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Perfectly United

Sunday, March 25, 2018

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

(1 Corinthians 1:10)

 

Jesus’ desire is for His disciples to be perfectly united (Jn. 17:22-23). Like love (Jn. 13:35), unity is like God’s signature on a church. The Corinthian church, however, was giving God a black eye in their community. Paul wrote to expose and correct their shameful disunity which was a direct result of their lack of mutual love.

 

A Brotherly Appeal

 

He begins with an “appeal,” or an exhortation, as opposed to a command. First, Paul urges the Corinthians on the basis of their spiritual kinship as “brothers” and sisters in God’s family. Sharing this family tie by the blood of Christ they should conform their behavior to the gospel, not as law but as a response to the grace that is in Christ who brought them together.

 

An Apostolic Command

 

Paul does not end with a mere exhortation. By the middle of his sentence he flexes his apostolic muscles with the phrase “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul isn’t just requesting unity in Corinth, he is commanding it with his full apostolic authority! The name of Jesus, and all that it stands for, is the bedrock of his appeal. His appeal for unity is stated both positively and negatively three ways in an A, B, A pattern. He is teaching the same truth from three different angles.

 

Paul is urging them that

  A.   “all of you agree” (positive)

        B.   “there be no divisions among you” (negative)

  A.   “be united in the same mind & the same judgment” (positive)

 

Universal Agreement

 

Positively, Paul urges unity by repeating “the same” three times in the mirrored lines (A) – that they all “agree” (literally, “say the same thing” NET) and be “united in the same mind” and “the same judgment.” Christians who work and worship together must agree on the fundamentals of the gospel, which Paul later spells out in the letter (1 Cor. 1:18-3:23). Paul isn’t suggesting that every Christian is uniformly “the same” and shares the same function in the body (ch.12). There is a necessary diversity in the church that serves to strengthen the body.

 

Rather, Paul is teaching that Christians must agree on the fundamental matters of the gospel, like the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-5) or the seven “ones” he lists to the Ephesians (Eph. 4:1-6, esp. vv.4-6). How then could the Corinthians be in agreement? To find out, we must note how Paul states his teaching negatively (line B).

 

Tearing Up the Church

 

Our English word “schism” is derived from the Greek word for “divisions” (schismata) that Paul uses here. Paul is not necessarily speaking of parties or factions in this verse (although he will later, 1:12ff). The word means tear/rent” (cf. Mk. 2:21). The same word could be used to describe a plow dividing the soil into two separate lines in a field. John uses the word to describe the divided opinions different groups had concerning Jesus which resulted in them arguing with one another.

 

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division (schisma) among them.” (Jn. 9:16; cf. 7:40-43; 10:19-21)

 

This was the situation in Corinth, though their divided opinions were not of Jesus. The Corinthian division was over their divergent opinions of their various church leaders. This tear within the congregation had developed into jealousy and quarrelling. “For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers” (1 Cor. 1:11; cf. 3:3). What is Paul’s solution to this worldly problem?

 

Mending the Church

 

Rather than tearing up what Jesus had died to unify, the Corinthians needed to work towards being “united.” This would require diligent effort on their part (Eph. 4:3). The word Paul uses here is the same word Mark uses for the “mending/restoring” of fishing nets (Mk. 1:19). In other words, the Corinthians had torn the threads that once bound them and now needed to be “knit” back “together” (1 Cor. 1:10 NET).

 

A torn congregation can only be knit together by the same thread that united them in the first place: the love of God. This lack of mutual love was at the heart of all of the Corinthian’s problems which Paul highlights later in the letter (1 Cor. 8:1; 13:1ff; 14:1; 16:14).

 

Exhibiting the same selfless love Jesus showed us is the one-size-fits-all approach to mending a torn congregation. We are to be “knit together in love” (Col. 2:2), “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17) and “owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). For unity to exist, love must abound.

 

 -Jerome

Feminine Discretion

Sunday, March 18, 2018

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout

is a beautiful woman without discretion.”

(Proverbs 11:22)

 

This most vivid proverb is one of my all-time favorites because of the humorous mental picture it conjures. However, the lesson it teaches and its relevancy to our culture is no laughing matter.

 

During my time in Missouri I had the enlightening (and fragrant) opportunity to feed swine on occasion. Whenever the Borland family was out of town I was their go-to guy for all their livestock caring needs. I hated it but I loved the Borlands so I did it anyway. It helped that they were also liberal in sharing their frozen bacon with my family.

 

I have never met a more forward, crude and sloppy animal than a pig. They have a distinctive odor that has a way of sticking on you. In their favor, pigs are very bright. But in my experience they seemed only to used their brains to get into mischief, steal food, escape or break things.

 

Precious Jewelry

 

Proverbs 11:22 invites us to imagine a beautiful and precious ornament, a golden ring. Gold is highly coveted and priced accordingly. A ring made from such precious metal would be something special to be worn for special occasions. Now imagine saving up for such a thing, taking it home and instead of wearing it yourself you slap it on a pig’s snout!

 

No one will see the ring at an elegant celebration gilding the ears or nose of woman. Because a pig, not a woman, wears the ring, it will spend its life rooting around in mud and the excrement of its wearer. What a waste!

 

The Gift of Beauty

 

Wisdom calls us to compare that precious ring to a woman’s beauty. God created women with natural beauty. But that beauty, like all gifts from God, is sacred. Physical beauty is as powerful and deceptive as wealth. Like wealth, a woman’s outward beauty can betray her into trusting in it to provide for her. “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain” (Prov. 31:30a).

 

When a woman makes choices that reflect an improper understanding of her beauty she cheapens herself. She seeks for her identity in a physical characteristic that time only corrups. It is a futile endeavor. “A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30b) because she has found her value and purpose in her Creator who endowed her with an “imperishable beauty” (1 Pet. 3:4).

 

Exercising Discretion

 

For a woman’s beauty to achieve its divine purpose it must be displayed with “discretion.” Like a precious ring in a pig’s snout, the attractiveness of a woman is nullified by her lack of discretion. A golden ornament and a pig are as incongruous as a beautiful woman who has no taste.

 

The term “discretion” or “taste” (NET) can refer to physical taste (Ex. 16:31), intellectual discretion (1 Sam. 25:33) or ethical judgment (Psa. 119:66). Here, it probably means the latter. The proverb is describing a woman who has no moral sensibility, no propriety or good taste. She is unchaste and puts her beauty to wrong uses.

 

Modern Application

 

In this age of digital-hyper-documentation, a woman’s online media presence can easily turn into a 24-7 fashion show. Young women already feel pressured by society to look a certain way and develop low self-esteem and an unhealthy self-image when they don’t live up to it. Couple that with fathers shirking their responsibility to guide their daughters to a correct view of themselves and you have a cocktail for disaster.

 

Some think, “If I put on this outfit, show a little here, a little more there, then maybe I will feel good about myself.” Men, if you don’t believe me that women are saying this to themselves when they go shopping or look in the mirror then start an Instagram account. Never mind. Don’t.

 

A woman with such distorted concepts of beauty will never find self-confidence or self-worth. Just the opposite. She will only further objectify herself and degrade her divine reflection. She will be doomed to feelings of inadequacy, purposelessness and insecurity. She will never have enough online adoration, lustful stares, digital likes or verbal compliments to substitute for the divine acceptance.

 

This is the trap of the pig’s snout. Physical beauty is not a trinket to be used to lure men. Beauty must be used with caution, with taste, with propriety, with “modesty” (1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:3-4).

 

But this inward adornment of the gospel is not just a responsibility for Christian women. Men have created the problem of female insecurity and it will be up to men behaving like real men to solve it. It begins with what men allow their eyes to behold (Job 31:1; Mt. 5:27-30), how men speak to women, what men expect on a date, what men look for in a mate, and, most importantly, how men treat their spouse and what men teach their daughters, which is the same thing.

 

-Jerome

Consecrating Our Children

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Train up a child in the way he should go;

even when he is old he will not depart from it.

(Proverbs 22:6)

 

This is a great text for instruction on the issue of parenting. The way I have heard this text presented (and have presented it this way myself) is that, generally – this being a proverb – if you train your children to love and obey God when they are young they will love and obey God as adults. Presented this way from the pulpit the pain on parents’ faces whose children have grown up only to leave the faith is evident. They blame themselves for not training their children right or, worse, they blame God for not keeping His promise. Is this fair?

 

What is a “proverb”?

 

It is important to remember what a “proverb” is. The word comes from a root which means “likeness.” The related verb means “to be like, be comparable with.” For example, “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish” (Psa. 49:12). A proverb is an object lesson based on a comparison or an analogy (Psa. 78:2-6), a short, pithy statement (Ezek. 16:44) or a general saying (Deut. 28:37). Proverbs are memorable sayings that, if heeded, generally turn out true in life.

So let’s revisit Proverbs 22:6. God is not making a hard-and-fast promise, “If you do A, God will always do B as a result.” Proverbs is not computer code for life. God’s wisdom in the book of Proverbs is given in short statements that capture a general truth about wise and godly living in poetic form. It is beyond the scope of any one proverb to exhaust the subject it addresses. You might say a proverb is the rule and not the exception (for the exceptions, see Ecclesiastes). So as a rule, if parents follow the wisdom of Proverbs 22:6a, verse 6b will probably result.

 

What does it mean to “train up” a child?

 

Wisdom teaches us to “train up” our children. This conjures images, at least in my mind, of training an animal like a dog or a horse to do tricks. This gives the impression that parenting isn’t too far different than potty training a beagle. This (mis)conception is furthered by newlyweds thinking that getting a dog somehow prepares them for parenthood. Believe, me, IT DOES NOT! Your dog is nothing like your child and to compare the two is equally humorous and dehumanizing.

 

Here’s what I mean. The verb translated “train up” can also mean “to dedicate” or “to consecrate.” The same word used in reference to children in Proverbs 22:6 is used to refer to dedicating a house (Deut. 20:5), the temple (1 Kgs. 8:63; Psa. 30:1), altars (Num. 7:10; 2 Chron. 7:9) and the town walls (Neh. 12:27). A related adjective describes men who have been trained, tried and experienced (Gen. 14:14).

So how does this all fit in with parenting our children? The proverb pictures a child who is dedicated to the Lord. This certainly involves morally training him but that training and guidance is motivated by a deeper desire to consecrate this precious gift of human life to the Creator’s service. This reminds me of Hannah’s attitude in 1 Sam. 1:11, “And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

Hannah had the right mental picture of parenthood. Her inability to bear children like other women left her in humility and disgrace in the community but it also gave her a deeper appreciation for children and a higher perspective on parenting. To Hannah, the life of a child was a gift from God meant to be given back to Him in faithful service.

 

In what “way” are children trained?

 

The “way” talked about in the proverb is a path, a road, a metaphor for the journey of life. We dedicate our children to the Lord by starting our children on a path headed in a certain direction at a young age.

 

The writer isn’t necessarily saying we should set our child on a path toward God like Hannah (which we obviously should!). The proverb remains true no matter how you train your child. It means that when we are set on a path as a child, whether that pathway is righteous (Prov. 13:6) or wicked (Prov. 12:26), we will seldom deviate from that path later in life.

 

This proverb is a warning about the character forming habits we instill in our children at an early age. They are “soaking up” how to live life based on what they see in mom and dad. Our children are being set on a trajectory, a heading, whether they or their parents know it or not. As the Lord says through Ezekiel, “like mother, like daughter” (Ezek. 16:44).

 

Now, the “way he should go” is stated elsewhere in the book. There is a “way that seems right” to a person (Prov. 14:12) which, to the child, is often the way of “foolishness” (Prov. 22:15). It is the godly parent’s duty to dedicate their children to the Lord at the earliest moments of parenthood. Continuing that act of consecration requires parental “discipline” (Prov. 22:15) along the “way.” The NEB translates Proverbs 22:6a as, “Start a boy on the right road.” Sound wisdom and a dire warning. A true proverb!

 

-Jerome

Psalm 11 - Panic & Peace

Sunday, March 04, 2018

David wrote Psalm 11 in the middle of a crisis. The nature of the crisis is not stated so the general wording of the Psalm gives it a broad application to any who might find themselves in distress. It opens with David giving a spirited answer to some demoralizing advice.

 

Voices of Despair (vv.1-3)

1 In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain,

2 for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
    they have fitted their arrow to the string
    to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”

 

David’s advisers (whether the quotes are David’s own voice of doubt or the voice of someone else is not clear) had counseled him to find “refuge” from his crisis by fleeing to the “mountain.” There, they believed, the king could hide from his enemies. Their advice could be well intentioned, like Peter’s to the Lord, when he rebuked Jesus for suggesting He would “suffer many things” at the hands of evil men and eventually be “killed” (Mt. 16:21-22). They could just as well have been insincere like the Pharisees’ words of warning to Jesus not to proceed to Jerusalem because of Herod’s violent designs (Lk. 13:31-32).

Either way, the voice is persuasive. There would be little defense against an enemy whose bow was bent to “shoot at the upright in heart” in the open wilderness (v.2). A “mountain” would at least provide some cover.

 

Their argument in verse 3 is to suggest a situation beyond all hope. To David’s advisers the “foundations” of the kingdom of Israel had been “destroyed.” Against the prevailing anarchy in the kingdom what could one “righteous” man like David do? But David knew, despite the voices of fear and hopelessness, that his true refuge would not be found in a physical mountain but only “in the LORD.”

 

The Lord’s Vantage Point (vv.4-7)

4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the 
Lord's throne is in heaven;
    his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

The Lord tests the righteous,
    but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.

Let him rain coals on the wicked;
    fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.

For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
    the upright shall behold his face.

 

As impossible as David’s situation seems in v.2, his problems are dwarfed by the LORD, whose name David repeats emphatically in this section. The true King hasn’t fled for He still reigns from His eternal heavenly “throne.” Israel’s “foundations” had not been “destroyed” for the LORD’s city has divinely constructed and immovable foundations (Heb. 11:10).

God’s “temple” is not an earthly palace to be invaded. God’s “throne” is not an earthly seat whose occupant can be unseated. Later, in the midst of his own crisis, the prophet Habakkuk would quote v.4 adding to it, “let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Heb. 2:19).

In times of trouble we must remember God’s position has not and will not change. He is seated in a high position with a heavenly vantage point where He is aware of the plight of the “righteous.” The moments of trial are the LORD’s “tests” for “the righteous.” He is still and watchful in those moments. But His stillness is not inertia. The LORD is concentrating; “His eyes” are gazing intently (“see”) as “His eyelids” examine (“test”) both the “righteous” and the “wicked” to see what they are made of. The faithful should view times of crisis as opportunities to prove the genuineness of their faith (Jas. 1:2-3; 1 Pet. 1:6-7) knowing God is watching.

 

Then, in His time, the LORD will act decisively and righteously (v.6). Burning hot “coals” will “rain” down on the “wicked” for their injustice. The “fire and sulfur” that were God’s means to overthrow Sodom “shall be” the “portion” of the wicked. Though the timing of judgment is uncertain, the event of judgment is certain, sudden and final.

 

David’s psalm ends as it began (v.7), with “the LORD,” whose “righteous” character answers the distress and frustration of verses 2-3. The “foundations” of “righteousness” (v.3) were never destroyed for they are the very character and will of God; what He is and what He “loves.

 

David’s safety was well placed in the LORD (v.1). But David was not only seeking the preservation of his own life. His ultimate goal was to “behold” his LORD’s “face.” He loved the LORD. David had beheld the LORD with eyes of faith in worship (27:4; 63:2) but he was looking forward to the time when he could look upon God’s “face” with unmediated vision in the day when God would finally awaken His children from death to behold His true face in righteousness (16:8-11; 17:15; 23:6; 49:15; 73:23ff; 139:18).

 

Store up David’s resolved struggle in your heart for a time of future crisis.

 

-Jerome (adapted from Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72)

The Collection for "The Saints"

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Recently, we have been exploring the church that Jesus built and its mission. We’ve noted that when the Biblical authors use the word “church” they refer to a special group of people. In the New Testament, “church” (ekklesia) describes the body of people that have responded in faith to the gospel message. That body of people, both universally, locally in groups called “churches” and individually, is busy continuing God’s work. So God’s church is both the product of His work and the vehicle through which He continues to complete His work.

 

This morning’s lesson is focused on the word “fellowship” (Acts 2:42) which, as will be discussed, has to do with sharing. Christian communities in the first century were busy sharing their lives, their energy, resources and stuff with each other (Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-35). When a great need arose as a result of a famine in Jerusalem (Acts 11:28), many local churches banded together in a relief effort to collect money.

Christians were exercising benevolence for one another by sending their monetary support by the hand of Paul and others to Jerusalem. The word benevolence” is translated from the Greek compound word “eunoia” which means “good will” (eu – well/good, nous – the mind/will). This word is used literally in Eph. 6:7, “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” The local churches were willing good toward their poor brethren in Jerusalem in the form of material support.

 

This effort was something to be done collectively, that is, as a church. But for a collective effort to materialize, each individual must do his part (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

 

Individual Christians are instructed to be the most benevolent people (Jas. 1:27) rendering good will to all men, especially to Christians (Gal. 6:10). Part of a faithful response to the gospel is sharing what you have with your neighbor in need (Lk. 10:27-37).

 

But there is a difference between the proper use of the individual Christian’s money (which may be freely given to any in need, Lk. 10:37, Gal. 6:10; Jas. 1:27) and the money gathered by a collective church (which Paul regulates in 1 Cor. 16:1-3).

 

So, when it comes to this action of spreading good will to people, the question is not, “Do individual Christians have a responsibility to the poor?” They most certainly do. Or, “Who among the poor is the individual Christian to assist?” He must be a good neighbor to all (Lk. 10:37; Gal. 6:10). The question is, “Who among the poor is the church (collectively) to assist?” This is a slightly different question. Note the following passages concerning various collections that local churches were taking part in:

  • (Acts 2:44-46)— “all who had believed
  • (Acts 4:32-35)— “those who believed
  • (Acts 11:27-30)— “send a contribution for the relief of the brethren
  • (Rom. 15:25)— “serving the saints
  • (Rom. 15:26)— “contribution for the poor among the saints
  • (1 Cor. 16:1)— “concerning the collection for the saints
  • (2 Cor. 8:4)— “support of the saints
  • (2 Cor. 9:1)— “ministry to the saints

Clearly, the pattern set by the example of the early church was for individuals to do good to everyone with a premium on their spiritual brethren (Gal. 6:10) but for local churches to take up collections for a more specific use. These collected funds were always used to benefit poor Christians, as evidenced in the words “saints,” “believers” and “brethren.”

 

Christians are instructed to give a freewill offering motivated by the grace of God on behalf of their brethren in need (1 Cor. 16:1ff; 2 Cor. 8:1ff). When a believer contributes to this work of grace, that money is set aside for the needs of the church to be spent in ways God has authorized.

 

On one occasion, Christians were extending this grace to their less fortunate brothers and sisters by selling off their property and possessions and bringing the proceeds to the apostles to be distributed (Acts 4:32-37). While the property, and by extension, the monetary value of the property, remained unsold, it still belonged to the individual to be used as he saw fit. But once it was sold with the intention of giving it to the church, it no longer belonged to that individual (see Ananias & Sapphira, Acts 5:1-4). 

 

Why is it important to make a distinction between what an individual Christian can do with his money and what a church can do with its money? Misunderstanding this principle has led many churches to use their funds to subsidize, not individual needy saints or needy local churches as we see in Scripture, but other man-made institutions.

 

A case may be made that financially supporting good institutions like colleges, orphan’s homes or missionary societies from the treasury of a local church effectively outsources the work churches are responsible for. Attaining knowledge, caring for the poor and sharing the gospel are all emphasized in Scripture. But at its core, we have no example of church funds being used this way in the Bible. Institutions that function to serve these purposes can be good and there are avenues by which we can support these efforts individually and still remain under God’s authority. But local churches must be careful to use their collected funds in ways that align with the pattern we find in the New Testament.

-Jerome

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