Posted in Christian Living

The Great Commandment and Its Centrality in our Witness

We live in a time and era when unheard of amounts of information are readily available at our finger tips. On the flip side of this reality, we are also living in a cultural epoch that is growing more and more in line with its unbelieving perspective. As we traverse further down the path of our societies denial of the Triune God of Scripture (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the attempt to silence any and all opposition to their view of reality is ever increasing. Reasoning is prohibited, the use of logic is ignored, truth is supposedly whatever you make it as long as its not biblical, argumentation is not only unwanted it is shouted down, and so the temptation that we face is whether or not we enter into the fray.

Dare we risk our necks? Our necks are at risk unless we concur with what is going on. Burying our head in the sand or ignoring what is going on around us has for a long time been the favorite pastime of many professing Christians. But those days are quickly fading. For our opposition does not want us to merely ignore them, they want us to join them, and if we refuse they are out for blood. I’m not speaking here of acts of violence, some may desire that, but what I am referring to is the use of other means to rob you and your children of their livelihood.

So what I would like to do is to get you thinking about the important responsibility that all name bearers of Christ have.

Matthew 21:23 & 22:34-38: Questions of Import

What is the greatest commandment? That is to say, “What expectation of mankind is of the utmost importance?” Or, put another way, “How are we taught to live?”

This question was posed to Jesus in order to test His true convictions. You see, many of the religious leaders in Israel at that time (1st century) struggled with whether or not Jesus’ concern was legitimately about honoring God the Father. They believed that He taught a false word, a false gospel, because they were convinced that He preached the Law of God inaccurately.

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ And he said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matt 22.34-38; ESV).

This was done in a public setting. According to Matthew 21:23 Jesus was in the temple when the various religious leaders began their interrogation of Him. (“The chief priests and the elders of the people” were members of the Sadducee and Pharisee party, some of which were experts in the law called scribes or lawyers).

By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority” (Matt 21.23b).

By whose authority indeed! In other words, Jesus was being challenged for speaking and acting the way that He did.1 In essence, He was being asked about the hope that was within Him; the object of His faith (cf. 1Pet 3.13-17). I realize that this is not normally the way we might see this particular passage,2 but I want you to understand that Jesus was being challenged for doing what He perceived was good, holy and acceptable (cf. Rom 12.1-3). The dispute being pursued by the religious leaders of His day—the cultural police—was over the precepts that governed Jesus’ way of thinking.

He taught and acted in a manner that was divisive to the mindset of the culture around Him. He was offensive to those who had “a seat at the table;” an expression of speech in our day that demonstrates a position of authority—i.e., the policy makers of a particular governing body.3 The test over the greatest commandment was put forward by one who had a mastery of the Law-Word of God. The lawyers4 were those who took pride in their memorization of Scripture. They were the recognized experts on what was true and false, right and wrong, good and evil.

Jesus’ answer was the recitation of God’s word to Moses:

Hear, Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is unique. And you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might. And these words that I am commanding you today shall be on your heart. And you shall recite them to your children, and you shall talk about them at the time of your living in your house and at the time of your going on the road and at the time of your lying down and at the time of your rising up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as an emblem between your eyes” (Deut 6.4-8; LEB; emphasis added).

“What is the greatest commandment Jesus? What is it that you rest your hope in? What is your object of faith that directs your thinking and acting?” Jesus answers: “Loving God with all my mind.”

An illustration…

When I was young my dad and I would wrestle and slap-box. At the time I did not realize that this form of bonding was also a strengthening aid. Men are meant to be strong, we are made for struggling. We are the protective head of the weaker vessel—the woman (cf. 1Pet 3.7). I must admit that when I write these words a smile creeps on my face; for it is offensive to the culture we currently live in. Offensive or not, it is nonetheless true. But that is not my point in sharing this detail of my youth. I learned a valuable lesson from my dad during those times of struggle. There were times when I rushed in head first. He’d grab my head and put me down (rather easily I might add), and as I went he would say, “Where the head goes so too does the body.”

Our head determines the direction that we go in. Or in the case I am now making, “Our mind determines the course we pursue in this life.” How we think, how we reason, influences and shapes our actions in this world. What our thoughts fixate on, what our minds saturate in, determines how we respond in the world around us.

The lesson…

The Holy Bible teaches us many things. In God’s Word we learn about God and ourselves (mankind). We are given a historical retelling of who, why, what, where, and how. Many of the questions that people trouble themselves over: “Why am I here? What is my purpose? How should I live? Where will I eventually go? Who am I accountable to?” are answered in Scripture.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1.1).
  • Here is the why: the Sovereign God created.
And God says, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...And God creates the man in His image; in the image of God He created him, a male and a female He created them” (Gen 1.26, 27; LSV; cf. Gen 2.7, 21-22).
  • Here is the who: the Sovereign God made mankind to represent Him.
And God says… let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that is creeping on the earth…And God blesses [mankind], and God says to them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it…” (Gen 1.26, 28).
The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden in order to have him work it and guard it” (Gen 2.15; ISV).
  • Here is the what: the Sovereign God commands mankind to rule over His creation, to subdue it, to work it, to guard the gift given to them.
The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man he had formed. The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for on the day that you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Gen 2.8-9, 16; HCSB).
  • Here is the how: the Sovereign God commands the man as to what he may or may not do; God dictates what is good, holy and acceptable not mankind.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons...Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Gen 3.6-7; 23-24; KJV).
  • Here is the where: the Sovereign God drove mankind from the tree of life. The death was covenantal in nature and that inheritance was denied to them, only the grace of God would allow them and their children to inherit once again the gift of God.

My point so far is this. The Bible teaches two primary truths about God and mankind. God is ultimate and mankind is His creation. All of life centers on Him. This is the meaning of His Sovereignty.

Concerning Christ and our thoughts…

Now my concern for you all is knowing how to think properly in terms of God. It was this failure that condemned Adam and his race. Whereas, it was the success of Christ Jesus that saved Him and His race.

I suppose I should clarify that last statement before I move on. “How is it that Jesus was saved?” you might wonder. To be saved means to be delivered. Jesus was delivered from the grave. Death had no hold on Him. He holds the keys of life and death, for He is master over both. The question we ought to be asking ourselves is “How? How was He saved?” Though some of you might be tempted to say, “Because He was the Son of God” that answer, while undoubtedly true, is shallow. It is a surface level understanding. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, He is God incarnate (in-the-flesh; cf. John 1.1-18). But the reason He was victorious over death goes beyond that.

According to the apostle Paul, the reason Christ Jesus was delivered from death and it is the reason His sacrifice passes onto all His offspring after Him is because He was obedient unto God in all things, even to the point of death:

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteous of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom 5.18-19; KJV).
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2.8).

Truth and Logic…

What did Jesus die for? What was He willing to lay His life down for? I want you to stretch your thinking a bit here. Think in terms of ultimacy. Who is ultimate in Scripture: God or man? What then do you think is the ultimate answer for why Jesus died: God or man?

Go back to the question asked by the lawyer when attempting to test—that is, entrap—Jesus, what was really being asked here and who did Jesus point to? Ultimately, the question centered on allegiance. Who was Jesus truly aligned with? Who did Jesus see as ultimate?

This Pharisee (cf. Matt 21.23) who was acknowledged by his peers as an expert in the law thought to trip the Lord up. For the Pharisee’s believed that they understood the truth of the matter, for they were guardians of the “law,” and in their minds Jesus was a mere charlatan.

Jesus was willing to die for the truth. He did die for the truth. Christ was willing to die so that all men would be proved liars, for it was by speaking the truth, by living by it, by dying for it that ultimately shut the mouth of His peers in that day.

What then ought our response be? Where should our commitment lie? If God is our Creator and we are His creatures, then there is only one correct answer. Like our professed Lord we must be willing to live and die for the truth. As John MacArthur notes,

“…Christians, of all people, ought to be most willing to live and die for truth…Cowardice and authentic faith are antithetical.”5

The Truth War

In order to be willing to take such a bold stand we must first be convinced in our hearts what is truly ultimate in this life. Jesus was willing to go toe-to-toe with His generation’s false beliefs because He knew the truth, its origin, and the Father’s plan for Him. We need to have that same certainty.

Joel McDurmon writes,

“Like all things that exist before the face of God, we can only fully understand truth and logic from within God’s covenantal plan for man. God’s covenants always include five points: God, Man, Law, Consequences, and Inheritance… From a covenantal perspective believers must ask, ‘Who’s in charge here? Where does the buck stop? What is ultimate, really?’ In relation to truth and logic, we must ask, ‘What is true ultimately?’ and, ‘What guarantees the certainty of our laws of thinking?’”6

Biblical Logic

Thus, for the professing believer that bears the name of Christ our number one goal is to love the Lord our God with all of our minds. This standard has been solidified in the life of Christ, for the manner in which He walked we are also commanded to walk. He stood firmly upon the Rock of God’s Word, unashamed of the truth, willing to stand His ground and argue for the cause of God regardless of how divisive He appeared to the surrounding culture. We must willingly share in this burden. We must willingly enter into this struggle. For as I said at the outset the enemy’s of Christ are out for blood.

ENDNOTES:

1This question was posed to the Lord on the heels of His cleansing of the temple a second time (comp. Matt 21.12-13 & John 2.14-17; cf. Lev 14.33-45).

2Often times the passage cited for Christian apologetics (1Pet 3.13-17) is seen in light of witnessing to unbelievers outside of the Church (Godly congregation or assembly; Grk. ekklessia). But the passage is not limited in that way. The person challenging the believer for his or her actions—for the good that they do—asks of their hope or conviction that has driven them to speak or act in a way contrary to the rest of the world. Therefore, the question posed to Jesus by the religious leadership in Israel at this time fits within the contextual/exegetical understanding of Peter’s command to believers in his 1st epistle.

3Bear in mind that the governing body in question is not particular to only ecclesiastical institutions. The reality is that “any” governing body fits within the concept I am now arguing for.

4Also called “scribes” were experts in the sense that this was their primary focus of study. In many instances it has been claimed that such individuals memorized the entirety of the Old Testament canon. Saying this does not infer however that they really understood the true meaning of the Scriptures they so fervently sought to master. Such mastery comes from God’s insight—a gift of the Holy Spirit opening the eyes of the formerly blind—which is dependent on the new birth (cf. John 3.3; “see” in that verse speaks of comprehension not physical sight).

5John MacArthur, The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), xv.

6Joel McDurmon, Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2011), Introduction, PDF E-book.

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).

Posted in Beliefs, Christian Living, Christian Perspective, Knowing God, Law, love, morality, Reason

A Dose of Humility is Needed

I find it a little perturbing when Christians attack God’s Law because they find it archaic, culturally bound, and overtly harsh. I’m always wondering to myself, “Is this accurate? Is this the sort of attitude that Christians ought to have towards what God has deigned sufficient and necessary for us to know how we ought to live?”

Let’s be honest, we don’t like being told what to do. I mean when we strip it down to the bear bottom the problem is not so much with what God has commanded to be done, but rather the idea that anyone would tell us how we ought to live. “Do we not have any say in this!?!” “Can we not decide for ourselves what is morally right and wrong?” “Are we not wise enough to choose correct path as we weigh the evidence before us in creation and in our own hearts!?!”

The answer is NO.

I remember when my kids were little (two of them are getting ready to graduate here in a couple of years) and the reaction that they would give when told “no.”

My youngest sister used to tease my parents dog (a Chihuahua) by telling it “no.” If the dog were close, she would point her finger at it and say “Minnie—that was her name—No…nooo….nooo.” The reaction of the little dog was comical, but you wanted to make sure that your finger wasn’t too close to its mouth or you’d get nipped. Minnie would turn her head ever so slightly and begin to snarl, eventually chewing you out with a shrill little bark.

This was similar, although not exactly the same, to one of my kids when they were told “no.” A temper tantrum would ensue. No I don’t know about how this was dealt with in your home, but judging from what I see sometimes at the supermarket not very many people today used the approach I did; punishment quickly came next. The age of the child determined the type of punishment they’d get.

When my oldest was about three years old he wanted to grab things on the coffee table that he didn’t need to touch. Some of you out there would probably just move it up to a higher area to avoid the problem altogether. If the items were dangerous to the child sure that makes sense, but there are some things that need to be left in our way in order for us to learn. We receive instruction and when we fail to abide the instruction we get disciplined.

So, when he wanted something on the table that he was not allowed to have I told him “No, you can’t have that. Leave it alone.” After a moment of consideration he went right back for what he was restricted from having. I’m sure his little mind thought, “If I see it, why can’t I grab it? I see you grab it, so why are you telling me no?” I warned him one more time, and the pause of consideration on his part was much shorter. As he reached his hand out to grab it—all the while looking right at me, to see what I’d do—I caught his hand and delivered a quick smack on it and told him firmly, “I said no.”

He looked up at me with his big blue-green eyes as they filled with tears, and then the flood gates opened up. He cried for a few moments, and then I brought him near explaining to him that it was wrong to do it, because I said so: “You’re not allowed to have it,” and then I hugged him and told him I loved him.

He didn’t know it at the time, but my heart was deeply moved by the scene. I hated that he cried as he looked at me heartbroken, but I also knew it was a necessary lesson. If more parents today took disciplining their kids seriously (notice I’m not saying abusing them), then many of the ridiculous attitudes we see on display at the grocery store or on the evening news would not be happening.

  • “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Eccl 8.11).

The pain of that day taught my son to heed my word. He understood that when I said “no” that is what I meant. Temper tantrums were few and far between in our house. I’m not saying that they never happened, they did, but discipline helped curb the hearts and behavior of my kids. Even to this day my wife and I have had people come up to us in restaurants or in other places commenting on how well behaved our children are; polite and courteous.

Question, did I need to tell my child the reason behind my command? Did they have “a right” to know my rationale behind the law I had given?

The answer is NO.

Why then do we want God to give us justification for why He declares a certain behavior as off-limits? Why do we suppose to suggest that it is necessary for Him to tell me His reasoning why He says “NO?” Of course, this is not limited to the Law of God for we often want to question God for why He allowed this tragedy, or why He willed for this to happen when so many things from our vantage point seem horrible.

Listen to the answer we are given in Scripture:

  • “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'” (Rom 9.20).
  • “Shall a fault finder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it…Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40.2, 7-8)
  • “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots!” (Isa 45.9)

It seems to me that we need to learn a little humility when we come before the Word of God. If He commands us in one way, do we dare go another? If He says this is the right course of action, do we dare say “tell me the reason!” Should we not rather say with the one we profess to be our Lord: “Not my will be done, but thine” (Luke 22.42); and “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14.31).

Is this not heavenly wisdom rather than earthly wisdom when we bow the knee before our God and King, acknowledging His divine right over us? It is. And then, is it not utter foolishness when we challenge His Word or course of action because we fail to understand it? It is.

Let us choose Godly wisdom and pray for humility, before we open our mouths uttering blasphemies in ignorance.