Posts Tagged ‘Word of God’
Read: Matthew 4; Daniel 7; Isaiah 52-53; Romans 10
"Nowhere in scripture is it set out more clearly that the kingdom of the one true God stands over against the kingdoms of the world, judging them, calling them to account, condemning them, and vindicating God's people" than in the Book of Daniel. (NT Wright, Simply Jesus, 158)
After Jesus is baptized, he goes out into the 'wilderness to be tempted by the devil' (4:1). Jesus stands his ground by remembering Scripture. This is probably something I suppose we all ought to do instead of relying on all the tricks and methods that modern pulpiteers created and package and encourage us to practice. But I digress.
But maybe I do not. You see, here's what I see. I see Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry going about with the Word of God on his lips, in his mouth, rolling off his tongue to whoever would listen and perhaps to some who would not listen willingly. I'm sure the devil who tempted Jesus in the wilderness was not happy to hear the word of God thrown into his face. Remember when he tempted Adam and Eve? They too hurled Scripture back to the devil, but something went wrong and they gave in to the temptation to sin anyhow.
I wonder how Jesus succeeded where they failed? I wonder if anyone of us noticed that Jesus succeeded where they failed? That third temptation always bowls me over too, "Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, 'All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.'" (4:8-9). Then we note, again flashing forward to the end of the book, that Jesus gets these kingdoms anyhow doesn't he? All authority in heaven and earth, he says, has been given to Me.
Let me get back to that part where Jesus quotes Scripture because this is the part that I find most instructional. Jesus knew the Scripture. He quoted Scripture. In my mind, then, I think what Jesus is saying is that this battle he was fighting against the temptations of the devil was theological. It was about far more than simply not doing something that the devil thought would be sinful or otherwise. It was about honoring the Lord God who gave the Scripture in the first place. Jesus, in quoting the Scripture in the face of temptation, is not just 'warding off the devil.' No. He's honoring God first in his life and trusting that it is God's order of things that matters and that the devil's order of things matters not.
Like Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael: We know our God will protect us, but even if he doesn't, know this: we will not bow down and worship your idol.
But we do not live like that, mostly. I know my own tendency is to not trust the Word of God first–even though I know it fairly well. I'm often like Adam and Eve: I quote it well and then rush right into the devil's hands. Ultimately, Jesus trusted God and was not about to usurp God's place for his own pleasure which is exactly what Adam and Eve. Trusting God's Word means, I think, trusting that the devil will leave on his own when he sees that we mean to practice what we are quoting back to him. It doesn't mean he will not be back later; he will. But it does mean for now there is a victory found not in winning, but in trusting God.
Jesus trusted that God's Word was sufficient. It was this very paradigm of ministry and preaching that Jesus practiced. We see it from the very beginning: in battles with the enemy, he trusted the Word of God. When preaching the kingdom of God, he spoke the word of God (4:17). When he went teaching throughout Galilee, 'proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom', he preached the Word of God (4:23). His preaching of the Kingdom and healing of people in cooperation with his preaching told us what the Kingdom is about: It's about God's Word finally being fulfilled among the people.
There's nothing fancy about it. No special techniques involved. He simply went about doing the things that the Word taught: resisting temptation, preaching the kingdom, healing the broken people of the world. Jesus is telling us: this is what the Kingdom of God looks like.
What's that mean for us at Advent in 2015? It means that maybe Jesus ought to be our paradigm for doing the work of ministry. But even more important that that, is, I think, what Jesus thinks the Kingdom of God is about. First, those who belong to it will, inevitably, face the same obstructions that Jesus faced from the satan. We will be tempted to think that the kingdom is about his ideas instead of God's ideas. We must resist him with the word of God and constantly remind ourselves or be reminded, what God's kingdom looks like–a Scriptural picture. The kingdom is shaped by God's word, not by our vision of it.
Second, the Kingdom of God will reach into unlikely places in this world. Jesus began his Kingdom preaching in 'Galilee of the Gentiles'…something terribly dangerous. It is a dangerous thing to announce to our congregations that it is imperative that we take the kingdom into places people consider unlikely. This might mean that we are sharing the Gospel, too, with unlikely people. At Advent, how unlikely was it that God himself came down and tabernacled among us? Yeah. That's the kind of unlikely I'm talking about.
Third, the Kingdom of God partners with unlikely people to get into the hearts and hands of people. We think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We think some people simply cannot be partners with Jesus. But this is the key: we are not calling people to follow me, or you, or the church, or the religion. Jesus called people unto himself: "Follow me!" he said. The key of our kingdom message is that we are inviting people to follow Jesus. Nothing else. Jesus called strange people, fishermen. Who calls fishermen to the climactic act of God in his world? Jesus. Who calls people like you and me? Jesus. We should try not to think so highly of ourselves.
Fourth, the Kingdom of God reaches into the lives of broken people in this world. Jesus did two things. He proclaimed; he healed. This is the essence of the kingdom: bringing new life to the broken people of this world. And Jesus' fame spread throughout all Syria. I see a lot of 'ministries' who do a lot of stuff, but the only people who gain any fame are those miracle workers. It's not Jesus. Here, it was Jesus whose fame spread. In our Kingdom preaching, the only one who should be noticed, or gain fame, or be exalted is Jesus.
In our kingdom work, whatever we do, we do it for the fame of Jesus. Always. Only. Jesus.
I waited all day. All day it was cloudy, foggy, rainy and just plain miserable. I waited and waited–hoping against hope that the sun would come out and burn away the dreariness of the day. And at last, it happened. The sun came out, the mist faded away, and the day became clear.
It was a glorious thing and after the sun came out the day only seemed to get better.
Spent the evening at the church. Talked to an old friend who was one my youth sponsors when I was a younger man–he and his wife were a blessing to my family when I was learning how not to be an idiot and again when my wife was sick. Back at home, I was told by my wife that the son of some friends of ours had died. He was 45. I had the privilege of baptizing his parents when I was still a preacher. I am sad for them. Very sad.
In Bible study, we spent some time talking about God's Word, the 'importance of learning and keeping God's teaching.' It was an interesting study of Proverbs 3:1-7.
My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,
2 for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you peace and prosperity.
3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
There's a part of me that thinks Solomon, or whoever wrote this, was reflection on the words found in Deuteronomy–especially that first sentence where he admonishes his son to 'not forget his teaching.' I agree with the teacher tonight that Solomon, or whoever wrote this, was thinking about the Scripture, the Law. In Deuteronomy, it was the king's task to do this very thing: "When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of the law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees" (Deuteronomy 17:18-19).
In an interesting twist, Solomon forgot nearly everything the Lord said the king was not to do, but I suspect he may well have done this thing: I suspect he did make a copy of the Law. I suspect that much of what is written in Proverbs is a reflection on that Law that he read and copied. I could be wrong and I have no proof, but I have a suspicion. These seven verses in Proverbs 3 kind of reek of Deuteronomy 17 and other chapters.
I like the lesson we had tonight because it spoke to some of the things that I too believe about the church and the Scripture. I think as a church (generally, not specifically) we do not do enough corporate reading of Scripture and I'd like to see that change. Maybe. We were warned by the prophet that a time would come when there would be a famine in the land for the word of God (Amos 8:11-12).
What I was thinking about, though, was this passage in Proverbs. It could be that it's merely an English phenomenon that the word 'heart' appears in three strategic places in these seven verses, or maybe not. I don't have time right now to dig deeper, so let's assume that the word 'heart' really is there in Hebrew. If it is, then here's the progression of the verses:
3:1: "…keep my commands in your heart…"
3:3: "…let love and faithfulness never leave you, bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart."
3:5: "Trust in the Lord with all of your heart…"
There's a lot I could say here, but I want to just say this much: maybe the path to being able to trust in the Lord with all of our heart and leaning not on our own understanding begins by keeping the word of God close to our hearts, by keeping love and faithfulness close to the heart as well. Maybe we can trust God more when we know God better and that we know God better when we spend more time with him–in his word and by drawing near to him in love and faithfulness. Maybe the key is to replace our own understanding with an understanding that is far superior in every way.
Whatever else might be said, there is a connection here in these three verses between the Word of God, the Love of God, and Trusting God–and not just trusting, but being able to trust. I think the connection is easy to see. When we go through dark times in life, it seems to me that those who know God best are those who are able to walk through the valleys without fear or without losing hope. The people who have spent the most time walking with God through his Word are those who, it seems to me, practice love and faithfulness the most. And isn't it interesting that those who do these things are the very ones who never blink when the valley is dark and the mists of March cloud the day?
I'm not perfect by any stretch of the word. I have failed more than I care to remember–and many of my failures are indelibly etched into my brain. Sometimes these failures cause doubts and fears and even worse days than mere days. There is way through, at least I have found it so, and that is by being in the Word of God and walking with God constantly. There is a way to have those failures erased and that is by allowing the Word of God to cover over them, to rebuild our hearts cell by cell, to scratch out the sorrow and bitterness and once again be clothed with love and faith.
It's a rough thought I have written tonight. I might need to think about it some more, but there's a kernel here for all of us. There's a reason why God gave us the Bible. It's not a riddle book. It's not merely a story book. It's not rules and law and this or that. It is God speaking to us, telling us about himself and who he is, and what he is about, and his hopes and dreams for us. I don't understand it all and I don't try to. But for those who have ears to hear, Jesus said, let them hear. Sometimes the best we can do is just to listen to what God is saying and learn just a little about him that might help us through a dark time that is even less understood than the God we don't understand.
Read. Write. Trust.
Sounds like a perfect recipe to me.
Here’s a quote from Eugene Peterson’s book on the Revelation Reversed Thunder:
The subtlest and most common attack in the satanic assault on God’s ways among us is a subversion of the word. This subversion unobtrusively disengages our imagination from God’s word and gets us to think of it as something wonderful in print, at the same time that it dulls any awareness that it is spoken by a living God. It has been an enormously successful strategy: millions of people use the Bible in which they devoutly believe to condemn people they do not approve of; millions more read the word of God daily and within ten minutes are speaking words to spouses, neighbors, children, and collegues that are contemptuous, irritable, manipulative, and misleading. How does this happen? How is it possible for people who give so much attention to the word of God, to remain so unaffected by it?
Yes indeed. How have we remained unaffected by the living word?
Soli Deo Gloria!
About 4 years ago, my perspective on preaching and faith and Christianity underwent a radical change. It has been a strange journey, but it has been rewarding. My reading priorities changed, my sermon writing changed, my sermon preaching changed. In fact, I should give thanks to The Purpose Driven Life because if I hadn’t read that book I might have continued down the path I was going and never realized how pathetic my preaching really was. This does not mean that I started preaching PDL–on the contrary. We did the 40 Days campaign at my church and when it was done I felt absolutely devoid of meaning. I preached 7 or 8 of the most dreadful sermons I ever preached during the course of the campaign. This doesn’t mean that everyone has this experience. It means I did. In other words, PDL did nothing for me spiritually or intellectually. However, another book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, did wonders for my faith in God’s Word to do its job and renewed my zeal to preach the whole counsel of the Word of God.
I have been preaching since 1992. For a good part of that time, 1995-2002, I preached at least two sermons per week. Still, I have no real I idea of how many sermons I have preached. Anyhow, recently I hosted a small get together at my house for the members of my congregation. Several attended and we joined together in the burning of 8 years worth of sermon manuscripts (I decided for now to keep the last 4 years or so worthy of material). I cannot tell you how liberating it was watching all that go up in flames and smoke. It was exhilarating to sit around the fire and be coated with the ashes of all those sermons. That night marked yet another milestone and once again renewed my sense of zeal for the Word of God. What it means, in short, is that I am starting all over again. The next step is to go through all of my file folders and eliminate an accumulation of many years worth of exegesis, illustrative material, and other stuff I have been saving.
Below then are several pictures from that night.
Well, I’m looking forward to what the Lord has in store and I am anxious to start learning all over again. I suspect that as time goes on, and as soon as is possible, changes will be happening to my blog as well. Thanks for stopping by.
I have just finished reading this book Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort The Gospels, by Craig A Evans, distinguished professor of New Testament and director of the graduate program at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
The hardback copy I have from IVP (2006) contains 290 pages. These 290 pages are divided into 11 chapters, 2 appendices, a glossary, abbreviations, end notes, recommended reading, and four indices. Also included is a preface, introduction, and three pages of advanced praise for the book. The print is nice and easily readable. Contained within the main writing are several charts and excursions highlighted with a grey background and enclosed in a separate box. These are helpful, sometimes giving more detail of something contained in the text itself; sometimes merely repeating what is in the text in chart form. They are helpful and not intrusive and I believe they can be overlooked, if you choose, without losing any of the meat of the book.
Evans is a competant scholar who has written extensively on matters of the New Testament. He has an impressive resume in this respect. He is no slouch when it comes to understanding the issues he writes of in this book, exposing them as fraudulent and lies, and detailing the faulty foundations upon which semi-scholars have constructed them. I appreciated this book because he was not afraid to name names and to point out the absurdity of those who claim to be authorities in matters which they are clearly not authorities (i.e., Dan Brown): “The success of The Da Vinci Codesays more about the gullibility of modern society than it does about Dan Brown’s skills” (204). I also appreciated that Evans was not afraid to use a little humor and sarcasm to point out the fictional nature of some claims: “Beam me up, Scotty.” (204) But even more than these, I appreciated the depth and breadth of the literature he examines from popular fiction to historical treatises, ancient to modern. I think it is to his credit that even though the book is written “on the popular level and is primarily intended for nonexperts” (14) he assumes the competence of the reader to understand sometimes difficult subject matter, and is not afraid to drag us through it to prove his point. (His discussions of Josephus, for example, are most helpful.)
I don’t like the cover. I have to mention this because I’m not a big fan of any likenesses of Jesus. I would just as soon he put a picture of Dan Brown or JD Crossan or Elain Pagels or Homer Simpson on the cover than the pseudo picture of Jesus currently there. It is somewhat ironic that a book concerned with exposing the fallacies of modern scholars’ distortions of Jesus has, on the cover, a rather ridiculous portrait of Jesus. But that’s just me.
In the book he deals with the likes John Dominic Crossan, Dan Brown, Robert Funk, James Robinson, Robert Price and Bart Ehrman right from the start and interracts with their work throughout. It is thrilling to see someone put Crossan and Brown, for example, in the same book, in the same camp, and for the same reasons: Crossan for his intellectual, scholarly deconstruction of Jesus and Brown for his fictional, popular deconstruction of Jesus. When it all boils down: they are they doing the same thing which is Evans’ point. What is frightening is how many people take the work of folks like Dan Brown and simply assume the historical validity of his conclusions without doing investigation on their own. In this book, Evans tears apart the foundation upon which Brown’s conclusions are built and exposes the apostate, pseudo-scholarship that underlies it. (Brown’s work, for example, is based on a ‘scholarly’ and well documented hoax and forgery.)
At the core of the attacks on the historicity and veracity of the canonical Scriptures is an attack on the person of Jesus himself. Why does this matter? Well, for example, if Jesus is ‘attacked’ in such a way and is purported to be anything less or something other than what the canonical Gospels report, then Christianity as a whole is at risk. This is why it is the Scripture that is always first to be attacked. What is amazing to me is that certain scholars find non-canonical documents such as The Gospel of Thomas more reliable than those historically accepted as canonical such as the document we call Matthew. But don’t they have to do just that in order for their portraits of Jesus to stand up? Seriously, when any document in existence is given equal weight with the canonical Gospels, then literally any portrait of Jesus can be conjured up from the ashes, which is exactly what has happened. From Crossan to Pagals to Brown: All have different portraits of Jesus based on their favorite non-canonical ‘gospels.’ This is why I believe that their ‘research’ is really, ultimately about undermining Christian faith altogether. It is about an unwillingness to submit to the authority of the Gospel. It is insidious, really. What other reason could there be for such activity but to distort and throw into confusion those who accept the Gospel story found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?
I like the subtitle: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. I like it because it warns the reader of what most readers suspect already: the real danger to the Christian faith are the learned ones who think that by their gnosis they are somehow superior to those who accept the faith once delivered, the simple, Biblical faith. And most of what Evans uncovers can go by the simple term: Gnosticism. This is the basis for most of the popular, avant-garde crap that is published under the guise of ‘Jesus Research’ today. Evans rightly calls this ‘radical and pseudo-scholarship.’ (222) I probably couldn’t agree more. The so-called work done by such folks has, in my opinion, nothing to do with uncovering or discovering the ‘real Jesus’ and everything to do with deconstructing the canonical Gospels. But to the point: We are already in possession of a portrait of the real Jesus in the Gospels. Part of Evans’ objective in this book is to lay waste to the notion that the New Testament cannot be trusted. To this end, he writes:
In my view, even though the Gospels are written from a perspective of faith in Jesus, they are reliable. Faith and truthful history are not necessarily at odds. Criteria of authenticity, which are remarkably vigorous in their application to the Gospels, confirm the essential core of Jesus’ teaching. It is not necessary to claim that the Gospels are inerrant, though for theological reasons many Christians accept them as such, and that every saying and deed attributed to Jesus is true to history. But claims that the Gospels are unreliable, full of myth and legend, and so biased that knowledge of what Jesus really said and did cannot be uncovered are excessive and unwarranted…[T]here is every reason, then, to conclude (again, without invoking theological dogmas) that the Gospels have fairly and accurately reported the essential elements of Jesus’ teaching, life, death and resurrection.” (234)
Another important aspect of this book is the uncovering of the pathetic level of understanding and competence of Scripture among Christians in today’s church. (Perhaps I might also add the significant lack of trust in the Gospels too.) The reason so many people are duped by folks like Brown and Harpur and Baigent is because they have not themselves studied and learned. “Some of these ideas are not well understood even by professing Christians, and they should be. If they are not understood, then writers of hokum history and bad theology will continue to prey on the naive and the credulous.” (222) In other words: Christians are the very ones creating the market for the Dan Browns and Margaret Starbird’s of the world. This is troubling for a number of reasons not least of which is the fact that such books actually get written, get published, are purchased, and read and thus is perpetuated the mythologies of said books. The end result is that faith is undermined because that which is authoritative in faith formation is undermined, namely, the Scripture. Furthermore, false gospels are perpetuated and these false gospels end up becoming the sort of gospels that Jesus warned about in Matthew 24 for example: “What out that no one deceives you for many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he.'”
I don’t think that our current situation is any worse than at any other time in history. I am not, after all, claiming that somehow folks like Dan Brown have cornered the market on tabloid-like reporting and writing about Jesus. There have always been heretics and heretics have always rightly been rebuked by the faithful and by the Scriptures themselves. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about the nature of Biblical understanding, or lack thereof, among the folks of the church. There is so much emphasis today on the so-called practical side of Bible teaching that in many instances sound, biblical theology is simply avoided as too complex or even unecessary. This is why Jesus warned us to pay close attention. This is what Peter warned us of in his letter–that is, of people who ‘make up stories’:
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”
Peter and the others were not duped by fancy stories. They were eyewitnesses of His glory and this is the story they have saved for us. This is also what the author of the Hebrews warned us of too:
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
The most important aspect of the book is that Evans continually draws our attention back to the canonical Gospels and reasserts their validity, authority and necessity for shaping faith in Jesus Christ. He continually brings us back and says: “These Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are our main source for understanding the historical Jesus. They are trustworthy documents, and we can have confidence in them.” Thus, while certain other documents may lend us helpful or important information they are not vital for Christian faith and lend us nothing more than what is satisfied in the canonical gospels. In other words, as fascinating as The Gospel of Thomas or The Gospel of Judas or The Gospel of Mary may be, Christianity will not be less if those documents did not exist. Writes Evans:
The true story of the historical Jesus is exciting and inspiring. The true story may well be an old story, but it is far more compelling than the newer, radical, minimalist, revisionist, obscurantist and faddish versions of the Jesus story that have been put forward in recent years. Ongoing archaeology and ongoing discovery and study of ancient documents will continue to shed light on this old story. These discoveries may require and adjustment here and there. But thus far these discoveries have tended to confirm the reliability of the Gospels and disprove novel theories. I suspect that ongoing honest, competent research will do more of the same.” (235)
I do not agree with every single conclusion that Evans makes. For example, his thoughts (see above) about the inerrancy of the Gospels is, to me, a bit disturbing and I cannot imagine what events in the life of Jesus may not be ‘true to history.’ I don’t know if Evans is stating this as a fact of his personal conviction or as a concession to those who may have issues with certain aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry. On the contrary, I think it does matter whether or not everything written in the Gospels is ‘true to history,’ but Evans is clear on this point earlier in the book when he cites three specific instances where ‘textual problems’ exist in the canonical gospels (the ‘longer’ ending of Mark, 16:9-20; the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11; and Jesus’ prayer in the garden in Luke 22:41-45). Evans contends that these stories can be removed from the gospels and that no significant doctrines would be lost, but this assumes, I think, that these stories do not add anything significant to the Gospel. In my judgment, this is somewhat misguided. If the credibility of the Gospels does not hinge on these stories exclusion then I contend that neither is its credibility damanged by their inclusion. My point is that the above sentence may be confusing to some readers and I wished that it was clarified just a wee bit. It is important, in my estimation, what we believe about the nature of the Scripture, but I have contended for this point elsewhere on my blog and will not rehash it here.
I think you will enjoy this book and I think you will benefit from it greatly. It gives the reader easy, point by point explanations of the places where ‘modern scholars’ go wrong and why they go wrong. He interacts with the historical documents well and explains them sufficiently to the lay person. You would do well to have a copy of this book handy when talking with your friends who are skeptical of the Gospels’ claims about Jesus. Also, this will be a handy volume to strengthen your own faith walk by reinforcing what you believe in your heart about the Scriptures that have been passed on to us from generation to generation: They are trustworthy.
I will say this in conclusion. Evans documents a mountain of theories and portraits. The scope of literature he surveys is daunting to say the least. However, all this ‘hokum history’ and all the ‘bogus findings’ surveyed and reported will come and go with each passing generation. They will take new shapes, new forms, and be reported in different ways by different people. There will be new ways of interpreting ‘evidence’ and manuscripts, and, I suppose, people will continue digging in the dirt of ancient lands in hopes of uncovering some new scrap of pottery or piece of papyrus that will prove or disprove the canonical gospels. Such things will always be happening and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it from happening. But it is all so much dust in the wind and will, like the fading flower men who go to the effort, wither away in the sun. The Word of God, however, will remain; and it must. Here is our confidence.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS–For related help, pick up a copy of Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, IVP (2nd Ed), 2008.
Day 6, Colossians 1:6: The Efficacy of the Word
“…that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”
“Paul describes the effect of Epaphras’ preaching in Colosse in terms not of an emotional reaction, nor even of people ‘accepting Christ into their hearts,’ but of hearing truth and understanding it. The task of the apostolic herald is to announce truth: the word here translated ‘understood’ indicates that the response sought is an intelligent thinking through and recognition of that truth.”—54 (N.T. Wright)
It was the Word of truth, the Gospel, that had come among the Colossians. This is significant for a number of reasons, but I think it also raises a number of questions. Foremost among these questions is this: Is the Colossian response to the preached Word a paradigm of what should happen when the Gospel is preached among people? A sub-question might be, what is the point of preaching: Intellectual response or emotional response? Are the two responses mutually exclusive? Is the Colossians’ response the norm from which other responses are the exception? Just how much credit, so to speak, should we give the Word of God when it comes to conversion?
Whatever we may say, the apostle seems to be convinced that it was the Word of truth that opened the eyes of the Colossian pagans and brought them into the riches of God’s plan for their salvation. The apostle takes no credit, and barely gives Epaphras credit. The credit belongs to the Word of God. The Word has the remarkable power to open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, and soften the hardest of hearts. Yet it is the Word that is often neglected, supplanted, or misused. (A question I might ask in this regard is this: must the word be preached in a specific way in order for it to do its work or will any old method or manner accomplish the task? If we agree that the Word is effective, how must it be preached in order for it to be effective?)
“The addition of ‘in truth’ reinforces the overtones of 1:5 that their encounter with the gospel was an opening of their eyes and lives to reality, what actually is God’s purpose for humankind, a purpose of grace, with the further implication that this truth first learned thus should continue to be the touchstone of their ongoing discipleship.”—63 (Dunn)
Truth it seems requires an intellectual response and it requires an ongoing conversation. The Word of truth becomes the touchstone of our ongoing discipleship. We continue to return to the truth even as we never stray far from it. But Paul is also making, I think, more than a statement about our dependence on the Word of God. He is making a statement about the efficacy of the Word itself. The Colossians will continue to grow in the grace of God as long as they continue in the Word. The Word has not stopped growing among them since the day they heard of it. Again, here is an important point often missed in our modern hurry to provoke people’s emotions: We simply lack confidence that the Word of God will do its work.
James Dunn makes sense of the present tense participle with the preposition: “The opening phrase could be translated ‘which is present among you,’ recognizing the force of the present tense. But in this case it can also mean ‘which has come to you,’ (and so is present among you). And that makes better sense of the preposition, which most naturally has the meaning ‘to or into’.” (61; so, see Acts 6:7 for the Word grew).
How important is it then that the Word of God be among us? What matters among us: that the Word Grows. What is primary about us: That the Word produces fruit. So what needs to be among us: The Word.
We cannot, we must not, we dare not try to produce the sort of fruit among ourselves that is not derived from the Word of God. It is the Word of God that bears fruit among us so we are right to ask: “If there is fruit among us, is it fruit from the Word?” Knowing what we know, would we want fruit that is not of the Word? And if the Word is not among us, then what of the fruit that is being produced? But note also the power of the Gospel of truth, of Grace: Its effects are not only local (small) but they are worldwide (‘all the world’; large). In other words, the Word of God is big enough for the world, and small enough for the local congregation. The Word will do its work in any setting, in any context. Our responsibility is to trust the Word enough to let it do it’s work whether that work is to cause stumbling or bring salvation.
I fully understand the way of things: We want results. We are ‘now’ sort of people. Still I cannot help but believe that we are too easily sated with cheap imitations in the church. I cannot help but believe that are far less convinced of the power of the Word than God is. The Lord is quite content with the foolishness of preaching of his Word. Why we are less convinced will continue to be the mystery.
Finally, it cannot be a mere coincidence that what Paul writes about is the grace of God. They understood God’s grace from the preaching of truth. This must have been the content of Epaphras’ teaching of truth: God’s grace. I’m speculating here, but I wonder how much more the Word would be among us, grow among us, if the content of our message of truth was God’s grace? This word of Grace has continued efficacy among those who hear it: From the day we hear it this grace will be our hope.
Soli Deo Gloria!
This article is posted at Christian Post: Pastors Encouraged to Preach on Political Issues During Primaries. Said the article:
“Pastors should throw away the muzzles that some wish to impose on them and replace them with megaphones,” asserted Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, in a statement. “It was sermons of pastors that fueled the American Revolution.”
Churches can also legally participate in activities related to the elections as long as they also withhold endorsements on candidates. They may distribute nonpartisan voter guides, register voters, provide transportation to the polls, hold candidate forums, and introduce visiting candidates.
In fact, several churches have been lending their pulpits to candidates, who have taken a cue from Huckabee’s victory in Iowa and the Bush election on the importance of mobilizing evangelical voters.
Rudy Giuliani read a Biblical verse and asked for prayers on Sunday from a 10,000-member Latino church while Huckabee preached in front of a megachurch in South Carolina. Both avoided discussing politics.
And, this gem:
“America needs her pastors to once again speak up and address the religious and moral issues of the day,” added Staver. “It is far more likely to be struck by lightening twice than for churches to lose their tax-exempt status over political issues.”
On the contrary, America needs her pastors to once again speak the Word of God. This is what needs to be done and what must be done. Even moral issues must be brought up within the context of the Gospel proclamation. The last thing preachers need to be doing–and I for one will not be doing–is preaching about politics.
Contrary to the last statement, churches do not preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in order to maintain a certain tax-status before the government. We preach the Gospel of Jesus because that is what we are called to do: Declare the Praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into light. It matters very little whether or not a church is tax-exempt or not. Tax-exempt status is quite beside the point.
Preachers must preach the Gospel, not politics.
Soli Deo Gloria!
ps–For the record, there is, as yet, a single political candidate who is worth an evangelical vote strictly based on the idea of evangelicalism. I don’t care how many churches Huckabee preaches in, I don’t care how many verses of Scripture and prayers Guiliani utters, I don’t care how many times they say that my vote matters. At this point, Hilary Clinton is as good a candidate as any ‘conservative’ Republican (not really, but you get my point; maybe. 🙂 )
I’ll just post this without comment since it says all it needs to say:
“But the challenge is always this: Are men and women going to allow the Word of God to sit in judgment on their puny minds, or are they going to make their puny minds the judges of the Word of God?
We have taken the latter course as a culture. So there is mass confusion today—even in the evangelical church—over whether the Bible is true and over how far we should go in obeying it.” –Alistair Begg, The Hand of God
Snagged this one from Reformed Voices.
John 15:26-16:4 (Day 72, 90 Days with Jesus)
“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.
I mentioned in a post a few minutes ago that I am reading a book by William Willimon called Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized. This book is quite amazing and I am glad that I listened to White Horse Inn the other day (an older podcast) and heard them interview Willimon and reference the book. The book is about preaching and the peculiar language that preachers mustuse when preaching to those Willimon calls the baptized by which I think it is safe to assume he means Christians or, at least, those who are the church but something more than mere pew sitters. Consider well his words:
We are born, drowned, adopted, clothed, gifted so that we might be a people worthy of listening to a peculiar account of human life called Scripture…To begin to preach from the perspective of baptism, assuming that these words are not meant for everyone but only for those who have been or who are to be baptized, is to speak in a new key. It is to listen to Scripture with the expectation that we may well hear the unexpected. It is to preach to a congregation with the assumption that no conventional human gathering will be adequate to hear such words, that a new gathering will be necessitated by such language. Too much of our theology and preaching has acted as if we need new language in order to maintain our old, conventional means of human gatherings. Biblical language has shown, time and time again, that it has power, like the sacrament of baptism itself, to evoke that of which it speaks. The Bible is able to create, re-create the people it desires” (Willimon, 22-23).
My interest in Willimon’s comments is very simple. He sees a necessary connection between the baptized and the preached Word of God—assuming, that is, that the Word of God is being preached. I think he is right that congregations have lost, or at least do not listen, with any sort of expectancy when the Word of God is proclaimed. Preachers are thus ‘forced’ to dip into the thesaurus of modern pop-psychology or the dictionary modern pulp-fiction and find new ways and new words (read: exciting) in order that the congregation may be kept awake. Willimon’s contention, I gather, is that the language of Scripture is adequate enough to the task if the preacher will trust it.
This is not to say there are no boring preachers. This is not to say that we shouldn’t use dictionaries and a thesaurus. This is certainly not to say that we should deliver our Sunday sermons in the stout language of good ole King James himself. It is to say that the baptized, the Church, Christians, the Body of Christ, a peculiar people, strangers all, should be expectant when it comes to the word of God. But I suppose that Willimon’s book is directed towards the preacherand it is decidedly his responsibility first to have confidence in the Word of God. If the preacher doesn’t have such confidence, how on earth can the congregation be expected to? Willimon writes, “A distinctive community is being formed here by this reading and listening” (20).
It is to this ‘distinctive community’ that the Word of God has been given. It is to this ‘disctinctive community,’ this ‘community of the baptized’ that the Word of God has been entrusted. It is within this ‘distinctive community’ that the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, ‘bears witness to Jesus.’ And, further, it is within this distinctive community that Jesus says that we ‘will bear witness also.’ At some point the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples that night, the words revealed and clarified by the Spirit of Truth, the words that were given to us to keep us from stumbling, these words he expects us to remember came from him, were written down and became Scripture (in the written sense). They were always the Word of God. These words were then preserved for generation after generation, and at the same time, these words shaped generation after generation of Christians. This is yet another important reason why the Word of God must not be shoved aside in favor of, well, not the Word of God or, worse, something other than the Word of God.
It is these words of the Spirit of truth that define and shape this distinctive community of the baptized. I say we are a peculiar people, a strange people, who have our own language and ways of understanding what is going on around us. So later Paul can write things like, ‘We do not grieve like the rest of men who have no hope’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13), and Jesus can say things like ‘Blessed are you when you are persecuted because of me’ (Matthew 5:10), and Peter can write things like ‘Be hospitable to one another without complaint’ (1 Peter 4:9) and they make sense. I don’t suppose though for a minute that all of our unique language will have any meaning for those who are not part of this peculiar body. This is a significant reason why I get so distressed when Christians try to impose certain moral standards on not-Christians and use the Bible as their justification for doing so. There is a place for Scripture in the ‘world,’ but it is not the same shaping, defining, and distinctive place that it has in the Body of Christ.
Finally, I note that these word of Jesus were entrusted to the disciples, they were confirmed by the Spirit of Truth who came from the Father. I also note that the Spirit’s main intent in confirming these words is to ‘testify to Jesus.’ There are, to be sure, a lot of different ideas floating about the church as to the nature of the Spirit. But here Jesus makes it rather clear that the primary role of the Spirit is to Testify concerning Jesus. To that end, He will lead us into truth. Furthermore, the Spirit will not lead us into lies and the Spirit will not testify to anyone but Jesus. The work of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is the same and does not contradict itself, nor is it counterproductive.
The problem is that too much of our contemporary preaching has gotten off the beaten path. We are no longer content to preach the Scripture and mostly because we simply don’t trust the Scripture. There are too many preachers who are terrified of the words of Scripture. There are too many who are embarrassed of the language of the Scripture. There are too many who do not even know the Scripture. There are too many who are horrified that the Spirit of God might just lead people into the truth if the Scripture is preached! But if the Spirit is to remind us of Jesus’ Words, confirm them, and testify to Jesus Christ, then don’t you agree that it is the Words of Jesus that preachers ought to be preaching? How can the Spirit confirm words that are not the words of Jesus? How can the Spirit lead us into a truth that is not the truth he desires to lead us into? How can the Spirit testify to Jesus when the preacher won’t testify to Jesus? Even when it comes to so-called miracles and signs and wonders I have to ask: Are not those things done by the Spirit to confirm the Word of God? Is the Spirit, in those acts, testifying to Jesus Christ? And yet often those things are merely a means to their own ends.
I think the church, that strange peculiar people, needs a real introduction by her preachers, those strange, peculiar talkers, to the Word of God. Then again, many preachers themselves need an introduction the Word of God. Can we agree with Willimon that the Word of God can do it’s work of creating and re-creating as it desires? If we agree, then we need to preach it. If we don’t agree, we need to preach it so that we can be proven wrong.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I’m trying to go to bed, but I keep coming across stuff that I want to blog about for a minute or two. Last week (Wed-Fri) I began my seminary classes. While there, I visited the school library and discovered a book sale was taking place. I rummaged around and eventually came across a small book book published 27 years ago by JI Packer titled, Beyond the Battle For the Bible. (Evidently, you can still pick it up at Amazon.) I’m going to put a couple of his quotes below.
Yesterday, I blogged a little about some comments made at another blog and to make a long story short, we ended up discussing the accuracy of the Bible. For one reason or another, this friend of mine is convinced that certain parts of the Bible are simply untrustworthy because they are somewhat inaccurate or contradictory.
This morning, in my Wo.R.D. class (Bible School) we were studying Genesis chapter 3, the chapter of the fall of man (and woman). Interestingly enough, the first words out of the serpent’s mouth were these: “Did God really say…?” Funny that when the devil made his appearance on earth the first thing he did was call God’s Word into question. Has he changed his approach?
Tonight, I was hopping around one last time before I shut down for the day when I came across this interview of Dr John MacArthur. In this interview he says, in part, concerning the ‘Emergent Church Movement’:
While those leading the movement say that the gospel can’t be clearly known, they presume to know one thing for certain: “The Bible doesn’t mean what traditional people think it means.”
The Emerging Church is just one of the latest assaults on the truth and certainty of God’s Word.
“They are saying, in effect, that God may have spoken, but He mumbled, and we’re not really sure what He said. Saying that Scripture is not clear is just another way to undermine biblical authority,” MacArthur explains.
“This is not an intellectual movement. This is not a movement that has discovered evidence that overturns inspiration, evidence that overturns inerrancy or authority. This is a movement born of people who do not want to accept the clarity of Scripture,” says MacArthur.
“It allows them not to take a position on homosexuality, premarital sex, or anything, besides ‘Let’s light some candles and incense, think good thoughts about Jesus, and give to the poor,’” he observes.
As you can see, the assault hasn’t abated, nor have the tactics changed. The serpent is still about the business of asking people, “Did God really say…?”
Yesterday, as I wrote, I quoted some from Packer’s book. You should read the entire post and dialogue I had with ‘Brian’ to get the full flavor of my thoughts. But here’s the bulk of the last post I made:
JI Packer wrote, “You know that for more than three hundred years God-shrinkers have been at work in the churches of the Reformation, scaling down our Maker to the measure of man’s mind and dissolving the Bible view of him as the Lord who reigns and speaks” (Beyond the Battle for the Bible, 11). This is precisely the problem that exists in the church today: Too many ‘Christians’ have asserted that we cannot trust the Bible and thus we must re-write what the Bible says. …
As to your last question, Do I really believe these discussions are a waste of time (although you stated a fact, and did not necessarily ask a question)? Here again is Packer: “I, however, am one of those who think this battle very important, and this is why. Biblical inerrancy and biblical authority are bound up together. Only truth can have final authority to determine belief and behavior, and Scripture cannot have such authority further than it is true. A factually and theologically untrustworthy Bible could still impress us as a presentation of religious experience and expertise, but clearly we cannot claim that it is all God’s testimony and teaching, given to control our convictions and conduct, if we are not prepared to affirm its total truthfulness.” (Beyond the Battle for the Bible, 17)
Furthermore, Jesus himself had no problem accepting that the Scripture was factually accurate. I’ll close with one last thought, because, I hope you will change your mind:
“So the decision facing Christians today [Packer was writing in 1980] is simply: will we take our lead at this point from Jesus and the apostles or not? Will we let ourselves be guided by a Bible received as inspired and therefore wholly true (for God is not the author of untruths), or will we strike out, against our Lord and his most authoritative representatives, on a line of our own? If we do, we have already resolved in principle to be led not by the Bible as given, but by the Bible as we edit and reduce it, and we are likely to be found before long scaling down its mysteries (eg., incarnation and atonement) and relativizing its absolutes (eg., in sexual ethics) in the light of our own divergent ideas.” (Beyond the Battle for the Bible, 19)
I hope this helps you understand why the conversation is not a waste of time and why I am persisting despite your announcement that you will not change your mind. It does matter what we think of the Bible and I think we can see the results in the church of what happens when we reduce the trustworthiness of the Scripture.
To you who read this: The Bible does matter and what we think of it matters too. My contention is that if the Bible is not true from the first verse to the last, then the Bible cannot be trusted at all. If God, for example, did not create, then what is sin? And if there is no sin, then what is redemption in Christ? Or, what matters the cross? Or what of our hope?
It’s sort of strange how I bought this $3 book on Thursday and have benefited from it all weekend long. God certainly does work in strange ways. My hope is that you who read will be encouraged to trust the Word of God in its entirety because you can trust it. Don’t by into all those doubters who keep repeating the devil’s mantra, “Did God really say…?” The Word of God will accomplish the purpose for which God sends it forth. It will not return to Him void. I’ll write to you again tomorrow.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS-I am also having an interesting conversation with Jeff over at atheocracy concerning the nature of Scripture and its authority over us and the Church. You should visit Jeff.