increasingly straightforward. Beginning with the eleventh chapter, he draws three basic practical conclusions; 1) be bold in your faith (Like James in the New Testament, Solomon's view of bold faith requires conduct, not mere words or thoughts.), 2) be wisely joyful, enjoying life as God's gift to be embraced and valued, and 3) build your life around moral values that do not change with age or circumstances. Finally in the last two verses of the book, Solomon takes us to a broad worldview conclusion that is life-transforming. If you fully embrace this conclusion, any other issue in life is secondary. If you do not fully embrace it, life becomes increasingly confusing and void of meaning or value. In our study of fear, faith, and love we discovered that fearing God does not mean that we live with a morbid dread of divine retribution, but rather a thorough-going obedience to God in all areas of life. The person who claims to fear God, but who constantly seeks to avoid obedience to God's Word in the hard issues of life, in fact demonstrates that he/she does not in fact fear God at all. We prove our fear of God by our faithful obedience to His Word. In typical Hebrew grammatical style Solomon uses repetition to emphasize the point. The next clause affirms the first, "…keep his commandments." The more we reject God's Word as the comprehensive guide in all things that we do the more we complicate our life. The Jews in Jesus' day rejected God's true way of life, despite their intense self-image of rigid obedience to it. God gave them Ten Commandments. Not satisfied with ten simple, but comprehensive, rules, they transformed these ten principles into over six hundred. Further rejection of God's simple way motivated them to expand the list to well over a thousand. Imagine the difficulty of trying to remember over a thousand rigid rules every time you must make a decision. In powerful contrast, when the Jews asked Jesus to affirm the Ten Commandments (actually to tell them which of the ten was more important than the others, itself a rejection of the binding obligation of all ten), Jesus condensed the ten to two! The first four commandments deal with our attitude toward and our obedience to God. The final six commandments govern our conduct toward our fellowman. Simplifying, not complicating, the question, Jesus affirmed this simple truth and condensed the Ten Commandments to two; 1) Love (obey) God, and 2) love your neighbor as yourself. Ah, we often seem more inclined to follow the corrupted first century pattern of the Jews than our Lord's example. "But isn't there more to Christianity than that?" someone will say in objection to this view of the Christian way. Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay on the ethics of the Ten Commandments that is delightfully wise and honest. In his logical way of thinking he decided that by focusing all of his energy and attention on one Commandment at a time he could perfect that one. Once he mastered one of the commandments he could then move to the second and put all of his emphasis on it. He started out pretty well, but soon discovered that, as he shifted emphasis from those earlier principles of conduct to perfect the latest one, his "perfect" mastery of the earlier ones eroded. Franklin learned by experiment what Scripture clearly teaches. Although perfect obedience frames our moral obligation to God, we can never master it; we can never arrive at perfect obedience. Every act or attitude relies for its success on some foundational energy or power. If we join Franklin, not to mention the legalistic penchant that thrives within each of us, we will fail as fully as Franklin, whether we are as honest with ourselves as he was or not. What is the power that enables us to live with the simple focus and directional clarity that Solomon requires of us? He does not appeal to another rule. Nor does he put our failures under a microscope and load a deadly burden of guilt on our shoulders for our failure. Thank you, Solomon! Observe that the fourteenth verse of our passage begins with a connective preposition. "For" reminds us that what will follow in this verse relates in some logical way to what Solomon wrote in the preceding verse. How does God's ultimate and comprehensive judgment of all mankind and of all human acts and thoughts relate to our duty to fear God and keep His commandments? This assurance of divine judgment actually serves as the empowering principle that will enable us to strive toward the wonderfully simple goal of the life of faith. How much of our life is consumed with frustrations and complaints at the unfairness of one man's inhumanity to his fellowman, often personalized in our complaint that others treated us unfairly? Would you like to gather up every event in your entire life that nags at you, that reminds you of life's unfairness, and send them away for ever? Would this action simplify your life? Would it be easier in that setting to focus your emotional, moral, and spiritual energy on fearing God and keeping his commandments? Ah, you are getting the point! That is Solomon's intent in the passage. The fact is that each of us may live—indeed, should live—with the constant assurance that God will deal with every sin, every inconsiderate act of every human being who ever lived. In some cases He will deal with them by chastening in the present life. In other cases He will deal with them at the final Day of Judgment at the end. Between these events, both consistently affirmed throughout Scripture, we may face every day, including its inequities, with the simple assurance that God knows everything about our life, as well as every other human being's. He even knows our secret most thoughts! "The Teacher summarizes the message, drawing attention to the awesomeness of God, the cruciality of his word (13) and the inevitability of his judgment (14). It is a judgment which will include every person, every deed, public or hidden, good or bad."[1] While, I believe incorrectly, Tom Constable thinks that Solomon had almost no understanding of life after death, he does take us to the correct conclusion. "We should be content to leave the enigmas of life in God's hands. We should also follow Solomon's wise counsel to enjoy life as God enables us to do so and to serve God acceptably while we can. "What is the 'profit' of living? What does a man get for all his work? He gets the living God! And his whole profit consists of fearing Him and obeying His Word."[2] The certainty of God's final judgment becomes the empowering principle that enables us to live life joyfully, understanding that it is God's beautiful gift to us. The conviction of divine justice, however long delayed, eliminates the nagging complaints that destroy our consideration of the simple walk of faith. How complicated is your life? Want to make it simpler? Listen to Solomon!

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

2005/11/20 Expositional Theology

November 20, 2005

Dear Friends,

"It is frighteningly easy in serious Biblical studies to become so focused on the details of a lesson that we never fully examine the context in which it appears. We chase original language definitions and topical works that tend to emphasize these words endlessly. If we find an occasional gem that excites us, we further entrench our fragmented method of study. The incidental appearance of a particular original language word in two separate passages in different books of the Bible does not necessarily enlighten our primary study passage. Consider the English word "trunk." How many meanings does the word have? If I'm driving my automobile and realize that I have a flat tire, I will pull to the side of the road and get the tools and spare tire out of the car's "trunk." If I take my grandchildren to the circus, we might see a very large elephant with a fascinating "trunk." If a person whose native language is non English were to study our experiences and our use of words, following a commonly accepted method of Biblical study, they might attempt to make a major point of the idea that we used the word "trunk" when changing a flat tire and when visiting the circus, errantly concluding that flat tires and elephant trunks are in some strange and mystical way related. More specific to one's Biblical study, the word commonly translated "world" in the New Testament will list at least eight different meanings in a reliable New Testament Greek dictionary. To understand the meaning of the word in a given context requires contextual research, not word chasing in a topical textbook. Can the word have exactly the same meaning in Joh 3:16 where we are told of God's love for the "world" and in Joh 17:9 where Jesus specifically said, ".I pray not for the world"? Do we have in these two passages evidence of a divine rebellion; the Father loving a world that Jesus refuses to so much as pray for? Of course not! We have the same word used in two different ways. How do we determine the meaning of the word in these two passages and-more importantly-the correct meaning of the two passages? We do so by examining the context and developing an interpretation for each that, first of all, renders it compatible with the immediate context of the passage, and that, finally, avoids creating contradiction of ideas in the greater context of all Scripture. While I value the reference books commonly referred to as "systematic theology" texts, I have at times felt rather frustrated at them as well. Most of them provide valuable and consistent development of the various significant doctrines of the Bible. However, they seldom emphasize the integration of the various individual doctrines that they examine. For example, how does redemption relate to atonement? Rather than criticize these texts, which have provided me with an immense and invaluable benefit over the last fifty years of my reading them, my purpose in this project will be to add something of a compliment to them. As we examine specific doctrines, I will attempt to begin with one or two of the most significant passages that present, explain, and develop the particular doctrine under consideration. However, rather than chasing words and multiple passages, I will attempt to develop the doctrine within the primary context being examined. As we develop the doctrine within the selected context, we will look for other doctrines that appear in the context and seek to define the relationship between the various doctrines that appear within this context. Thus, rather than creating an external "systematic" theme, our goal will be to follow the internal "systematic" theme of Scripture that defines both the individual doctrines and other doctrines that relate to them. This task is both formidable and simple. Formidable in that it challenges our minds to submit to the teaching of Scripture and the overarching harmony of all Biblical teachings. Simple in that it will attempt simply and solely to follow the internal structure of Scripture as the various doctrines of Scripture are set forth as an integrated whole, not as isolated segments of truth. Will you pray for the work as we move forward? God bless, Joe Holder

Expositional Theology

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. (Lu 1:1-4) Traditionally theologians use the term "systematic theology" to define their attempts to summarize Biblical theology, particularly the major and essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Most of these works follow a fairly consistent form. Start with God. Develop all the doctrines of the Bible that relate to the Person, character, and work of God. Then shift to the doctrine of man, and eventually bring God and man together in various specific doctrines from election and redemption to eschatology. I have a significant number of these works in my library and have read most of them. They serve an invaluable purpose in that they attempt to treat each doctrine of the faith separately, but I have struggled for years with a personal concern that their value also defines their greatest fault. They tend to sterilize each doctrine, often not fully demonstrating the integration of all Biblical doctrine into a single consistent and harmonious fabric of Biblical truth. Occasionally the thought has crossed my mind, "If these works are systematic, are we saying by implication that the manner in which Scripture presents them is something other than systematic?" I will not criticize these works of the past. However, as my personal Bible study has increasingly shifted from topical to contextual and expository, my use of systematic theology texts has diminished. At the same time my use of Scripture and specific works that directly enlighten a passage in its full context has moved into the forefront. Much of this transition occurred gradually over several years. Recently a dear friend and fellow in ministry, Elder Mike Ivey, nudged me to consider at least an abbreviated effort to examine the major doctrines of our faith from this contextual-expositional perspective. Rather than developing each doctrine in sterile isolation, examine it from the specific context of the significant passages that present the doctrine in Scripture. While working through the passage to affirm the Biblical teaching on the particular doctrine at hand, look within the context of the passage for parallel development of other doctrines. Seek specific links between the various doctrines. Examine Biblical doctrine, not as an isolated idea, but as an integrated whole. Look for common denominators, ties that unite the various doctrines of the Bible into the underlying "systematic" whole that authors of the various "systematic" theology texts attempt to present in their works. Rather than criticize these works, if I am able to pursue this work, it will attempt to add something of a missing link, the threads that blend each Bible doctrine with other related Biblical truth so that the whole of God's truth is considered in its wholeness, not in its separateness. Is this possible? I believe it is. In fact this interlinked wholeness is precisely the way in which Scripture presents Biblical doctrines. The inspired writers of Scripture never deal with individual doctrines in isolation from the whole fabric of their writing and teaching. They rather present them as an integrated whole truth. This effort should attempt to follow Scripture as it develops and blends each facet of Biblical truth into a single whole. One of my challenges has been to get my mind around the scope of such a work. To be honest, I can't say that I have done so even now, but I believe this approach to God's truth is the Biblical model. How do we go about discovering and affirming theology, the various essential doctrines of God and of God's dealings with humanity? While I readily affirm that Biblical Christianity is historical, and as such is documented in the history of Christianity through the lives and writings of various men, historical research alone cannot determine sound theological truth. Why? Not only does history document the historicity of Christian truth, it also records an endless maze of errors and nuances of mixed truth and error. I may reach a conclusion about a particular Bible doctrine that is not fully orthodox within my denomination or fellowship. If I invest sufficient time in reading from past Christian writers, eventually I will discover someone who held to the same view that I now hold, so I can say that my view is "what the old fathers in the faith" believed, even if it is errant or for that matter heretical. We discover and affirm sound Biblical theology by sound, thoroughgoing Biblical study and research, not by history and the myriad of ad hominem arguments (appeal to a man; if this respected man in the past believed a certain thing, shame on us if we do not believe the same thing that he believed.) that typically go with the unholy marriage of history and theology. Ad hominem appeals are the weakest arguments in a sound pursuit of Biblical doctrine, for, regardless of the deficit in our personal beliefs, we can readily find someone in the past who believed as we do. Logically it is almost impossible to appeal to the authoritative writings of respected historical men without falling into the ad hominem trap. Neither personal belief nor the belief of men in the past, regardless of their respected place in history, validates soundness. Agreement with Scripture alone affirms sound theology. Luke's introduction to his gospel affirms what most serious Bible students eventually discover. Scripture develops Biblical doctrines in logical and soundly reasoned form. They "set forth in order" what we most surely believe. Given the breadth and gravity of this approach to Biblical doctrine, I have agreed to pursue this task with Mike's ongoing input, as well as yours. The work is necessarily defined by our choice of doctrines and the supporting passages that we select to develop them, along with their integration with other related doctrines that appear in the context of Scripture. I must appeal to your patience and your prayerful support as we begin to explore the major doctrines of the faith from this perspective. On one hand it should be simple, for my objective is to develop the doctrine in the same precise manner as Scripture develops it. On the other hand the task is incredibly intimidating. My typical objective in writing on Biblical teaching has been to follow the "KISS" principle, Keep it short and simple. I ask your prayers for God's grace to clarify both the selected doctrines and the specific passages that I choose to develop them, along with the internal blend of the doctrine considered with other related Biblical doctrines. Pray that I will faithfully recognize and follow the clear order of the passage so that we will jointly see the truth of the doctrine, as well as its seamless integration with other Biblical doctrines. Despite the daunting challenge, the value of this approach to fundamental Biblical doctrines appears in its attempt to follow the systematic pattern of integrated truth in which Scripture presents them to us. All Biblical doctrine appears as integrated patterns woven into a single fabric of Biblical truth. Scripture knows nothing of "doctrine" versus "practice." The most profound of doctrines may appear side by side with the most basic practical instruction that is designed to guide the Christian in daily living according to Biblical teaching. In Scripture there is no wall between "doctrine" and "practice," or for that matter between any of the various teachings that Scripture brings to light on its holy pages. Predestination and discipleship are not isolated chapters in Scripture, nor does Scripture confuse one with the other. While defining each with clarity, Scripture brings the harmony of the two together so that neither God's eternal purpose nor our solemn obligation to obey God is confused. God works in us to do, according to Paul, but God does not "do the doing" of our obedience, the regrettable fault of teachings that tend toward determinism or fatalism. Pray for the work. I need your prayers. If you find the idea exciting and have specific doctrines and/or passages that especially command your interest, please communicate them to me. Together let's "buckle up" and see where God leads us in this effort.

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

2005/11/27 What is the Unifying Principle?

November 27, 2005

Dear Friends,

"As I prepared to explore Biblical theology from an expositional perspective, two ideas surface as vital to our pursuit. "The first idea is that Scripture is not a random compilation of mystical writings and ideas that the average reader cannot possibly understand. Rather it was written in the "koine" Greek dialect, the common language of the street, spoken and understood by common folk in the first century. Most of the New Testament letters were written to either individuals or to churches (primarily composed of slaves and commoners, not of sophisticated elitists) and were intended to instruct these people regarding specific problems or issues that challenged their godly faith—and faithfulness. Sadly, we often encounter people who claim to be spiritual leaders and teachers who by their teaching example embrace this mystical concept of a mystical Scripture. Their practice of "exegesis" more often demonstrates the confusing and hopelessly mystical "word chase" described earlier in my example of the word "trunk." By applying this flawed perspective of Biblical interpretation to common everyday conversation, the "word chase" method of exegesis would conclude that the compartment in the back end of an automobile and the trunk of an elephant are mystically related because we use the word "trunk" for both. This approach to Biblical study and interpretation ignores the context of every passage examined, as well as the basic "occasion" or reason that prompted the writing of each New Testament letter. "The second idea is that a common theological foundation must exist in order for us to discover the unity of various Biblical doctrines. In this week's chapter I will examine one of two theological foundations that I believe to be essential to a correct interpretation of Scripture, the moral character of God. The second of these principles, next week's chapter, will examine the Biblical concept of God's love, perhaps the most intimate characteristic of God's moral character. "Any doctrine or idea that violates God's moral character in any way will eventually fail the test of Scripture. Here is an example of two quite opposite teachings that demonstrate how a doctrine that violates God's moral character will fail the Biblical test. "The idea that God mysteriously (supported by the bogus argument from God's "secret will," never remotely mentioned or taught in Scripture) can orchestrate events that diametrically contradict His moral character comes head-on against Scripture in Jeremiah's stinging rebuke of people in his day who practiced idolatrous Baal worship (and other pagan worship that even included child sacrifice), but quickly attempted to defend their idolatry by saying that God delivered them to do such things. In the New Testament this idea will again be confronted and rebuked in compelling terms. When Paul's unnamed critics in the Roman letter sought to discredit him, they falsely accused him of this idea. Rather than accepting it as his true belief, Paul rejected the idea in terms that are as emphatic as anything that we read under his "signature" (Ro 3:1-8, especially the eighth verse). "An incredible—and incredibly alarming—idea has surfaced in recent years among contemporary Christians who typically fall into the ultra-liberal category of professing Christians, called "open theism." Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (website carm.org) offers a revealing summary of the major tenets of open theism in the following: "God's greatest attribute is love. Open theists typically elevate God's love above, not in equal harmony with, His other attributes. In this error they tend to depict God as something of a cosmic butler, who is always present and ready to facilitate your every desire, but who seeks never to get in your way or interfere with what "you want." As much as I enjoy Neil Diamond's music, in "Leave a Little Room for God" Diamond makes this errant point, "He won't get in your way." In this human-centric view of God, man becomes god, and God becomes the efficient and facilitating cosmic butler who is always there to help, but who never wants to interfere with what the true "master of the house" wants to do. "Man's will is truly free in a libertarian sense, in no way restricted by man's sinful and fallen nature. Thus new "open theism" revisits a very old heresy, Pelagianisn. "God does not know the future, either because he cannot know it or because he chooses not to do so. Blasphemous! "God takes risks. Since God does not know the future, everything he chooses to do puts him at risk of doing the wrong thing when future consequences of his current action unfold. "God learns, because he does not know the future. Forget all the passages that speak of God being all-knowing—indeed of God being GOD. "God makes mistakes! Yes, that is what they teach. Since God cannot—or chooses not to—know the future, he must inevitably make mistakes in the most crucial of his work, his interaction with man. "God changes his mind. Since God learns and makes mistakes, give the cosmic butler a break. Let him at least be willing to change his mind when he learns, discovers new information, and realizes that he made mistakes. "The faithful Bible student will—and well should—cringe at such blasphemous ideas. You see, this teaching violates the moral character of God in the opposite way from the fatalistic or deterministic idea that attributes the ultimate cause of sin to God. A well-known "Christian" college in southern California, as well as liberal "Christian" colleges in other regions, openly embraces this amazing error. How their influence will impact future generations of unsuspecting young people who enroll in their curriculum, naively thinking that they are enrolled in a traditional Christian university, is frightening indeed. "We need not embrace either of these deviant ideas to need a fresh and vital remembrance of our strong Biblical anchor in God's moral character as we study and seek to unfold the true teaching of Scripture for our needs and for a correct understanding of God and of His will for our lives. Every Christian needs to hold fast to the bedrock truth of God's moral character as he/she investigates Scripture to learn God's will for both faith and life. "May we be faithful students of Scripture, and may we constantly weigh every idea, even our own, in the scales of God's moral character, Joe Holder

What is the Unifying Principle?

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: (Ro 1:3-5) "Any rational study of Biblical doctrine must necessarily begin with God. Our generation has seen far too much of the toxic consequences of pseudo-Christians who put man generally, or more often self in particularly, at the center of the spiritual universe. Theologians admire Paul's systematic pattern of writing, often using his Roman letter as the prime example. I comfortably join that number. I offer two principles that are paramount to a realistic and harmonious discovery of Biblical truth. "Before beginning to interpret any New Testament passage, discover the purpose of the letter, the true "big picture" idea that prompted the inspired writer to invest significant time, effort, and often money to communicate this specific message with all of its content and nuances to this specific audience. Who is the writer? Who is the audience? Why did this particular writer compile this specific message for this unique audience? Most, if not all, New Testament letters or books are "occasional letters." That is, some event, problem, or difficult "occasion" needed correction or attention, and the author wrote to deal with the catalyzing "occasion." If we do not accurately discover the underlying occasion that prompted the letter, all the word chases and pretended contextual studies in the world cannot unfold the passage correctly and sensibly to our minds. As the writer compiled his unique message to this specific original audience, what unifying principle brings all the various issues and ideas together into a meaningful and functional whole that clearly addresses the primary "occasion" or problem and offers a godly solution to that problem? "The Roman letter is profoundly theological. As the verses quoted indicate, Paul is writing to the Roman Christians/church (or churches) regarding the Lord Jesus Christ. In these short verses he develops ideas that touch the Incarnation, the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, including His full equality with the Father, the "spirit of holiness" (indicating the moral character of God), and the resurrection of Christ; all set forth as the foundation from which Paul writes as an apostle intending to proclaim and incite obedience to the faith to all peoples, not just to Jews. "Each of us will reveal something of our personality and thinking styles as we write, especially if we write extensively as Paul did—approximately thirty per cent of the New Testament text. Paul displays a rather unique style in his writing. He aims at emphatic clarity. In order to reinforce this clarity Paul typically "book-ends" his primary message near the beginning and the ending of each of his letters. If we want to accurately interpret and understand any of his letters, our first objective should be to identify his primary "book-end" idea. It will bring cohesion, purpose, and clarity to the whole content of that particular letter. "One of the major strengths of the typical "systematic theology" is ironically also one of its major weakness, the isolation and intensive development of a single doctrine at a time. Quite the opposite, Scripture develops Biblical doctrines as tightly woven themes and patterns, carefully integrated into a single whole. The Roman letter clearly exemplifies this pattern. Paul will delve deeply into the profound depths of eternal truth that relates to God's eternal purpose and our eternal salvation, but within that same context he may weave equally pertinent insights and teachings that deal with the Christian life and ethic to be consistently lived out by each of those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let me illustrate the point. "What is Paul's "book-end" idea in the Roman letter? In Ro 1:8-13 Paul indicates knowledge of and admiration for the Romans. He tells them of his desire and imminent purpose to visit them. Given the distance and available means of travel in first century Mediterranean regions, such a lengthy trip would be both timely and costly. While Romans chapter sixteen forms a distinct part of the Roman letter, structurally it is a thematic postscript, sending greetings and words of encouragement to various individuals. In terms of Paul's primary purpose in writing, the thematic message ends with the fifteenth chapter. So where is the bookend? I offer that Ro 15:22-24 takes us back to the precise point that appears in the first chapter, Paul's desire to visit the Romans, but it also indicates his desire to travel west beyond Rome to Spain. First he must take the collection to the suffering saints in Jerusalem, after which he hopes to visit the Romans. There is a subtle indication that he will need their financial support to accomplish these desires. We also see hints that internal problems at Rome might hinder this support. Notice Ro 15:30 as Paul nudges the Romans to "…strive together with me" first in prayer, but likely in more than prayer as well. What is the implication? The embedded focus of the whole letter on the "Jew-Gentile" problem indicates that a major problem likely existed within the Roman church relating to these racial-cultural differences. Paul's functional message is an intense exhortation for the Romans to settle their internal strife over racial or cultural differences and to focus their "strife" on prayerful and financial support for Paul and his ministry. Ac 18:2 specifically indicates that Claudius Caesar expelled all Jews from Rome. The Roman historian Suetonius writes of this event and tells us that the Jewish community in Rome became so embroiled in internal strife that Claudius simply expelled them all. What was the basis for such an intense strife within the Jewish community in Rome? The Roman historian indicates that it related to a difference of opinion regarding one "Chrestus," Christ. Ah, some Jews in Rome believed in Christ and were active members of the church in that city, while other Jews did not believe in Jesus. Thus we have both Scriptural and independent historical support for a major problem that precisely matches the theme of Paul's letter to the Romans. Some time later, Jewish people were apparently allowed to return to Rome. When the Roman Christians returned to their church, do you suppose that some distinctly non-Jewish ideas or practices might have evolved during their absence? And how might they have reacted? This scenario clearly justifies the theme and content of Paul's Roman letter. We cannot say with unquestioned knowledge that this is the background, but it seems more than likely to be the case. So what is Paul's overarching and unifying message to the Romans? They can't strive with him in the gospel while they are striving with each other over irrelevant questions such as a presumed superiority of Jews over Gentiles or of Gentiles over Jews. Paul's greater message to the Romans is to "get their act together," end their internal strife, and support him and the work of the gospel. They could not invest in their strife while also supporting him. One strife must end for the other to be accomplished! The doctrinal themes of the Roman letter affirm that being a Jew or a Gentile today is of no real consequence. Both are reconciled to God on the same basis, the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, so they needed to forget this superficial difference and unify themselves in the work of the gospel. What is the unifying thematic foundation for Paul's Roman letter? He covers major theological issues, at times more fully and intensely than in almost any other letter that he wrote. At other times he is equally emphatic in his exhortations to the Romans regarding their personal conduct. What single unifying theme can we identify that brings these rather diverse themes together into a united and integrated whole? I suggest that Paul introduces that unifying theme in our passage, "…according to the spirit of holiness…." As Paul introduces each theological point throughout the Roman letter, he will repeatedly build the doctrinal truth that he teaches on a single premise, the moral character of God. Paul wrote the Roman letter, indeed most of his letters, in the literary form of ancient dialectical reasoning. He knows that his ideas will not be universally accepted, so he reasons with those who oppose him with integrity and clarity. Often in Romans you will get the sense that you are listening to a conversation between Paul and someone else. In fact you are. Paul would have detested the typical "straw man" argumentation of our culture in which one person inaccurately depicts a phony and imprecise interpretation of another person's beliefs, and then attacks and dismantles the phony "straw man." If we were to read Paul's critics' response to his depiction of their ideas, we would be surprised to hear them congratulate him for understanding and representing their ideas so accurately. "Perhaps the single most crucial point to a correct understanding of Paul's letter to the Romans appears in our keeping this unifying truth of God's moral character clearly present in our minds as we study every verse and every doctrine that Paul develops in the Roman letter. Whether dealing with the function of the gospel (as in Ro 1) or the difficult but altogether Biblical doctrine of election (as in the ninth chapter), Paul repeatedly builds his doctrinal teachings on this unifying foundation of God's moral character. Further, he will build his exhortations to godly conduct on the same bedrock truth. If God is altogether moral, consistent, and ethical in every aspect of His Person and work, we should expect that He will require those who profess faith in Him to practice that same moral ethics in their personal lives. "Paul presents the doctrines of grace as God's ethical response to sin. He understands love as the moral principle driving the ethics presented in these doctrines. God foreknew; He foreloved, and acted ethically on His love by predestinating, calling, justifiying and glorifying. However, all of these ethical behaviors occurred out of the sight and knowledge of man. When Christ came, He revealed by his behavior a perfect expression of God's morality. In ethical terms His death at Calvary was the crowning example of the ethical morality of that love. Among other things, His resurrection also signifies God's approval of Christ's exemplary ethics, God's ethical reaction to Christ's perfect obedience. In the Roman letter Paul weaves the ethics of God's character into a narrative of how Christians are to treat one another. Furthermore, he explains how God responds to our faithful practice of his moral character in the tenets of justification by faith by giving us assurance of our hope of the resurrection. "Further, if we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, its supernatural origin and its supernatural preservation, we must not interpret any passage or doctrine in such a way as to create contradiction between two distinct doctrines. For example, people who are inclined toward fatalism or determinism (the idea that God either positively causes or instrumentally and morally "permits" every event in human history, even sin) will typically interpret Ro 8:28 to mean that every event that occurs in human history is in some mystical way used by God both for His glory and for the good of godly people. When challenged with the obvious contradiction of sinful actions relating in any positive manner with the being and character of God, advocates of this doctrine will typically appeal to God's "secret will." They imply a diametrical contradiction in the moral character of God and then attempt to relieve the contradiction by the idea of a "secret will" of God. No such idea even remotely appears in Scripture, so any argument that imposes moral contradiction upon God and then tries to relieve the contradiction by an appeal to His supposed "secret will" is in fact a non-argument. If we interpret Ro 8:28 to include the wicked acts of men, whether by divine cause or by divine "permission (the idea that God in some way gives "permission" or approval to sinful acts, even if He does not cause them per se)," we create an impossible contradiction between that passage and Ro 3:1-8 where Paul specifically reasons between God's righteousness and man's sin. If God must rely on man's sin to magnify His righteousness, He hopelessly loses the moral high ground from which He may righteously judge human sin at the final Judgment. How can He judge sin and punish sinners if He had to rely on them for magnification and affirmation of His righteousness? Many readers will skim over the Ro 3 passage and barely perceive more than an apparent and confusing view that borders on sanctified double speak. In this lesson Paul specifically and directly rejects the idea that God's righteousness in any way relies on man's sin for assistance or for glory. A simple consideration of Paul's foundational and unifying theme of God's moral character for every point made in the Roman letter will steer us through both passages and avoid theological shipwreck in either context. "To view God as sovereign and yet not the cause of—or at least giving passive permission to—every act and event of human history is not a contradiction. Nor is it the basis for an aloof deistic view of God, the typical "straw man" argument raised by fatalistic advocates against this idea. When Paul specifically confronts both wicked people whom God did not elect to salvation, and their sinful deeds, in Ro 9:22 and context, he did not use either the term "permission" or the idea of God causing or permitting their sin. "…endured with much longsuffering" categorically rejects the idea rather than endorsing it. Thus incorporating Paul's unifying theme of God's moral character, His holiness, into the whole fabric of the Roman letter will lead us to consistent and balanced interpretations of these various and, admittedly, difficult passages. "When I was working my way through my formal education, I repeatedly faced the frustrating and dominant existential view of the day from every one of my literature instructors. We were directed to read and study the various leading authors in the text, but in classroom discussions we were inevitably asked, "What does this piece mean to you?" I would have enjoyed my literature classes far more had these instructors avoided the typical existential philosophy that their question revealed. What the passage meant to me was fundamentally irrelevant! When the author wrote his thoughts, he didn't know that I would ever exist, much less care what I would think of his writing when I encountered it. The correct question would have been "What did the author himself mean? What did he intend by these words?" We should take that same attitude and question to Scripture as we examine it and seek a balanced, contextual, and reasonable interpretation of it for our own instruction. "We may develop our thoughts verse by verse in a given book of the Bible and think ourselves to be contextual and expository in our interpretation, but if we do not discover and keep the author's (more importantly the divine Author's) meaning in mind as we study, the results of our study will be as fragmented and unfaithful to the context as if we were still chasing words and confusing flat tires and elephant trunks. "I am convinced that throughout Scripture we will discover consistent unifying themes and principles that will serve to lead us through the difficult passages and ideas with precision and balance, leading us to conclusions and doctrines that are internally harmonious and that consistently magnify and honor God and attribute deserved glory to Him alone. In Romans that unifying and under girding principle is God's moral character. We miss the mark with any interpretation or idea that remotely compromises God's moral character.

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

2005/12/04 Where it all Begins

December 04, 2005

Dear Friends,

"Perhaps more is said by preachers about God's love than any other single divine attribute. How do you define God's love? Our Western culture has so corrupted the word and concept that we must sweep away most of our cultural ideas about love to gain any sense of God's love as set forth in Scripture. One of the simplest and most basic definitions of the Greek word most frequently translated "love" in the New Testament passages that direct us to God's love means "love in a social or moral sense." Most Western Christians read these words and immediately shut down in near mental paralysis. The idea of love in a "social or moral" sense simply does not compute! The Western concept of love is superficial sentimental love. It relates to how you feel, not to how you act. Let me translate the idea into a concept that you might understand. When you say your wedding vows regarding lifelong faithfulness to your spouse, you pledge exclusive faithfulness to your spouse in all of life's potential circumstances, good, bad, and indifferent. How does love in a "social or moral sense" translate into your marriage relationship with your spouse? If one of the marriage partners forsakes those vows and becomes intimately involved with another person, how does the spouse react? The sense of moral violation is overwhelming—and should be. Your "love" for your spouse, as committed in your wedding vows, requires a specific and life-long "moral-social" commitment exclusively to your spouse. Violation of that vow not only breaks your spouse's trust; it is in fact a moral and social violation of your marriage contract, both with your spouse and with God. Ah, so we do perceive an element of "social and moral" dimension to our sense of love. This week's study explores the New Testament concept of love in a "social or moral sense" as it relates to God's love for His people. John, the "apostle of love," is the very best source for our study. After examining the sense of God's love for me in the New Testament and giving full weight to the "social and moral" implications of His kind of love, my first and strongest reaction is "I want to love Him more!" And my sense of love toward Him resonates with His "social and moral" love for me. My desire to love Him more does not relate to my sentimental or emotional feelings, but to the way I seek to live my life, reflecting His social and moral character in my conduct and attitudes toward both Him and other people in my life. Sometimes people will say—and many others say by their conduct—that they love God, but they don't especially like people. Given John's definition of God's love and his application of the corresponding principle to us, this comment—or action—is a true oxymoron, a wholly contradictory statement. John reasons rather specifically on this point in his first letter. You can't say that you love God and also say that you hate your brother or sister. The professing believer in God who lives in constant paranoia, distrust, and harshness toward other people in fact is making a dogmatic statement regarding his/her attitude toward God. We readily say that actions speak louder than words. Therefore, if we say that we love God while treating other people with suspicion and harshness, we are in fact saying quite loudly that we view God with suspicion and distrust! Years ago a dear friend and I were discussing the inherent problems of a group of people who held to a certain theological paradigm. I was altogether focused on their theological beliefs. After some discussion of the beliefs of these folks, my friend made an insightful observation, "Xxxxxxxxx'x have a mental problem, not a theological problem!" Given their conduct, I fear that a lot of professing Christians fit my friend's assessment. Arrogance, readiness to judge and condemn others, being always quick and eager to find fault or to criticize, constant and near paranoid suspicion of everything anyone does or says, all reveal far more mental problems than most people are willing to acknowledge, their theological problems aside. Years ago a Christian wrote the soul-searching question, "If you were arrested and charged with the crime of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" Theological soundness based on Biblical teaching is only one dimension of true Biblical Christianity. How much evidence do you build against yourself in conduct, based on the allegation that you are in fact a Christian? John will open both theological and personal behavioral doors for our study in his extensive examination of this single—and amazingly significant—character trait of New Testament Christianity. May we learn from the disciple of love, Joe Holder

Where it all Begins

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (1Jo 4:16) The most unsophisticated believer in God possesses an intuitive sense of God that is tightly integrated with John's concept of love as expressed in this verse. "He loves me!" becomes the most amazing realization that a mortal can comprehend about God, and, if this idea takes root in the heart, it becomes the most powerful transforming principle in that person's life. For years I struggled with my own dislike for the artificial segregation of "doctrine from practice" that dominates so much of Christian thought and writing. I could not find this segregation in Scripture. In the midst of the most doctrinal (or theological) passages Scripture routinely introduces clear practical exhortations. What does it mean to say that "God is love"? First of all, we must realize that John leads us down a carefully worded path that reasons from a foundational premise to a conclusion. Many professing Christians fail to recognize this fact and falsely live as if they believed that "Love is God," clearly not what John teaches in this passage. Love in the passage identifies a fundamental character trait of God. We must not confuse God's intimate persona with His attributes. Attributes are an expression of His being. We worship Him because of His character, but we worship Him, not His attributes. If "God is love" expresses a central character trait of God, what are the implications of this idea? How do we define "love" in this context? The basic definition of the Greek word translated "love" in this passage is "…to love in a social or moral sense," according to Strong's lexicon of New Testament Greek words. Kittell expands this idea. "Johannine ???p? is quite explicitly condescending love (? 37), or rather a heavenly reality which in some sense descends from stage to stage into this world. This heavenly reality, however, achieves revelation and victory in moral action. It is thus that John sees that which Paul clarifies in terms of the interrelation of divine work and human. The world of light and life is expressed in this world in the form of love. Hence John not only can but must emphasise [sic] the active character of ???p? both in the life of Christ and in that of Christians."1 "Social or moral" direct us specifically to the two most fundamental characteristics of the intimate persona of God. If God had not created the universe, He would be no less God than He is today. If the Bible did not reveal the doctrine of the Trinity, God would be no less God—and no less social—than He is. Revelation opens the doors of heaven for us to gain an intimate glimpse of the incredible majesty and being of God, but our sense of God does not make Him any more or less God than He is. This basic premise appears throughout the first epistle of John. In the opening verses of the letter John asserts the social character of God. Rather than remaining mysteriously aloof and out of sight from His children, "…we have heard…seen…looked upon…and our hands have handled of the Word of life" (1Jo 1:1). John also affirms God's moral character as a fundamental premise for his letter, "…God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1Jo 1:5). John uses light and darkness as equivalents of righteousness and sin. In the verses that follow in the first chapter John will use God's social-moral character as commandments to those who profess faith in him. If we realize the assurances of our personal relationship with God, we will follow the divine example, walk in the light, live in fellowship with Him, and promptly confess our sins when we fail to live up to that perfect model of God's moral light.2 When we acknowledge the ugliness of sin in our lives, confessing our sins rather than rationalizing them, God restores intimate fellowship between Him and us by continually cleansing us from "all unrighteousness." The point of these verses is not how lost sinners gain eternal life, but how saved sinners live in fellowship with God, emphasizing both the social and the moral qualities inherent in God's personal character. What is the dominant message or theme of First John? John's emphasis on the literal reality of the Incarnation leads many scholars to believe that John wrote this letter to refute growing docetic Gnosticism in the churches under his sphere of influence. Typical Gnostic teaching rejected the social dimension of the supreme deity. Ironically, despite Gnosticism's claim of secret knowledge, they believed that the supreme deity was not approachable or knowable—wholly non-social if not anti-social, the mirror opposite trait of the God of Scripture. Further, Gnosticism was inclined toward a rather relativistic view of morality, a thorough-going rejection of the Biblical view of God and His absolute moral code and nature. Given these leading features of ancient Gnosticism, this letter forms the ideal setting for John to affirm God's social and moral character. What better way to accomplish this objective than with the unique word that John uses to depict God's love? 1Jo 2:1 addresses the implication of the moral and social qualities of God's love with respect to our behavior, "My little children, these things I write unto you, that that ye sin not. And if any sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous." John admonishes us to refrain from sinning, addressing the moral quality of God's love. But if we do sin we have an advocate. This statement signifies the social quality of Gods' love. Jesus Christ, who is righteous, serves as an advocate to the Father on behalf of those for whom he died. The implication is direct and simple. "Do not sin. But if you do sin go to God through Christ for forgiveness." A major proof of the doctrine of the Trinity relates to the social character of God. Each member of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) appears in Scripture as communicating with each other and in perfect harmony in everything they do. We must either accept the doctrine of the Trinity or conclude that God is a cosmic ventriloquist when we read in Scripture of the Son praying to the Father, the Father speaking to the Son, or the Holy Spirit receiving and bringing the things of Christ to our remembrance. Where ever we go in Scripture or in our study of Biblical doctrines, we must maintain our bearing with these two fundamental traits of God. He is social and He is moral. No doctrinal explanation that compromises either of these traits will stand the test of Scripture. When God created the universe (Ge 1), the Biblical account repeatedly affirms, "…and God saw that it was good" (Ge 1:10). God even reveals His moral character in creation, for the word "good" not only conveys the physical attribute of benefit or beauty, but it also explicitly conveys a moral quality. Paul affirms this truth in Ro 1 when he affirms God's self-revelation in nature, specifically His wrath against sin, the moral opposite to His fundamental character. It is no leap that immediately in this setting Paul illustrates God's moral character in the creation by appealing to the fact that God reveals His eternal power and godhead (His deity) in the material creation (Ro 1:18-23). Because wicked men willfully chose to ignore God's self-revelation, specifically His moral character, in nature, Paul will unfold in Ro 1:24-32 God's three-fold judgment ("…gave them up…") against man's moral rejection of Him and of His creation. Apart from this specific unifying concept that defines God's most intimate character trait as social and moral, we will plod hopelessly and often aimlessly through a maze of doctrines and concepts that never find cohesive unity or integration. The single integrating key to our correct perception of God appears in this simple statement of inspired Scripture, "…God is love." While folks from various theological traditions offer an endless maze (of either causes or evidences) to indicate an individual human's intimate relationship with God, salvation in its ultimate sense, John sweeps away the complicated maze and establishes a fundamental truth by which we may bridge the staggering gap between God and sinful man. We must not belittle the significance of faith, for Scripture fully affirms it. However, John takes us behind the various expressions of faith to the underlying premise, "…he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." In God's most intimate act with man, salvation, God creates an amazing intertwining of His love in us, depicted here by John's dual "dwelleth" comment. God's social and moral love becomes our characteristic by His work in us. If the unique features of God's love are social and moral, we should expect any impact of God's work on, and in, man to create compatible attitudes and behaviors in the person whom God saves. When Jesus described the final day of Judgment (Mt 25:31-46), He did not identify the saved by what they believed, by what church they attended, by what theological concepts they embraced, or by whether they had been baptized or not. All of these actions have their role in the life of a believing and obedient child of God. However, Jesus directs us to the ultimate trait that provides evidence of salvation, what they did that reflected His social and moral love-trait in their personal conduct. Here both the Arminian and the Reformed concepts of salvation fail the final measure that Jesus sets forth to affirm and to identify those whom He saved in time. If God's most fundamental personal trait is social and moral, we must conclude that His saving impact on an individual person will create a compatible social and moral outlook in that person. The final judgment, according to Christ, will manifest every person's spiritual state by what they did, not by what they believed or thought. Our passage appears, not as an exhortation, but as a description of the person whom God has saved and touched with His unique love. John further affirms this basic truth, "If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him" (1Jo 2:29). When Jesus was preparing the disciples for His departure, he taught them the essential value of this love, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (Joh 13:35). In this verse Jesus used the same word that appears in our passage from First John. We assure ourselves and others of our salvation by living in ethical harmony with God's most fundamental character trait, social and moral love. Conduct, not sentiment, defines this trait. This unique quality of Gods social and moral love explains the necessity of the Incarnation and Jesus' suffering and death for our sins. He could not honor His most basic attribute and simply "look the other way" and forgive us without dealing with the moral consequences of our sins. The person whom God has saved will in some way manifest that moral quality in conduct. In this way God's unique love will bridge the gap between—and harmoniously integrate—every doctrine that appears in Scripture. The ethics of God's love will appear in every doctrine that Scripture teaches, as well as in the appropriate conduct of the person whom God has saved. It will bring cohesion and harmony to the full fabric of Biblical doctrines, both as they reveal God and His work to us and as they instruct our appropriate conduct toward God and each other. Stop here and reflect. Drive a landmark deeply into this solid rock. It will set the course of your whole life, your fellowship with God and with His people. Any other landmark will only serve to confuse and establish false boundaries in the landscape of Biblical doctrine.

Elder Joseph R Holder Gospel Gleanings

1Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin., ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed., 1:53 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976).

2It should be noted that assurance and reality are not necessarily the same. A person may be saved, but so live as not to enjoy the assurance of that life. Assurance relates to the individual, not to other people. God reserves the ultimate right to judge every person; He has not—and will not—relinquish that position to any. Assurance, the joy of our salvation, occurs in faithful obedience. A person may well be saved, but not enjoy its assurance, nor give evidence of a saved state to others. For one human to judge another's eternal state based on external criteria, often quite narrow and subjective, violates this principle of exclusive divine judgment.

2005/12/11 God Eternal: Transcendent

December 11, 2005

Dear Friends,

"Where did it all begin? What happened in that beginning? Although contemporary science has attempted to preempt these questions, historically cultures sensed that philosophy, worldviews, not science, could best address these issues. Generally science textbooks define science to include such required features as observability and repeatability. If it is "true science," it can be observed; you can see it or in some material way affirm its fact. If it is "true science," you can repeat the experiment. The beginning of the material universe, regardless of one's beliefs about it, meets neither of these criteria. Twice in Scripture—once in Ge 1:1 and once in Joh 1:1—the Bible links the beginning with God, not with a cosmic accident or "big bang." The idea that God, if He exists, is merely a cosmic human, is emphatically rejected by Scripture. The two words that describe God in this chapter both identify God as non-human. He is eternal; humans are time-bound and temporal. God is transcendent; inherently He transcends the material universe that He created. "These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes." (Ps 50:21, KJV) Scripture uses this absurd thought in stern rebuke, not in affirmation. For fallen, flawed mortals to think that God is "altogether such an one" as they is rebuked, not affirmed, by Scripture. Does God need us in order to be God? Is His deity in any way dependent on us or, for that matter, on anyone or anything outside of Himself? Again Scripture echoes back the resounding answer. God is God because He is God! He needs nothing or no one outside Himself to be God. In some Christian circles in our time a cliché has gained a certain sick popularity, "Let go and let God." The idea expressed in this cliché is absurd. You have the power to "let" God do anything or be anything? Does the Bible describe God as a cosmic butler or as the Creator of the universe? In the typical dialogue between Christians who believe in salvation by works and Christians who believe in salvation by God's grace alone, the person who believes in salvation by works will inevitably raise the objection, "But your belief that God saves you all by Himself means that God violates your free will." Advocates of this idea seldom take the time or thought to define their idea of "free will." However, the greater issue that they raise cries out for an answer. Their reasoning implies that even God cannot violate man's, the fallen creature's, will, but man—sinful, fallen man—is free to violate God's will! In this religious system of belief one must rightly ask the question, "Who is God? Who is in control?" And the theological belief that man accomplishes his own salvation must logically wrestle with the implications of its teaching that man, not God, holds the ultimate power of eternity. Both in the natural world of God's material creation and in the spiritual world of His new creation, God reveals Himself and speaks to us of His person and glory. Admittedly the natural creation has certain limits as to how much of the intimate being of God that it can reveal, but it distinctly bears the marks of its Creator and cries out of His existence and power. John likely wrote most of his New Testament letters in a setting in which ancient Gnosticism was attempting to legitimize itself by an alliance with Christianity. John categorically rejected this unholy partnership. His first general epistle (First John) rather specifically considers and rejects the basic tenets of ancient Gnosticism. Clearly by the distinct features of John's gospel, this apostle had a different objective in writing his gospel than the other three gospel accounts of the Incarnation. I suggest that John's gospel, no less that his epistles, all likely written much later in the first century than the other New Testament letters, equally confronts and rejects the basic tenets of Gnosticism. For John, for Old Testament inspired writers, and for other writers of New Testament Biblical books, the natural creation is not a colossal mistake, but a material masterpiece that stands on a high podium and cries out the glory of God. In the opening verses of John's gospel the apostle first shows us the transcendent existence of God. Then he introduces us to God through both the natural creation and through the Incarnation. While God would be no less God if He never revealed any portion of Himself to mortals, He reveals His social character—His desire and intent to be seen and known by His people—in John's use of "Word" to describe Jesus, fully God and fully man in the Incarnation. He had no beginning. There was no time when He did not exist! His material body had a beginning in Mary's womb—to be sure a supernatural beginning, but a true material beginning. However, He existed eternally and equally with God the Father. What are the profound implications of such a glorious truth? Indeed of such a glorious God? Joe Holder

God Eternal: Transcendent

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." (Joh 1:1-2) Few philosophical ideas polarize our contemporary culture as distinctly as the question of origins. Where did this material universe begin? How did it begin? Despite an impressive degree of research and sophistication, the scientific community plunges into the philosophical world in its defense of evolution. The Bible offers an alternative view of beginnings—God. Creation inherently involves belief in a Creator who is sufficiently wise and powerful to account for His creation. The evolutionary scientist and the Christian seldom communicate with each other and even less seldom convince each other. The polarity continues. Genesis 1:1 records Moses' account of the creation of the universe. The order in which various plant and life forms appears in the first chapter of Genesis is altogether logical and even compatible with the basic conclusions of the scientific community. However, the science of Moses' time certainly did not enjoy the breadth of research and knowledge of our contemporary scientific community. How did Moses know the precise order of beginnings? A sanctified guess might get some of the items correct, but not all of them. As a Christian, without apology I accept the Genesis account of creation. In dramatic contrast, when the Christian begins a study of the more significant issues of the faith, he/she must confront a far more challenging issue. How do you consider existence apart from time, space, and matter? A basic consideration of Ge 1:1 indicates that God created all three. But both Ge 1:1 and Joh 1:1 begins with a fundamental premise that God existed apart from time, space, and matter. He is eternal. He transcends all three of the basic ingredients of the material universe. The typical systematic theology text develops an extensive list of attributes that belong uniquely to God, and I believe the list is correct. What attributes uniquely define God as God? Without one of these attributes He would be something magnificent, but something less than God. Scholars differ as to John's primary audience. Did he write specifically to Jews, or did he write to God's people of all cultures? In either case one point is clear. As Moses opened his message in Ge 1:1 with the simple declaration of God…, in Joh 1:1 John begins his message with a foundational premise that he is writing to people who not only believe in God, but they believe in the eternality of God. John is confirming what they believe, and he will then add one additional point; Jesus, the Word of God, is in every sense and in every essential attribute equal with God. John will repeatedly affirm precise identity between the Old Testament "I AM" God who revealed Himself to Moses (Ex 3) and Jesus (Examples include, among others, Joh 8:28 [Notice that the pronoun "he" is italicized, supplied by the translators; the literal statement is "I am…."]; Joh 8:58; 13:19 [Again notice the italicized "he".]; Joh 18:5-6,8.). It is likely that John wrote his gospel much later in the first century than the "synoptic" gospels, so there was no need to reaffirm the same message that they contained. However, based on Paul's Colossian letter and John's epistles, especially his first epistle, the dangers of Gnosticism were rising by the end of the first century. John's emphasis on Jesus' full deity, in every way equal with the Father and fully God, is explained if we consider the Gnostic errors of the day. While Gnosticism emphasized its god's unknowable and unapproachable character, in rejecting and refuting Gnosticism John would naturally emphasize the mirror opposite characteristics of the true God. How do we as time and material bound mortals conceive of an immaterial God who is eternal, and eternally the same? And if that is not enough, how do we conceive of such a God condescending and for a brief time living as a man in literal human flesh? John's gospel leads us through these questions, affirming both God's eternality and Jesus' full equality with the Father, along with God's conscious design to be known and approached by His people. Perhaps the most fundamental of these essential attributes of God that we must consider before broadening our pursuit of God is this concept of eternality. God is not subject to time, space, or matter. The contemporary error of "open theism" rejects God's knowledge of time, making God the victim of the very time element that He created in the beginning. This concept is riddled with error, but it seems to begin with the faulty premise that God is subject to, rather than transcendent to, time. In the last chapter we examined God's love, itself unique in that it primarily consists of social and moral distinction, not mere sentimental affection. From the Christian's perspective everything in nature, not to mention the whole of Biblical revelation, communicates the existence of God (Ps 19; Ro 1:20). The orderly arrangement of the material universe appeals to our logical minds for an intelligent and orderly Creator. In the scientific world order does not grow out of chaos. The basic rules of science posit that orderly things slowly deteriorate, one of science's delightful contributions to the logical appeal of the Christian for a Creator! As God delighted in the revelation of His beauty and power in creating the universe, so He delights in the fact that it reveals Him to us gloriously. The ancient Gnostic heresy attempted to legitimize itself by attaching itself to Christianity, but Christianity profoundly rejected it. In Colossians Paul confronted early Gnostic thought and rejected it (Col 2:20-23). Later in the first century John confronted Gnostic error, specifically docetic Gnosticism, more directly in First John. Denial that Jesus, God Incarnate, possessed a literal, material body, according to John, is not of God and is, in fact, the embodiment of the spirit of anti-Christ. The heart of Gnostic thought taught that God is anti-social, that He is unknowable and unapproachable, the mirror opposite of t