Jesus As a Friend?

In the 15th chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus makes a point of explaining to His remaining 11 apostles that He will now call them “friends” rather than “servants.” He says to them:

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15, N.K.J.V.)

If you know your Bible, you know that this wasn’t the first time that God had taken to calling one of His servants a friend. Abraham, you’ll remember, is called the friend of God in 2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, and James 2:23. Some people would also cite Proverbs 18:24 here with the understanding that Jesus is the embodiment of the “friend who sticks closer than a brother.” All of these passages, as well as the John 15:13-15 one, provide the scriptural basis for the famous hymn “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.”

I must confess, however, that when I play the word association game with the name “Jesus,” the first word that comes to my mind is never “friend.” And why is that? Well, there are multiple reasons.

First and foremost, I tend to think of Jesus much more as my LORD — I’ll even use the stronger word MASTER — than my friend. Just for the record, I’m in good company on this. One of the apostle Paul’s favorite descriptions of himself was “a servant of Jesus Christ,” and the Greek word he used for “servant” was doulos. That’s a word that literally means “slave.” We find Paul describing himself as a slave of Jesus Christ in Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:10, and Titus 1:1. Actually, at no time in scripture does Paul ever refer to himself as “a friend of Jesus Christ.”

Similarly, James (James 1:1), Peter (2 Peter 1:1), Jude (Jude 1:1), and John (Revelation 1:1) all use this same word doulos to describe their relationship to Jesus. Furthermore, like Paul, not one of these men ever refers to himself as “a friend of Jesus Christ.” So, between Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and John, I’m running with a high-grade group when I say that I tend to think of myself much more as Christ’s servant (slave) than His friend.

A second reason why I have trouble relating to Jesus as a friend is the fact that I don’t equate friendship with imposing demands. I am fortunate enough to have some friends in this world, but these friends don’t get in touch with me each day and ask me to do tasks for them. That would put a strain on any friendship, wouldn’t it? And yet this is exactly what Jesus does. By way of the indwelling Holy Spirit, He speaks to me every day and asks me to do this, do that, go here, leave there, write this, preach that, etc., etc., etc. Ephesians 2:10 even teaches that I was created in Jesus to do good works that have been prepared beforehand for me to do in my life. Here again, all of this sounds a lot more like Jesus and I have a master/slave thing going than a friend/friend one.

Third, there is also the problem of Jesus acting at times downright unfriendly to me. At least that’s how I see things from my limited perspective anyway. For example, He doesn’t always steer me away from troubling situations. To the contrary, I’ve had Him steer me right into several simply because He wanted to use me in the middle of them. Likewise, He doesn’t always keep me from being done wrong by others. Shouldn’t a true friend protect you if He can? And then there is the whole matter of Him not always answering my sincere prayer requests with a “Yes” even though He has all power to do so. Frankly, I’ve got enough people turning me down in life, and so I don’t need one of my friends to join the list.

Now, if you think I’m being too hard on Jesus, let me point out that even Jesus Himself made His friendship with those 11 apostles conditional and probationary. Did you notice what He said in John 15:14? He said, “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you.” Huh? What’s this “if” stuff? I thought true friendship was supposed to be unconditional. I mean, it’s pretty easy to catch the unspoken implication of Christ’s words. That unspoken implication is: “If you do not do whatever I command you, you aren’t my friends.”

Going back to the Old Testament illustration of Abraham, he perfectly fit the model of friendship that Jesus lays out in John 15:13-15. First, he did indeed do whatever God commanded him to do, whether it was leaving his homeland of Ur and traveling to an unknown land that God would show him (Genesis 12:1-3) or attempting to go through with his sacrificing of his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). Second, God told Abraham what He was about to do in regards to laying waste to Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-33). Both of these evidences fulfill the evidences for friendship that Jesus names in our text verses.

And would you believe that these requirements for Christ’s description of friendship are on display in my own life as well? For one thing, even though my obedience in doing whatever Jesus commands me to do isn’t 100% perfect, it is still very much real and on display every day of my life. For another, there have been many times in my life when God let me in on what He was about to do before He did it. Some of these have involved the lives of myself and my family. Others have involved the lives of people for whom I’ve been praying.

So, seeing as how my walk with the Lord bears the same basic marks as Abraham’s walk with Him, why do I have such trouble thinking of Jesus as my friend more than my Lord and Master? The only answer I can give kicks back to those three reasons that I mentioned earlier. Again, I’m just being honest about where I’m at on this.

I guess I would sum up my current situation by saying that I’m still a work in progress on this “friends” thing when it comes to Jesus. Even though I’m fully aware that He showcased the ultimate friendship for me by dying on the cross to pay my sin debt, I simply haven’t reached the place yet where I relate to Him as “friend” more than “Lord” and “Master.” Perhaps it would help if I started capitalizing the word “Friend” rather than the words “lord” and “master.” That might at least get my mind headed in the right direction. Even that, though, would only be a start. Obviously, I have a ways to go before I can fully grasp the blessings of Christ’s words from John 15:13-15 and make them my own. But at least I’m willing to admit that I have the problem, and they say that is the first step toward a cure.

Posted in Discipleship, Friendship, God's Love, Obedience, Personal | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Church Attendance Through the Ages

I’m a pastor, and so the goal of writing a blog post that gives anybody an excuse to attend church less is pretty far down my “to do” list. With that said, however, I would like for us to have a healthy, reasonable talk on the subject of church attendance through the ages. To do this, we need to consider the subject in light of the totality of scripture.

Consider the following facts:

  • Adam, Eve, and all the other saved believers from the pre-flood age never went to church.
  • Noah and all the other saved believers from the early years of the post-flood age never went to church.
  • Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the other saved believers from that family line never went to church.
  • The Israelites, who consisted of the 12 tribes that came from Jacob’s 12 sons, spent 400 years as slaves in Egypt and never went to church.
  • Moses led the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt and imparted to them God’s law — part of which commanded the building of a Tabernacle, the offering up of sacrifices, and the keeping of a weekly Sabbath day as a day of rest — but neither Moses nor any of the other saved believers from the time of Moses went to church.
  • Joshua led the Israelites in their conquest of the land of Canaan, but neither he nor any other saved believers from that time went to church.
  • Following Joshua’s death, Israel was led by various Judges — men who ruled over limited areas of Israel during certain times — but no saved believer in the days of the book of Judges went to church.
  • The prophet Samuel served as the transitional figure between the time period of Israel’s Judges and the centuries when the nation was ruled over by kings, but neither Samuel nor any of Israel’s kings went to church.
  • Following the death of King Solomon, who had built a Temple in Jerusalem to replace the Tabernacle as the center of Israel’s worship, the nation underwent a civil war and split into two kingdoms (the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel), but no saved believer from either kingdom went to church.
  • Despite the dire warnings of impending judgment made by God’s prophets to the northern kingdom (Israel), the kingdom was ultimately conquered by the Assyrians and in the wake of that ceased to be a kingdom, but through all of that no saved believer from that northern kingdom went to church.
  • Despite the dire warnings of impending judgment made by God’s prophets to the southern kingdom (Judah), the kingdom was ultimately conquered by the Babylonians, with a large percentage of the citizens being deported to Babylon to spend the next 70 years there in exile, but no saved believer during those years in Babylon went to church.
  • Persia, in the aftermath of their defeat of the Babylonians, allowed a remnant of the exiles of Judah to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the city’s walls, rebuild the city’s temple, and restore Israel’s worship according to the dictates of the Mosaic law, but none of that involved any saved believers going to church.
  • There is a gap of approximately 400 years between the last page of the Old Testament and the first page of the New Testament, but no saved believer who lived during those centuries went to church.
  • During the 33 years of Jesus’ life on earth, He attended local Jewish synagogues each Sabbath (Saturday), but neither Jesus nor any of the saved believers who lived during His days went to church.
  • Following the Rapture, the world will undergo a seven-year Tribulation period, with millions of people getting saved during those years, but there is no mention in scripture of any of those saved believers going to church.
  • Following the Tribulation period, Jesus will return to walk this earth again, and He will reign over the whole earth for 1,000 years, but no one during those 1,000 years will go to church.
  • Following the close of Christ’s 1,000 year reign, the saved believers from all of history will spend eternity in the heavenly city of New Jerusalem, but there won’t be any church attendance during eternity.

The point I’m trying to get across here is that church attendance is exclusively for a limited era of history. The so-called “church age” began on the day of Pentecost that is described in Acts 2:1-47, and it will end at the moment of the Rapture that is described in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. As of today that age has been running for some 2,000 years, and while that’s certainly a long time, it’s still a minority era in terms of history. Keep in mind that the Old Testament age (the pre-church age) lasted for approximately 4,000 years, and the post-church age will last for nothing less than eternity.

Therefore, what we are left with are two undeniable truths about church attendance. First, if church attendance was the end-all-be-all measure of a person’s salvation, surely God would have begun it with Adam and Eve as opposed to beginning it 4,000 years into human history. But, second, since us saved believers are currently living in such a unique time of history — a time in which church attendance is prescribed as an importance means of serving the Lord — we should appreciate the opportunity to attend church as being the historically rare jewel it is.

You see, Christian, we get to do something the likes of Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and John the Baptist didn’t get to do, and that’s pretty amazing when we get right down to it. This doesn’t mean that our church attendance experience will always be ideal or everything we’d like it to be. (If you’ve been to church more than once you know this is true.) It does mean, though, that church attendance will always matter in the life of the Christian.

As with most everything else about serving God, church attendance requires a balanced perspective. Attending church doesn’t make you a saved believer any more than walking into a garage makes you a car, but church attendance does provide blessings that we Christians simply can’t find at the lake, the park, the ball field, or sitting on the couch watching a preacher on television. And the hard, cold, blunt truth of the matter is that this will never change. That is, at least, until the moment of the Rapture.

 

Posted in Balance, Church Attendance, Discipleship, Salvation, Sunday School, Worship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Speak Up or Shut Up?

The Bible is a big, rich, diverse, and complex book, one that can be used to prove virtually anything if you try. This is one of the primary reasons why Christian denominations find it impossible to get together 100% on doctrine. And let’s just get it said: Sometimes the Bible seems to be downright contradictory concerning its teaching. This post will offer a case in point.

In Matthew 5:37, Jesus says:

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your, ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (N.K.J.V.)

While it’s true that the specific context for this quote has to do with swearing oaths, this basic notion of being careful not to say too much lest you cross the line into sin is found in other Bible passages. Consider the following list (all from the N.K.J.V.):

  • Proverbs 10:19: “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”
  • Proverbs 17:27: “He who has knowledge spares his words…”
  • Ecclesiastes 5:3: “…a fool’s voice is known by his many words.”
  • Matthew 12:36 (Jesus again): “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.”
  • Matthew 27:12-14: “And while He (Jesus) was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?’ But he answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.”
  • James 1:19: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”
  • 1 Peter 3:1-2: “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.”

Now, if these verses were all the Bible had to say on this subject we could conclude that the Lord wants us to say the bare minimum when we talk. The problem, however, is that these verses are not all the Bible has to say on this subject. So now let me offer another list:

  • In Joshua 24:1-28, Joshua gives a lengthy, rousing speech to the Israelites to remind them of everything that God had done for them and encourage them to continue to serve the Lord.
  • In 2 Samuel 12:1-15, Nathan rebukes David by telling him a parable.
  • In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus encourages His followers to do their job of being salt and light in the world. Surely that job sometimes involves speaking up and speaking out.
  • In Matthew 14:1-12, we find the account of how John the Baptist rebuked Herod Antipas concerning Herod’s immoral marriage.
  • In Acts 20:7-12, Paul preaches until midnight at a certain gathering. If such a sermon isn’t a multitude of words, I don’t know what is.
  • In Galatians 2:11-21, Paul describes the somewhat wordy rebuke by which he rebuked Peter over the fact that Peter was trying to give the gospel a Jewish tint.
  • In Titus 3:10, Paul tells Titus to reject a divisive man after two attempts at admonishing the man. Please note that the rejection should only come after not one but two attempts at admonishment.

Of course, this list of passages doesn’t even begin to name all of the sermons, teachings, and lengthy discussions that we find in the Bible. The book of Job, for example, is basically just 42 chapters of lengthy dialogue. And you can believe me when I tell you that these dialogues certainly aren’t marked by the sparing of words or the restraining of lips.

So, as we Christians live in this modern world, how are we supposed to apply all of these passages to our everyday situations? Should we be constantly on the lookout for platforms by which to share our opinions in our attempts to be salt and light to a world that surely needs salt and light? Or should we bite our tongue, hold our peace, and be content to try to influence the world through our godly conduct and actions rather than our words (as the 1 Peter 3:1-2 passage encourages Christian wives to do in their dealings with their unbelieving husbands)? Basically what I’m asking is, are we Christians supposed to speak up or shut up?

Well, my answer would be: It depends upon which Bible passage you find yourself. What I mean is, each situation is unique. Just as there will be times when God will have you to say much more than the bare minimum — whether it be in encouraging, teaching, motivating, rebuking, or whatever — there will be other times when He will have you to either say precious little or remain completely silent. You see, there just isn’t a cookie-cutter approach as to when you should speak up and when you should shut up.

You ask, “But how am I, as a Christian, supposed to know the difference between a “speak up” moment and a “shut up” one? Here’s how: the indwelling Holy Spirit. Remember that Jesus said the Spirit will teach us all things (John 14:26) and guide us into all truth (John 16:13). He also said the Spirit will give us the right words to say in the moment (Mark 13:11, Luke 12:11-12; 21:12-15). These are wonderful promises to claim, Christian, when you are faced with the dilemma of what to say or what not to say. And if I know life, it won’t be very long before you need them.

Posted in Balance, Choices, Communication, God's Timing, God's Will, Influence, The Holy Spirit, The Tongue, Witnessing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Memorial Day In the Bible

Memorial Day is a day America has set aside to honor all of the soldiers who have died in service to our nation. It is celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May, and I fully support any efforts to honor our fallen soldiers. With that understood, we might wonder if the Bible has anything to say about honoring fallen soldiers in this way. Well, I can think of one story in particular that we might describe as being a Memorial Day in the Bible. The passage is 1 Samuel 31:1-13.

The story involves the battle in which Israel’s King Saul and three of his sons were killed by the Philistines. This battle was fought at Mount Gilboa. During the battle Saul was struck squarely by an arrow from a Philistine archer. Since the Philistines had a reputation for humiliating their victims — these were the same people who had once gouged out Samson’s eyes and made public sport of him (Judges 16:21-25) — Saul asked the servant who carried his armor to finish him off by running him through with a sword. When the servant refused, Saul took matters into his own hands by falling on a sword and thus ending his own life. When the servant saw that Saul was dead, he followed suit and took his own life by falling on a sword. As for the rest of Israel’s army, those who weren’t killed in the battle fled to safety and let the Philistines have the entire area.

The next day, as the Philistines walked through the battle site, they came upon the bodies of Saul and his three sons. That’s when the Philistines went downright sadistic, even macabre, on Saul:

  • They cut off Saul’s head (no doubt in revenge for David having once cut off the head of the Philistine giant Goliath, 1 Samuel 17:51).
  • They sent out the word throughout all Philistia of what they had done.
  • They stripped off Saul’s armor and placed it in the temple of their false gods, the Ashtoreths.
  • They displayed Saul’s severed head in the temple of their false god Dagon.
  • They fastened not only Saul’s headless body but also the bodies of his three sons to a wall in the city of Beth Shan.

Needless to say, Saul and his sons didn’t get the type of military burial that soldiers who die in war in service to their country should receive. But that’s when a group of courageous men from Jabesh Gilead, an Israelite town located approximately ten miles from Beth Shan, decided to right that wrong. And why did they take such a special interest in the case? It was because Saul’s first military victory as king of Israel had been a deliverance of Jabesh Gilead from the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:1-11).

So, what did these men of Jabesh Gilead do to rectify the sickening display of those four bodies at Beth Shan? They traveled all night, snuck into Jabesh Gilead, and somehow stole the bodies. The Bible doesn’t give us the details of how they accomplished all this, but evidently the plan went off without a hitch. What we are told is that the men then brought the bodies back to Jabesh Gilead, burned the decayed flesh off them, buried the bones under a tamarisk tree there in Jabesh Gilead, and fasted for seven days.

You see, even though those men of Jabesh Gilead lived long before our Memorial Day, they certainly had the spirit of it down pat, didn’t they? It bothered them that the bodies of four men who had died fighting for their country were being treated so disrespectfully and dishonorably. As a matter of fact, it bothered them enough to cause them to sneak behind enemy lines, steal away those bodies, take them back home, and give them the best burials they could under the uncommon circumstances.

And do you know how this story ends? It ends with two other passages. The first one is 2 Samuel 2:5-7. There we learn that David, when he became King in Saul’s stead, sent messengers to those men of Jabesh Gilead. In his message to them, David praised the men for showing such kindness to Saul and promised to repay them for it.

The second passage is 2 Samuel 21:12-14. Those verses tell us that David eventually had the bones of Saul, Saul’s son Jonathan, and (presumably) Saul’s other two sons dug up from under that tamarisk tree in Jabesh Gilead and reburied in Saul’s family tomb in Zelah in the territory of Saul’s tribe of Benjamin. This, at last, was a thoroughly proper burial for the bones of these men, and it provided a fitting ending to the story that I like to call Memorial Day In the Bible.

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A Profound Question

A missionary was once asked if he liked his work in Africa. His reply was as follows:

Do I like this work? No. My wife and I do not like dirt. We have reasonably refined sensibilities. We do not like crawling into vile huts through goat refuse. We do not like association with ignorant, filthy, brutish people. But is a man to do nothing for Christ he does not like? God pity him, if not. Liking or disliking has nothing to do with it. We have orders to “Go,” and we go. Love constrains us.

All I can say to that response is, “GOD BLESS YOU, SIR. MAY YOUR KIND INCREASE!!!” In far too many instances Christianity has become the realm of the uncommitted, the entitled, and the narcissistic. The average Christian nowadays is looking for a church that provides everything and demands precious little in the way of service. That’s why they won’t stay in a church that is struggling, not when there is a dream church just up the road that has everything going full bore.

I mean, why volunteer to start a youth ministry at your little church when you and your kids can switch churches and join in with a youth ministry that is already operating at top speed? Why put in the work to get your Sunday School class built up when you can change churches and walk into a large class your first Sunday there? Why give your monetary offerings to help pay the meager salary of the pastor at your church when those same offerings can go toward meeting the million-dollar budget of the local “super church”?

After all, God’s whole purpose concerning your life is to keep you happy, prosperous, and “in” with the proper crowd, right? He doesn’t want you to help out the lowly, the needy, the wounded, the hurting, or the disenfranchised. He understands that you just aren’t comfortable in such settings, doesn’t He? He knows that you’re meant to soar with the eagles, not grovel around with the prairie chickens.

I’m glad that Jesus didn’t operate like a lot of Christians. If He had, His ministry — not to mention those to whom He ministered — would have looked a lot different. There would have been no special trip to witness to the scandalous woman in the Samaritan village of Sychar. He certainly would never have touched a leper. There would have been no trip to Gadara to deal with a worst-case scenario of demon possession. And the idea of Him washing the dusty, dirty, smelly feet of the apostles as part of His last meal with them would have been unthinkable. You see, all of that requires the loving heart of a true SERVANT as opposed to the heart of someone who is always looking for an easy time and a pleasant situation.

Let me again quote that missionary’s profound question: “Is a man to do nothing for Christ he does not like?” Listen, if the God you serve never disagrees with you and never wills you to do anything you don’t want to do, you aren’t serving the true and living God. It’s just that simple. I know this because there are scores and scores of Bible stories in which God asks people to tackle difficult assignments, assignments they didn’t want to tackle. So, Christian, please think about this the next time you have a choice to make as to what God would have you do. I won’t go so far as to say that He always has the more difficult path in mind for you, but I speak from personal experience when I say that you shouldn’t be the least bit surprised if He does.

Posted in Aging, Choices, Church, Church Attendance, Commitment, Discipleship, Doing Good, Dying To Self, Giving, God's Will, God's Work, Influence, Love, Mercy, Ministry, Prosperity, Sacrifice, Service, Stewardship, Suffering, Sunday School, Witnessing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Following God’s Instructions to the Letter

The story of Israel’s conquest of the promised land of Canaan is messy, convoluted, and plays out over many decades. Its record covers the entire book of Joshua, spills over into the book of Judges, and is filled with the names of races we don’t know who lived in places we don’t know. Overall, it’s an encouraging story as Israel — with God’s help — wins victory after victory and does indeed claim Canaan as their own. In many ways, though, the story is discouraging in the fact that Israel failed to possess all the territory that God had given them.

In God’s original plan Moses was to be the man who not only led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery but also in their conquest of Canaan. But that plan died a hard death when the people’s cowardice and lack of trust in God caused them to refuse to invade Canaan on God’s schedule (Numbers chapters 13:1-33, 14:1-10). In the wake of that refusal God prescribed forty years of nomadic existence in the wilderness outside Canaan on the wrong side of the Jordan river.

At the end of those forty years it was Joshua (Moses’ general and successor) who led the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan. He was a great man of God, one of only two adults — the other being Caleb — who had begged the people to invade Canaan forty years earlier. Under Joshua’s leadership the Israelites broke the military back of the various races that inhabited Canaan. The list of the 31 kings who were conquered under his command is found in Joshua 12:7-24.

Still, despite Joshua’s great successes in battle, taking a land isn’t the same thing as actually settling it and possessing it. As evidence of this, even though Joshua 11:23 says that Joshua “took the whole land,” God later told the elderly Joshua, “You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land to be possessed” (Joshua 13:1). The responsibility for completing that possessing would fall to Israel’s tribes as each tribe would be assigned the mop-up operation of either killing off or driving out the remaining occupants who lived in that tribe’s allotted portion of the land. Here, unfortunately, is where the failure occurred.

God was explicitly clear about what the Israelites were to do once they crossed over the Jordan river into Canaan. They were to drive out all the inhabitants of the land, destroy the land’s false idols and graven images, and demolish the sacred sites where the people of Canaan worshiped their false gods (Numbers 33:50-53, Deuteronomy 7:25-26). They were not to make covenants with the land’s inhabitants, intermarry with them, or show them any mercy (Deuteronomy 7:1-19). God even promised to send hornets to expose the inhabitants who would attempt to hide from the Israelites (Deuteronomy 7:20).

What God wanted was a systematic possessing of the land little by little (Deuteronomy 7:22). This gradual progressing would keep the wild animals and beasts of the field from becoming dangerously numerous in the territories that Israel had conquered but hadn’t yet settled. Logically speaking God’s plan was a good one, but like all plans it would only work if the people would put it into action.

However, the tribes of Benjamin, Ephraim, Manasseh, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan all failed in their assignments (Judges 1:27-36). Rather than kill off or drive out the inhabitants of their allotted regions, they settled for a coexistence with them. The tribe of Dan even allowed the Amorites to force them to live in the rugged mountains of that area rather than in the pleasant valleys.

All of this caused Jesus Himself — who is referred to in His preincarnate form in the Old Testament as The Angel of the Lord —  to come to the Israelites at Bochim and warn them again about making covenants with Canaan’s inhabitants and failing to tear down their altars (Judges 2:1-2). He also told them, “I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judges 2:3). The message was clear: “You’ve failed at possessing your land, and your failure will have long-term, negative effects upon you.”

And so what happened? Well, the people kept themselves clear from idolatry as long as the elderly Joshua was alive, but their plunge into the sin followed shortly after his death (Judges 2:7-13). Thus began the cyclical pattern for the time period of the book of Judges:

  • Israel embraces idolatry.
  • God punishes them by allowing a particular race to oppress them.
  • Israel cries out to God for help.
  • God raises up a leader (a Judge) to help Israel vanquish the oppressors.
  • Israel does fine for a while spiritually, and then the whole pattern begins anew.

But the question for us today is: What spiritual lesson should we learn from Israel’s failure to thoroughly possess Canaan? That lesson goes as follows: When God gives us commands and instructions, we must carry them out to the letter because failure to do so will result in consequences we’d be wise to avoid. That’s why I would advise you to take a moment right now and ask God if you have any outstanding debts in regards to following His commands and instructions to a tee. After all, your complete obedience will be the difference between you claiming all that God has in mind for you or coming up short and settling for something far less.

Posted in Disobedience, Faithfulness, God's Will, Idolatry, Obedience, Rebellion | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Elderly Woman

My previous post was the first of a two-part series on the Bible’s description of the ideal elderly man and woman. This description is found in Titus 2:1-5, and with that first post I covered the passage’s description of the ideal elderly man. Now, with this second post, I’ll cover the description of the ideal elderly woman.

I’ll go ahead and quote the entire passage here, but the description of the woman begins in verse 3 and ends in verse 5. Paul says to Titus:

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things — that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. (N.K.J.V.)

We see here that the first thing Paul says about godly, elderly women is that they should be “reverent in behavior.” The Greek word that is translated as “reverent” is hagiasmos. It’s a word that carries with it the idea of purification, sanctification, and holiness. This explains the King James rendering: “behavior as becometh holiness.” The teaching is that the elderly woman’s life should be marked by personal holiness in all areas.

Second, godly, elderly women should be “not slanderers.” Slander is a false statement made that damages another person’s reputation. The key word in that definition is “false.” Basically, old women shouldn’t spread lies that hurt other people. The N.A.S.V. bluntly translates it: “not malicious gossips.” Obviously, God doesn’t want anyone to be a malicious gossip, but it would seem that older women are particular susceptible to this sin.

Third, godly, elderly women should be “not given to much wine.” While it is allowable for an elderly woman (or an elderly man, for that matter) to enjoy some wine, the privilege must not be abused or used to excess. Other translations translate the phrase as “enslaved to much wine,” “slaves to drink,” or “addicted to much wine.” What makes this particular part of Paul’s description so interesting is the fact that we normally associate older men, more than older women, with having problems in the area of enjoying alcoholic beverages too much.

Fourth, godly, elderly women should be “teachers of good things.” At first glance these words seem to contradict what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, where he writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach.” However, the apparent contradiction disappears completely when we understand that 1 Timothy 2:11-12 applies to a church setting while Titus 2:3 applies to a non-church setting. Still, with this understood, just what exactly should elderly women teach? And to whom should they teach it? Paul gives these answers in the remaining two verses of the passage.

In verse 4, he says that the older women should admonish (encourage, train, teach) the young women. So that answers the question of the identity of the students the older women should teach. But what should the older women teach the younger women? Seven specific lessons are listed, and I dare say that if older women don’t take up the assignment of teaching these lessons, the young women most likely won’t learn them. The world certainly isn’t about to start teaching these lessons!

Lesson #1: The godly, elderly women should teach the younger women “to love their husbands.” Whereas movies, books, and t.v. shows promote the idea of “love at first sight,” “finding your soul mate,” and other such mush and gush, the Bible indicates that a wife can actually be taught to love her husband. What a stark contrast this is to the depiction of the bitter old women who despises her husband and encourages young girls to either avoid marriage altogether or at least keep their husbands in line.

Lesson #2: The godly, elderly women should teach the younger women “to love their children.” We might ask, “Does such a thing even need to be taught? After all, don’t all mothers love their children?” I think what Paul is stressing with these opening two lessons is that once a woman marries and becomes a mother, her priorities must change. Her life should no longer be ruled by selfish ambitions and personal goals. Instead, everything about it must now be filtered through her love for her husband and her love for her child. If that means that she must make some sacrifices for them, so be it. If it means that she must put her desires and agenda on the back burner, so be it. Love involves more than a sweet saying on a Hallmark card. It involves actions and service.

Lesson #3: The godly, elderly women should teach the younger women “to be discreet.” The Greek word used here is sophron, and it can also be rightly translated as “sober,” “sober-minded,” or “temperate.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines it as: “of sound mind, self-controlled.” The N.A.S.V. and H.C.S. both go with “sensible.” Somewhere in all that you’ll catch Paul’s drift. This lesson is a good one for any young woman to learn because, let’s face it, young women (and young men too) are oftentimes not sober-minded, self-controlled, and sensible.

Lesson #4: The godly, elderly women should teach the younger women “to be chaste.” To be chaste is to be pure, especially in terms of sexual activity. The older woman should teach the young woman the dangers of not only premarital sex but also post-marital adultery. This lesson closely aligns itself with the previous one about being discreet, sound-minded, and self-controlled. Nothing hurts a woman more than her being sexually loose and promiscuous.

Lesson #5: The godly, elderly women should teach the younger women to be “homemakers.” It isn’t hard to understand that being a good homemaker is part and parcel to loving one’s husband and one’s children. Frankly, I can think of few lessons that are more anathema to the young women of today than learning to be good homemakers. The modern woman cares little for learning how to cook, clean the house, do the laundry, sew, take care of the kids, etc. She is much too career driven for such old-fashioned endeavors.

Lesson #6: The godly, elderly women should teach the younger women to be “good.” The Greek word used here is agathos, a common word that is used to describe a general goodness in character and manner of being. At the risk of sounding trite, perhaps this “good” can best be defined as being the opposite of “bad.” Because each woman (like each man) is born with the sinful nature of Adam, she doesn’t have to be taught to be bad. Sin comes naturally to born sinners. She does, however, (again, like the man) have to be taught to be good.

Lesson #7: The godly, elderly women should teach the younger women to be “obedient to their own husbands.” While this particular lesson is rarely popular with the modern woman, the Bible is clear and consistent on the subject. In Genesis 3:16, God says to Eve, “And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you” (N.L.T.). Ephesians 5:22 says: “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord” (N.K.J.V.). Colossians 3:18 says: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (N.K.J.V.). 1 Peter 3:1 says: “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands…” (N.K.J.V.). Finally, in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul says, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” I purposefully cited that 1 Corinthians 11:3 reference last because it’s the one that proves that submission doesn’t imply inferiority. God the Son isn’t inferior to God the Father, and yet He still submits the headship of God the Father. Likewise, the wife isn’t inferior to the husband, but the equality doesn’t cancel out God-ordained natural hierarchy and order to the home.

Well, that closes out not only the seven lessons that elderly women are supposed to teach younger women but also the passage’s description of the elderly woman. As was the case with the description of the elderly man, this description cannot be fully met apart from a saving relationship with Jesus and a deep commitment to Him. This kind of life doesn’t just happen or naturally fall into place. It has to be worked at and cultivated, and it’s tragic that more elderly women aren’t willing to rise to the challenge.

And now let me finish up this post and this two-part series by mentioning one final thing about this passage of Titus 2:1-5. Please notice that Paul, at the close of verse 5, gives the reason for why it’s so important that the older women teach all these lessons to the younger women. He says they should do this, “…that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” Blasphemy is defined as speech that denigrates, dishonors, discredits, or defames God and His word. Therefore, the teaching is that behavior — either from the older women or the younger women — that contradicts Titus 2:3-5 is nothing less than blasphemous. This means that Titus 2:1-5 isn’t a “take it or leave it” passage. To the contrary, it is incalculably important in God’s grand design for how life on earth is to be lived, and when we ignore the passage, explain it away, or rebel against it, we do so to our own detriment.

 

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