Posted in Musings

The Compassionate Neighbor

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same’” (Luke 10.36-37).[1]

 

Narrow-sightedness…

When we read, we hone in on various keys in the text. We do the same thing with our hearing. I’m sure you’ve heard the familiar phrase “selective hearing.” That is usually a charge laid at the foot of the spouse who has failed to give an attentive ear to their significant other. It is not as if we do not hear, but we hear what we want to. A word, a phrase, an idea or symbol catches our minds eye and we run with it. We then filter out everything else said. Or in the case of the subject I started with “we…filter everything else we read out.”

A little Info on Luke 10:23-37

In the above text we find Jesus presenting a question to his questioner. Jesus has been teaching the masses in Israel. He has been demonstrating His authority and power. His knowledge and wisdom have been put on display. Everyone that witnesses Him is confronted by Him. Either He is an egotistical madman, or He is who He claims to be (cf. Luke 10.23-24).

A scribe or a “lawyer” (NASB), which is just another way of saying “an expert in the law” decides that testing the Lord is a good idea. He inquires: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10.25). This question is not really the question. Or said another way, this question is not really the issue that this religious leader is driving at. Remember, his desire was to test Jesus; to set a trap.

What this means for the reader is that when the religious expert asked the question, he was looking for a specific answer. He was ready for the answer given by the Lord. He anticipated it, as we shall see in a moment.

Jesus pointed this lawyer to the Law-Word of God. “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” (Luke 10.26). Every good Bible believing Jew knew the answer to this question. This expert in the law was ready for this moment. Immediately he recites a summary of the Law-Word of God:

“And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10.27).

Jesus acknowledges that the man is right, and then says “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10.28). And here is where we see that the questioner revealing his hand: “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10.29; italics added). Let’s let that simmer for a bit….

Introducing the Compassionate Argument

Recently, given the current COVID-19 pandemic I’ve been hearing of a great push for compassion on the eldest generation in our nation. The politically driven left winged media (a.k.a., the progressives) have attempted, with some force, to use their soapbox to ridicule Trump. Under the guise of what I now term the “compassion argument.”

We all know that “social distancing” has now become the immediate norm. Handshaking is for the foreseeable future off limits. And no longer will it be found acceptable to go to work or perhaps even venture into public if you catch a cold, a sniffle, or have an irritating cough. It could just be allergies, but “HEY” we don’t want to take a chance that you “might” be the death of “ME.”[2]

So, what is the “compassionate argument” or the “argument of compassion?” The argument of compassion states that we need to be concerned about the welfare of others. In other words, we need to be loving our neighbors.

From a practical standpoint the argument is said to look like this: Social distancing, avoiding all forms of brotherly (human) contact, and staying home when sick. If you fail to do these things. If you fail to stay away (6 feet now!) from people in public. If you cough, have a runny nose, go somewhere feeling fine and then end up feeling a bit under the weather, then, well there’s no other way to put it…SHAME ON YOU!

I say all of these things with my tongue firmly pressed in my cheek and a bit of a smirk etching on my face. I think that, as far as it goes, we ought to do these things to the best of our ability. We should be washing our hands, covering our mouths when we cough, blowing our nose rather than letting it drip onto our lips so that we can spit it on the unaware passerby when we enter into conversation.

If you feel sick and you are able to, stay home. Some might prefer that you always stay home if you get sick, but some of us have deadlines, inspections and unfortunately live week-to-week; and so, while staying home with a head cold might be desired it is not practical.

Back to Luke 10 and the Word called Love

When the religious expert asked Jesus the question about the greatest commandment, he was looking for a specific answer. When the media or some other uses the compassionate argument, they are doing the same thing. Sometimes when Christians read their Bible’s and they read or rehearse from memory the loving God/loving neighbor commandment, they too hone in on a specific answer. More to the point, they look to a particular word “love.”

Most people would probably say that love is a good thing. Hard to remember when you’ve been heart broken, but overall, mostly true. Emphasizing love may also be a good thing, but it is the manner in which we emphasize it, the sense in which we take it, prescribe it, live by it that determines whether or not this is true.

My concern in this post is what emphasis of love we as Christians place on it. I am not saying that the world does not love. Certainly, there is a version of love in the world, but that love is not comparable bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece with the Christian concept.

Seeking justification…

The scribe wanted to know “who his neighbor was?” The identity of his neighbor was the motivation for asking the question. The reason the scribe asked Jesus the question was to trap him. He had set a snare and he wanted Jesus to step right into it. From a historical and cultural context Jesus did a lot of things that irritated his fellow Israelites; the religious establishment in particular. One of those things was socializing with what I suppose we might call the “outcasts” of society. The “misfit toys” from the classic Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer clay-style cartoon.

The scribe wanted Jesus to answer the question of the greatest commandment in order to pigeon hole the Lord into looking like a fool. Jesus had a reputation of associating with tax-collectors, prostitutes, and…Samaritans. If loving God was the chief goal of a godly person, which entailed being clean before God (not touching or dealing with that which defiled a person), then it did not appear Jesus fit the bill.

Being ceremonially clean was a legitimate concern for the Israelite as seen in the books of Moses. Since the Exodus God had set the offspring of Jacob (Israel) apart from the rest of the nations. This was a sign that they were God’s people. This was a status that they were set-apart (holy; i.e., clean) from the filth that permeated other nations. The religious elites of Jesus’ day had misinterpreted and misapplied the meaning of those texts, and so were in error. This man sought to justify himself as a true lover of God and he did so by insinuating that not everyone was his neighbor. For the non-ceremonially clean—those sinners outside of covenant Israel—he did not associate with.

This attitude is highlighted in Jesus’ parabolic teaching of the “Good Samaritan” in contrast to the religious leaders of Israel (Luke 10.30-33). The priest and the Levite steered clear of the man beaten on the road half-dead (i.e., left for dead). But not the Samaritan. This “unclean” Gentile-mingled mongrel (what the Jews of the period thought) demonstrated love for neighbor. He was compassionate (loving) on the person in need.

And so, Jesus’ question of the questioner at the end of his teaching— “Which…proved to be a neighbor…?” —nipped the issue in the bud. The Lord effectively flipped the trap on his opponent. How so? Well, to love God entailed loving one’s neighbor. And though it is impossible to love your “neighbor” without loving God first, you cannot really have love for God in your heart if you don’t love your neighbor (cf. 1John 3.17-18).

With expertise that could not be matched Jesus disarmed the trap and reset it for His unwary opponent. In other words, Jesus anticipated the follow-up question and answered the question in the way He did (which was biblically accurate) in order to entrap His antagonist. He does it by citing Leviticus 19:18.

A Quick Look at Leviticus

 I find this to be most interesting, and since it deals with the compassionate argument identified above, I want to make my final point with it.

 “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”

This text is sandwiched between two chapters filled with material that many Evangelical’s steer away from (some from embarrassment). Chapter 18 starts with God commanding Moses what to say to the offspring of Israel (Jacob). He says,

  • “You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes and, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God” (Lev 18.3-4).

Towards the closing of chapter 20 we find the charge reiterated:

  • “You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out. Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them…I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples… ‘Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine’” (Lev 20.22-23, 24, 25).

The point being that God had called and set-apart the children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in order to be His people (cf. Exod 19:4-6). He expected them to reflect His mind/heart. He commanded them to honor His Law, to be Holy as He is holy (Lev 19.2). The concern is to be different than the rest of the nations of this world. To be guided by the voice of God, to live according to His will, and not entertain the thoughts and practices of those nations that He had drawn them from (Egypt), and was giving them to possess (Canaan).

The command to love your neighbor came with numerous explanations (see Lev 19.9-18a). The key to remember was to be just in all things, which meant “…not be[ing] partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev 19.15). To act in anyway contrary to the edicts of God in light of one’s neighbor was to act hatefully in one’s heart which was expressly forbidden (Lev 19.17).

How this relates to the “Compassionate Argument”

We have in this country settled in on one object of concern. We have narrowed our focus to the tip of a pen. The dreaded Corona virus (COVID-19) is in our crosshairs. Many see nothing else.

The virus is deadly. People have gotten sick and some have died. It is therefore argued that we need to shut everything down in concern (compassion/love) for our neighbor. But loving one’s neighbor is not one-sided. We have made it one-sided though. How so? We have shown partiality to one group while neglecting another.

This bed has been made for some time in our nation as it stands regarding partial love. Class warfare argues to favor the poor while neglecting the rich (add any other descriptor besides “poor” or “rich” and it’ll still apply). That’s a sanitized way of looking at it. Class warfare argues to hate one sector of society for things that many find distasteful (often because of jealous/envy/covetousness) covered in an argument of love and compassion for another. We are doing the same thing with this virus.

It is being said that we need to be compassionate to the elderly, to the weak…we need to prevent the spread of this virus lest we kill others. This sounds good. It appears sweet. But what about the family who will lose their home? They’ve lost their job, but if things do not change soon, they will lose more. What about those families who are hurting because the solution has robbed them of living? Why is it not possible to practice good hygiene and let those who are not sick return to work? Are we so foolish and arrogant to think that there are not other things that can kill just as easily as this little bug?

I am growing more and more convinced that we, in an effort to justify our fear and panic, want to sanitize false beliefs by calling them compassion. When in reality we care very little for our neighbor(s), and instead only care for our own skin!  


ENDNOTES:

[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard Bible (NASB 95’).

[2] **Yes, I know I went from plural to singular verb form there but I did it on purpose. The real concern in all of this isn’t really about our “neighbor,” but is for many just the sacred “ME” regardless of how strongly one might argue the contrary.

Posted in Worldview Analysis

Peanut Butter Sandwich: Swallowing a Hard Truth

Have you ever eaten a peanut butter sandwich without a drop to drink? If your throat is well lubricated you make it through the most part easily enough, but eventually, if you continue, you will run into a bit of a problem. The food will begin to get stuck in your throat. Depending on how dry the peanut butter has made the way to your stomach, the process can begin to be a bit painful.

So can the following sentiment:

“In this way only we attain to what is not to say difficult but altogether against nature, to love those that hate us, render good for evil, and blessing for cursing, remembering that we are not to reflect on the wickedness of men, but look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, should by its beauty and dignity allure us to love and embrace them.”[i]

It is easy to love those who do good to us, but another thing altogether to truly love those who have done evil to us. When we are wronged, we immediately sense within us a desire to strike back against the offender. Even after the initial act our yearning is not to let go, but to cling to that which has laid us low. Thus, the reason for the peanut butter sandwich illustration a moment ago.

Jesus tells us that we are to, “love our enemies.” Our response to the wicked person who is persecuting us is to pray for them (Matt 5.44b). We are commanded to “do good to those who hate [us]” (Luke 6.27), and to give of ourselves “expecting nothing in return” from them (Luke 6.35).

Real Life Example…

As I was chewing on these words yesterday, I thought of the recent Amber Guyger case. Here a female police officer (Amber Guyger) entered the home of another ending their life. She had come off a 13-hour shift, and wrongly assumed that the unlocked door that easily pushed open was her own apartment. Firing two shots at an apparent intruder, she killed Botham Jean with a trained shot to the chest.

Though she was found guilty of murder, the brother of the man she killed asked if he might be allowed to hug the lady having forgiven her for what she had done. Brandt Jean is a professing Christian and in spite of losing his own flesh and blood at the hands of another he offered a tender heart.[ii] So too, did the judge offer similar kindness (charity/love) when she presented the offender with her own personal Bible from her chamber. She pointed the woman to John 3:16 and told her that was her job during her sentence to focus on what was written there.

Of course, this act of love was seen as vile by a certain sect of our society. Writers at the Washington Post called it “an unusual display of public forgiveness.”[iii]The Freedom from Religion foundation began convulsing almost immediately over what they viewed as a violation[iv] of human dignity; similar to a recent judge’s ruling in the U.K. against the Bible.[v] If that was not enough, another sector of hate garbed in false love called the act of the young man who hugged and forgave and prayed for his brother’s assailant as a sign of “Black” forgiveness.[vi] To that malarkey I say, “No, sir you are wrong! In such comments you betray a bitterness in your own heart. What we witnessed at the trial was not “Black” forgiveness, but Christian forgiveness. A demonstration of Christ’s love for sinners; enemies who have harmed us.” Nor will I call the sharing of the gospel a “violation” of human rights or human dignity, but an act of selfless charity.

Lessons learned from Scripture…

One of my favorite verses that I memorized long ago is found in Ephesians 4:32. It reads,

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

For all the harping we hear today, the one who has truly been done wrong…truly, the only innocent person who was grossly violated due to hate is Jesus of Nazareth. And yet, he laid down His life seeing the horror that lay before Him in the crucifixion as a joy, because out of love He laid down His life for sinners (the sheep of His pasture). Are we better than He? Are we more loving? Are more righteous?

If we are not, then we need to learn to forgive as He has forgiven. Yes, this includes even our enemies. Yes, this means we need to be willing to hold no ill will towards them. Yes, this means we need to be willing to let go.

“Why? Why should I ever want to do that?” you ask.

There several reasons, but I will lay down a few.

  • We have been harmed, have we not also harmed others?
  • We have been spoken ill of, have we not also spoken ill of others?
  • We have been robbed, have we not also stolen from others?
  • We have been hated, have we not also hated others?
  • We have been coveted, have we not also coveted what others possess?

In all of these things, we have done likewise. And in some cases, we might even be worse than our neighbors who have harmed us. But what makes us different? Why should we response differently? What is the proper response? You already know what you ought to do.

Do you know the reason why?

People of all shapes and sizes, of all ages, of all colors and backgrounds, are intrinsically valuable because they too bear the image of God. Yes, in our fallen state the image of God is tarnished in sinners, but it has not been removed. Though the function of being an image bearer might be corrupted, the status as an image bearer has not.

If Christ died so that we might have life, do we know that He did not die for others as well? “But they are evil!” So, are we! But in Christ, because of Christ work, because the Father sent Him, because the Holy Spirit moves in this world, we have been “reconciled to God” (2Cor 5.20) so that “we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor 5.21).

Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. And allow God to be God, for He will judge between us all (Rom 12.19). Our responsibility is to view fellow image bearers with a charitable love reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 13 in the hope that we honor God with our lives, and some might come to know Him as He truly is.

What helps us swallow hard truths is drinking from the fount of living water (John 7.38), the Word of God (Eph 5.26). Why don’t you take a drink.


ENDNOTES:

[i] John Calvin, Institutes for the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, reprint (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 3.7.6.

[ii] Michelle Mark, “Botham Jean’s brother gave Amber Guyger a hug after the former cop was sentenced for his brother’s murder in a powerful courtroom moment,” Business Insider, October 2, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/botham-jeans-brother-forgives-embraces-amber-guyger-2019-10.

[iii] Michael Brice-Saddler, Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery, “The Amber Guyger case has sparked emotional fallout across Dallas,” The Washington Post, October 10, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/amber-guygers-conviction-has-triggered-emotional-fallout-across-dallas/2019/10/10/7f12dafc-e9f8-11e9-9306-47cb0324fd44_story.html.

[iv] Carol Kuruvilla, “Secular Groups Claim Judge Crossed a Line by Giving Amber Guyger Her Bible,” HuffPost, October 4, 2019, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/tammy-kemp-amber-guyger-bible_n_5d975c9fe4b0f5bf7973da1d.

[v] Jeffrey Cimmino, “UK tribunal declares Christian doctor’s beliefs about gender ‘incompatible with human dignity,’” Washington Examiner, October 2, 2019, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/uk-tribunal-declares-christian-doctors-beliefs-about-gender-incompatible-with-human-dignity.

[vi] Jemar Tisby, “White Christians, do not cheapen the hug and message of forgiveness from Botham Jean’s brother,” the Washington Post, October 3, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/10/03/white-christians-do-not-cheapen-hug-message-forgiveness-botham-jeans-brother/.

Personal Thoughts:

On this last citation I was particularly perturbed. The article is filled with racist sentiments that cause a mixture of emotions from sadness, anger, and nausea. My only response is where in the world do we have a right to label Christianity “white vs. Black?” Tisby writes towards the end of the article, “If white people expect all black people to extend forgiveness as quickly as Brandt Jean did, then they understand neither black people or black pain. Black grief is a community project…everyone is entitled to their own process.” NOT if Jesus is truly Lord, they are not. The belief that everyone can do what is right in their own eyes is a denial of Christ’s kingship (Judg 21.25), and an unearthing of the lies of the serpent in the garden “Did God actually say…” (Gen 3.1). Where is Scripture sir are you given permission to harbor resentment, bitterness and hate because of the wrongs that others have done. You are mingling cultural assumptions into biblical revelation.

Image by <a href=”http://Image by Robert-Owen-Wahl from Pixabay“>Robert Owen Wahl

Posted in Commandments, Election

God Commands Good for Those whom He Loves

Here’s a text that many Christians are familiar with and rightfully cherish:

  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Rom 8.28a; italics added).

Unfortunately, this text is abused a bit either because of traditions or lazy reading.  For instance, when something tragic happens a person might conclude in reference to this verse, “Everything happens for a reason…God will bring some good out of it.”  While there is a hint of truth in the statement itself, all things do happen for a reason, God does not bring out of the situation good things.  Let alone bringing good for all people.  The text limits the “all things work[ing] together for good” for those 1) who love God and 2) are “called according to his purpose” (Rom 8.28b).  Those are specific individuals who are being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8.29)—Jesus Christ.

Similarly, an error occurs when one suggests that God only commands that which is good for all people.  As you hopefully saw (learned perhaps?) in the last article I posted (Big Bad God or are We Looking at Past Events Wrong?; https://kristafal.wordpress.com/2019/04/25/auto-draft/) God does not always command for the good of all.  The reality that we want to skate by is that God chooses to whom He shall do good to.  I’m not sure why we are surprised to hear this, since we continually choose who we want to do “good” to in our daily lives.  I don’t buy other children gifts, but I buy my own children gifts.  Would it be a good thing for me to buy other kids gifts? I’m sure it would, but I choose not to because I share a special relationship with my own children that I do not share with another person’s child. (I am not speaking of charity here, as I do give those sorts of gifts when spiritually motivated.)

Whose benefit was the Command of God for?

Looking back at the Canaanites, we should be able to see that what God commanded regarding them was not for their benefit.  The benefit instead went to the people He had chosen to establish His Name in the earth, and the people through whom the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) would come.  It was to the children of Israel (Jacob) that the “land of milk and honey” was to go.

  • “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on your and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut 7.7-8)
  • “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deut 9.5).

Ultimately, the reason God chose Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is His own.  He does not share the reason, but only shares what He has done.  Likewise, it is on the basis of God keeping His Word (promise) to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob that He chose to love and redeem their descendants from slavery; giving them a land that they did not work for, homes that they did not build, wells that they did not dig, fruit trees and vineyards that they did not plant (Deut 6.10-11).  What we ought to remember is that creation is God’s and He does with it—the whole of it—as He sees fit, and He answers to no one.  God specifically chose to love (to elect) the Israelite’s and to demonstrate His awesome power not only in Canaan, but in Egypt and any other rebel who raised their ugly heads.

God did not love those nations (i.e. groups of people or people groups) in the same fashion that He did Israel, and He did not have too.  Throughout biblical history we see that God drew to Himself any He chose, and sometimes it was not Israel that He chose to love (see the book of Jonah).  This is something Jesus pointed out early on in His ministry and the people attempted to murder Him for it (cf. Luke 4.24-30).

God specifically commanded Pharaoh (through Moses His prophet), “Let my people go…” (Exod 5.1); and yet, this command was not given for Pharaoh’s good, but for God’s own.  For God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and purposefully would not let Pharaoh obey the command of the Lord:

  • “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exod 4.21).
  • “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh will not listen to you” (Exod 7.3-4a).
  • “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Exod 9.12; cf. 10.1, 20).

God prevented Pharaoh from obeying a command He had given.  How did He do that, if God does not sin?  I think we need to be reminded what sin actually is, how it is biblically defined.

To sin is act lawlessly, to act rebelliously, to miss the mark.  What law? Rebel against what? Miss whose mark? In a nutshell, to sin is to disregard the voice of God.  To go against what He has spoken.

God commanded Pharaoh to let His people go, but Pharaoh would not.  When we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we should not assume that Pharaoh’s heart was soft beforehand.  To have a soft heart (a heart of flesh, rather than stone) means that one is malleable to God’s Law—what He has spoken—but that is not what Scripture says of those in Adam.

  • “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…” (Rom 8.5a)

Question: Did Pharaoh have his mind set on fleshly things (carnal/sinful things) before God confronted him? What was Pharaoh’s state of being (his natural disposition) before God spoke to him?

Answer: Pharaoh’s mind was set on fleshly things.  He was carnal and self-serving, and the love of God was far from him.  He worship created things rather than his Creator, things made by the imaginations of mankind.  Moreover, Pharaoh saw himself as deity—a god/man king—as many pagan kings before and after him were fond of doing.

  • “For to set the mind on the flesh is death…For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8.6a, 7-8).

Question: Was Pharaoh hostile to God before or after God revealed himself? Was Pharaoh’s life pleasing to God before God spoke to Him through Moses?

Answer: Pharaoh’s mind was set on fleshly things.  He was a rebel before God came and spoke to Him through Moses.  His hostility was already existent, although the presentation of God’s commandment provoked his heart further (cf. Rom 7.7-9).

In other words, all that God had to do to harden Pharaoh’s heart was present Himself before Pharaoh.  By speaking to Pharaoh, the sinful disposition (bent/nature) reared its ugly head “seizing an opportunity through the commandment” (Rom 7.8) to show itself.  The more God spoke to Pharaoh, the more Pharaoh hardened his heart (i.e. rebelled; was obstinate).  God did not make Pharaoh sin, for Pharaoh did that all on His own.  Shine the light in the dark and all those who hate the light shield their eyes and run from it.  That is the natural reaction of mankind aside from grace.

Why would God do such a thing?

The answer is simple: 1) To glorify Himself, and 2) To save (deliver) His people.  This is seen immediately after God’s declaration of hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

  • “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn2 son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son’” (Exod 4.22-23; italics added).
  • “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you [Pharaoh] up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exod 9-15-16; emphasis added; cf. Rom 9.17, 22).
  • “So Moses said, ‘Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there never has been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either to man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt’” (Exod 11.4-9; italics added).

God had predetermined His plan beforehand in the life of Pharaoh, in the land of Egypt (cf. Eph 1.11).  This was foretold to Abraham (Gen 15.14), revealed to Moses, and then demonstrated to all in and around Egypt. For the gods of Egypt could not deliver the Egyptians from the mighty hand of God (cf. Exod 12.12).

In the end, we find the following to be true:

God commands that which is good for His people, a people called according to His purpose and design.  He keeps His Word. He never breaks His promises, and to those in Christ those promises are fulfilled (cf. 2Cor 1.20; Gal 3.16).  There are several such examples in Scripture where we see that God commands, but the only ones intended to reap the benefit are Him and His people that He has chosen to love.  This choice is not dependent upon the people as we saw with Israel, and then find to be true in the writings of N.T. (e.g. 1Cor 1.18-31), but the glorious God, Creator of Heaven and Earth.

____________________________

ENDNOTES:

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

2 Firstborn signifies preeminence here as it does in the N.T.  Christ Jesus is called the firstborn of creation, not because He was the first thing created—the Living Eternal Word was not created for He was in the beginning with God, was God, and all things were made through Him, by Him and for Him—but because He has preeminence over all things (superiority). Cf. John 1.1-3; Col 1.15-20.  God holds His elect in special favor as they will inherit the earth and eternal life (Psa 37.11; Matt 5.5; Luke 18.30).

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Posted in Beliefs, Biblical Questions, Law, love, relationship, Theology

Love and Law

Love is a catch word that has been robbed of worth in our society. Its beauty and truth has been watered down and distilled to the point that love is no more than a fleeting emotion. Perhaps one of the most popular Scripture texts used in weddings (well, I should say traditional style weddings where people still don’t see getting married in a church as a sin) is 1Cor 13. This popular passage is often coined the love chapter of the New Testament; at least by modern sentiment if not by actual words.

In 1Cor 13 the apostle Paul offers many adjectives to describe the concept of love. For instance, he says in vv. 4-8a the following truths:

  • “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, love never fails.”1

Step back from these verses for a moment and consider the following: Who is Paul describing? What is he describing? Are these characteristics of love the byproduct of human beings or God? What is the object that we should be focusing in on as we read them?

Well, you can ignore the context—a pretty popular practice nowadays—or, you can take the context into consideration. We know the author—the apostle Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus (exact same dude). We can also see who the audience is if we flip all the way back to the beginning of the book.

Paul tells us that he is writing “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1Cor 1.2). He is writing to Christians in Corinth (that’s what the word saints means), people who have been set-apart (that’s what the word sanctified means) in Jesus Christ. Now Paul also includes all other Christians who claim the Lord Jesus Christ as their own.

With this information on hand, we ought to immediately understand that Paul is limiting his words in 1Cor to Christians; this includes what he is saying in the 13th chapter. Why is that important? Because, these characteristics of love described therein do not apply to all people everywhere. They are specifically pointed at Christians as words of encouragement and instruction.

One of the things that you will notice when you read this letter by Paul is that these Christians are very immature. They have divided into cliques (1Cor 1.11-13), they have bragged about their gifts (1Cor 4.7; 12.4-11), they have taken each other to court before nonbelievers (1Cor 6.1-8), they have cheered on a man who slept with his step-mother (1Cor 5.1-6), they have turned the Lord’s Supper into a feast for the rich who are found getting drunk and being gluttons (1Cor 11.17-34), they have cared little for their brethren (1Cor 10.24-33), and they have belittled the apostle who first brought them the gospel turning to others (1Cor 9); along with many other things that needed to be corrected in their outlook and conduct.

As I have said these Christians are immature and so Paul’s task in this letter is to teach them two primary things: 1) To learn not to go beyond what is written (1Cor 4.6), 2) To be imitators of him insofar as he imitates Christ (1Cor 4.16; 11.1). By submitting their lives to the Scriptures they will in turn be imitators of Christ as Paul is (cf. John 8.31-31; 17.17).

Knowing these things better prepares us for understanding what comes in 1Cor 13 in regards to the subject of love, and the characteristics we see described in the verses above. Notice that the things Paul speaks about regarding love are considered fruits of the Holy Spirit in another place: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5.22-23). And these are placed in contrast with that of the flesh (i.e. sinful nature): “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, fractions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these…” (Gal 5.19-21a).

Therefore when Paul opens the 13th chapter of Corinthians up to his readers, he expounds a particular definition of love that surpasses all other things tied to earthly understanding:

  • “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1Cor 13.1-3).

The love that Paul is describing is not seated in the hearts of people; he does not describe it as something natural, but supernatural. This type of love is the fruit of the Spirit. What type of love? Better yet, love for whom? Who is the focus of this letter that Paul is writing? It’s not the Corinthians, although they are the recipients; and, it is not the apostle, although it is by his pen that this letter is given. Who then? The Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head of His Church, who is headed by the Father and He has gifted His people by the Spirit (1Cor 11.3; 2.9-13; 12.4-7) the One God, that is our answer. The love that Paul is describing is not seated in the minds of human beings, for the object of people’s love is not God, but the object of a Christian’s love is Christ.

How then do we demonstrate this love for God? That is the question we ought to be asking ourselves if we proclaim to love Jesus Christ. How are we to know how to love? How do we know in what we should love? How do we know who to love? We are taught that through the Law of God comes the knowledge of sin (Rom 3.20), but we are also taught the inverse (opposite) of this.

Far too many speak of loving God with their whole heart, mind, soul and strength (cf. Deut 10.10), and of loving their neighbor as themselves, but cannot offer a prescription for what that love should look like.

  • “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1John 5.1-3).

God’s Law may be used lawfully or unlawfully (cf. 1Tim 1.8-9). If we seek through it to obtain righteousness for ourselves by the things we do, then we err and deceive ourselves into thinking that we are saved when we are not (cf. Rom 3.28). However, if we through faith, trust in Christ and desire to walk in His steps, then we will be found keeping the very Law that He gave long ago.

We demonstrate our love for God by keeping His commandments (cf. Deut 7.9). The idea flaunted today in popular Christian thought that we are free from being obedient to the Law of God, saying that we are only required to live by the Spirit fails to see that the same Spirit (the Holy Spirit) that leads now has led in the past, and the direction He led back then is the same today (cf. Zech 7.12; Acts 7.51). God abhors a double-standard (cf. Prov 16.11; 20.10), so why would we assume that His mindset today is “different strokes for different folks”?

The answer is He doesn’t. The circumstances of God’s Laws have changed, but the underlying principle behind them has not. God’s Law is still in force for the believer, and as 1John 5:3 says they are not burdensome (harsh or awful).

NOTE TO READER: In the near future we shall look at some specific examples and their relationship today, as well as deal with a misunderstanding I often hear in regards to covenant and salvation, two terms most people conflate. Until then, have a great weekend.

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ENDNOTES:

1 Unless otherwise noted all Scripture shall be of the New American Standard Version: 1995 update (NASB95).