Bridges on the Privilege of Being Early Enlisted under the Banner of the Cross

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Below I share a quote from a commentary on Proverbs 2 from the 19th century Anglican pastor Charles Bridges (you can read the full commentary here):

And now, what serious reader of this chapter can fail to estimate above all price the privilege of being early enlisted under the banner of the cross; early taught in the ways, and disciplined in the school, of the Bible; and early led to hide that blessed book in the heart, as the rule of life, the principle of holiness, the guide to heaven!

Parents, sponsors, teachers of youth; ponder your deep responsibility with unceasing prayer for special grace and wisdom. Beware of glossing over sins with amiable or palliating terms. Let young people be always led to look upon vicious; habits with horror, as the most appalling evil. Discipline their vehemence of feeling, and all ill-regulated excitement. Keep out of sight, as far as maybe, books cal- culated to inflame the imagination. To give an impulse to the glowing passion may stimulate the rising corruption to the most malignant fruitfulness. Oh! what wisdom is needed to guide, to repress, to bring forth, develop safely, and to improve fully, the mind, energies, and sensibilities of youth!

Young man! beware! Do not flatter thyself for a moment, that God will ever wink at your sinful passions; that he will allow for them, as slips and foibles of youth. They are the “cords of your own sins,” which, if the power of God’s grace break them not in time, will “hold” you for eternity. (Chap. v. 22.) Shun then the society of sin, as the infection of the plague. Keep thy distance from it, as from the pit of destruction. Store thy mind with the preservative of heavenly wisdom. Cultivate the taste for purer pleasures. Listen to the fatherly, pleading remonstrance, inviting thee to thy rest—“‘Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, ‘My Father! thou art the guide of my youth?’” (Jer. iii. 4.)


The Problem with Authority Part II: Authority and Truth

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Throughout the gospels, we often hear conversation about authority and what it is. Both Mark and Matthew contrast the authority of Jesus Christ with the authority of the Scribes and the Pharisees (Mk 1:22, Matt. 7:29). Luke records that when Jesus heard that Herod wanted to kill Him, Jesus called Herod a fox and then turned to reflect on His own authority (Lk. 13:31-32). John records a conversation that took place between Jesus and the Jews in John 7:14-24. Jesus says in John 7:18 “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”

Is truth determined by society? Is truth a social construct? What is truth? A society that asks these questions will struggle with the concept of authority. What happens when authorities cannot agree on truth? What happens when authorities cannot agree if there is truth? A society can still value reason. But when reason doesn’t work then what? When reason proves to have its own limitations then what? When science proves to have limitations then what? I suggest that with the loss of truth, society will gravitate between anarchy and raw coercion. Tyranny becomes the proposed answer to anarchy, because there is no other way to exercise authority than through coercion. Human authority itself is deified, hated and feared. Thus we hear the radical authority claims of the old Roman Empire: “Caesar is Lord!” Thus we hear the radical authority claims of the Roman Catholic Church when the Pope speaks “ex cathedra”.

Where did the Apostles derive their authority? Well Matthew tells us that Christ claimed that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matt. 28:16-20). He gives His Church the authority to preach, to teach, to disciple, to baptize. We should not be surprised then that the chief priests, the rulers, the scribes and elders in Jerusalem are astounded by the authority of Peter and John: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) If you remember, they had a similar reaction to Jesus: “The Jews therefore marveled, saying, ‘How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?’” (Jn 7:15)

“And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’” (Acts 17:2-3) Acts 17:1-10 is an interesting passage to analyze. 1.) Paul’s proclamation that Jesus is the Christ is taken as a threat to Caesar; 2) Paul did not teach revolution, but his message had clear political ramifications; 3) Jason and the brothers pay the fine, giving to Caesar what is due to Caesar; 4) They hide Paul and send him off to Berea, and do not give Caesar access to the messenger of the gospel.

This again gets back to the Romans 13 passage. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Most governing authorities would respond with a hearty ‘Amen’ as I hope Christians would. But the second half of verse has major political ramifications. The Apostle Paul whisks away the secular foundation for our reasoning on the civil magistrate: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Secularism is a modern heresy. Wait, that means that magistrates must abide by an objective truth? For the rest of Paul’s speech in Rom 13:1-10 one is forced to ask some hard questions about our modern day political theory. The Apostle Paul implies that their authority comes from God, that they will indeed be a terror to bad conduct and not to good. We ask questions in the 21st century. What is your standard of good and bad conduct? How does this affect your view of your own authority?

What am I talking about when I talk about the truth? Some vague truth? Some sort of secular argumentation? Reason? What is observable? I am speaking of the Word of God. While God does give Church and State two different types of authority, He does not give them two different laws. After all, “there is no authority except from God” (Rom 1:1). I realize that in modern society, a Christian politician will need to gravitate largely towards natural law arguments in the public sphere. This is permitted, since there are many truths that can be argued to from nature (as we see in Psalm 19). But in the background, is this natural law unbreakably tied into the truth of God’s Word? Natural law is not secular law. In fact, nothing is secular, because all authority has been given to Jesus (Matt 28) and all things cohere in Him (Col 1). He has preeminence (Col 1).

Notice how important good and necessary consequence is to Christian moral reasoning. As we apply the principles of Scripture, we are always returning to the drawing board, as others challenge our line of argumentation. As we stand under the authority of Christ, there is a freedom to argue from across Scripture and allow denominations and pastors to challenge one another to be more precise as we disciple the nations in the truth that all authority has been given to Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:16-20).

The starting point for a pastor ought to be a clear statement of the truth: “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (II Cor. 4:2) As a Christian pastor, I want people to see that I have been with Jesus. And then I want them to see His authority over all things and fall on their knees and find salvation and new life in Him. This is the way of life and peace and blessing. Jesus Himself said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:31-32)

P.S. My next post will be on the ordinance of labour.


For a former article on the Problem of Authority, click here.

“The Book that Made Your World” by Vishal Mangalwadi and “Solomon Among the Postmoderns” by Peter Leithart got me thinking about truth and authority in our 21st century world.


Victims or Victors?

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Just recently, we have seen a pastor in downtown Toronto going through the court systems for public street preaching. He was released on bail on June 5 and just in the last two months his church was evicted from the public building where they were meeting in downtown Toronto. They were evicted for apparent “hate activity.” We might debate the method of street preaching and/or even the wisdom of street preaching. Regardless of where your opinions fall on that matter, free speech is being crushed in the public square.

In another case, the churches in Edmonton, AB are facing a very broad law against ‘conversion therapy.” While most pastors would condemn abusive forms of conversion therapy, they are now at risk to be seen as being abusive when they counsel someone with gender confusion or same-sex lust and point them to Christ. In cases where someone is offended by this Christ-centered approach to counselling, pastors might face a minimum $10,000 fine. This is being praised in other regions of Canada as progressive.

I am less concerned with the government in this post as how Christians are prepared to respond to this systemic targeting of the public proclamation of the Christian gospel. Many of us might know that secular universities have long been hot-beds for this kind of ridicule of Christianity. I know people who can speak of having their Christian beliefs publicly ridiculed by professors in class. Christians who hold dearly to the value of human life and the value of the human body are often attacked for their beliefs. Depending on where you work, in what workforce you have been given the opportunity to testify to Christ, there will be various responses.

We all too often spend too much time trying to change the system rather than seeking to find ways for God’s Word to shape us. In her book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key, Rosaria Butterfield confronts a Christian victim mentality: “Are Christians victims of this post-Christian world? No. Sadly, Christians are coconspirators. We embrace modernism’s perks when they serve our own lusts and selfish ambitions. We despise modernism when it crosses lines of our precious moralism. Our cold and hard hearts; our failure to love the stranger; our selfishness with our money, our time, and our home; and our privileged back turned against widows, orphans, prisoners, and refugees mean we are guilty in the face of God of withholding love and Christian witness. And even more serious is our failure to read our Bibles well enough to see that the creation ordinance and the moral law, found first in the Old Testament, is as binding to the Christian as any red letter. Our own conduct condemns our witness to this world.

These are strong words, but I recognize what she is saying. I recognize this temptation for Christians to play the victim, to hunker down and wait for the end times. Yes, we should pray “even so, come, Lord Jesus.” But Jesus gave His disciples the promise of His second coming as a reason to go out in faith and boldness, not to retreat in fear and discouragement. 

This is not a fight with our governments. This is not a fight with our neighbors. This is a fight with the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph. 6), and so the call is to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10). Jesus says in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” The Apostle Paul tells the church in Rome: “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” (Rom. 16:20). In Romans 8:37 we read: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

It is these Bible passages that bring a call to take heart. It is time to attend secular university and to take the blatant criticism with a cheerful face and a heart full of the love of God (Rom. 5:5). It is time to throw resources at Christian institutions to stem the tide of mass indoctrination. It is time to have that discussion in the lunchroom at work without “losing it” even if you are the only guy in the room who holds to a Biblical position. There may come a time where churches might even have to consider cheerfully covering a $10000 fine for their pastor (Acts 17:1-10). That is, if he has clearly and cheerfully shared the love of Christ with a man or a woman who is confused in their sexuality.

Will Christians play the victim and cave to the pressures of a society that is beginning to target Christians more and more? Or are we prepared to take a hit for the Name of Christ? We often speak of a culture of victimhood. But the question is: will you play the victim? Will I play the victim? Christians are victors in Christ. We have been given a task to share the love of Christ to men and women created in the image of God. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10)


Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash

How Women are Viewed in the Holy Bible

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What does the Bible say about women? How are the followers of Jesus Christ supposed to treat women? How does God view women?

This goes right back to the very first chapter of the Holy Bible. In the Book of Genesis, in chapter 1 and verse 27, God tells us how He views men and women: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Man is created in the image of God. Those who are male and female are created in the image of God. Like those who are male, a female has been created in the image of God.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? One Christian document intended for teaching people in the church defines it this way: “God created man good and in his image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him.” This first man and woman, both walked with God and talked with God.

But then sin came into the world. The woman listened to the words of Satan and the man listened as well. Because of that, everything went wrong. Women sought to rule over their husbands. Men became abusive and domineering and lazy in leading and loving their wives. The natural duty of man was to die for his wife, to sacrifice himself for her, to lead her by dying for her. But instead he made her die for his sin, and he hid behind her in cowardice. He sent women into battle in front of him and did even worse to her by treating her poorly himself. He even went so far to blame his sin on her.

But God had a plan to begin to right what went wrong in those first couple chapters of the Bible. He gave a promise to send His Son from eternity, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of His sons and daughters. He told Satan in those verse 25 of chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God chose that it would be through the childbearing of a woman that He would bruise the head of the Serpent. Eventually, the Virgin Mary would have a Son, Jesus Christ, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, who would deliver the death blow to Satan. A death blow that the first man Adam was unable to execute upon Satan.

Old Testament

In the first 39 books of the Bible (the Old Testament), you will find stories of women who raise godly young sons and support strong and good husbands. You will find women who love their God and seek to do what is right. There are beautiful women, strong women, intelligent women. In one passage, you will find God’s prophet Moses defending the property rights of the daughters of a man named Zelophehad, who at that point had no brothers and were unmarried (Numbers 27).

On the other hand, you will also find many wicked women. Two very wicked women even became queens in the nation of God’s people: Jezebel and Athaliah did a lot of harm to the kingdom of God. Women need to be saved from their sins as well as men. For example, one lady named Rahab was a prostitute, but she protected a couple men of God, and she became one of the ladies in the ancestry of Jesus Christ. She was forgiven of her sins because she turned to God from her sins.

One chapter in the Bible, Proverbs 31, presents the ideal woman that many Christian women aspire to be like. She is strong, she is industrious, her husband trusts her. Most importantly she fears the Lord and not men. She serves the Lord first and she serves her husband in a way that will make him want to serve God. I will give you a couple verses of this chapter here: Proverbs 31:28–30 “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

New Testament:

The last 27 books of the Holy Bible (the New Testament) present a very similar picture. Our Father in Heaven sent His Son to redeem His daughters who believe in the Name of Jesus Christ. Mary, the mother of Jesus, calls herself most blessed among women. She calls herself a maidservant of God. She is blessed, because as a virgin, she will bear the Savior of the world. She is not proud. Instead she gives all the glory to God!

Jesus treated women with the utmost respect. At one point a group of men who were pretending to lead His people, dragged a woman before Him who was caught in adultery. They wanted to stone her. But He did not condemn her. Instead He sent her away without stoning her, and told her to sin no more (John 8). This is a beautiful story about what it is like for a woman to be loved by Jesus Christ. When she feels that love she finds true fulfillment and also turns away from her sins.

Those who follow Jesus are called to treat their daughters and wives well. A husband is called to love his wife just as Jesus loves His Church and died on a cross for her (Ephesians 5). At the end of this chapter God gives a strong call for men to act like men. To act like a man means to love your wife, to listen to her thoughts, to hear what she is worried about. It sometimes means to defer to your wife’s opinion. We hear these words in Ephesians chapter 5, verse 33: “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Notice that the man is told to love his wife before she is told to respect him.

Conlcusion

Jesus and His apostles healed women, promised forgiveness to women, and treated them with all respect. They set the bar high for how women are to be treated in the followers of Jesus. Yes, there is sin, but men who follow Jesus are called to fight for a high standard of treating women, while understanding that Jesus forgives our sins: “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (I Timothy 2:1-4). In those who follow Jesus seek to look more like Jesus.


This is an article that I wrote for the Christian-Muslim Forum section of the Sunday Times. The Sunday Times is a Pakistani-Canadian Magazine.


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

It is not good for man to be alone

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Below is an excerpt from Rev. Vander Hart’s book “Bible Studies on Genesis 1-11”, p. 65-66:

The King James Version of the Bible in Genesis 2:18,20, speaks of “help meet.” A new word – helpmeet – was coined as a result. But what does it mean? The word helper can have the idea in our language of servant, the assistant who stands in the background, perhaps the slave who has to “go for” this or “go for” that. But, in fact, the word is used many times in reference to God Himself as our heavenly Helper. Reflect on the following passages:

Exodus 18:4: “My father’s God was my helper.”

Deuteronomy 33:7: “Oh, be his help against his foes.”

Psalm 70:5: “You are my help and my deliverer.”

Psalm 121:1,2: “Where comes my help? My help comes from the LORD.”

Psalm 124:8: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Psalm 146:5: “The God of Jacob is our help.”

More passages could be cited, but the general meaning of help and helper begins to become clear. The word is not pejorative, inferring a put-down for the person called a helper. The word has almost the sense of rescuer or deliverer. The helper is the one who does for me what I could not do all by myself. God said that man’s calling as image-bearing ruler of the creation was such that being alone is not a good thing. Adam need help, and none of the animals would provide this help.

The word meet is better translated as suitable to, a counterpart for, one who corresponds to another in a complementary way. Thus the woman will be a helper who meets Adam’s need; she will, with him, help him fulfill mankind’s chief end, namely, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q/A 1).

The text is not saying that she is a helper equal to the man (the original language could have said that, but it does not say this). The study note in the New Geneva Study Bible for Genesis 2:18 reads thus, “the word ‘helper’ entails his inadequacy, not her inferiority; for elsewhere it is used of God.” This is an important point to understand in our times. The woman is not inferior in her being because of the nature of her creation. Animals are not superior because they were made first. Nor is the ground superior because man came from the ground. Male and female constitute mankind, and both are created in the image of God. But within mankind (humanity), there is a relationship, an “economy,” of office-bearing. In their being image-bearers, man and woman are equally before the face of God our Father. In their respective offices, the man is the head of the woman, and “so there is a divinely imposed subordination here” (E.J. Young, In the Beginning, p. 77). At the same time the woman is a gift of a loving God to the man because our Lord knows that we can never make it all alone in fulfilling the divine plan for God’s creation kingdom. 


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Environment and Science

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It is interesting to study the oil and natural gas industry and its environmental impact on Canada. I haven’t studied it from an angle of environmental science, but I did work in the industry for a time.

I worked on drilling sites between Grande Prairie and Northwest Territories, so I can’t really comment on the oil sands. In my experience, I saw that this is one of the most regulated industries in Canada when it comes to safety, emissions, etc. The regulations in Canada are quite intense.

More recently we saw the Ford Government in Ontario scrap the e-test. This required that people with older cars scrap their cars if they could not have them pass an emissions test. This was harder on poor people than on the wealthy. It is a known fact that wealthier people have an easier time buying new cars. That being said, I wager that the e-test lowered pollution in Ontario (albeit on a very minor scale), even if the poor had to take the hit for it.

Many measures have been taken in recent year to reduce emissions.

And of course, the science changes with the environment. Ten years ago, the craze was global warming. Right now the scare is that extreme changes in climate are causing floods, famine, and hurricanes. The debate has shifted from global cooling to global warming to climate change. In light of this, I wonder as much as I really do believe that we are compelled to care for our environment, how much of this is a scam?

A couple years back, I pointed out to a friend that I was more environmentally friendly than most environmental activists since at that time I did not own a car and got everywhere on a bicycle. It was far more cost effective than other modes of travel.

Even so, Christians are called to be aware of how the curse in Genesis 1 has affected our environment and we are called to care for it in light of Genesis 1:27: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” We have been given this creation to care for as stewards in service of the Creator of heaven and earth. As stewards, we must remember that it is a gift from God, and so we should take care of it in service to Him.

In light of this, we should remember that He is in control. He is in control of the weather patterns, of life and death, etc. He cares even for the sparrow and the lillies of the field. As such, no matter what we do, we cannot remove the problem of sin, we cannot stop Him from hurling judgement in the form of a hurricane or a famine. 

When I hear of protests across Canada and the world, I hear people protesting something that they can’t do anything about. They are not coming up with solutions, except to put an end to many forms of industry and to hinder people getting to work. Industries that are already loaded with regulations are being shut down. The protests in Edmonton, Vancouver and Halifax, hindered the search for solutions, it did not help.

The left-wing struggle for the environment already overthrew their source of income for finding a solution when they brought down the oil industry in Canada.

That being said, I also don’t see much of this as being overly scientifically grounded. From a perspective of caring for the environment, I can appreciate initiatives to properly dispose of garbage, rotate crops, replenish nutrients in the soil, take care not to wipe out forests, encourage industries and car manufacturers to regulate emissions. You might call this micro-environmentalism.

But macro-environmentalism changes with the weather. It goes from fear about global cooling to global warming to climate change. And then the cycle starts all over again. And then I wonder if it is more about control and ideology, than about good science and good facts. 

 

Some Reflections Following the #MeToo Era

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A quick Google search shows that even though the media has largely gone quiet on the #MeToo movement, there are still some lingering Tweets and articles on it. It has now been dubbed the #MeToo era and many have been left to scratch their heads over its lingering effects. I do believe that the whole debacle is worth reflecting on briefly.

The explosive nature of its eruption on social media brought on many injustices. As always, when there are “revolutions”, these movements bring on mixed emotions. In one case a woman may have lied, in another case the facts may have gotten skewed after 20 years of emotional turmoil, in yet another case the procedures may have fallen far short of anything judicious.

But lets say that we take a step back and analyze the #MeToo era at arms length. A massive movement like this doesn’t happen out of nowhere. We might critique the excesses of the movement. We might critique the litigious desire of certain women. We might critique the lack of judicial process. But the fact is, the Movement happened. And we would do well to self-reflect on their critique in the after math.

When people joke about the #MeToo movement, and laugh at emotionally vulnerable women, I am left scratching my head. Yeah but… these kind of things don’t happen out of nowhere. I would wager that for as many abuses as were perpetrated by the #MeToo Movement, there are many many more skeletons that we have never seen, because women are too scared of the potential lash-back.

Women tend to receive the short end of the stick in the pro-life movement. I think of how in many of the stories I know of, a pregnant woman gets up on stage by herself to repent for her abortion. But she didn’t get pregnant by herself. Where did the man go? There are actually guys who blur and push boundaries. There are guys who actually manipulate women into having sex with them. There are guys who rape. There actually are drunken parties where bad things happen. I would wager that many members of conservative Christian churches are quicker to minimize these stories than confront them head on in love and mercy and… justice. Why? Because, everybody is a sinner, they say. Not sure when that became a justification…

Yes. Both men and women are sinners. But lets be honest with ourselves. Even conservatives believe the lie of equality when it comes to protecting themselves. Women are the weaker vessel (I Peter 3:7). There is nothing sexist about this statement. It is simply a recognition of basic biology to notice that it was far easier for Joseph to flee the grasp of Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39) than it was for Dina to flee the grasp of Shechem (Gen. 34).

Yes, a man must not give his strength to the women who destroy kings (Prov. 31:3). And that includes not giving his strength to many of the women in the #MeToo Movement. But he is also called to stand up and open his mouths for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute, to open his mouth and judge righteously, to defend the rights of the poor and the needy (Prov. 31:8). He is called to be a humble servant of Jesus Christ.

Habakkuk writes in 1:4: “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” I am sure that many women in the #MeToo era would have identified with this statement. I argue that #MeToo happened, because in many parts of North America, the law is paralyzed and justice is perverted. I would also argue that if the Church doesn’t take responsibility for her role in the situation, this situation will go from bad to worse. Hosea ran into the problem in his day that there were many whores among the women. But what does he say in 4:14? “I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.” Men don’t get a free pass on their lusts after the #MeToo era.

I can imagine many situations which are very appropriate to speak out loud and clear and to take the appropriate avenues for criticism. I would suggest that #MeToo revealed a massive problem that has gone unaddressed for far to long. I am glad that it got people talking and thinking about the issues. It may be good that a lid was put on the excesses. But we should not allow the excesses to become a straw-man for the real issues at stake. We should not allow wicked men to put a lid on any criticism. Remember for all the excesses of the women in the #MeToo movement, the abuses of many men are just as excessive. And more. I would simply say: if there is something wrong, work and pray. Keep fighting and trusting. Love would say something. Love would fight.


Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

Just Societies Need Just Men

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The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:

What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?

What are you doing, son of my vows?

Do not give your strength to women,

your ways to those who destroy kings.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel,

it is not for kings to drink wine,

or for rulers to take strong drink,

lest they drink and forget what has been decreed

and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.

Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,

and wine to those in bitter distress;

let them drink and forget their poverty

and remember their misery no more.

Open your mouth for the mute,

for the rights of all who are destitute.

Open your mouth, judge righteously,

defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:1-9)

When I was in College, my Dean told me that it is really important for young men to read Proverbs. And when they are done it, they should read it again. And again. Seeing as it is addressed to a young man, there’s a point to what he was saying. The fact was, I was always mystified by a lot of the comments that were held in there. Lady wisdom seemed elusive. If we are saved by grace through faith and not of works, why this call to pursue lady wisdom with such passion and yearning? Just consider the passion with which we are called to seek Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 2.

Over the last couple years, I have done some research on the Book of Proverbs. It has always bothered me that this book is so scattered. Is there no rhyme or rhythm? Is it a collection of Proverbs like the book of Psalms is a collection of songs? Or is there some sort of thematic organization of these Proverbs. It is probable that most of them were written by Solomon. It may be that Solomon wrote Proverbs 31 under Lemuel’s name. It may be that Solomon compiled the Proverbs of various men in the power of the Holy Spirit. All we have in the immediate text is that Proverbs 30 was written by Augur and Proverbs 31 was written by Lemuel.

I have pieced them together my research from the meager resources in this way. In Proverbs 1, we see that Solomon is speaking to a young man, a prince in this setting. Seeing as young men are rash and easily go astray, all this wisdom is crucial for his development. Over the course of this “narrative” or “drama,” this young man comes in contact with strange women, with rulers, with bands of fools who want him to join their number. Every young man can identify with all these temptations. Through all these various temptations, the young man is called to pursue lady wisdom, a metaphor for Christ. As he pursues Christ, there are some very practical applications in the way he approaches the table of a ruler, the way he deals with fools and conflict, and the way he responds to women and wine.

The height of this “drama” is when he choses lady wisdom as displayed in the choice of a good wife: the Proverbs 31 woman. He has not chosen the wicked woman, he has chosen lady wisdom. Here, it seems that King Lemuel is relating the words of His mother in the form of a Proverb. He is writing, but he is writing down her words. It seems that there are several layers to this passage: this woman of Proverbs 31 summarizes the themes of Proverbs, she represents wisdom, but she also represents the bride of christ, the Church. I also find it interesting that the Hebrew Bible places Ruth right after Proverbs 31. But we shan’t speculate too much.

Our text:

In Proverbs 31 our primary focus is the man, Prince, or King of Proverbs 31. Sure, Proverbs 31 has become cliché in evangelical culture, but we have to remember that the writer of this passage wrote down the Words of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must realize the powerful imagery and wisdom which is presented in the first 9 verses of this text. King Lemuel’s mother is the voice of wisdom. She knows that her son is a King. But as a lady of wisdom she also knows what is the making or breaking of a man or a king. Seeing as she is the king’s mother, or Queen, she has probably seen a number of kings come to destruction. We’ll turn quickly to her first two admonitions and dwell for longer on the last one, since I believe that this one is in great need of emphasis in our culture. Remember Proverbs 1: 20-23 in this context:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,

in the markets she raises her voice;

at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;

at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?

How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing

and fools hate knowledge?

If you turn at my reproof,

behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;

I will make my words known to you.

There are two things which King Lemuel is called to avoid: women who destroy the ways of kings, and wine. This is directly opposed to the culture’s view of masculinity. In our culture, a strong man gets in bed with as many women as possible and can down more shots of whiskey on a Friday night than the other men around him. He drops the F-bomb, if not often, at least on occasion. Donald Trump is a real man to many men. He is considered strong because he is a bull in a China shop.

We could call these the negative commands in this passage, but the verses post vs. 9 show quite the opposite. The result of obeying these commands is glory. These are very positive commands. There is real strength and glory in being a one-woman man, there is real strength in avoiding the abuse of booze. Proverbs has made abundant use of contrasting the way of death to the way of life. “Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her” Often the things that promise life bring death, but the promises of God in Proverbs are true. There is only life in Proverbs. Wisdom will pour out her spirit on you.

One of the reasons we are called not to be given to strong drink is that when we drink to much, we “drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” The commission of a King is to defend righteousness and to defend the rights of those who are afflicted. This is revealed in the third imperative: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

This is the positive task of the King. Throughout proverbs the true King is called not “to put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great,” for as the following verse says, it is better to be raised up than put down. The focus of a King is not upon money, power, or fame, his focus is on service. He is called to be sensitive to the needs of those suffering in his kingdom. But he is also called to not allow this sensitivity to cripple him. He must stand up. He must open his mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy. This is what it means to have royal authority.

Such is the state of Paul in 2 Corinthians as he sees himself as a servant of the congregation through Jesus Christ. The way of authority in the new testament goes through the cross. And often what you see there are nails, and torn skin, and the Son of God stretched out on a cross, suffering for the sins of the world. For the mute, for the destitute, for the poor and the needy. Christ did it so that we could take up our cross in His strength. He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him.

I find it fascinating that this is his Mom saying this to him. What? Submit myself to a woman? Sure, men are the ones called to have authority in the church. But it is the wisdom of a wise Mother like Lemuel’s Mom which endows authority with wisdom. But listening to a woman!!!! How is this possible? Here, once again is the importance of a King not giving his ways to the ways of women who destroy kings or to the false promises of the bottle. It is the wisdom of a voice like that of his mother which leads him down the path of righteousness. The woman who does not destroy Kings calls him to serve, to stoop down, to defend the needy. Sometimes she has to scream at him from the market square as he goes to his death. So that she might save him from death. This is a very high view of women in the church! They help us to see the need for humility, to see the need for the Kingly task of service.

There is a wisdom that the Lord calls His Princes to, that the world might scoff at, but is the mark of a King: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). This is the way of the cross. But it is also the way of joy, true joy. As seminarians let us rejoice and delight in this path of service that the Lord calls His princes too. “It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Prov. 3:8) “Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.” (Prov. 4: 5-6) “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” (Prov. 4:18)


I wrote this as a chapel message in the first semester of the 2016-2017 school year at CRTS.


How Shall We Then Fight?

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Reformed and Presbyterians, at least of the more conservative brand, are known to be scrappy. J. Gresham Machen, one of the founding pastors of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, wrote in his book Christianity & Liberalism: “In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.” While Machen’s “Warrior Children” took this a little too far when they began to scrap over the type of wood in the pews of the sanctuary, Machen’s point itself is one that should not be easily dismissed.

It is a Biblical point that Machen begins to formulate here in his polemic against liberalism in the church. Jude writes, calling on Christians to contend for the faith (Jude 3). Paul’s letter to Titus and Timothy are both a code of conduct in the battles that they must fight in the church and the world. Especially when it came to really important matters like Jewish people eating with Greek people in the church, the Apostle Paul was willing to stand up and confront his colleague the Apostle Peter (Gal. 2:11-14). I’m sure I could come up with many more examples of a call to conflict. We must contend for the truth.

Of course, I can already hear cheering from the bleachers, but you might realize that it is mainly the church foot ball team and a few farmers. On the other hand, there are a number of people who are wondering if this is tactful and helpful for the church. This group refers to Christ’s blessing on the peacemakers. Or as The Apostle Paul states in his letter to Timothy: “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;” (I Tim. 2:8). This is probably one of the most unpopular verses in Scripture among the anti-effeminacy crowd. Remember, even King David says: “Your gentleness made me great.” (Psalm 18:35)

Calvin’s exposition of the Sermon on the Mount was helpful for me. I recall that he explains that the word ‘peacemaker’ is a compound one. It involves peace, but it also involves an active making of peace. Machen realized that the peace of his time was a false peace. But he was also very careful making distinctions between members and office-bearers. Although Presbyterian, he was careful to recognize his solidarity with other variations of Protestantism and even Roman Catholicism to some degree against liberalism.

So if fight we must, how shall we then fight? Obviously any warfare in the church should engage with the whole counsel of God including Paul’s command to lift holy hands without anger or quarreling. This mean that we should also engage with the whole counsel of God for Christian living. So asking the question “how shall we fight?” brings up other questions “who shall we fight?” “what ideas shall we fight?” “when shall we fight?”. Is direct confrontation always the best mode of attack? Much more could be said about what is a hill to die on and what exactly is worth dividing over.

But there are other important questions. In your fights, is your speech exemplary and are your actions just as exemplary? Is your combat shaped by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (James 3:14), or is it shaped by the wisdom from above which “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere” (James 3:17)? Again, James permits an active “peacemaking” here, but it must have a goal: “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:18)

I am thankful for the battles that Machen fought almost 100 years ago. I am thankful for the battles that leaders in the Christian Reformed Church fought 25 years ago as they worked to form the United Reformed Churches. But in a church of splinters and fragments we should not forget to ask the question “how should we then fight?” Yes, we must fight, but we must also lift holy hands without quarreling and anger, as well as submit to the wisdom that is from above in all our contention for truth. Machen himself wrote at the close of his book on Christianity and Liberalism:

Is there no refuge from the strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus’ name, to forget for the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling over industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? if there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive a weary world.

I have more questions than answers here. But I believe that some of the Biblical principles laid out above are a good start. One thing that I have learned is that if men who love the Holy Bible don’t contend for peace, those who love brawling and error/heresy and sin will win the day. So yes, the word ‘peacemaker’ does indeed involve contention.


 

 

Setting the Bar for Dating: But Everybody Kisses!

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Dating culture has to be one of the more awkward aspects of striving to be a Christian in North America. Even in the Church, different communities have set various expectations and boundaries. Some communities set the bar high and some set the bar low. Others promote various forms of legalism, while others mislabel appropriate boundaries as legalistic. Let us begin this discussion with the assumption that Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord.

Take kissing as an example of a boundary. Everybody loves kissing a person that they are attracted to. This is where confusion begins to happen. My parents made it simple and (wisely) cautioned against all and every form of kissing on the mouth before marriage. And no, they never apologized for this position. I am thankful for that faithful and direct leadership. Not all evangelicals feel the need to apologize for their fight for godliness. In spite of that position, by and large, I would wager that kissing is commonly accepted and even assumed in many United Reformed and Canadian Reformed communities.

Now, someone might ask, what is your problem with kissing? The Bible does not speak much of it. Obviously, the clearest references are to sex outside of marriage. That is why the Apostle Paul encourages men and women to get married (I Cor. 7:2). That’s why sex is limited to the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4). That is why Paul commands Christians to flee sexual immorality (I Cor. 6:18-20). This is why sex before marriage is condemned in Deut. 22:13-19. But what does any of this have to do with kissing? What does this have to do with the 19 year old guy who wants to move to first base on his first date and his girlfriend feels uncomfortable because she has never kissed before? Nathan, you Pharisee! You holy roller! You Bible thumper!

Jesus goes deeper than the legalistic leaders in Israel who add line upon line and measure upon measure (Isaiah 28:13). He challenges the problem of lust in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus not only says that the one who lusts commits adultery (Matt. 5:28). But he also encourages young men to do anything to avoid that lust: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matt. 5:29-30) This teaching of Christ was promoted in Lord’s Day 41 the Heidelberg Catechism in the 1500s: “Therefore he forbids all unchaste acts, gestures, words, thoughts, desires,and whatever may entice us to unchastity.”

I become more and more convinced of the relevance of the Letters to Corinth to the Church in North America. We live in a culture dominated by entertainment, wealth, and laziness. The laissez-faire attitude toward sin in the culture is absorbed by the church. Reformed Christians talk about Christian liberty, and we often use this as a justification for our perversions. As a friend once pointed out to me: right theology does not guarantee right living.

The Apostle Peter warned the church about an abuse of Christian liberty in I Peter 2:16 “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” The Apostle Paul launches an argument back against the self-justifications of the Corinthian church: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” (I Cor. 6:12) This principle was important enough to the Apostle Paul and so necessary for the church in Corinth that he repeats it in reference to serving one another: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (I Cor. 10:23-24)

Since the first cavil against someone who tries to establish boundaries is that they are graceless, I may as well refute this argument asap. Sexual immorality before marriage does not turn you into damaged goods. Jesus dispenses His grace to sexual sinners who believe in His Name. But then His grace confronts old identities: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor. 6:11) The Apostle Paul himself engages with the culture in Thessalonika for a Christian culture: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (I Thess 4:3-5)

So here is my appeal to the 19-year-old guy who is evaluating the wisdom of making out with his girlfriend in the back of his pick-up at 1:00 in the morning. No the Bible does not condemn that in those words. It’s cool though that you care so much about what the Bible exactly says. When did you become a Biblicist? I know she is cute. But lets think this through rationally. Are you free from lust? Is this helpful for your spiritual life? Is this truly beneficial to your girlfriend? Are you controlling your body in holiness and honour? Does this provide strong Christian leadership? Does this show the strength of Spirit-filled self-control? I know, you think you are strong. But you won’t be the first guy to cross home base and make a home run. Why not do that honorably (ie within the bounds of marriage)?

So yes, you may not know of a single girl who has not kissed within the first couple dates. Sure, you may think that it is totally fine to kiss a girl and to kiss as many girls as you date. But maybe, just maybe, the bar is set too low and that is why there is so much sexual immorality in our churches. Maybe we have to think of boundaries less as legalisms and more as that act of tearing out the eye and cutting off the hands so that the whole body will not go to Hell.