Saturday, August 20, 2011

New Blog Site

I have finally made the switch to a new blog on Wordpress. Please start following me at

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Real Hope

1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

13 Οὐ θέλομεν δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ἀδελφοί, περὶ τῶν κοιμωμένων, ἵνα μὴ λυπῆσθε καθὼς καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα.

I think it is pretty obvious that Paul uses "asleep" as a euphemism for "dead." Paul uses the subjunctive mood with the phrase ἵνα μὴ λυπῆσθε. This is the mood of possibility. It is not something that has happened yet, but it might happen. That is why it is translated as "may not grieve." This is one of the instances where it has a weak imperatival force to it. Paul is telling them not to grieve. He contrasts them with οἱ λοιποὶ οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα. This could be thought of as "the remaining." In other words, this is everyone else. Everyone who is not a Christian goes through life μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα. Note that ἔχοντες is a participle. This gives a continuous force to it. He is saying that everyone who is not a believer goes through life in a continuous state of hopelessness.

Of course, hope is big business. That concept got someone elected president. But if our hope is in any person then we are closer to this.I don't care if that person is a Republican or Democrat. There is no hope is a person apart from Christ.

This is a truth that we need to believe deeply. We say we do, but the way we live indicates otherwise. How zealous are we for evangelism? If our zeal is weak then it is because we do not believe this deeply. Do we despair when a brother or sister in Christ dies? We should be sad and miss them, but we should never despair because if they are in Christ then they have real hope. It's the same hope we have if we are in Christ.

But where this gets really tricky is the other side. Every funeral I've ever attended has promised that the deceased is in heaven. But how can someone say that unless he is sure that the person trusted Christ for his salvation? Otherwise, that person was living in hopelessness and will continue to do so for eternity.

It all begins and ends with Christ. He also is everything in between. You want real hope? It's in Christ and nowhere else.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How We Live

 1 Thessalonians 3:8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.

8 ὅτι νῦν ζῶμεν ἐὰν ὑμεῖς στήκετε ἐν κυρίῳ.

Paul is writing about how he was concerned for the Thessalonians. He was afraid that they had fallen to the temptation that Satan threw at them. This is how he sums it all up. The word he uses in hope is στήκετε. This word is derived from a word derived from ἵστημι, which indicates strength. That is why it has the sense of standing firm or persevering. In other words, the Thessalonians' perseverance was life to Paul.

I had a hard time relating to this until I got involved in a church plant. The more I interact with people the more I appreciate this. I didn't go to seminary for my sake. I went to seminary so that I could more accurately preach and teach God's Word and help people. I do not exist for myself either. No Christian does. My job is to die to myself daily to help others live. There is nothing so encouraging as trying to help someone and see the good effects of that help.

Of course, this also  means that we need to be ready for the converse. There will be times when people do not stand fast and that will be like a slow death to us. Sometimes it will be like a punch in the stomach. You can't have the good without the bad. Nevertheless, I think that Paul clearly emphasizes the positive here. Seeing the Thessalonians live served as a great encouragement to him.

Hopefully anyone out there reading this loves his pastor and wants to serve him. We cannot manufacture obedience to the Word, but when it is manifested in our lives it most certainly is an encouragement to your pastor.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Pleasing Preaching

1 Thessalonians 2:4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

4 ἀλλὰ καθὼς δεδοκιμάσμεθα ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ πιστευθῆναι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, οὕτως λαλοῦμεν, οὐχ ὡς ἀνθρώποις ἀρέσκοντες ἀλλὰ θεῷ τῷ δοκιμάζοντι τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν.

I don't really have a ton of deep exegetical insight about this. This is just a verse that struck me today. I do think that the word πιστευθῆναι is translated "to be entrusted with." This word is πιστεύω, which typically means something like "to believe" or "to have faith in." I don't want to make too big of a deal about it as this would preach really well and I'm not sure it is valid, but you could almost say that God had faith in Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. But isn't that what "entrusted" is all about? God trusted them. Why could He do that? He is the one who gave them new hearts so that they would be worth trusting. It's not about their inherent character and it's not something that they can manufacture. I fear that would how this could be preached and I would hate to do that.

What is their response? They speak so as to please God rather than man. They are not so concerned about making man happy as they are about making God happy. If you read the rest of this chapter you will see that this is not a license to bring out the big gilded pew bible and use it as a sledgehammer. However, it is a clear call to faithfulness in gospel ministry.

Frankly, that is the call that we all have. Want to make God happy? Preach the gospel. It seems that we look for hoops to jump through. God is not happy with you simply because you dress a certain way, avoid certain movies, and don't drink beer. In this case, Paul emphasizes that his preaching the gospel makes God happy.

Let's focus on that, amen?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Knowing the Elect

1 Thessalonians 1:4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.

4 εἰδότες, ἀδελφοὶ ἠγαπημένοι ὑπὸ [τοῦ] θεοῦ, τὴν ἐκλογὴν ὑμῶν, 5  ὅτι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐγενήθη εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν λόγῳ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν δυνάμει καὶ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ [ἐν] πληροφορίᾳ πολλῇ, καθὼς οἴδατε οἷοι ἐγενήθημεν [ἐν] ὑμῖν δι᾽ ὑμᾶς.

One fairly common criticism of Calvinism is that it squelches evangelism. The argument goes that if God elects people from before the world began why bother with evangelism? Won't He save the people He means to save no matter what?

The short answer to that is of course a simple "yes," but that is woefully inadequate. This verse gives a little more insight into the issue. The phrase τὴν ἐκλογὴν ὑμῶν is translated "he has chosen you," but technically it is "your election" or "your choosing." Verse 5 explains this. How do we know about your election? It is because the gospel came to them ἐν δυνάμει καὶ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ [ἐν] πληροφορίᾳ πολλῇ. What Paul means is that the gospel was not mere words to the Thessalonian believers, but it had true power to them.

How do we know who the elect are? They are the ones who respond to the gospel. It is our job to pray, preach, persuade, and do whatever we can to clearly communicate the gospel to people. But we cannot save anyone. All we can do is put the gospel out there. Their acceptance is between them and the Lord. We know the elect by the fruit of the gospel in their lives?

Does that mean that everyone who appears to live a godly lifestyle is saved? No. But we can be pretty sure that anyone who is not changed by the gospel is not saved. We can never be certain about anyone's future state. This is why we keep preaching the word. We put it out there. My prayer is that my preaching today would fall on fertile soil and produce fruit.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Walking Evangelistically

Colossians 4:5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.

5 Ἐν σοφίᾳ περιπατεῖτε πρὸς τοὺς ἔξω τὸν καιρὸν ἐξαγοραζόμενοι.

I know that I tend to gloss over some of these short exhortations near the end of Paul's epistles. I feel like I got most of the meat earlier and now I'm just getting bits of potato with gravy. But I think we make a big mistake if we overlook this short verse. The verb περιπατεῖτε is in the imperative and while it technically does mean "walk," it has the sense of lifestyle. In other words, Paul is telling the Colossians that their lifestyles should be wise toward outsiders. I also take τὸν καιρὸν ἐξαγοραζόμενοι to mean that we should seize any opportunity to show or share Christ with τοὺς ἔξω, or "those who are outside." The word ἐξαγοραζόμενοι is a present participle, so that gives a sense that it is something we should routinely do.

I think about how I interact with my neighbors. Do I take care of my house? That's part of my witness toward them. How do I interact with my coworkers? Do I do the best job I can? That's part of my witness. Do I tip well at restaurants? Am I polite with people who help me at restaurants and stores? That doesn't necessarily mean that I get to a gospel presentation every time, but I want my way of life to be wise toward outsiders.

Do we really believe the second half of this verse? It is not hard to imagine seeing a bunch of cars outside a neighbor's house one day only to find out that someone died. Did I share the gospel with that person? Or maybe a coworker quits or gets fired before I can share the gospel with him. Am I looking for opportunities and making the best use of the time or am I being lazy?

This is really convicting for me. It is one more reason why I need to work as hard as I can at the office. It is something I am prayerfully improving upon lately, but there is still room to grow. Ultimately it comes down to the gospel. Do I believe it enough to prayerfully change my life so that I can share it effectively?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pursuing Holiness

Colossians 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

1 Εἰ οὖν συνηγέρθητε τῷ Χριστῷ, τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε, οὗ ὁ Χριστός ἐστιν ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ θεοῦ καθήμενος·

Paul follows up his argument from chapter 2 by starting another one. He uses a first-class condition. Basically he is asking the reader to assume that he has indeed been raised with Christ. If this is indeed true, and let's assume it is, then you should seek the things that are above. He then goes on to explain more about that.

I think that we can safely turn this around. If we seek the things that are above we have probably been raised with Christ. However, if we do not seek the things that are above then we likely have not been raised with Christ.

I am all for preaching grace. In fact, I hate the non-gospel of legalism that pervades so many churches. Most churches in America are basically centers for moralistic therapeutic deism. They have a vague sense of who God is, but they think that they get to Him by behaving better. The answer is not to do better.  The answer is to repent and believe.

But this verse shows us where that should go. If we have been raised with Christ then He should be our chief pursuit. There is nothing else for us to pursue as important as pursuing Christ. This should consume us and be the focus of our lives.

Is it for you? It is for me, though I fall short more than I'd like to admit. Yet I take solace knowing that the pursuit of Christ is the deepest desire of my heart. And when I waver I know that I can go back to Him and He will get me back on the narrow path. This is not something I do, but something He does in me.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pursuing Holiness

Colossians 2:23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

23 ἅτινά ἐστιν λόγον μὲν ἔχοντα σοφίας ἐν ἐθελοθρησκίᾳ καὶ ταπεινοφροσύνῃ [καὶ] ἀφειδίᾳ σώματος, οὐκ ἐν τιμῇ τινι πρὸς πλησμονὴν τῆς σαρκός.

Paul is finishing up his argument about true holiness. He spends a lot of time talking about Christ and then he finishes with a series of verses about those who advocate various forms of asceticism as a means of godliness. This verse concludes that argument.

Why do I bring this up? It seems that as people we have a tendency to either license or legalism. The circles I run in tend more toward legalism, and I am as guilty of that as anyone. This is particularly prevalent in Independent Baptist churches. I've met some folks from this world who are assured of their salvation because they do not drink beer or wine. They would claim that they are saved by grace and not by works, but their attitude clearly indicates the contrary.

I am not advocating any use of Christian liberty. That is a matter for personal conscience. But as someone who served in a ministry helping people find freedom from besetting sins, I can tell you that there is a very fine line we must walk. Legalism is easier than grace. It is easier to discern a rule than to follow conscience informed by the Word and the Spirit.

My prayer is that those of us who love the Lord would follow Him based on the clear teaching of Scripture. Any pursuit of holy living must be the result of His grace working in our lives. Let's live accordingly, amen?

Monday, August 08, 2011

Two Kingdoms

 Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins

13 ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους καὶ μετέστησεν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ, 14  ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν, τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν·

This is one of those passages that I tend to read through fairly quickly, but don't stop to ponder. Something made me slow down a bit this morning and I am glad. The word ἐξουσίας is translated "domain," but it also has the idea of authority. Of course, the word βασιλείαν means kingdom. We are accustomed to seeing reference to the "kingdom of God," which I believe is synonymous with the kingdom of His beloved Son. Verse 14 tells us that in Christ we have redemption, that is to say the forgiveness of sins.

Sadly, I think that we often neglect the truth that this implies. Most faithful gospel presentations in America will talk about how we are subject to the wrath of God because of sin. That is certainly true and it is something we must understand. But what we also need to emphasize is that we belonged to a completely different team. It's not that we were indifferent to God we He saved us, but we were hostile to God.

If you like sports metaphors think Yankees and Red Sox. Or think Cowboys and Redskins. Ohio State and Michigan. There is no middle ground when we talk about these kingdoms. We are either loyal to τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους or to τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ. We can't have it both ways.

So how are you living? If someone examined your life and had to guess which kingdom you were in, what would he say? If you're abroad and you see a big guy with a thick Brooklyn accent wearing a NY Giants jersey and another guy with an English accent wearing a Manchester United jersey, you can safely guess who is from England and who is from America. How we live and act belies our ancestry.

But let's not be double-agents either. There are many who go through the motions of the kingdom of God, but their hearts are still in the kingdom of darkness. American fundamentalism breeds folks like this with its cultic manipulation tactics. Let's live as citizens of heaven, but with pure hearts that only come from regeneration, amen?

Friday, August 05, 2011

Where I've Been

As you can see, blogging has been on the back burner for me lately. This is due to a number of factors. One is that I'm using my morning time for reading my Bible instead of blogging. From a pure GTD perspective, I should do my Bible reading at lunch, but I'd rather start with Scripture. I'm still doing Professor Horner's plan and I still really like it.

Another reason is that I have little time in the evenings. Since graduating from seminary I have tried to spend more consistent time with my wife. Lately that means the hyper-spiritual activity of watching every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation with her. We're halfway through season 3 of 7 now. We're enjoying it, but that does detract from my free time. I think I will plan on one or two nights/week where we don't do it going forward.

The biggest reason is that I haven't had to. I've now preached two Sundays at Piney Plains Christian Church. I will be preaching this Sunday, Lord willing as well as next Sunday. I have used this blog as an outlet for my need to teach. Preaching fulfills that nicely.

So let me ask you, dear reader (if any are out there), does it matter to you if this blog stays alive? I will write if anyone is out there to read it, but I am not going to worry so much about it if nobody cares to read what I'm writing. I do like having this blog as a devotional exercise to journal about what I read each day, so I'm trying to weigh the pros and cons.

Does anyone care? Leave a comment. I realize that this is basically a plea to see if I'm one of the cool kids. I won't ever be Tim Challies nor do I want to be. But I'm just curious if anyone is out there.

Friday, July 15, 2011


2 Corinthians 6:12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.

12 οὐ στενοχωρεῖσθε ἐν ἡμῖν, στενοχωρεῖσθε δὲ ἐν τοῖς σπλάγχνοις ὑμῶν·

Some exegetes make a big deal of the word σπλάγχνοις. It does technically refer to ones "guts" or "bowels." This was the word that was used to describe the heart of a person. It describes what makes a person tick, if you will. Paul describes how they were στενοχωρεῖσθε or "were restricted" in their feelings.

As we seek to plant a new fellowship within the body of Christ we are looking at various church constitutions. I read one that is based on the template provided by the Christian Law Association. This appears to be a favorite of those who are of the more Independent Baptist persuasion. I find the tone fascinating. Basically, it assumes that we want nothing more than to fall headlong into sin and, therefore, we must set up fences far enough away from sin so that we won't even get close to the sin.

That's all well and good, but what it fails to account for is the affections of the heart. It assumes that we will feel no affection for God. In fact, it doesn't even address that we should. All this does is then create a bunch of Pharisees who are good at being good. It doesn't deal with the matter of the heart.

We all need rules or else the New Testament would not have any. However, obedience starts with the heart. It begins with a heart that desires more of God. And as we experience more of Him then the temptations of the world begin to fade away. We are not as tempted to sin when we are satisfied in Christ. So rather than focusing on rules, let's instead focus on our σπλάγχνοις.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Righteousness of God

 2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

21 τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς γενώμεθα δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ.

This is one of those verses that just about everyone has heard at some point. It makes for a great song too. But what does it mean? Paul uses the aorist subjunctive γενώμεθα for this. The subjunctive can be thought of as the mood of possibility. In other words, what Paul is saying is that Christ's death made it possible for us to become the righteousness of God.

Why is this necessary? We are sinners and God is holy. Because He is perfectly holy He cannot stand sin. Sin has no place in His presence; therefore, there must be righteousness instead. The witness of Exodus and Leviticus is that there must be blood as a payment for sin because God's justice must be satisfied. The problem is that even unblemished lambs do not permanently remove the stain of sin.

There had to be a perfect sacrifice for sin that worked once for all time. The most wooden translation of this verse is that "The one who did not know sin on behalf of us was made sin." Obviously the ESV is a lot prettier. The point is that Christ actually became sin for us on the cross.

Let that sink in a bit. There has only ever been one man who lived without sin and that one man had to take on the sin of the world. Imagine if you were to find out that some large debt you have was canceled. If you're a homeowner your mortgage is a great example. Then imagine that you find out that some close friend had actually sold all of his possessions so that he could pay off your debt. That would be unbelievable, right? It would be a gift so incredible that most of us would have a hard time accepting it. Imagine the gratitude we would feel toward that person afterwards.

That only begins to scratch the surface of what Christ endured on the cross. He suffered unbelievable physical and spiritual anguish. If you are in Christ, take a little time to consider this today. I know that I have been blessed by this.

Friday, July 08, 2011

"Our" Ministry

 2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

1 Διὰ τοῦτο, ἔχοντες τὴν διακονίαν ταύτην καθὼς ἠλεήθημεν, οὐκ ἐγκακοῦμεν

This verse picks up where we left off in the previous post. The verb in the first clause is  ἠλεήθημεν, which is in the aorist passive. This means that Paul is telling them that God gave them ministry at some point in the past. It doesn't tell us how it happened, but it does tell us that it was given to them. Also, the verse does not expressly state that it comes from the mercy of God, but it does say that it came by mercy. It's pretty safe to infer that God is the one who granted them mercy.

As someone who is in the middle of planting a church, I find this to be an encouragement. I think it is safe to extrapolate this verse to describe ministry in general. Really the word is τὴν διακονίαν, which is the word from which we get "deacon." It refers to ministry or service. What I get out of this is that any ministry or service we get to do for God's people comes from the mercy of God. This verse starts with the phrase Διὰ τοῦτο, which literally means "therefore this." This explains the phrase at the end. Why don't we give up hope? We don't give up hope because we received ministry from the mercy of God.

This gives me hope because that I trust God to do His will. I enjoy the blessing of being an instrument in His hands, but really it is His ministry. If we assemble a fellowship it will be because God in His mercy brought a fellowship to us. My concern is my personal holiness. Although God can use anyone at anytime to do His will,  I also know that it will be a lot easier for me if I am walking closely with Him. I've often heard it said that if you want to know God's will you need to think the way He thinks. How do you do that? You walk in close fellowship with Him through prayer, time in the Word, fellowship, worship, etc.

The point of all this is that I find great encouragement knowing that this is God's ministry and that it is enabled by His mercy. That takes the pressure off of me to make it succeed. I certainly must do my part as well as God has gifted me to do it, but I don't need to think that it is all about me. As with all of life, it is all about Him.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

True Transformation

 2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

18 ἡμεῖς δὲ πάντες ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ προσώπῳ τὴν δόξαν κυρίου κατοπτριζόμενοι τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα μεταμορφούμεθα ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν καθάπερ ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος.

This is the end of an argument Paul makes as he contrasts Jews and believers. He discusses how Moses kept a veil on his face to hide his loss of glory. He also talks about how the Jews cannot believe because their hearts are hardened and the same veil remains. And then he talks about how this veil is only lifted by Christ.

This is another one of those times where being a 21st century American Gentile can get in the way of really grasping the depth of a biblical truth. Keep in mind that the New Testament was written in a Jewish context. The whole question about the Judaizers in Acts 15 and the book of Galatians came about because the Jews considered it absolutely vital to be a Jew if one was to have access to God.

Now Paul comes along and destroys all of that. Not only do we have access to God, but we have it with ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ προσώπῳ. This was unbelievable to the Jews. Moses couldn't even look at God directly and now you're saying that we can behold His glory with unveiled face?

The answer is a resounding yes. And as we continue to behold His glory we are transformed by the experience. We end up looking more like Him as we spend more time beholding His glory. This is something that can only come to us through the power of the Spirit.

Where are you with this? Are you beholding His glory regularly? Do you have an unveiled face? If you do, pray that you would continue to seek His glory. If your heart is still hard and your face veiled what stops you from repenting and turning to Christ?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

How Do You Smell?

 2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

15 ὅτι Χριστοῦ εὐωδία ἐσμὲν τῷ θεῷ ἐν τοῖς σῳζομένοις καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις, 16  οἷς μὲν ὀσμὴ ἐκ θανάτου εἰς θάνατον, οἷς δὲ ὀσμὴ ἐκ ζωῆς εἰς ζωήν. καὶ πρὸς ταῦτα τίς ἱκανός;

I have to admit that I did not get a lot out of this chapter when I read it in Greek. Paul's language is rather figurative, which made it hard for me to see what he was getting at. However, this is one passage that did make sense. There is no special exegetical clue that jumps out of the Greek. The ESV captures it very well.

But what does it mean? It means that we should not become too discouraged in our evangelism. To those who are perishing we are a fragrance of death to them. Death stinks. The house I grew up in had these huge windows in the living room. One of them was like a magnet for robins. I can remember playing outside the house on summer days and discovering the sickly-sweet smell of rotting robin. It's not a pleasant smell. In fact, it is repulsive.

The words σῳζομένοις and ἀπολλυμένοις are present passive participles, just as you see in the ESV. Given what we know about the nature of election from Ephesians 1, I would maintain that those who are not elect will always find the gospel to be repulsive because it is a message of death. But to the elect it is a wonderful aroma of life. 

However, we need to be careful here. I think that there is still room for someone being "broken down" by the gospel. In other words, most who hear the gospel for the first time do not immediately repent and believe. Yet some of them eventually will. What I'm getting at is that we cannot give up on someone just because of a single rejection of the gospel. But we also cannot be too discouraged when people do not believe because the gospel is going to be an aroma of death to them.

How do you see the gospel? Is it an aroma of life or death? If it is life to you, what are you doing to spread the gospel?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Fulfilled Promises

 2 Corinthians 1:20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

20 ὅσαι γὰρ ἐπαγγελίαι θεοῦ, ἐν αὐτῷ τὸ ναί· διὸ καὶ δι᾽ αὐτοῦ τὸ ἀμὴν τῷ θεῷ πρὸς δόξαν δι᾽ ἡμῶν.

This is one of those verses where we need to look at the language a little bit. The phrase  ὅσαι γὰρ ἐπαγγελίαι θεοῦ, ἐν αὐτῷ τὸ ναί does not translate into English in a one-for-one manner. Quite literally it is something like, "For as many as the promises of God, in Him the yes." The New American Commentary understands the ὅσαι  to refer to an indeterminate number of OT promises of God. That seems to make good sense of the passage.

The point is that the promises of God in the OT are not fulfilled in Israel. They are fulfilled in Christ. Now Romans 9-11 tells us that there is a future hope for some remnant of ethnic Israel, but if we focus on Israel we have missed the point. The point is Christ. 

The Bible is not a book about Israel, though Israel is in it. The Bible is about Christ. Specifically, it is about how God created man, man fell, and what God did to redeem His people back to Himself. Why was it such a long history instead of redeeming them right away? Ultimately it was for His glory, which He deserves. Also, keep in mind that if He had done it sooner then you would not be reading this and would not have a future hope of eternity with Him.

If you are in Christ, rejoice that He saved you. If you are not, what keeps you from repenting and believing?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

He is Glorious

Isaiah 6:3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"

 וְקָרָ֙א זֶ֤ה אֶל־זֶה֙ וְאָמַ֔ר קָד֧וֹשׁ׀ קָד֛וֹשׁ קָד֖וֹשׁ יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֑וֹת מְלֹ֥א כָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ כְּבוֹדֽוֹ׃


I wanted to try out posting in Hebrew, so I thought I'd pick one of my favorite verses.This is one of those verses that is easy to overlook because we have become so accustomed to the language here. Yeah, yeah, we know that God is holy. But what does that mean?

First of all, it is noteworthy that this is the only place in Scripture that contains the construct קָד֧וֹשׁ׀ קָד֛וֹשׁ קָד֖וֹשׁ. This term for the Lord is special. We tend to think of holy fairly simplistically. We think of it like a church is "holy ground" as in the Highlander movies. Or maybe we think of something consecrated like "holy water." Basically, we tend to put a lot of Roman Catholic symbolism around this term. At least I do.

But if we get into what this word means we realize that it speaks to something special about God. The term "holy" really refers to being set apart. In other words, this passage speaks to God's transcendence. There is no one else like God. No one else is holy and set apart like He is. 

I love that the Hebrew word translated "glory" is כְּבוֹדֽוֹ. Why? It very literally means "weighty" or "heavy." In other words, the whole earth is filled with the weightiness of God. We think of something important as being a "weighty matter." Think of what this means with respect to God. All of creation is filled with His glory or weightiness.

What does this mean? It means that it is impossible for sinful beings like us to approach a holy God. It also means that hell is perfectly just punishment for a sinner. How can such holiness abide sin? It is impossible.

Yet in His love God provided a way. That happened at the cross of Christ. There Christ's sacrifice covered our sin so that we may approach this holy God.

Will you rejoice with me in this fact?

Of First Importance

 1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

3 παρέδωκα γὰρ ὑμῖν ἐν πρώτοις, ὃ καὶ παρέλαβον, ὅτι Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς καὶ ὅτι ἐτάφη καὶ ὅτι ἐγήγερται τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς

This is the beginning of Paul's argument about the resurrection which will go through this whole chapter. Near the end we will see the statement that if Christ is not raised then we are the people most to be pitied. After all, if the resurrection didn't happen then we are just following stories.

I think that we must note that Paul described this as being ἐν πρώτοις. This is the most prominent place. It is the front of the train, as it were. In other words, everything begins with this fact.

Why is this so important? Put simply, it is because this is what makes Christianity unique. Lots of people around the world follow a great teacher. There are plenty of good examples that we can choose to emulate. If we ignore the supernatural claims of Jesus then we see someone who at least acted in a commendable manner. Of course, with Jesus you are then left with the problem of Him being a liar or a lunatic because of His claims of deity, but the way He loved people was certainly laudable.

That is where the liberal stops. But for those of us who believe the Bible we have so much more. We see a man who died and rose again. Everything hinges on this fact. If this is not a real historical fact then Jesus is indeed just a man to be admired, but He is not really anything special beyond that.

So what do you think of the resurrection? If you don't think it happened, why? I'd love to read your ideas and dialog about it. After all, if I'm wrong about this I'd like to know. I could sure save a lot of time and money if I am.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Until He Comes

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

12 βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι᾽ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, τότε δὲ πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον· ἄρτι γινώσκω ἐκ μέρους, τότε δὲ ἐπιγνώσομαι καθὼς καὶ ἐπεγνώσθην.

This is a passage that should be taught in freshman orientation at ever seminary. The problem is that many seminaries' theological presuppositions won't let that happen. Nevertheless, this is a great verse for anyone who studies theology. That means every Christian, but seminarians in particular.

This verse comes at the end of Paul's famous "love chapter." If you've been to a wedding you've likely heard it recited. Paul explains the virtue of love. Of course, this chapter comes in the middle of a discussion on spiritual gifts and it does not necessarily pertain to marriage, but it still sounds nice as part of the ceremony.

The question in this verse is about what it is that Paul awaits. Who or what will he see πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον? There are those who strongly believe in the cessation of all miraculous gifts (i.e. the "sign gifts") and they will say that this refers to the completion of the canon. Paul was in the middle of writing the New Testament and, therefore, he was not able to see everything clearly. I don't think that makes sense.

The language here seems to refer to the return of Christ. This also seems to correspond to the end of chapter 15 which discusses the final resurrection of the saints upon Christ's return. I have a lot of Bibles, but none of them have a face. The phrase τότε δὲ ἐπιγνώσομαι καθὼς καὶ ἐπεγνώσθην also bears inspection. Quite literally this would be, "and then I will know as I was known." However, various lexicons say that with regards to spiritual things this has more of a sense of "fully knowing," which explains the ESV translation.

Does the Bible know me? Only in as much as it is related to Christ as in John 1:1. I think it makes a lot more sense to think of this as Christ. He knows me. I know Him in part. But when I join Him in eternity then I will know Him fully. 

Is this a hope that you have? If not, repent and turn to Christ. A glorious future awaits those who know Him, even if we do only know Him as looking through a foggy window.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Many Parts

1 Corinthians 12:14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

14 Καὶ γὰρ τὸ σῶμα οὐκ ἔστιν ἓν μέλος ἀλλὰ πολλά.

This verse comes in the middle of a chapter on spiritual gifts. We could debate the nature of the various gifts until the cows come home, but there are two things that I think bear mentioning as one consider's 1 Corinthians 12. The first is that the lists of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14 are probably not comprehensive. In other words, these are examples of spiritual gifts, but spiritual gifts are not limited to these only. They are representative of what spiritual gifts look like.

The other is something that should certainly be stressed in light of the debate that often rages over this passage. People tend to get lost in the arguments about whether the gifts exist today and how they are manifested that they forget that this verse really speaks to unity in the body. It's ironic that a passage which emphasizes unity could be used to create so much disunity, but that is how Satan works.

God has gifted me in such a way that I am able to preach and teach. I am fairly good at organizing things and am very good at breaking problems down into manageable chunks. However, I am not particularly good at showing mercy. If I was laid up in a hospital room I would not be my first choice to minister to me. There are those who are outstanding at that kind of mercy care, but are not very good preachers. And so on.

The point is that God made us all a little bit differently. Because of the Fall we tend to envy what we don't have. A simple example is women and their hair. I used to work with a woman of Philipino descent who had beautiful thick curly hair. She thought my wife's thinner straight hair was beautiful and she wished that she had it. Meanwhile, my wife thought that her hair was much nicer, though she acknowledged the difficulty in maintaining it. This is a simple, though fairly common example. 

The same thing happens in the church. Rather than being content with how God gifted us we wish that we were like someone else. Here Paul tells us that we all have a part to play in the church and that we should be content with it. The key is to use what God gave us. How are you serving the church?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

True Discipleship

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

1 μιμηταί μου γίνεσθε καθὼς κἀγὼ Χριστοῦ.

Paul makes quite a bold statement here as he links arguments together. He uses the imperative γίνεσθε to command the Corinthians to imitate him. We need to be careful not to stop reading there, though I’m afraid that is easy to do. What I think is interesting is the phrase καθὼς κἀγὼ.

This same phrase starts off 1 Corinthians 10:33 and is translated “just as I am.” By itself, the word καθὼς carries the idea of “as” or “even as.” The word κἀγὼ is a combination of και and εγω and has the idea of “and I.” Putting these words together creates kind of an odd construct to an English reader because we don’t have anything quite like this. Unpacking it a bit might be something like, “Be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.” The genitive form of Χριστοῦ is what makes it “of Christ” instead of just “Christ.”

The point is that Paul is telling them to imitate him, but he is doing it in the sense of how he imitates Christ. In other words, he is not saying that he is perfect and that he is worthy of imitation because of his perfection. Rather, he is telling them to imitate the way he imitates Christ.

This is a vital distinction for us. We live in a world where we want to worship celebrities. Some young guys want to preach like Mark Driscoll. Or maybe it’s John Piper. Maybe we want to imitate the reckless sacrifice of Francis Chan. These are fine role models. However, there is a problem because they are all sinners.

Instead, we should imitate John Piper’s pursuit of knowing God. We should imitate Mark Driscoll’s focus in saving the lost within the community he has targeted. We should imitate Francis Chan’s willingness to cast everything aside for the sake of knowing Christ. But we should not imitate them as men.

And if you ever plan to be in Christian ministry you need to make this distinction clear with your people. They should not be imitating you. They should be imitating you as you follow Christ. They should imitate your pursuit of Christ. However, ultimately they need to pursue Christ.

This means that we need to give them a model to follow as well. But fortunately it is not up to us to save them. It is up to the Lord that we are trying to imitate. Let’s focus on Him and the rest will fall into place.

Portable Water

1 Corinthians 10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

4 καὶ πάντες τὸ αὐτὸ πνευματικὸν ἔπιον πόμα· ἔπινον γὰρ ἐκ πνευματικῆς ἀκολουθούσης πέτρας, ἡ πέτρα δὲ ἦν ὁ Χριστός.

This is another passage that makes one wonder if it means what it appears to mean. If we read this and take it at face-value it looks like Paul was saying that Christ traveled with the Jews in the wilderness. Can that possibly be what he means?

Well, the language is clear enough. The phrase πνευματικῆς ἀκολουθούσης πέτρας is very literally, “the spiritual rock, the one that followed.” This is connected with the weak conjunction δὲ and it clearly states that the rock was Christ. There is no ambiguity in the language here.

The problem is that this creates something of a tension for us. We know from Paul’s teachings in places like Colossians 1 that the church was a mystery until the revelation that came from Christ. Yet here we see him describing how Christ traveled with the people. The passage goes on to explain how they were apostate despite having Him with them.

What to do? I think that we need to accept Scripture for what it says. Somehow Christ was represented in the rock that traveled with them and provided water. As God saved Israel through the wilderness Paul makes a connection to Christ. Does this mean that Christ was really present with them? It appears so, but I’m not sure that it is necessary to see it this way to interpret this passage faithfully.

One takeaway is to understand that Christ appears in the Old Testament more than is clear at face-value. He was certainly a mystery, but Paul shows us that He was there. This also helps us to understand the language of Ephesians 1:10 that describes how God had “a plan for the fullness of time.”

But we also must be careful not to interpret every piece of wood as the cross or every instance of water as baptism. Not every drop of shed blood in the Old Testament points to Christ’s shed blood at Calvary. However, we also need to be sensitive to how the New Testament authors saw Christ in the Old as they wrote under inspiration of the Holy Spirit

Thursday, June 23, 2011

We Must Preach

 1 Corinthians 9:16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

16 ἐὰν γὰρ εὐαγγελίζωμαι, οὐκ ἔστιν μοι καύχημα· ἀνάγκη γάρ μοι ἐπίκειται· οὐαὶ γάρ μοί ἐστιν ἐὰν μὴ εὐαγγελίσωμαι.

Here Paul is making an argument about why ministers should be paid for their work, but that he waived those rights. He uses the phrase ἀνάγκη γάρ μοι ἐπίκειται, which involves a passive construction. There is nothing to unpack beyond how the ESV puts it. The word literally means that something has been put on. I think of it like a burden placed on an animal or on someone's shoulders. There is a weightiness to this charge.

Paul goes so far as to call woe upon himself if he does not preach the gospel. Clearly he considers this to be important. Of course, he was the Apostle Paul; therefore, it was vital for him to preach the gospel. Right?

That is true of Paul, but it is also true for you and me if we are followers of Christ. This is not a task given just to the "ministers" of the gospel. It is given to all Christians. We tend to like our professionals to do work for us. An advanced society is like that our of necessity. I don't know anyone who slaughters and butchers his own meat. I don't know anyone who grows all of his own vegetables. I don't know anyone who processes his own flour. I've never met anyone who physically built his own house (at least not in America). An advanced society has moved to the point of specialization so that we buy and sell products and services.

However, that does not apply to the ministry of the gospel. There is no such thing as a professional. There is in the strictest sense in that some men serve in gospel ministry full-time and get paid to do so, but really there is no distinction between "clergy" and "laity" when it comes to evangelism. We all have different gifts and we all will speak more effectively to different people, but we are all called to gospel ministry.

In other words, woe to any of us if we do not preach the gospel!

There is One God

 1 Corinthians 8:5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-- 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

5 καὶ γὰρ εἴπερ εἰσὶν λεγόμενοι θεοὶ εἴτε ἐν οὐρανῷ εἴτε ἐπὶ γῆς, ὥσπερ εἰσὶν θεοὶ πολλοὶ καὶ κύριοι πολλοί, ἀλλ᾽ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατὴρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν, καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς δι᾽ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι᾽ αὐτοῦ.

Paul writes this short interlude in the middle of an argument about food. Food was a big deal to the Jews and consequently this became a big deal to the early Christians. What difference did it make if food was offered to an idol? It mattered for the conscience of the person who knew about this. It didn't matter to the Christian, but to the idolater it would be considered some form of validation.

Paul referred to the objects of this idol worship as λεγόμενοι θεοὶ. Because λεγόμενοι is a passive participle it can be understood as "those who are being called Gods." The ESV flows better, but that would be the unpacking of "so-called." The point is that someone can call Baal, Molech, Allah, or anything else a god, but they are that in name only.

This is incredibly important for us in our society today. Because we don't want to offend anyone we as a society preach a message of supposed tolerance and pluralism. We say that everyone is free to believe whatever he wants, but that we should not impose that belief system on others. A quick glance at the news shows the impossibility of this stance.

This is fine for a Hindu with a pantheon of gods who sees Jesus as just one more. This is fine for the liberal in any faith tradition who does not consider the sacred material to be binding. However, this is unacceptable to a true Muslim, for example. If the Koran is correct and it is true that "there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet," then everyone should become a Muslim. Why? Because if they are right then the Christian understands the fundamental of reality incorrectly. If we have the Creator wrong then everything else is going to be wrong.

Conversely, a Christian cannot stand for true pluralism. Certainly he can tolerate anyone believing whatever he   wants to believe. But it is incumbent upon the Christian to explain reality to everyone. That reality starts with the God of Scripture. If the Bible is correct then the natural consequence is evangelism about Jesus. It has to be. There is no alternative.

There is a corollary to this as well. If the God of the Bible is the one true God then where does that leave everyone else? They are worshiping demons. They are fundamentally no different than the priests Elijah battled on Mount Carmel. And, if the Bible is true, they will have an eternity of suffering in the presence of demons. There is no middle ground here. On which side do you stand?