Posted in Christian Perspective

The Impossibility of Ethical Neutrality: An Analysis of Matthew 4:4

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have placed before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants” (Deut 30.19; NASB). 1
Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth…But if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served, which were beyond the Euphrates River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh 24.14a, 15).
And after He had fasted for forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ But He answered and said, ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes out of the mouth of God” (Matt 4.2-4; cf. Deut 8.1-4).

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**NOTE TO READER: Read Matthew 3-4:4, along with Deuteronomy 8

Jesus was anointed for God’s purpose in the baptism performed by John the Baptist. John knew that he needed to be baptized by Jesus but the Lord responded,

Permit it at this time, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3.15).

To what was the Lord speaking? In what way was righteousness fulfilled? What did His words to John even mean?

Righteous means “right living” (in its most basic sense). Holy living would also fall under this definition. The Lord’s concern then was for the holiness of God—the source/fountain of all that is holy and good and acceptable—to be made manifest.

Jesus was given flesh for a specific purpose—to glorify God. To make His glory known:

And the Word became flesh [a man], and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14; cf. Heb 1.1-3)

Jesus’ baptism—His anointing—was an act, an instance of this truth put on display. That God approved and in fact ordained what had been done that day in the Jordan River by John to Jesus is verified by the testimony of the witnesses:

After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he [John the Baptist]2 saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and setting on Him, and behold, a voice from the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matt 3.16-17).

Well pleased. That is what the Father said of the Son (the word made flesh) and this the Spirit testified about by “lighting” upon Him. In the Old Testament period oil was used in the anointing process for priests and kings (e.g., Lev 8.12; 1Sam 10.1; 16.13). This practice marked the said individual for God’s purpose.

Death to life…

Baptism signified “death to life.” Righteousness signifies a holy life being lived in devotion to God. Both terms identify the requirements to please God. When one’s object of faith is the Lord, then a “death to life” process has been assented to. And, the exercise of “right (holy) living” is demonstrated in that person’s day-to-day living.

Now Jesus was, as the Scriptures repeatedly testify, without sin (2Cor 5.21). He did no wrong (1Pet 2.22-24). He had been dedicated from birth as the Lord’s primary vessel in all creation. This is the justification for John the Baptist’s comment:

I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” (Matt 3.14).

Jesus understood a principle that many of His creatures fail to fully grasp—The only way to live, is to die to self. If anyone had a reason to say, “But I’ve done nothing wrong why must I suffer death?” it was Jesus. But, He did not argue in that way. Rather, the Lord demonstrated a principle that undergirds all of humanities purpose:

He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his in this world will keep it to life eternal” (John 12.25).

In the garden Adam was unwilling to risk his life for the Lord (or, for that matter, his wife). He’d been given careful instruction on how one ought to live, but he rejected it. In order to live, he needed to die to self. Instead, he chose to elevate self in the garden (i.e., to love his life); therefore, he lost it.3

Jesus also taught,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12.24).

Do you see the principle being stressed? It was the same one that drove Jesus to be baptized in the Jordan—a symbolic death to life practice for the man who knew no sin. The same one verified with a loud cry “It is finished” (John 19.30) on the day of His crucifixion, and reiterated on the day He arose from the grave (cf. John 21.14).

Considering the test…

Let us consider—with these things presented to us—the 1st testing of our Lord’s faith after His anointing in the Jordan River. Remember that He was born a king4, one who promoted the truth of God and was willing to die for it.

After being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, after 40 days and nights of fasting, the devil, also called the tempter (i.e., the one who tests), challenged Jesus with a series of questions. We shall only be looking at the first because it sets the tempo for the rest (regardless of what order they might be presented in):

  • Devil (aka., Satan):

…came and said to [Jesus], ‘If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread’”

  • Jesus (aka., Son of God/Son of man):

But he answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’” (Matt 4.3-4).

What was the test about?

Jesus, we are told, “was hungry” (Matt 4.2), but what was the test about?

As a man Jesus experienced creaturely needs. He grew tired and needed to rest. He grew thirsty and needed to drink. He grew hungry, and therefore, needed to eat. So again, I reiterate, “What was the test really about?” We know that Jesus was hungry.

Before answering the question (though no doubt many of you have already tried, at least in your own heads), let us consider a follow-up question: “Was it wrong for Jesus to turn the stone into bread?” As you mull that one over, ponder something else: “Was it wrong for Jesus to turn water into wine?” (cf. John 2.1-11).


Category Distinctions…

Let me help you a bit: “Were there category distinctions between later signs and this particular testing of Jesus to turn the stone into bread?

In order to answer this question we need to do two things. First, we need to make a necessary category distinction between Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding festival in Cana. From there we may move to the second category of thought; man’s position before God. As I said last week, there are times when we read in the gospels that we need to make a distinction between the man who is Jesus, and the God who is called Jesus. He was both fully human and fully divine. In Him the fullness of God dwelt, but so too did His manliness (cf. Col 1.19; Heb 2.14; respectively).

So in answering the first question we find that the key is in seeing that difference between what transpired in the wilderness (Matt 4) versus Cana at the wedding festival (John 2). Notice first the different terms used in these accounts. In Matthew 4 it is the “tempting” (i.e., testing) of Jesus, but in John 2 it is the “sign” of Jesus. One is a test, but the other is a display. What, do you think, is the reason for this distinction? The answer is very simple. In Matthew 4, Jesus is being tested as a man; particularly, as mankind’s chief representative. Yet, in John 2, Jesus is displaying his divinity. Knowing this we can say without question his turning water into wine was in no way wrong, for it offered those in attendance a testimony that Jesus was in fact from God the Father. He was unique. The Spirit of the Lord was upon Him, and the glory of God was displayed in Him.

Neutrality Error…

Now we turn our attention back to the “stone into bread” scenario. Where we tend to err is when we make a false assumption of neutrality. It is easy to say, “All of life is ethical; therefore, all of life is religious.” It is easy to see the distinction of worship found in going to church on Sunday, singing hymns, praying and reading one’s Bible. It is perhaps easy for some to see that true worship is the exercise of loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. It is even easy to at least give a hearty “Amen” to Paul’s comments to the Corinthians:

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God” (1Cor 10.31; emphasis added).

Or to the Romans:

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is the one who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But the one who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14.22-23; emphasis added).

However, it is often difficult for a person to see how this truth applies beyond those things. So we are back to the issue at hand. Is eating a neutral endeavor? If it is not, then Christ Jesus turning stone into bread would have been an ethical and therefore religious decision. Why do I say that? Well for starters that is how the text presents the issue to us. It was the tempting (testing) of Jesus that took place. This means that there is a right versus wrong answer regarding it. There is no getting around this.

We need to get accustomed to the idea that all issues of life are ethical and therefore religious. That is the argument that God presents to mankind. Either things are done for God’s glory or things are done for man’s (i.e., the creature’s). This indicates that the underlying motives for our decision making process needs to be evaluated. This too is taught in Scripture, we are to “examine everything [and] hold firmly to that which is good” in order to “abstain from every form of evil” (1Thess 5.21-22).

Jesus in Matthew 4 is being tested as a man—i.e., this is not a question of His divinity like the “signs” recorded in John’s gospel and elsewhere. Like Adam, our Lord is presented with a scenario of tests (cf. Gen 3). Even in the garden there were layers to the testing of Adam, but we do not see them because they are not stated in writing. Regardless, they are there. In Matthew 4 (also: Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13) the layers are presented individually, but the first one, the one we have been looking at, sets the stage. In other words, everything that occurs during this testing period in the wilderness is governed by our Lord’s first response to the devil:

It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes out of the mouth of God’” (Matt 4.4).

Ethical Implications…

Think about the implications of this powerful statement. Daily needs, of which bread (i.e., food), is one, is not actually what sustains the life of man. This statement by our Lord is a reiteration of what was spoken to the sons of Israel by the mouth of Moses, the Lord’s prophet:

All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, so that you may live…” (Deut 8.1).

This runs counter to the way man naturally thinks. Not surprising given our fallen status. We tend to think that life is maintained by what we do. Sin so binds the heart (the mind) of man that he (or she) fails to see the reality of this statement (Deut 8.1) until they have been taught humility (Deut 8.2). And humility before God comes through testing, through adversity, through struggle and suffering.5 God made the sons of Israel hunger before He fed them (Deut 8.3). He made them needy—to feel their neediness—before He clothed them. He made them dependent upon Him for their well-being; what we call good health (cf. Deut 8.4).

All three elements are present when the Lord was tested. He was hungry, His health depended on God meeting His needs, and the choice before Him determined what manner of clothing He would wear; whether, it be the righteous garments provided by holiness (Eccl 9.8; Rev 3.4-5) or the filthy garments of unrighteousness (Isa 64.6; cf. Gen 3.7).6 The issue of turning the “stone into bread” to meet a real need, a need that was in His power as the divine Word (cf. John 1.1-3), was not a neutral one, but an ethical one. Had the Father willed the Son to do what the devil requested, then it would not have been sinful. However, it was the very fact that the Father had not willed it to take place (turning a stone into bread) that it would have been sinful for Jesus to do what the devil suggested to Him.

Anorexic Word and Gospel…

American Christianity, by and large it would appear has so whittled down the Word and the Gospel that they lack the ability to discern between issues properly. How can you discern all things, as Jesus did in this scenario, if you refuse to look at the entirety of the issue? If you determine beforehand what is and what is not ethical or religious,7 without taking the time to discern through the issue in light of God’s Word, then you err. If you pretend that there are some aspects of life that are not religious or ethical, then you will stumble into various practices that do not glorify God as such, but rather man (i.e., the creature).

In the balance…

We must take the time to weigh things properly. We must be willing to look at both sides of the scale, and then decide what is good or evil, right or wrong in terms of revealed truth. We must avoid making decisions on matters due only to personal preference, tradition or feeling. I have encountered all three aspects of people’s decision making process, and I have encountered those that do not like to have their thoughts weighed in the balance, but if we are going to see and do things correctly we must be willing to do the hard work of analyzing our underlying motives.

Underlying motivations…

Look back and consider what drove Jesus to do what He did. Think about the possible underlying motives. Emotions and feelings are a key driving force for believed or perceived truth in our day and age, but they are shoddy ground to make rational (i.e., goodly reasoned) decisions on. Jesus “felt” hungry, but He refused to let His hunger drive His decision making process. He needed to eat, but that did not guide Him either. Consider this: “Who would He truly have been trusting in (God or man) had He used His own power to meet His needs? A key aspect of humility before God is learning to master our own desires. We must refrain from being like Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup (cf. Gen 25.33).

Moreover, we must look at issues, at decisions that we are faced with in light of God’s purpose for our life. We were born to glorify and enjoy Him, and so our choices in this life ought to reflect that. Had Jesus turned the stone into bread, He would have violated one of the two key purposes for His coming. He came to be king; for this reason He was born. He came to proclaim truth; for this reason He lived and died. He came to serve God above and man below; for this reason He loved. Consider then, if these things be true (and they are), “Who would Jesus have served and loved in that moment, had He obliged the devil’s request?” Moreover, “Whose word would have been proved true, and who would have been recognized as the true king, had he failed this testing?”

And, when you are presented with various choices, tests or temptations in this life, “Who do you recognize as the true king? Whom do you prove your love for? By what standard are you showing that your life is built upon?” In short, do you practice living in such a way where the bread on the table (the perceived necessities for life) is more or less important that what God has said in His Word?

Finally, let us look at a few aspects of our lives and see how they are not neutral issues, but ethical/religious ones. Here are a few subjects that we can cover: Weddings/funerals; employer/employment; education; sports. My goal is for you to see each area as an area of worship, not a neutral issue to be decided however you see fit, but one consciously weighed by God’s Word. All of life is ethical, therefore all of life is religious, and in our religious practices we are worshiping something. Worship is not relegated to one day of the week where people get together sings songs, reading/exhortation and prayer. Anymore than the Word and Gospel of God is limited to the New Testament or four books called gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Nor is the Gospel just the story of Jesus, his life, death, burial and resurrection. That is the pinnacle of the gospel of God to be sure, but the good-news of God covers much more than just that.

ENDNOTES:

1Unless otherwise noted the New American Standard Bible, 2020 Update (NASB) shall be used throughout this document.

2John would soon testify about this when he declared Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” See: John 1:31-34.

3This “lose of life” is often misunderstood because we see Adam still living after the sin in the garden; even though, God promised that in the day he rebelled he would “surely die” (Gen 2.17). The “lose of life” was a judicial sentence against Adam. It was an ethical judgment. Physical death would come, but the Lord God had other plans for Adam and his offspring after him, before he would be laid to rest (cf. Gen 5.5)

4There are several passages that attest to this. At His birth (Matt 2.1-2), on the day of His death (cf. John 18.33-38; 19.10-18), and after He had arisen to the Father’s right hand (1Tim 6.13-16).

5This seems to me to be an aspect of the curse of sweat as described in Genesis 3, “Cursed is the ground [i.e., earth] because of you; with hard labor you shall eat from it all the days of your life…By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” (vv., 17, 19). The hard labor and sweating brow is a reminder of our lowly estate. God in the cursing of mankind has brought them (us) low in order for us to be reminded that we are finite creatures that will return to the ground from which we come (v. 19b). Humility is a recognition of our true estate, and then a crying out to our Maker in desperate need to alleviate our suffering. Something He eagerly does when we turn to Him in humility (cf. Matt 11.28-30).

6Adam and Eve’s realization that they were naked was ethical. They sought to cover their nakedness just a little while before they were unashamed of (Gen 2.24). This clues the reader to the idea that they were at least symbolically clothed with God’s righteousness, for it was the entrance of rebellion (sin) that opened their eyes to their nakedness before their Maker. Thus, being ashamed they sought to make coverings for themselves, and realizing that this was insufficient they hid from Him when they heard His approach in the garden (Gen 3.8).

7I use the two terms synonymously in this work. My justification for doing so is rather simple. Ethics deals with right and wrong; good and evil. They deal with choices based upon teachings that determine whether or not a particular practice (word, thought or deed) is right or wrong, good or evil. Religion is the upholding of a particular set of beliefs that are deemed good and right, contrary to what is wrong and evil. And so, in this sense I see the two as one.

Posted in Biblical Questions

Saved from What to What?

So you’ve heard the gospel proclaimed and in response, you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. Acknowledging before all people that hope is found in no one else, and so you entrust yourself to Him who came, who lived, who died, was raised, and ascended to the Father’s right hand. Now what?

What do you do after you’ve embraced the gospel of Jesus’ kingdom? What do you do then? From where do your marching orders come? How are you to live? How are you to raise a family? How are you to act as an employee? How are you to be a member of a local church? How are you to be a good citizen in the society in which you live?

According to Jesus, as His disciple, you are to observe “all that He has commanded” (Matt 28.19), but what does that mean? Does this limit Christian behavior to the few things recorded in the New Testament that Jesus said? Does it incorporate the things that His apostles, after Him, taught?

What’s new?

This may or may not be where you stopped your investigation. Perhaps you have been taught that Christians are only bound (for the most part) to abide by New Testament teaching. I mean, the Bible does say, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8.13; ESV).1 But in what sense is “new” being used? Has the content of the Old been entirely done away with? Is “new” meant to convey, ofan entirely different origin? Or is “new” meant to be understood as “different from one of the same category that has existed previously?”2

It is the means by which the covenant has been ratified and applied that is new, not the standard by which the covenant is to be honored. The standard of both covenants—what is referred to as Old and New—is holiness. To be an honored member of the covenant between God and man, the person in question must live honorably by reflecting his/her Creator’s mind and action.

A requirement…

Holiness is the requirement. Holiness defined by God our Maker, not mankind the creature; “…without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12.14). For the charge from our Lord is, “… [to] be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5.48). A demand based upon divine writ: “You must be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the other peoples to be mine” (Lev 20.6; NET). And before the critic speaks, yes this applies to all who would be called children of God. As Zechariah prophesied before the birth of our incarnate Lord:

“That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1.75).

What changed…

Therefore what is “new” about the New Covenant is not a “new” standard of living, but the means by which it is ratified and applied:

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once and for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb 9.11-14).

What the living sacrifice of Jesus offered to creation was a perfect redemption. In the past copies of heavenly things (the tabernacle, the mercy seat, the holy places, etc.) were ratified with a temporal offering, but since the crucifixion of Jesus the shadows have passed away:

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9.24-28).

Christ came to bear His people’s sins (cf. Matt 1.21), that is what the writer of Hebrews is pointing out. In defining the New Covenant, we find that a better sacrifice has been offered, a better high priest has been given to intercede on behalf of those who are rightly called children of the Most High. He was able to do this as our representative for at least two reasons: 1) He came from God being the living Word that put on flesh (cf. John 1.1-18)3; 2) He lived a perfectly holy life.

On living…

This brings us full circle to the questions posed at the beginning of this post. If we are saved from our sins. If we have our identity seated in the God-Man Jesus the Christ. How should we live? How should we govern our lives? How should our families be governed? How should our churches be governed? How should our society be governed?

Are we saved from our sin, from our “dead works” (Heb 9.14) to live by some other standard or by His standard? The apostle Paul points out that before Christ redeemed us we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1). But after our redemption we have become God’s “…workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2.10).

Well, what are those “good” works? Is not the goodness of God shown in His holiness? And is it not accurate to say that God’s holiness is a light that shines through the darkness with blinding authority? And to where must we turn to find such holiness, such righteousness, such a light that is able to cut through the darkness of sin that plagues creation, but is now being overcome? Is it not God’s Law-Word?

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa 119.105).

Therefore should we not walk as our Savior walked in this life4; a man who was guided by every intention of God’s heart, careful to do all that He commanded (cf. John 5.19; 10.32; 12.49)?

“I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules” (Psa 119.106).

Preparing to deal with the specifics…

At this point in the dialogue, I imagine that most professing believer’s would acknowledge a great deal of what I’ve said with an “Amen.” But, I have only spoken in a general way. It is easy to get people to agree with you when you speak in generalities, if you leave the specifics or the particulars unspoken. This has been true since the beginning. For if we speak in generalities, then freedom is left to the creature to fill in the specifics or particulars as he/she sees fit. Moses was likeable (Exod 4.29-31) until he declared what must be done (Exod 5.20-21). Many enjoyed the company of Jesus until he got down to the specifics (John 6). Christians of every stripe and color today will agree with many general ideas, concepts or themes of a biblical nature. But the ire of the people grows when you start laying out the black and white areas of life.

No, I’m not speaking about woke, cancel culture of modern day America; although, the content of that subject could be applied here. What I’m referring to is that dirty word called theonomy. When next we meet the specifics and particulars of how we are to live as God’s people, and where it all really applies will be discussed. All I wanted to do in this post was to get you, the reader, thinking about what it means when we say “new” covenant. And, by what standard we are commanded to live by in this day an age. As I said, next time we will begin to look a little closer at the specifics of how we should live. In so doing, we will be starting to shine a light on why theonomy is such a dirty word in many Christian circles.

ENDNOTES:

1All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2Def. 5, Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus, 2008, desktop edition.

3That Jesus was no mere creature is evident in these 18 verses alone. In the opening of John’s gospel we find that Jesus is identified as God, being present with God in the beginning (vv. 1-2). This means that He was with God the Father as a separate person, but He shared the quality/essence of Godhood. He is revealed as the Creator distinct from the creature (v. 3). He is identified as the author of life and the source of light that overpowers all dark forces (v. 4). He is the source and hope of mankind’s salvation (vv. 9-13). He put on flesh to represent us and to reveal the unseen Father who is in heaven through grace and truth (vv. 14-18). Thus, He alone is worthy to be called “My Lord, my God” (John 20.28).

4“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1John 1.6-7).

“By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1John 2.6; italics added).

Posted in Worldview Analysis

A COVID Apology to America, on Behalf of the Evangelical Church: An article by Chris Hume

reformedhope.com/2021/04/25/a-covid-apology-to-america-on-behalf-of-the-evangelical-church/

Excellent article on the apology the Christian Church owes the world for a sloppy witness that speaks of cowardice rather than boldness (cf. Acts 4:23-31). Chris Hume does a masterful job of calling the fouls as they should be highlighted. He offers an apology on behalf of the brethren for failing to lead as a city on a hill should. He calls out a weak kneed Evangelical Church for trembling at the word of men, rather than the Word of God.

Highly recommended!

Posted in Pro-Life

Why the Lamb and the Wolf?

Recently I’ve been writing about the Pro-Life movement. This is not a new fight, but has been going on since the sad episode in the garden. My last post touched on the fact that we might find ourselves, at times, with some (unlikely allies). But this shouldn’t stall us in our fight to preserve life.

What I have come to realize is that there are various misconceptions about what being “Pro-Life” even entails. But before I get into all of that, I wanted to take a few moments about why it is we are so error prone when it comes to the Christian faith. In particular, what that faith entails.

The Christian Faith is…Life

Let’s start off with an easy question:

**From where do we acquire the knowledge and wisdom to live the Christian life?**

“From God!” the ever so eager student answers. “Right on,” responds the teacher, “but how so?” “By prayerfully reading His Word,” a thoughtful student opines. “Exactly.”[1]

We are all responsible to live for the Glory of God, and in so doing enjoy Him forever.

“Now, can anyone tell me what we are responsible for?” inquires the teacher. “To glorify God!” the student quickly chirps confidently from somewhere in the back. (You will find that when someone assumes they have the correct answer, they are quick to speak. Sometimes this gets them the approving nod at other times disappointment.) The correct answer is “to live.”

Seeing the “Before” …

Before we can fulfill the obligations given to us—1) glorify God, 2) enjoy Him forever—we need to live. Our first priority is living. God has given us life in order that those other two necessaries will follow. In short, God is Pro-Life.

Understanding that our first priority is living, the next question is how do we live life well? We have already identified the what’s (i.e., glorifying God, enjoying Him forever), and we have rightly spotted the where (i.e., God’s Word/The Holy Bible) for living. But some very important related questions are “How do I live in order to fulfill my obligation to my Creator? How does the Bible instruct my living?”

How Obligatory Living Works…

When the apostle Paul spoke to the elders of Ephesus, he gave them a charge as overseer’s (elders, presbyters) over the flock of God with a reminder of what he had done:

  • The Charge: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood…Therefore be on alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years. I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20.28, 31).[2]
  • The Reminder: “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ…Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose [counsel] of God” (Acts 20.18b-21, 26-27).

Paul preached life in Christ. He warned those in leadership in Ephesus to guard that life with their very lives. The life Paul preached is found in the full counsel of God alone.

Where the Teaching of Life Originates

This teaching emphasis did not originate from Paul, but from God.

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him…” (Deut 30.15-18a, 19-20a; emphasis mine).

It does to apply…

Realizing that some might challenge the application of this particular text saying, “This only applies to Israel, not the Church of Jesus Christ!” I want to nip it in the bud. First, by asking a very important question: “Who says?” If God says this, then show me where. If He doesn’t say this, then why do you open your mouth? “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38.2; ESV).

Secondly, have you not read God’s Word? For Jesus, when tempted in the wilderness by Satan to turn the stone into bread—being hungry—offered the following retort:

“It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD” (Matt 4.4; emphasis in original).

Odds are we have some familiarity with that passage. Many a preacher has made countless points regarding Jesus’ words here. But what is the root to which Jesus points? Is it possible that we are missing something in the Lord’s rebuking of Satan?

Jesus’ words go back to a time in Israel’s infant years; during the Exodus under the leadership of Moses. The message of the Lord delivered to Moses and explained to the people is the same as that which we just saw a moment ago in Deuteronomy 30:15, 20a: “I have set before you life…and death.” Jesus quotes to Satan from Deuteronomy 8:1-3 which reads,

“All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live…You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you into the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8.1, 2-3; emphasis mine).

Foundational Issues…

The lesson of the manna was that people will either live or die in response to God’s Word. Torah often translated law means instruction. The author of life gives instructions to His creation so they might live. Living is dependent upon their response to His commandments, statutes, instruction, etc. If we are to learn anything from the incident that occurred in the garden of Eden it ought to be this, to be obedient in humble submission to the Lord above is to eat the blessed fruit of the Tree of Life. Just like the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not poisonous, so too was the fruit from the Tree of Life not miraculous. They were real trees that produced real fruit, similar to the apple trees growing in my front yard. What made them either a blessing or a curse was the response of God’s chief representative on earth—Man—when God said “Do and don’t.” Do eat of every tree in the garden, don’t eat of the tree that I put a no-trespassing sign on.

It is said of Jesus that He is the light of all men (i.e., people) and that in His light is life (John 1.4). Thus he rightly told His hearers that if they came to Him in faith they would have life—“I say these things that you might be saved” (John 5.34), but many did not (John 5.40). Peter rightly stated that Christ’s words alone have life (John 6.68). Jesus affirmed that those who abided in His word “the truth will make you free” (John 8.32), and that “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11.25-26). Therefore, the charge that He gave to His disciples before He ascended to the Father’s right hand was that in making disciples of the nations they were to “[teach] them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28.20a).

In other words, God is not only the author of life, but His Word is the sustainer of life (eternally so). If one wants to live, then this act of faith is first weighed in response to His commandments.[3] When Jesus taught to obey His Word, to keep His commandments, He was speaking about all that was written. When Paul spoke to Ephesian elders in Miletus his reminder and warning was charged with the life-giving sustenance found in the Word of God alone.

Corrective Insight…

God’s Word not only gives life, but sustains it from the works of sin. And for those of you like Andy Stanley that falsely assume that Old Testament saints did not have a Bible, but is somehow only a New Testament reality…you are wrong. Bible means book. And when believers speak affectionately of the Holy Bible, they mean God’s book. Jesus was sanctified according to all that was written in that book, and it is that same book by which we are sanctified and being sanctified for in it contains the Word of Life (see John 17 ).

God is Pro-Life, which does not begin and end on the debate that has been raging for a couple generations now regarding abortion. No doubt the fight over abortion is a Pro-Life fight. To fight to preserve the lives of little babies, unborn, in the womb is a holy war. To strike against that which is unprotected in what is supposed to be a sanctuary of safety and love, is to attack the very author of life Himself.

Wrapping Up…

My last few posts on this issue are meant to drive awareness into unknowing hearts. The issue is confrontational because at base it is an issue of life vs. death (Debating Abortion). The issue is not new but old and has already been fought and won in our nations past (History of the Pro-Life Movement). The issue will at times bring together combatants that are polar opposites theologically, but being made in God’s image they know intuitively that life is sacred and must be protected at all costs (Unlikely Allies). Which brings me to my final thoughts for this post.

Perhaps you noticed that I used the picture of a lamb and a wolf in my last post entitled “Unlikely Allies” linked above. I did this for two reasons. As things stand right now wolves and sheep are mortal enemies. They have different appetites and opposing natures. This symbolism is used in Scripture to show how believers are at odds with those in the world. But being the creations of God, this has not always been the case. In the beginning all things were very good (Gen 1.31). Not just in status as God’s creatures, but in function as God’s creatures. The fall in the garden changed all of that. Death, violence, pain and suffering were ushered in as the results of sin. However, God promises that this will not always be the case, and it is demonstrated in the prophetic writings of Isaiah.

“And the wolf will dwell with the lamb…” (Isa 11.6a).

“The wolf and the lamb will graze together…” (Isa 65.25).

Why? What brings about such change in the creatures of God? The answer is found in the root of Jesse named Christ Jesus (Isa 11.1; Acts 13.22-23), the very one who is the author of all things new (Isa 65.17; 2Cor 5.17). Christ brings peace and righteousness and healing in His wings. This is a future hope that is being played out in a present reality. We, who bear the name of Christ, are charged to fight for the very things that He did. And at times this will mean siding even with wolves, in the hope (trust) that our efforts as faithful stewards (i.e., salt and light) will bring glory and honor to our Lord and win others to our side.

For some of you this presents an eschatological problem, but that is a discussion for another day…


ENDNOTES

[1] There is a bit more to “prayerfully reading His Word” but the students answer is appropriate. There is a correct way and a wrong way to do this. Opening the Bible with closed eyes and putting your finger on the page, just because you’ve prayed “God give me insight into this or that situation” doesn’t make your method legitimate. Such behavior will surely lead you into error. A better way and what we ought to be doing (what should be meant by prayerfully reading His Word) is looking into the context of the writing (Historical, linguistic, cultural—who is being written to and why? Are appropriate questions), being observant of what is written, before we attempt to interpret it, and this we do with great care using Scripture to interpret Scripture and even checking what commentators of the past and present have had to say on the particular portion we are studying, long before we try to apply it to our lives (and the lives of others). But being mindful of whose word it is (i.e., prayerfully reading His Word) is a necessary first step in the right direction.

[2] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard (NASB).

[3] Due to various misconceptions that may arise with this statement, I turn the reader to Acts 17:30 where the apostle Paul rightly declares that believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ is a commandment: “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.” The gospel is NOT an invitation. That might be a popular way of speaking about it, but it misconstrues the biblical message.

Posted in Ministry

The Heart of One who sits in a Glass House: A Talk in Regards to my Philosophy of Ministry

Lately, I have taken a bit of time beginning to discuss my philosophy of ministry as a Christian minister (Helping Shape My PhilosophyAn Early ConcernO. I. A. and Saturation). Bear in mind this is only one small part, albeit an important one, of my philosophy but one I have deemed noteworthy to share with you (whoever you might be).

Necessary Sacrifice and Misunderstandings…

One aspect of the cross I bear is found in lengthy hours of study and reflection. For those that assume reading stacks of books, listening to the arguments of skeptics, attempting to reason with fellow believer’s—both inside and outside the church where I am a preaching/teaching pastor—wrestling with my own sin as I too am confronted, corrected, taught, and trained in leading a godly life is easy then I suspect that you have not spent much time doing those things.

Trying to balance that with the rest of my life can also at times be stressful. Especially, when I arrogantly assume that I am doing this task on my own without the support of prayerful congregants, a loving and supportive wife, and most importantly of all my gracious Lord and Savior. Stepping into life so foolishly is that which I know I should not do, but if I am to be transparent the very thing I do.

Ministers live in a glass house. And like it or not where they sit is sometimes viewed as a throne above all others. That is not an accurate view of reality, but it is the way people sometimes tend to imagine us. Thus, we are called holier than thou, self-righteous, legalistic bigots and moral policemen.

The fact is, however, that we dedicate our lives to building up others in the faith; although, we do not always do a great job at that. We present to fellow image bearers the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ, the promise of sins forgiven not because of anything done either by human effort (yours or mine), but because of what God our Creator has done on our behalf. Often it is forgotten, or perhaps it is assumed contrary to the truth… that ministers are no different than anybody else. I am not better than other Christians because I happen to serve the Lord in the capacity that I do.

My particular Niche is not better than yours…

If every aspect of life is to be lived for God’s glory. Then this means that every sector of life is meant to be lived in a holy fashion. There are no separate categories of holy and secular. A pastor is no more important than a janitor, just as a doctor is no more holy a profession than a mechanic, or a janitor, or a clerk at a department store, or the local garbage guy. Each occupation and vocation, if it is not a sinful practice (such as a doctor that euthanizes his patients whether they are in their mother’s womb or the elderly lady whose life seems to prying eyes less meaningful) is good and worthy of our time and appreciation. We are all gifted differently and we all serve differently, but that does not lessen our value as human beings made in God’s image.

Within the context of Christian ministry this also means that I do not see my value as any more significant than the person in the pew. I have sat in the pew, and there are times when I still sit in the pew, and if the Lord deems it necessary there may be a time where my permanent place is found in the pew.

Which means that when I have said that I have noticed a disturbing trend among those who call themselves Christians, who then in turn take the Bible as their personal megaphone for voicing their personal conjectures rather than repeating what God has spoken, I am not putting them down, but merely making an observation. “What I feel…” and “The text to me, means…” are not a healthy way to study your Bible. If you want to call that sincere devotion that is fine, but it is not accurate unless you are calling your thoughts that which you are sincerely devoted to.

Elitist Niggards[i] and their Assumptions

As I have said previously, there is a general assumption amongst Christian academia and the pastor’s who have swallowed the notion hook, line and sinker that people in the pew can only handle a dummied down version of Scripture. You know “8th grade education and all.” If you preach too much theology, too much doctrine, if you dig too deeply into the wellspring of the Bible, then more than likely your people will not understand it. And, if you are not careful you will run people off, because they won’t want to hear it.

Not a new Attitude…

Personally, I find this elitist notion offensive. Certainly, the attitude is not new. Church history reveals that during the Middle Ages it was believed that peasants were too ignorant to comprehend the Scriptures, things of theology, and doctrine. One of the fears about translating the Bible into the common tongue (say English for example) was that the populace—the pew sitter—would make a mess of the truth. Only those trained in academia could hope to obtain, hold and regurgitate what God has said. And in case you think I am merely picking on the Roman Catholic Church (don’t get me wrong they have their faults as well do we Protestants), turn in your Bible’s and see if that attitude was not prevalent with those deemed to be the teachers of Israel.

“They answered [the man born blind], ‘You were born in sin, and would you teach us?’” (John 9.34; italics added).
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished” (Acts 4.13; italics added).

What I Believe…

Now I am not unrealistic. I realize that before you can teach others you must be taught yourselves. A patient that continually argues with his doctor’s diagnosis, ignoring his training assuming that any fool off the street could do what he can, is blatantly ignorant. In one sense any person may pursue a doctorly profession. While talent demonstrated is a plus, the one who is willing and passionate to do the hard work may also attain similar status; physical and mental disabilities aside (and even these may be overcome, so don’t go running down that road for an excuse).

My position has been from day one that the person in the pew, if given the proper training in a dedicated fashion, can likewise learn the basic principles of sound exegesis and hermeneutics. You don’t have to have a degree beside your name to understand the Bible, the doctrines found within its pages, and the rich theology embedded throughout. Apollos was a gifted preacher in his day, but it took a brother and sister in the faith (i.e., pew-sitters) to teach him something he did not know (Acts 18.26).

What I’ve Done…

So then, how have I gone about doing it? Well, I have already shared with you in my last post (READ HERE) two key ways that I have done that is with O. I. A. and Saturation Bible Study. There are two other tools that I have applied to my ministry context to aid the believer in the pew. The one was created by Answers in Genesis entitled “Answers Bible Curriculum” (A. B. C.). This particular study focuses on taking the student of Scripture through the entire Bible in three years. The primary concern is about building the right foundation and getting the believer to look at the whole Bible as the final authority for the Christian faith (i.e., worldview). I have used this in both churches where I have pastored for Sunday school and small-group study.

The other tool is one that I personally designed from my own research and study. Its focus is on Christian witnessing.  Normally, when Christians think of witnessing, they have evangelism in mind (sharing the gospel), but what I wanted to do was show how true Christian witnessing is not limited to one sphere but rather two: evangelism and apologetics. The two are really different sides of the same coin. For when a Christian witnesses, they not only share their faith; they are also required to defend it. The course I designed to help begin this process takes the student systematically through a twelve-week course. Granted, twelve weeks is not much time. The fact is Christian witnessing is a lifelong venture of study and practice.  (it’s really a life-long venture)

(NOTE: Unfortunately, I cannot go into the details of this program of study right now as this is a part of my D. Min. project. I have submitted the final edited copy to my advisor and am waiting on his announcement of defense worthiness and date of defense.)

Enough about the graduate school stuff. Back to what I was saying before all that.

My heart on the matter…

In an effort to equip my congregants for living a godly life, I have treated them like disciples. New flash! That’s what Christians are supposed to be. And one element of a disciple is that of a learner, a student. In this way, we are equal before Christ for we are all His disciples, thereby a learner and student of…. Drum roll, please! His Word!

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8.31-32).

What truth? Free from what? Some say, “sin.” True. Others say, “hell.” Also, true. But if we are free from sin and free from hell, then what are we freed for? Ahhh… the question that we ought to be asking. The question that I seek to instill in the minds of those whom God has called into His family…every time that I preach/teach.

The short of it is that the truth of God frees you from adopting every “argument and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2Cor 10.5). For in Christ Jesus is “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2.3). Now the goal of the person who has been freed from sin by “receiv[ing] Christ Jesus the Lord” is to learn as a disciple to “walk in him” (Col 2.6). Now if it is true that God in “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2Pet 1.3) through “Jesus our Lord” (2Pet 1.2), then my heart as a Christian minister for the people under my stead must be what? To “make every effort so that after my departure [they] may be able at any time to recall these things” (2Pet 1.15). Unlike the apostle Peter I was not given by the Lord any indication when I might go. Therefore, I must treat every day, every opportunity to teach those under my stead to be “established in the truth that [they] have” (2Pet 1.12).

My heart on the matter is this. Christ has equipped His church with teachers, so that in teaching they might train up others to do likewise. Not only to teach, but live lives that are pleasing to God. Understanding that what the Bible speaks on it speaks authoritatively, because it is God’s heart on the matter revealed to His creatures. And His truth has application not just on moral or spiritual matters, but matters pertaining to every day life. I believe that the person in the pew is just as valuable, and just as capable of knowing the truth, as well as learning how to apply it living their lives.

Moreover, the goal of the Christian minister ought to be to instill within his people the entirety of the Christian worldview; which is all encompassing.

In my next couple of posts, I will give some real-life examples of this all-encompassing Christian worldview, and how the truth of Christ delivers us from error. The first will address a cultural issue, the second will speak on the rationale for something we use and depend upon constantly.


ENDNOTES:

[i] I debated whether or not I should address this word use here. But given the cultural climate here in the U.S. and the assumptions that might be ingrained in those outside our nation—having been infiltrated with a news media that wants to prorogate hateful division between people groups—I have decided I might as well be safe and give a definition for the word “niggard.” It is not the word “nigger” which rappers use ad nauseum, stupid bigots throw around like paper airplanes, and overzealous SJW’s accuse every lighter skinned individual of (whether by nature or attitude).

The term “niggard” or “niggardly” means one who is stingy or a miser. A person who withhold something from someone because they hold a “grudge or petty” bias. The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition (New York, NY: Dell, 2007), 573, niggard; niggardly, s.v.

Image by <a href="http://Image by David Mark from Pixabay“>David Mark