Pity the Fool!

“if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”  -1 Corinthians 15:19 (NLT)

Why? If Christians are wrong, and this life is all there is, then why should we be pitied? Is it just because we had our hopes set on something, and those hopes were not realized? (Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”) But if we’re hoping for something more after this life, and then we die, and that’s it…how are our hopes dashed? What hopes? We no longer exist.

Or are we to be pitied, because the expectation is that Christians lead a life that is distinctly different from others? Keep reading in 1 Corinthians 15… Paul says in verses 30-32, “why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!”food and drink

If we are not living for eternity, then we might as well find all the enjoyment we can in the pleasures that this world has to offer. But the implication is that we have forsaken these pleasures in the pursuit of something higher and better (Hebrews 11:26 – “[Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.”)

Not that we cannot or should not take pleasure in the enjoyment of food and drink and the material aspects of God’s creation. (Ecclesiastes 8:15 – “I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.) However, our enjoyment of life is to be found in contentment with what God gives us, not the pursuit of these temporal pleasures.

So the question remains, if we were to reach the end of this life, and it were found that there is no resurrection to eternity, would an observer think, “What a pity! They gave up so much in life, and for what?” Or would the observer simply note, “Well, they were wrong about eternity, but at least they got to enjoy all the same worldly benefits as their neighbors.”

Just use the last part

“Choose you this day whom ye will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” makes a good slogan. Growing up, we had a plaque with the latter part of Joshua 24:15 on our front door.

Joshua 24:15With no context around the phrase, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” it sounds like Joshua is giving an exhortation to “choose wisely” and “choose to serve the Lord (like me and my house).” However, the full verse indicates that the choice being offered is not a choice as to whether to serve the Lord or not. The choice being offered is a choice between false gods: “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell.” Joshua is offering a choice to those who have already decided to reject God; he is saying, “here are your alternatives.” Maybe the first part of Joshua 24:15 doesn’t make such a good slogan for a piece of decorative art work after all!

In the broader context of the whole chapter, Joshua is giving an exhortation to “choose wisely” and to serve the Lord. In the preceding verse (14), he says, “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.” And in the following verse (16), the people reject his alternative choices, saying, “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods.” Joshua warns the people of the consequences should they fail to uphold their commitment, but they insist (24), “The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.”

So, does the fact that the broader context gives the Israelites a choice between serving the Lord and serving other gods justify using “choose you this day whom ye will serve” from verse 15 in that sense? I think not. Truth is too often twisted and misconstrued, which only gives people more reason to accept the notion that truth is relative. Christians especially must be precise and accurate in our assertions of what is true. We should not use a passage of Scripture in a sense that is not what the passage is actually saying, even if our usage is consistent with a principle that is true. We must allow Scripture to say what it actually says, not use it to say something different.

Cross-Gender Shoe-Filling

Writing on the topic of the Pentagon’s recent decision to allow women in combat, Doug Wilson offers some helpful thoughts, particularly a specific scriptural directive from Deuteronomy 22:5, which reads “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” (KJV)

Wilson says,

This verse is a prohibition for cross-dressing when it comes to men. But the restriction placed on women here is not simply the reverse of that. When a man is getting kinky in the way described here, it is a straightforward transvesite problem. But going the other way, we should notice a different problem. Notice the odd construction — “that which pertains to a man.” The Hebrew underneath is ‘keli geber,’ and should be read as the “gear of a warrior.” Whether we are talking about a man in fishnet stockings, or a woman decked out in full battle regalia, we need to recognize that God finds it loathsome. So should we.

Another scriptural argument that should be noted is this. “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” (Dt. 14:21b). Just as Paul noted that the law about not muzzling oxen was not simply about oxen, so this passage is not just about baby goats. The principle latent in this law is that we must not take that which was intended for the giving of life and transform it into an instrument of death. The milk was intended by God for sustenance, and so it should not be turned into death. Women were created and exquisitely fashioned by God to be life-imparters, and so they must not be transformed into death-dealers.

This was the first time I’ve encountered that particular interpretive slant for Deut. 22:5, so I consulted some other translations and commentaries to see whether Wilson’s contention has merit.

Starting with the lexicon definitions, the Hebrew word k?liy, translated “that which pertaineth” in the KJV, is given the following definitions:

  1. article, vessel, implement, utensil
    1. article, object (general)
    2. utensil, implement, apparatus, vessel
      1. implement (of hunting or war)
      2. implement (of music)
      3. implement, tool (of labour)
      4. equipment, yoke (of oxen)
      5. utensils, furniture
    3. vessel, receptacle (general)
    4. vessels (boats) of paper-reed

Elsewhere in the KJV, the same word is translated “vessel,” “instrument,” “weapon,” and “armour” among a few other words.

The Hebrew word geber, translated “unto a man” in the KJV, is one of a number of Hebrew words for “man.”  This particular word is defined as a “strong man” or a “warrior,” emphasizing his strength or ability to fight.

Commentator Adam Clarke translates keli geber as “the instruments or arms of a man,” and says that “as the word geber is here used, which properly signifies a strong man or man of war, it is very probable that armor is here intended.”

Spence and Exell’s The Pulpit Commentary says of keli geber, “literally, the apparatus of a man, including, not dress merely, but implements, tools, weapons, and utensils.”

So, although most of the modern translations only refer to clothing, it appears that Wilson is correct.  This verse isn’t just about cross-dressing,  it’s about cross-gender shoe-filling in general.  And the shoes of a warrior are shoes that are intended to be filled by the feet of men.

Opposition to women in combat can be based on pragmatic concerns that stem from the physical, emotional, and psychological differences between men and women.  There are valid arguments to be made from these concerns.  It is also valid to appeal to chivalry and the man’s role as protector.  But who defines chivalry?  Protection from what?  Protection to what end?  What if the woman doesn’t want to be protected?  What if she is capable of protecting herself?  Christians cannot allow gender roles to be defined by the culture around us.  We can appeal to all sorts of arguments, but our first and last appeal must be to Scripture.

Some objects, roles, and behaviors are gender-neutral, freely used/acted/exhibited by both men and women.  But there are certain things that are designed to be used by men for manly purposes.  There are plenty of other passages supporting distinct roles for men and women.  Deuteronomy 22:5 seems to be telling us that the weapons of a warrior are inherently associated with the role of a man.

Creation

A good unifying summary statement about the Creation account in Genesis:

We believe that the Scriptures, and hence Genesis 1-3, are the inerrant word of God.  We affirm that Genesis 1-3 is a coherent account from the hand of Moses.  We believe that history, not myth, is the proper category for describing these chapters; and furthermore that their history is true.  In these chapters we find the record of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth ex nihilo; of the special creation of Adam and Eve as actual human beings, the parents of all humanity (hence they are not the products of evolution from lower forms of life).  We further find the account of an historical fall, that brought all humanity into an estate of sin and misery, and of God’s sure promise of a Redeemer.  Because the Bible is the word of the Creator and Governor of all there is, it is right for us to find it speaking authoritatively to matters studied by historical and scientific research.  We also believe that acceptance of, say, non-geocentric astronomy is consistent with full submission to Biblical authority.  We recognize that a naturalistic worldview and true Christian faith are impossible to reconcile, and gladly take our stand with Biblical supernaturalism.

The Committee has been unable to come to unanimity over the nature and duration of the creation days.  Nevertheless, our goal has been to enhance the unity, integrity, faithfulness and proclamation of the Church.  Therefore we are presenting a unanimous report with the understanding that the members hold to different exegetical viewpoints.  As to the rest we are at one.  It is our hope and prayer that the Church at large can join us in a principled, Biblical recognition of both the unity and diversity we have regarding this doctrine, and that all are seeking properly to understand biblical revelation.  It is our earnest desire not to see our beloved church divide over this issue.

taken from http://www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.html

They go on to provide a brief history and analysis of the varying views that have existed within the Church over time.  For example, here is a summary of their study regarding views that were held from the time of the Early Church up to (and including) the formulation of the Westminster Confession:

  • First, it is apparent that there existed in the church prior to the Reformation two broad tendencies in the interpretation of the Genesis days: one more figurative, the other more literal—the Calendar Day view.
  • Second, the Calendar Day view was advocated in both the eastern and western parts of the church (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose and Bede), as was the figurative view (Origen, John Scotus Erigena and Augustine).
  • Third, the Calendar Day view appears to be the majority view amongst influential commentators. Certainly, it is the only view held by contemporary Reformed theologians that is explicitly articulated in early Christianity.
  • Fourth, the issue of the length of the creation days was apparently not taken up in any ecclesiastical council and never became a part of any of the early ecumenical creedal statements.
  • Fifth, the Reformers explicitly rejected the Augustinian figurative or allegorical approach to the Genesis days on hermeneutical grounds.
  • Sixth, the Westminster Assembly codified this rejection, following Calvin, Perkins and Ussher, in the Westminster Confession.
  • Seventh, there is no primary evidence of diversity within the Westminster Assembly on the specific issue of whether the creation days are to be interpreted as calendar days or figurative days.  Such primary witnesses as we have either say nothing (the majority) or else specify that the days are calendar days.

A pdf version of the entire report is available here:
http://www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.pdf

He’s Talking to You (and Me)

The Apostle Paul said:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19, NIV)

 

According to Randy Alcorn:

If you have:

sufficient food,
decent clothes,
live in a house or apartment,
and have a reasonably reliable means of transportation,
you are among the top 15 percent of the world’s wealthy.

If you have:

any money saved,
a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies,
a variety of clothes in your closet,
two cars (in any condition),
and live in your own home,
you are in the top 5 percent of the world’s wealthy.

(Money, Possessions, and Eternity)

 

Jesus said:

I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:23-24, NIV)

 

 

What God Can’t Do

Thought for the day:

Do not ascribe to man an ability that God himself does not possess: the ability to do that which is contrary to his character.

 

God cannot violate His character.  God cannot sin, because He is completely holy.  God cannot lie, because He is the source of all truth (Heb 6:18).  God cannot cease to be who He is (2 Tim 2:13).  All His actions are consistent with His character.

Although we sometimes say that people do things that are “out of character” for them, that is technically not true.  What we mean is that someone has done something that is unusual for them; something that is seemingly inconsistent with the characteristics that they normally display.

A person who makes right choices displays character that has been redeemed by the grace of God.  A person who makes wrong choices displays character that has been marred by the sin nature inherited from Adam. (Luke 6:45)

Even the most righteous man will make wrong choices sometimes.  Those wrong choices are not contrary to his character, but evidence that his character is still flawed.  A wicked man cannot do what is right, unless God intervenes to change his character.

Man has the ability to choose, but he is not “free” to choose that which is contrary to his character.

A Higher Standard for Elders

Q:  Is a church elder held to a higher standard of personal conduct than the “average” Christian?

A:  It depends on what you mean by “higher standard.”

Anyone who is serious about the authority of Scripture would agree that a church elder must satisfy the requirements that Paul lists in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.

Some churches see these requirements as unique requirements for eldership, requirements that are not necessarily expected of all Christians.  Such churches might allow that there are cases where a Christian may legitimately divorce, but they would say that a divorcee may not be an elder, because an elder must be the “husband of one wife.”  Similarly, some churches acknowledge that, while the Bible warns about the dangers of intoxicating beverages, it does not forbid their consumption.  While acknowledging that the consumption of alcohol is a matter of Christian freedom, they may still require an elder to completely abstain from alcohol, because they believe that this is part of the “higher standard” to which elders are called.

I believe that this is a faulty view of the requirements for an elder.

There are not two different standards for Christian conduct: one for elders, one for everyone else.  All Christians are held to the same standard of conduct.  All Christians are expected to be chaste, hospitable, temperate, gentle, self-controlled, etc.  The standard is perfect conformity to the image of God.

However, no Christian can live up to that perfect standard.  Since no Christian actually meets the standard, should the role of elder be open to any Christian, regardless of how fall short they fall?  No, an elder should meet a “minimum” standard of maturity.  While no Christian is perfect, there is a range of Christian maturity.  The biblical requirements for an elder are a way of saying that an elder must be “this far along” in their sanctification.

So, if by “higher standard” you mean that an elder must meet certain requirements not expected of other Christians, then I say, no, the Bible does not teach that.

But, if by “higher standard” you simply mean a greater degree of conformity to the one high standard of Christian living, then I will agree that the “entrance requirements” for eldership are higher than say, the entrance requirements for church membership.