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Spiritual Endurance

Saturday, June 13, 2020

“By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

(Luke 21:19) 

The Greek word hupomonē is normally translated “patience” or “endurance” but there is no single English word that fully captures its rich meaning. In Greek literature it was used to describe the endurance of a man forced into labor against his will but worked on, the endurance of a man who suffered the sting of grief but continued on, the endurance of a soldier who fought a losing battle but battled on. It also was used to describe a plant living in an inhospitable environment against all odds. You’ve probably seen those little shoots, stubbornly lifting their leafy heads to the sun out of a drainage pipe or a sidewalk crack. What you’re seeing is hupomonē, staying power.

This word is also used in the New Testament many times to describe the disciple of Jesus. It is mostly translated “patience” or “endurance”. But, as we shall see, it has many nuances of meaning that can inspire us to stronger commitment to our Lord.

  • Hupomonē is connected with tribulation. “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance” (Rom. 5:3). Our spiritual commitment is tested when we encounter “afflictions” (2 Cor. 6:4). The Thessalonians were commended for their patience amid persecutions (2 Thess. 1:4). This word is used throughout the book of Revelation to encourage Christians to remain faithful when their life was on the line (Rev. 1:9; 3:10; 13:10).
  • Hupomonē is connected with our faith. When our faith is tested it produces “patience” (Jas. 1:3). This patience perfects and strengthens our faith to endure difficulties in the future.
  • Hupomonē is connected with our hope. When trouble comes and we face it with unwavering trust in God it produces “patience” and patience produces experience which produces “hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Humans are capable of enduring incredible hardship when they possess hope. When hope for a better future remains we can endure outward suffering because we enjoy inward comfort (Rom. 15:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:3).
  • Hupomonē is connected with joy. Beyond just hoping for a better tomorrow, the Christian can suffer trouble and persecution with joy in present. The Christian life is marked by joy and thanksgiving despite difficult circumstances (Col. 1:11-12).
  • How can a person be joyful, possess such hope, endure trials with such faith? Because the most common use of hupomonē in the New Testament is in connection with the  goal of glory. For the Christian, the greatest things are to come after this life (Lk. 21:19; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 10:36; 12:1; 2 Tim. 2:10,12; Jas. 1:12; 5:11; etc.).

Hupomonē is not simply the patience which waits passively for the storm to pass. It is the spirit which stares down the storm. It is the spirit which bears difficulty, not with resignation, but with blazing hope because it knows glory is coming. Hupomonē is not the grim patience that waits for the end but the radiant patience that hopes for a new beginning. Hupomonē is the background upon which courage and glory are painted. Hupomonē is what keeps your feet stubbornly, joyfully plodding on against the wind. Hupomonē is what transforms the hardest trials into quests for victory. Hupomonē is that grit and determination within Christians in the first century that enabled them to deny Caesar as Lord and affirm Jesus as Lord.

Hupomonē is what enabled Paul and Silas to not just endure being beaten with the absence of murmuring but to explode in joyful songs of praise in the darkness of their jail cell (Acts 16:22-25). Hupomonē is what empowered the apostles after being flogged for speaking in the name of Jesus to rejoice “that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” It’s what motivated them to continue “every day, in the temple and from house to house, [to keep] right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:40-42)

Hupomonē can endow parents to stay committed to the love, hard work, patience and discipline that their children need when times of trouble come (Eph. 6:1-4). Hupomonē can keep married couples devoted to one another in faithfulness, purity and self-sacrifice when there seems to be no love left in the marriage (Eph. 5:22-33). Hupomonē can allow a spirit of joyful obedience to move the employee to serve his employer (Eph. 6:5-8) and the employer to be fair to his employees (Eph. 6:9). 

Hupomonē can keep the ship of faith sailing through storms of doubt and fear. But how is hupomonē developed? As we orient our lives toward the cross, trials will come but through those trials, our faith is being built up. Hope will increase and joy will abound as we look forward to the glory of being with our Lord.

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

The Sin of Partiality

Saturday, June 06, 2020

"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

"If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment."

James 2:1-13

Just before the heart of his letter (2:14-26), James blends the dual themes of wisdom and working faith in outlining the sin of partiality (2:1-13). James describes what it means to be “partial” in 2:1: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.”

At the outset, he draws the reader’s attention to “our” Lord, a possessive word, meaning Jesus is ours because he has given himself to us and for us and we have accepted him as our, “glorious Lord.” Describing Jesus as “Lord” (or master) would highlight our need to emulate and obey him (Heb. 5:8-9) while describing him as “glorious” would remind us that Jesus defeated death and is reigning as King Most High. How can we “hold” our “faith” in such a “glorious Lord” while treating people with personal favoritism when our “glorious Lord” never did? The question answers itself.

Another theme that James revisits several times in his letter is the disparity between the rich and poor and how, generally speaking, the rich hold the poor in contempt (1:9-11; 5:1-6). Here (2:1-13) James puts forth a hypothetical situation (“if” 2:2) wherein the believer has the perfect opportunity to exercise his wisdom and faith by welcoming each guest with equal honor despite their social status. Not only is it against wisdom to play favorites in the brotherhood but this kind of discrimination is also against God’s law, thereby violating our faith in Jesus. 

There are three ways in which James gives his reproof against the sin of partiality.

Favoritism shows a complete disregard for Jesus (2:1-7). James calls those who make such distinctions “judges with evil motives” (2:4). In fact, it was the rich who usually oppressed poor believers (5:1-7), dragging them to court and even blaspheming the name of Jesus (2:6-7). To favor a wealthy man over a poor man for whatever reason not only dishonors “the fair name by which you were called” (2:7) but also dishonors “the poor man” whom God chose to be “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (2:5). Jesus came to make the poor rich (2 Cor. 8:9), not financially but spiritually, and those who wear the name of Jesus ought to have that same attitude of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the less fortunate (2 Cor. 6:10).

Favoritism shows a complete disregard for the Law (2:8-11). Who said Christians are not under Law? We certainly are! Part of being citizens in a kingdom necessitates that there be a law. Christ, who sits at the right hand of God, is King making the words that issue from his throne a “royal law” (2:8). If we are to be a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9) then we must abide by our King’s “royal law” which is summed up, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a law of love. Loving others unconditionally as God has loved us is a theme repeatedly emphasized by Jesus (Mt. 22:34-40Jn. 13:34-35) and his disciples after him (Rom. 13:8-10). Partiality is the polar opposite of our King’s command to love. Love must be shown to all without qualification. So people who play favorites in the kingdom violate the very foundation of the law of the kingdom and, in effect, have “become guilty of all” that the Law teaches (2:10).

Favoritism shows a complete disregard for the Judgment (2:12-13). Lastly, James warns his audience to “so speak and so act,” that is, love in word and deed (1 Jn. 3:18), “as those who are judged by the law of liberty” (2:12). Christ's law is a law of freedom as well as love. The law that Christ delivered was unlike the Mosaic Law in that Christ’s law actually liberates people from their sins instead of enslaving them in their sins (Rom. 8:1-2ff). Yet we need to be careful how we use that freedom. Paul warns the Galatians not to “turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” in the very context of loving one another (Gal. 5:13-14). We have been freed from sin to love! (Gal. 5:6) We must live by this law of liberty and love because, in the end, we will be judged by it (2:13; Lk. 6:37-38). Our mercy for one another (2:13), or lack of it, will be returned to us in the judgment (Mt. 5:76:14-1525:34-40), which is why God said long ago, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6Mt. 9:1312:7).

Brethren, let us live to honor our “glorious Lord Jesus” (2:1-7), respect his “royal law of love” (2:8-11) and live in view of the eternal judgment (2:12-13). There may be a brother or a sister in the church that, for whatever reason, you don’t necessarily get along with. Remember the command to love him or her still stands and your very salvation is at stake. Time and time again, the Scriptures explicitly point out that God does not give special treatment to one individual over another. Peter once stated, “...God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is welcome to him” (Acts 10:34; cf. Jn. 9:31). “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11).

The Wrong Kind of Ambition

Saturday, May 30, 2020

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”

(James 3:16

There is such a thing as healthy ambition. For example, one who aspires to the office of an overseer desires a good work (1 Tim. 3:1); we ought, like Paul, to make it our ambition to be pleasing to God (2 Cor. 5:9); we are commanded to make it our ambition to lead a quiet and dignified life working with our hands and minding our own business (1 Thess. 4:11).

But there is an evil kind of ambition that is self-centered, self-serving and self-important. The word eritheia is used seven times in the New Testament, each time in connection to the Church’s ruin and division. In Romans 2:8 it is used to describe those whose ambitions are “selfish” resulting in the severe judgment of God. In 2 Corinthians 12:20 it occurs in the middle of a string of sinful behaviors (“disputes” NASB) that are ruining the unity of the Corinthian church. 

This is not surprising considering eritheia’s presence in Paul’s representative list of the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:20 where it is again translated “disputes” (“strife” KJV, “selfish ambitions” NKJV). Paul used it to describe those who preach with the wrong motives (Phil. 1:16) and live with the wrong spirit (2:3). James indicted the divided Christians he wrote to on the same grounds of harboring “selfish ambition” (Jas. 3:1416) that characterized wisdom which is not from above but is “earthly, natural and demonic.”

Obviously, eritheia is no good and tears up God’s work of uniting humanity in the body of Christ. Discovering the origins and evolution of this word further help us understand its New Testament uses and the dangers of “selfish ambition.”

Eritheia was derived from erithos which was a perfectly respectable word in its day, meaning “a day laborer”. The word was specifically connected with spinners and weavers of wool (erion) which is where eritheia finds its derivation. It then came to mean “labor for wages.” What’s so wrong with a person being paid for honest work? (1 Cor. 9:1-14) Here we begin to see the degeneration of a good word into an evil one that parallels the uncanny human capacity to turn a good thing into a bad thing.

Eritheia began to take on the meaning of work that is done purely to get a paycheck and nothing else; that kind of work underneath which is no spirit of service but only one question: “What do I get out of all this?” The word then came to describe people who were running for political office, not out of a sense of civil duty and service rendered to the State, but purely for their own selfish profit (honor, wealth, power, etc.). Some things don’t seem to have changed much.

Again, eritheia took on two additional nuances of meaning later on. First, it came to be used to describe political party squabbles; the kind of jockeying for a better position of power which has become so common in secular and church politics (see Lk. 22:24). Second, it took on the meaning that the New Testament writers have used, namely that “selfish ambition” which any concept of love, honor or service is absent. 

Eritheia is the self-centered, ‘me first’ politics that destroy God’s building, ravage God’s vineyard and divide God’s body. Churches that have divided over various things can probably trace the schism back to its source and find eritheia alive and well on one or both ‘sides’ of the issue.

Corinth had divided into factions just like our secular politics, red and blue, liberal and conservative. Each side was more concerned with their own position of primacy all the while Jesus, their exalted ‘Lord,’ took a back seat. Paul’s writings to them were to help these squabbling spiritual infants to see their ugly factious behavior through the lens of the cross. Surely they would see eritheia has no place in the body of Christ!

Certain preachers, like those Paul encountered in Philippi, preached the gospel not to spread the blessing of salvation in Christ to serve their fellow man but purely for selfish motives (Phil. 1:15-18). They were preaching Jesus as Lord but their heart wasn’t motivated by love to exalt Jesus but rather by eritheia to exalt themselves. Many preachers today fall into the same trap of displaying their own piety and knowledge in preaching. We must discipline ourselves lest we too be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27). As one commentary stated, no preacher can show at one and the same time that he is clever and that Christ is wonderful.

Selfish ambition is characteristic in Paul’s works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21) and in James’ wisdom from below (Jas. 3:13-18). It is characteristic in us when we measure things by how we can personally benefit. May Christ help us crucify this ugly behavior which is so flagrantly out of step with His gospel of selfless sacrifice!

The evolution of this word is a commentary on human nature. It began by describing the work a man does for an honest day’s pay and came to describe the work which is done for pay alone. This word should warn us to be careful how we view our work. Do we go to work not only to provide for ourselves and our family but to also help with the needs of others? Are we laboring for our true Master and the true reward? (Col. 3:22-25). Let us not ask, “What can I get out of this?” and instead ask, “What can I put into this that will bring honor to Jesus?”

The Power of Music

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Joseph Fletcher, the Scottish political activist of the eighteenth century, once said, “Let me write the songs of a nation. I care not who makes its laws." Fletcher knew music can have a greater impact on the thinking and behavior of people than the laws they live under. He saw music as a powerful tool for political and social change. And it still is.

Music can inspire revolution because of its inherent connection to our emotions. As one man said, “Music is the language of the soul.” However, music’s ability to express emotion and connect with our hearts, is also a cause for warning. First, we will speak in the realm of music in general and then specifically of music directed toward God as worship.

The Power of Music in General

Every song carries with it a worldview, a philosophy, a way of seeing the universe. That message is birthed in the creative minds and skillful hands of the musicians. It is carefully crafted in the studios of Nashville, TN or Brooklyn, NY. Then it is digitally snipped, cut and packaged into its most palatable form by producers to be devoured by you, the consumer. 

Consumption of that message takes place in the most sacred human space, the heart. “Watch over your heart with all diligence," Wisdom says, "for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23) Wisdom warns us to be careful what we pour into that sacred wellspring. Exposure to and acceptance of the message a song is espousing will have consequences on our thinking and behavior (Mt. 15:18-20).

But lady Wisdom gives us both warning and instruction. Music should also be regarded as a gift from God. Our God is a musical, eloquent God, and has blessed many with the ability to create music. You may be able to bring blessing through the power of music to the hearts of others. Paul's words are a helpful filter not only for what we allow into our hearts but also what we are sending out from our hearts into the hearts of others: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things" (Phil. 4:8). All our creative endeavors should be under the influence of the gospel. Do not use an attractive melody as a cloak for evil (cf. Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 2:16). 

Many forms of music have no lyrical content at all. Classical, jazz, and other forms of “music for music’s sake,” though without words, are not without power. See the difference in ideology between the two great German composers Ludwig van Beethoven and, a generation later, Richard Wagner for proof.

The Power of Music as Worship

Let’s move to the realm of music in the context of worship. God is praised with music. But what kind of music exalts the Lord of the universe? Notice the relatively few New Testament passages on song worship give little direction as to the form that music is to take. We are simply told to “sing” (Jas. 5:13) with the “fruit of [our] lips” (Heb. 13:15) “making melody with [our] heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19).

We are given freedom as to the form those “hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs” take as long as we “sing” them. Notice God emphasizes content not form. Our worship songs glorify God when their content is spiritual (Col. 3:16). The primary way worship music reaches us emotionally is through the message that resonates within our hearts as we sing. The form is secondary and should be in service to content. Good song writers know how to appropriately match melody and poetry.

Some contemporary trends in worship music have gotten away from this content-first, participatory approach in favor of a form-first, observation approach. The emphasis is less on instruction through content and more on producing emotion through the form of the music. Instead of thinking about the message of the song through the words, we are encouraged to feel the message through the form. In true worship, however, God wishes us to use music as a vehicle of expression that points to his glory. When the content of our worship music is given a back seat to form, the music no longer points to God but is, in a sense, pointing to itself. The music is no longer a means to an end (to exalt God and express truth) but becomes an end in itself, a subtle form of idolatry.

Because music has the potential to sound so beautiful we can become infatuated with form at the expense of content. This is no big deal with secular music but when it comes to worship music, content must precede form. In Amos’ day, Israel was “at ease in Zion” and had turned the worship of God into an exercise in self-indulgence. They were those who “sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music” (Amos 6:5). The prophet says “Woe” to them! (6:4). They had no awareness of the meaning and instruction of the psalms of David and sang them as idly as any other common song. 

The irony is that the very thing that could have brought the Israelites out of their sin and closer to God (true, spiritual worship) had been perverted as a tool to gratify their own pleasure and pushed them further away from God. The warning stands today. If we "worship in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4:24) worship will have its intended effects: God will be glorified (Rom. 15:6), we will grow closer to him and become more like him (2 Cor. 3:18), and unbelievers will see that “God is certainly among you” (1 Cor. 14:25).

Consecrating our Children

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Train up a child in the way he should go;

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

(Proverbs 22:6)

The Bible is full of wonderful instruction on family relationships, marriage and the rearing of children. Among the many verses that address parenting, Proverbs 22:6 is a classic. It teaches the general truth that if parents train their children to love and obey God when they are young they will grow up to love and obey God as adults. When this verse is read aloud to the church, however, it breaks my heart to see the pain on parents’ faces whose children have grown up only to leave the Lord. They blame themselves for not training their children "in the way [they] should go. Or worse, they blame God for not keeping his promise. But is this fair? Let's examine this passage in more detail to find out.

WHAT IS A "PROVERB"?

It is important to note what a proverb is. The word “proverb” comes from a root which means “likeness.” The related verb means “to be like, to represent, be comparable with.” For example, “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish” (Psa. 49:12). The word "like" is the same word for "proverb." 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). In the Bible, 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 like “If you do A, the result will always be B.” Proverbs doesn't function as 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, then verse 6b will probably result. While a person's disobedience to the Lord may be attributed in part by a failing in the parents, it is not always necessarily the case. 

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 to do tricks. This gives the impression that parenting isn’t too different than potty training a beagle. But this is missing it by a long shot. 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 whose parents dedicate him to the Lord. This certainly involves moral training and guidance but underneath it is 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...”

Hannah had the right mental picture of parenthood. Her inability to bear children like other women left her in humility and disgrace in society 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 TO BE TRAINED?

The “way” talked about in the proverb is a path, a road, a metaphor for the journey of life. We train our children by starting them on a path headed in a certain direction at a young age. Even though the proverb indicates there is a correct "way" children "should go," the proverb remains true no matter how you train your child. Generally, 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 parents instill in their children at an early age. They are “soaking up” how to live life based on what they see in mom and dad. Parents are setting their children on a trajectory, a heading, whether they know it or not. The Lord says through Ezekiel, “like mother, like daughter” (Ezek. 16:44) just as we say, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." As we stated before, there are exceptions to the rule, so don't be discouraged if you are ashamed of the tree you fell from!

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. Like Hannah, we should have a mind to consecrate our children to the Lord even before they are born and to see in every moment with our children an opportunity to shape their character. Continuing that act of consecration requires loving parental “discipline” along the “way” (Prov. 22:15; cf. Col. 3:21; Eph. 6:4). The NEB translates Proverbs 22:6a as, “Start a boy on the right road.” Sound wisdom and a dire warning all wrapped up in one statement. A true proverb!

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