Monday, April 16, 2018

Doing Theology as Wesleyan-Arminians: Biblical, Systematic, Consensual

The reflections below spring from ruminations on what has been called paleo-orthodoxy or consensual theology. As a person deeply committed to the Bible as the source and substance of all that I believe and teach, I want to avoid the shoals of solipsistic theology. How does a Wesleyan-Arminian avoid the stagnation of clubbish, intramural theology?

First, he must be humble. Humility recognizes that we are finite. We are neither omniscient nor omni-competent. We are limited in perspective. We need the wisdom that comes from corporate perspective. It will be only as we listen attentively and appreciatively to the perspectives of others within the Christian community that we can extend the bounds of our vision past the categories of our own mind, hence the need for consensual theology.

When we listen to our brothers and sisters, how shall we listen? Is consensual theology a potluck buffet? All ideas are presented; we each choose the combination that appeals to us? This cannot be the nature of consensual theology if truth is unitary. Mutually contradictory ideas cannot both be true in the same way at the same time. Truth is one.

So then what will arbitrate between conflicting ideas? Shall we choose a champion from the ranks of the faithful and say, “We are of Paul?” Or, “We are of Wesley?” This is the path many have followed, but it is the wrong path. It is a comforting path, but it is the wrong path. It is a well-worn path, but it is still the wrong path. What then shall arbitrate? It must the inspired, infallible, error-free word of God. 

Second, he must be scriptural. But how shall Scripture arbitrate when it is the subject of disagreement? It can arbitrate if we will listen to its full counsel. The primary reason so many have disagreed over its meaning is because they have failed to listen to all it says. God has given us, in written revelation and in its presentation of the Word incarnate, all that is necessary to be completely equipped for every good work in this life (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Word is sufficient, even to serve as its own arbitrator. It supplies the data for our systematization and the check for the accuracy of our systems.

This is the map and the compass of our journey. With this compass, we can navigate the vast reaches of the Church’s testimony, thoughts, conclusions, and systematizations of God’s truth. We need consensual theology. We should reject the possibility or desirability of hermeneutical neutrality. We deny the existence of the theological tabula rosa. Yet when we listen to the fathers and their sons, ancient, medieval, and modern, we always ask, “Is this in harmony with the totality of inscripturated revelation?” Or more simply, “Is this what the Bible says?”

We come to our brothers and sisters to hear their understanding of Scripture and to measure our understanding against theirs, and both by the Scriptures. We measure their readings of Scripture by the Scripture’s reading of itself (e.g., Isaiah’s reading of Deuteronomy, Jesus’, Paul’s, and other NT writer’s reading of the OT).

How does this apply to being a Wesleyan-Arminian? First, the fact that we accept that label means that we have listened to others and have been shaped by others. Second, it means that we have concluded that Arminius’ and Wesley’s understanding of the broad message of Scripture regarding salvation takes into account more of the data of Scripture in a logically coherent and compelling fashion than do the understandings of others of our brothers in Christ.

To be Wesleyan is to have read the Bible with Wesley and to have evaluated Wesley by the Bible. It is to have found that Wesley and his followers’ reading of Scripture is consistent and compelling in its main lines of thought. It must never mean simply that we read the Bible as Wesley and evaluate the Bible by Wesley. It does not mean that we must accept all of Wesley’s thoughts about Scripture. It does not mean that we must think only in the categories that Wesley thought. It must never mean that Wesley is our hermeneutical touchstone—all we believe must agree with him. And more broadly, it must never mean that the Wesleyan/Methodist consensus is our hermeneutical rule of faith—all we believe must agree with it. This is the mire and bog from which every serious student of Scripture must steer clear.

Some will call this impossible or arrogant. It is not. It is Mosaic, Isaianic, and the true Christ-ian hermeneutic. Moses said a prophet’s message must be evaluated on the basis of the written law of God. Isaiah said, “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, there is no dawn/future for them.” Jesus said, “It is my word that shall judge you.”

Yet we need to go deeper. Some will claim that this approach makes one’s personal understanding of Scripture the arbiter of all other’s understandings of Scripture, that we have elevated ourselves to the position of ultimate Judge in theology. Is this true, or is there an objective standard that transcends the individual interpreter, even the interpretive community? Is there one that provides an objective measuring tool that may be reduced to a science and that is not subject to individual skewing?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, there is a set of objective standards that is a part of the imago dei in us: language and logic. Rejecting much of the current philosophical skepticism regarding the indeterminacy of meaning and the arbitrariness of language, we believe that God designed language and logic as reliable means for understanding Himself and His will. His word implies this by its very existence and affirms it in many places and varied ways.

On the other hand, the use of language and logic cannot be reduced to a formulaic chemistry that if the right sequence and combination of elements are combined the same result will always occur in every case. Our personal limitations can skew our use of these tools. The use of language and logic is itself a skill that is both science and art. There is more than enough science to it to provide guidelines, bounds, rules, and even solid prohibitions regarding what the language of the Bible can or cannot mean. Yet skill in the use of language and logic is the work of a lifetime and requires many tutors. Here we arrive back at the need for humility and willing listening to others in our own pursuit of this skill.

We can and must learn language along with all its multitudinous underpinnings, and we must learn the nature and laws of logic. Together these provide the platform for all analyses of biblical theology and all systematizations of those analyses. These provide the tools for building consensual theology, and they also provide the means for evaluating each workman’s contribution to that theology as well as the shape and direction of the total structure. We are not limited solely to our faith community, nor should we desire to listen only within its circle. Yet we are a product of our faith community and we should not desire nor attempt to achieve monastic or monadic theology.

What does this mean for Wesleyan-Arminians?  It means we are unapologetically and committedly a part of the Wesleyan-Arminian community of faith. It means we have listened and continue to listen to Arminius, Wesley, and their expositors because we find their theology consonant with the language and logic of Scripture. However, we are not and should not desire to be Arminius-ites or Wesley-ites. We must be, as both Arminius and Wesley were, people of The Book. Our enduring cry is “Back to the Bible!” which means back to its language and its logic as the touchstone for all our theological formulations. 

The systematic formulations of Methodist theologians from Wesley to the present are valuable and some are enduring, but they should never be viewed as the ultimate arbiter of either the form or the content of our theology. They are guides, good guides, but limited and finite just as we. The language and logic of Scripture alone is the ultimate arbiter of both the form and the content of our theology. We must do theology in community. We cannot and should not avoid such consensual theologizing, but we must always spiral back to the Word to verify, correct, restrain and extend our theological formulations.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Jewelry Proverbs Recommends

Jewels are both investment and adornment. As portable wealth, they are hard to beat. Set in beautiful designs, jewels not only increase in value but beautify their wearer. Yet, there are beauties of value that eclipse silver, gold, rubies, or diamonds. Imagine jewelry unstealable, indestructible, portable, and supremely valuable; jewelry that beautifies the wearer, regardless of skin-tone, wealth, or natural beauty. You’ve just imagined what Proverbs offers.
Proverbs 3:13 How blessed is the man who finds wisdom And the man who gains understanding. 14 For her profit is better than the profit of silver And her gain better than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her.  
Proverbs 8:11 "For wisdom is better than jewels; And all desirable things cannot compare with her.

Proverbs 20:15 There is gold, and an abundance of jewels; But the lips of knowledge are a more precious thing.[1] 
Job concurs.
Job 28:18 "Coral and crystal are not to be mentioned; And the acquisition of wisdom is above that of pearls.[2] 
When your daughter longs to be beautiful, she longs for something God desires for her. When she thinks of jewelry as a beauty enhancer, she’s confusing the image for the reality.

God has jewels for the beautification of his daughters. They are free, and they are costly. The luster of wisdom, the shine of a gentle and quiet spirit, the sparkle of understanding kindness … these outshine the cold, hard glitter of material jewelry as the sun outshines a candle.
1 Peter 3:4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 
A heart inclined to true beauty and eternal value chooses imperishable beauty over perishable. Sisters, have you invested in acquiring God’s jewels? Are you adorned with wisdom, understanding, lips of knowledge, and a gentle and quiet spirit?

[1] KJV/ESV/NET: a precious jewel; CSB: rare treasure.
[2] KJV/NIV: rubies; ESV/NASB/CSB/NET: pearls; LEB: red corals.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Six Principles for Pursuing Holiness from Hebrews 12

The holiness we must pursue is perfectly seen in Jesus, who was separated from all sin, blameless, pure, and righteous (Heb. 1:9; 4:15; 7:26). Hebrews 12:1–13 outlines at least six means by which we are to pursue holiness.

First, we pursue holiness by laying aside every weight (Heb. 12:1). Marathon runners shed every ounce that slows them down. If there is anything that is hindering your pursuit of holiness, you must lay it aside! Media, money, music, pride, relationships—it doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s impeding your progress in holiness, it’s past time to get rid of it. Have you laid aside every weight in your pursuit of holiness?

Second, we pursue holiness by laying aside the easily ensnaring sin (Heb. 12:1). Weights aren’t the only things to be laid aside. The easily ensnaring sin must go, too. What is this sin? It’s the one to which you most easily fall prey. All believers easily fall prey to self-centeredness, the primary manifestation of our corrupted nature. We lay aside this sin principle by coming to Christ for the cleansing of His Holy Spirit. Yet, even after your heart has been purified by faith, there will be sins in which you may be easily ensnared. We lay these sins aside by doing all that Scripture prescribes for guarding ourselves from sin: make use of the means of grace (Psa. 119:11; Matt. 26:41; Eph. 6:13–18); make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts (Rom. 13:14); flee from temptation by associating with those who pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace and who call upon God out of a pure heart (2 Tim. 2:22); and walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). Have you dealt with the sin that easily ensnares you?

Third, we pursue holiness by looking unto Jesus (Heb. 12:2). Every runner knows that an unwavering focus on the finish line is a key to winning. A distracted runner is a losing runner. The word translated “looking” means to “direct one’s attention without distraction, fix one’s eyes trustingly” on someone. We must undistractedly and trustingly fix our soul’s gaze upon Jesus. Why? Because He is the model for holiness. A sure way to falter in our pursuit of holiness is to look around and compare ourselves with others. To be holy as Jesus was holy, we must run focused on Him. Is your gaze fixed on Jesus?

Fourth, we pursue holiness by persevering in the fight against sin (Heb. 12:3–4). These verses should jolt us free from any thought of sprinting easily to holy victory. Yes, every weight and the easily ensnaring sin may have been laid aside, but we are in a fight! We do battle as we pursue holiness. The enemy will contest every advance in Christlikeness. There is no age, maturity, or state of grace which exempts us from this clash. The danger of becoming wearied and faint in our minds dogs us all. We persevere by considering Christ’s endurance. Our Captain won through the devil’s throng. By His grace, we may too! Are you persevering in the fight against sin?

Fifth, we pursue holiness by submitting to the Lord’s chastening and enduring it thankfully (Heb. 12:5–11). If we’re pursuing holiness, we should not experience God’s chastening hand, right? Wrong! That’s not the way He works. In fact, God sovereignly permits and ordains hardships, as the case may be, to help us grow in Christlike holiness. The old adage, “No pain, no gain,” speaks truly to our condition. We pursue holiness by humbly accepting Providence’s rebukes with thanksgiving, for they testify of His loving passion for us to partake of His holiness. Are you thanking the Father for His holiness-inducing chastenings?

Sixth, we pursue holiness by strengthening one another (Heb. 12:12–13). The world’s motto is “every man for himself.” Not so with the pursuit of holiness. Holiness must be pursued in community. We grow in Christlike holiness best when we live in structures of mutual accountability and edification. We run the race to holiness best when we link arms with fellow runners. If one stumbles, his partners help lift him to steady pace. Have you linked arms with fellow pursuers of holiness?

Pursue holiness!

Friday, February 17, 2017

How to Pursue Peace and Holiness (Heb. 12:14)

Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” To know how to follow peace and holiness, we need to understand several things about this verse: (1) what it means to “follow,” (2) what peace is, (3) what holiness means in this context, and (4) how Hebrews 12:14 ties into the previous thirteen verses of chapter 12.

Although the verb “follow” sounds passive and lackadaisical, that is the opposite of its actual meaning. The Greek word translated “follow” means “to seek or pursue aggressively.” In other words, this verse teaches us that we must be passionate and fervent in our pursuit of both peace and holiness.

The word “peace” refers to a state of harmony and tranquility in one’s relationships. Negatively, peace is a relational state in which there is no unresolved conflict or trouble. Notice that the writer of Hebrews said to pursue peace “with all men.” It might sound odd, but God wants us to be aggressive pursuers of peace in all our relationships. No Christian should allow conflict to fester unresolved in his or her life. Just as we cannot love God without loving others, we cannot pursue holiness without pursuing peace with all men. If we are currently at peace with all men, we pursue peace by aggressively maintaining and promoting peace in our relationships. Romans 12:21 tells us how to pursue peace with those who are our enemies: “be no overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In other words, we pursue peace with all men by doing good to all men.

The first mention of holiness in this chapter occurs in Hebrews 12:10, which tells us that God chastens us so that we may share in His holiness. The holiness in focus here is God’s ethical holiness (as distinct from his positional holiness due to his incommunicable attributes). God’s ethical holiness is, negatively, His separateness from sin; positively, it is His purity, righteousness, and goodness. When we reject desires, attitudes, or actions that are sinful and choose those that are in harmony with God’s word, we share in God’s holiness. We must aggressively pursue sharing in God’s separateness from sin and His purity, righteousness, and goodness. We are to pursue being holy just like God is holy (1 Peter 1:15–16).

It is a mistake to read Hebrews 12:14 in isolation from its context. Not only does the previous context teach us what the author means by holiness, it also shows us how we are to pursue it. After recalling the great heroes of the faith (Hebrews 11), the author pictures the Christian life as a race in which we pursue holiness. He gives us six principles to guide us in our pursuit. We pursue holiness by:

Laying aside any hindrances (Heb. 12:1).
Laying aside the sin that easily ensnares us (Heb. 12:1).
Fixing our gaze on Jesus (Heb. 12:2).
Persevering in the fight against sin (Heb. 12:3–4).
Submitting to the Lord’s chastening and enduring it thankfully (Heb. 12:5–11).
Strengthening one another (Heb. 12:12–13).

Before looking at these six principles, we ought to note that the writer’s command to pursue peace and holiness does not imply that his readers were lacking these graces. As Gareth Cockerill notes, they had already “appropriated Christ’s cleansing of their consciences (Heb 9:14)…and had experienced the transformed heart available through the new covenant (Heb 10:15–18). Yet, by the daily practice of concrete obedience, they must intentionally make this holiness before God…a reality in their conduct.”

Friday, February 10, 2017

When the KJV and Modern Translations Disagree: What to do

What to do when the KJV and modern translations disagree (notes from my Greek Ib class today)

1. Check to see if the KJV has a marginal note that agrees with the modern translation or vice versa. If so, it means the original text is subject to more than one interpretation. The KJV translators chose one option whereas modern translations have chosen another. For example, John 14:18 has ‘comfortless’ in the text and ‘orphans’ in the margin of the KJV, whereas modern translations have ‘orphans’ in the text.

2. Check to see if the English words used by the KJV have changed their meanings. Use the Oxford English Dictionary online to do this. It may be that the KJV means the same thing, but our use of English has changed enough that we wouldn’t realize it. A great example is the word ‘conversation’ in Phil. 3:20. In 1611 it could mean ‘the action of living or having one's being in a place or among persons,’ which is much closer to the meaning of the Greek word politeuma = “citizenship, commonwealth” than the meaning of the modern English word conversation.

3. Check to see if the textual basis of the KJV is different from that of the modern translation. Checking a technical commentary is one of the best ways to find this out. Examples include the Baker Exegetical Commentary, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary, NICOT or NICNT. In the OT, the KJV sometimes follows the Septuagint (Greek OT) rather than the Masoretic text (Hebrew OT). For example, Prov. 18:24 – ‘must shew himself friendly’ (KJV) and ‘may come to ruin’ (NASB). In the NT, the KJV was translated primarily from the 1550 edition of Stephanus Greek NT. Most modern translations use a critical Greek text which tries to reconstruct the original text of the NT based on the over 5000 manuscripts available at the time of their translation. An example of this is in Eph. 5:9 - ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (KJV) and ‘fruit of the light’ (NASB).

4. If 1-3 aren’t the case, then it’s possible that we have learned more about the biblical languages and so better understand what the authors were communicating than we did in 1611. For example, in Prov. 27:16 the KJV uses the word ‘bewrayeth’ which meant ‘reveal, expose, discover (unintentionally, and usually what it is intended to conceal).’ Modern translations have ‘grasps.’ It appears that our understanding of the Hebrew meaning of yiqra’ in context has improved.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Baptismal Regeneration vs Sola Fide

I was asked the question, "How can I help someone who believes in baptismal regeneration to see that salvation is by faith alone, while at the same time acknowledging the importance of baptism?"

I believe Scripture teaches the importance of baptism. Jesus’ commission in Matthew 28:19–20 identifies its importance. Jesus commanded His disciples (and us by implication) to make disciples of all nations by teaching them and by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From his command, we can infer that baptism is a required step of obedience for a disciple, that is, a person who is already saved.

Baptism is not, however, a required step to receive salvation. To help people see this, you have to show them that the Bible teaches that faith alone is necessary for salvation. Once you demonstrate that faith alone is necessary for salvation, then it logically follows that baptism is not necessary for salvation.

Romans 3:21–5:11 and Galatians 2–5 are the two places in the NT designed to teach us what is necessary for salvation. Paul argues that “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28 NASB) He expands this argument in Romans 4 by demonstrating that both Abraham and David were saved by faith alone (Rom 4:1–11). Paul’s opponents were arguing that faith plus circumcision were the necessary conditions for salvation.

This is the same argument used by those teaching baptismal regeneration when they say faith plus baptism is necessary for salvation. Paul’s point is that salvation has always been by faith alone and nothing else, including circumcision. Since Abraham and David serve as examples of what is necessary for NT believers to be saved, we can safely say that baptism is not a necessary condition for salvation.

Paul also develops this argument in Galatians 3. The Galatians received the Spirit by the hearing of faith (Gal 3:2). Later in the chapter, Paul argues from Habakkuk 2:4—“The just shall live by faith”—that faith alone is the basis for justification (Gal 3:11).

Admittedly the phrase “saved by faith alone” is not found in Scripture. However, neither is the term “trinity.” Nonetheless, both are not only legitimate inferences, but I would argue that they are both necessary inferences from Scripture.

Several biblical stories support this conclusion. In all the following cases, people were declared justified or saved, without any indication that they were baptized: the repentant tax collector (Luke 19:8–10), the woman at the well (John 4:1–42), and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43). There are more examples like this, but I think this is sufficient to make the point. Key point: don’t use these stories without first arguing for justification by faith alone; otherwise, you are just arguing from silence without providing positive proof for your position.

On the other side of this issue, the most common error that baptismal regenerationists make is the fallacy of the negative inference. For example, “if you were born in the US and are a resident of Ohio, then you are a US citizen,” does not imply “if you were born in the US but are not a resident of Ohio, then you are not a US citizen.”

Some baptismal regenerationists read Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” and wrongly infer the negative, ”If you believe but are not baptized, you will not be saved.” This conclusion is a classic example of the negative inference fallacy. Some commit the same fallacy regarding Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21.

In conclusion, I'd like to highlight the fact that dealing with theological errors requires a good working knowledge of logic. This is an important reason why the study of logic ought to be a part of every child’s education, whether formally or informally.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Hebrews 12:14 - Holiness or Hell?

Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Some have concluded that this verse teaches one must be entirely sanctified to make it to heaven (e.g., Creffield, Godbey).

There are several things to consider in determinin what this passage is teaching: (1) the relationship between the word “holiness” in Hebrews 12:14 and NT Greek; (2) what the words “holiness” and “sanctification” mean in the NT; and (3) the relationship between regeneration and sanctification.

The Greek word translated “holiness” in Hebrew 12:14 is hagiasmos (ha-gee-oz-móss). This word occurs ten times in the NT (Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Cor. 1:30; 1 Thess. 4:3, 4, 7; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). Hagiasmos normally means “the condition of moral purity that results from being or living separated unto God from all that is sinful.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and 1 Peter 1:2 it means “the act of separating someone unto God from all that is sinful with the result that they are morally pure.” Hagiasmos is translated in the KJV five times as “holiness” and five times as “sanctification.” Since these two words are translated from the same word, we shouldn't assume they have different meanings unless the context requires it.

That brings up the question: “What do holiness and sanctification mean in the NT?” This question is much broader since there are at least four Greek word-groups that are translated variously “holy,” “holiness,” “sanctify,” or “sanctification.” However, the bottom line is still the same. In the NT, the words “holiness” and “sanctification” never refer specifically to entire sanctification unless they are modified by terms like “entire, complete, perfect, wholly, etc.,” as in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. As John Wesley said: “The term sanctified is continually applied by St. Paul to all that were justified…. By this term alone, he rarely, if ever, means ‘saved from all sin.’ …Consequently, it is not proper to use it in that sense, without adding the word wholly, entirely, or the like.”

The deeper issue is this: the words “holiness” and “sanctification” are regularly used in the Holiness Movement as synonyms for entire sanctification. This is a major problem for at least three reasons.

First, this is not how the NT uses these terms. When our use of NT terms doesn't match their NT meaning, we undermine our theological credibility. 

Second, using the terms this way leads us to misread the NT. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:3–7 and Hebrews 12:14 have often been misused as texts for entire sanctification. In neither case is the author talking specifically about entire sanctification. 

Third and tragically, our non-New Testament use of these terms often hinders our efforts to “spread Scriptural holiness.” Why? Because Christians who hear us equating “holiness” and “sanctification” with “entire sanctification” go read their Bibles and can’t see what we’re talking about. As a result, believers who are sincere students of God’s word wrongly conclude that since we use holiness and sanctification in ways the NT does not, our doctrine of entire sanctification must not be a NT doctrine. In other words, we mislead our listeners and hinder the spread of Scriptural holiness (which includes but is not limited to entire sanctification) when we refer to entire sanctification as “sanctification” or “holiness.” 

In conclusion,Hebrews 12:14 does not teach that a believer will go to hell if he/she is not entirely sanctified. The word “holiness” in this verse does not mean or refer to “entire sanctification.” On the other hand, Hebrews 12:14 does teach us that we must be holy to see the Lord. “The holiness essential for seeing the Lord (Heb 12:14),” Richard S. Taylor rightly explains, “is a state of rightness with God right now.” In other words, anyone who is saved and walking in the light is holy and ready to see the Lord.

Are you pursuing peace with all men and holiness without which no one shall see the Lord?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Have you met a fool recently?

Have you ever met a fool? How do you know when you’ve met a fool? In what follows, I’ve pulled together the descriptions given in Proverbs to provide a composite picture of what a fool is and does.*

A fool rejects his father’s discipline (Prov. 15:5), causes his father sorrow (Prov. 17:21), and robs him of joy (Prov. 17:21). He despises his mother (Prov. 15:2), is destruction to his father (Prov. 19:13), and is a grief and bitterness to both his parents (Prov. 10:1; 17:25).

He despises wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7), hates knowledge (Prov. 1:22, 29), and does not choose the fear of Yahweh (Prov. 1:29). He fails to act with knowledge (Prov. 13:16), has no heart for wisdom, even if he seeks it (Prov. 17:16), looks for wisdom in all the wrong places, and thus can’t find it (Prov. 17:24). He dies because of a lack of understanding (Prov. 10:21)

He trusts in his own heart (Prov. 28:26), refuses to listen to counsel (Prov. 12:15), and rejects reproof (Prov. 1:30). His way is right in his own eyes (Prov. 12:15). He won’t accept commands (Prov. 10:8), doesn’t learn from his mistakes (Prov. 26:11), and even a hundred stripes gives him less wisdom than a rebuke gives a wise man (Prov. 17:10).

His attitude is  complacent (Prov. 1:32), arrogant (Prov. 14:16), and careless (Prov. 14:16). He is quick to anger (Prov. 14:17) and quick to display his anger (Prov. 12:16). He is more angry than warranted (Prov. 27:3) and gives full vent to his anger (Prov. 29:11).

He babbles (Prov. 10:8, 10), delights in revealing his own mind (Prov. 18:2), spouts folly (Prov. 15:2), and proclaims his folly publicly (Prov. 12:23). He quarrels quickly (Prov. 20:3). In controversy he rages or laughs, i.e., he is unreasonable (Prov. 29:9). He spreads slander (Prov. 10:18) and mocks at sin (Prov. 14:9). He does not spread knowledge (Prov. 15:7) and cannot use a proverb properly (Prov. 26:7, 9). His words are a rod for his back (Prov. 14:3), bring strife (Prov. 18:6), call for blows (Prov. 18:6), are a snare for his soul (Prov. 18:7), and bring him to ruin (Prov. 10:8, 10, 14; 18:7). The only way he can appear wise is to be silent (Prov. 17:28).
He brings harm to his companions (Prov. 13:20). He’s more dangerous to others than a mother bear robbed of her cubs (Prov. 17:12).

He is not honorable (Prov. 3:35) and should not be honored (Prov. 26:1). If given honor, he will not retain it (Prov. 26:8).

The consequences of the fool’s choices are calamity (Prov. 1:26-27), destruction (Prov. 1:32), punishment (7:22), ruin (Prov. 10:8, 10, 14), death (Prov. 10:21), and the destruction of her own house (Prov. 14:1)

If you meet a fool, do not reason with him (Prov. 29:9). Do not imitate him (Prov. 26:4). Answer him in a way that stops him from being wise in his own eyes (Prov. 26:5). Leave his presence, for you will gain no knowledge there (Prov. 14:7)

“The root of [the fool’s] trouble is spiritual, not mental. He likes his folly ... (Prov. 26:11); he has no reverence for truth ... (Prov. 14:8). At bottom, what he is rejecting is the fear of the Lord (1:29): it is this that constitutes him a fool” (Kidner, Proverbs, 40).

There isn’t much hope for a fool, but there is some. There is more hope for a fool than for a man wise in his own eyes (Prov. 26:12). There is more hope for a fool than for a man who is hasty in his words (Prov. 29:20).

A word to the wise: don’t be a fool.

*The key terms used for this study were kesil, 'ivvelet, 'eviyl, and nabal.

Friday, January 29, 2016

God: His Glorious Goodness Shines Brightest in Satisfied Saints

The last verse in Proverbs where “God” occurs is Proverbs 30:9. Verses 7-9 form a whole thought in which Agur prays to be kept from deception and lies as well as poverty and riches. Fear of denying Yahweh or dishonoring God’s name motivates his prayer. Agur prays,
 7 Two things I ask of You, Do not refuse me before I die:
 8 Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion,
 9 That I not be full and deny You and say, "Who is Yahweh?" Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God.
There are multiple layers to this passage’s doctrine of God. Here are only four of them:
1. God has a name - a reputation.
2. God’s name may be “profaned”
3. God encourages personal identification with Him - “my God”
4. God wants us to pray this way

1. God has a name -- God’s “name” refers to various things in Scripture: what He wants to be called--Yahweh (Exod. 6:3); his character (Exod. 33:19; 34:6); his reputation (Ezek. 36:20-23). All three are seen in this context. They are all connected. Yahweh is God’s name that reflects God’s self-existent, promise-making, promise-keeping character which is what God wants to be known for (reputation) throughout the world. Your reputation is important to you. It should be important to me as well.

2. God’s name may be “profaned.” -- The verb translated “profane” by the NASB normally means “to handle, to seize, capture.” This is the only context in which it occurs with “name” as its object. It may be borrowing battle language to picture doing violence to God’s reputation by misrepresenting His character through one’s actions. Or, it may be a synonym for nasa’ “take, lift” and thus allude to the 3rd commandment as apparently the LXX takes it. Either way, “dishonor” or “profane” appears to be the sense and this conclusion is supported by the unanimous English translations along those lines.

God’s name can be profaned by the actions of those who identify you as their God. Agur fears tarnishing God’s reputation or misrepresenting God in the eyes of onlookers. His prayer is essentially what Jesus taught, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Do I share Agur’s concern for your name, Father? I pray for grace to represent you properly. If God’s name can be profaned by my actions, then it can be sanctified by them as well (cf. Isa. 8:13). I pray that your name would be sanctified in me. Help me to remember that I represent You in everything I do (Col. 3:17).

3. God encourages personal identification with Him -- “my God” Here Agur moves deeper in and further up. God, whose name is holy (Prov. 30:3), whose name Agur first challenged his listener to supply (Prov. 30:4), can be known personally. The same One who gathers the wind in His fist and the water in His garment and establishes the ends of the earth permits us to call Him “my God.” Thank you for allowing me to know You, to have relationship with You, and to claim You as “my God!”

Father, I marvel that you risk your reputation by connecting it to your people. We are under construction and thus still fallen. We are far from the perfection that we will shall someday share with you. And we often fail in representing You as You deserve to be represented. Yet, you still allow us to call you “my God.” Your patience and forbearance are amazing!

What would motivate such vulnerability? It must be love. Your passion for the glory of your name is itself motivated by your love--your self-sacrificing commitment to seek the highest good of all your creatures. For, our greatest good lies wholly in You. Your glorious goodness shines brightest in the satisfied service of saintly sons who prize You above all prizes. Help me to see more clearly that You are all I need and all I could want to make me perfectly satisfied.

4. God wants us to pray this way -- What does the fact that You inspire this prayer (Prov. 30:7) tell me about You? It tells me that You want me to ask You to guard me from circumstances which would catalyze sinful behavior in me. You model for me prayer language that is bold -- “Do not refuse me.” You want me to boldly ask for protection from falsehood and lying (Prov. 30:8). Considering the larger context of Prov. 30:1-9, if Your words are pure (Prov. 30:5), then my words should be too (Prov. 30:8). Agur’s prayer models for me how to apply the truth that God’s word and thus God is pure: I must pursue purity of life and lip as well.

You also want me to ask to be kept from poverty or riches. This is not because they are inherently evil. Proverty and riches are contexts in which temptation to self-dependence and thus denial of God are more acute. Wealth tends to deaden my sensitivity to my constant need for God. Poverty tends to heighten our native unbelief that my well-being depends on me. Whether forgetting God or stealing food, the root sin is self-dependence rather than God-dependence.

Father, keep me from anything that will incline me to desert You or defame Your name. Do not refuse me!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

God: The Silver-Tongued, Sterling-Hearted Shield

Proverbs 30:5-6 Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.[1]

There’s so much spiritual marrow for soul nourishment here! We can learn the following about God from Prov. 30:5-6 ...

1. God has spoken. God is a communicator. He is there and He is not silent. The silence of our a vast, unfathomed universe has disturbed not a few, but God, the Creator, has spoken!

2. God has made His word available! God is a revealer and a preserver of His word. He not only speaks somewhere, but He speaks here, on earth, to people. We need not go to Him to hear His words. He has come to us! The marvelous way in which He has preserved His word over 3.5 millennia testifies to His passion to be known.

3. God has spoken pure words. The word “pure” (tserufah) means “tested” or “refined”—as in the process of refining silver (Prov. 25:4)—so that all non-silver elements are removed and what is left is silver only.  God’s words are unspoiled by evil advice, unsoiled by unethical laws, unalloyed by falsehood. They are dross-free, blemish-free, stain-free.

4. God’s words cannot be improved. No addition enhances them. No deletion sharpens them (cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32). God has spoken only pure words. They need no correction, upgrade, update, amelioration, enhancement, or refinement. There is no incoherence, no contradiction, no falsehood in God’s word.  As such, they are worthy of my complete confidence.

The fact that the one who adds to God’s word will be proved a liar shows that no truth can correct God’s word. If any attempted correction would prove untrue, then the original must be fault-free, inerrant, and wholly truth.[2]

5. God is pure in heart. The purity of God words testifies to the purity of His heart, for “out of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Father, I rejoice that Your heart is pure gold, pure goodness, unalloyed by pettiness, deceit, or covered instability. I praise you for there is no lapse between your gold-heartedness and your words or actions as there often is with us.

6. God is a shield. He is an impenetrable, impregnable defense. This is a marvelous truth about God! Yet, without the next phrase, “to those who take refuge in Him,” it would be little comfort. Astounding truth—God allows men to take refuge in Him!

Holy Father, Your generosity, kindness, and compassion are evidenced by your making yourself available as a refuge. You shield those who take refuge in You—from violence (2 Sam. 22:3), from your wrath (Psa. 2:12), from the wicked (Psa. 137:40), from those who rise up against us (Psa. 17:7), from enemies (Psa. 25:20), from the strife of tongues and the conspiracies of men (Psa. 31:19), from condemnation (Psa. 34:20), from destruction (Psa. 57:1), and from the traps and snares of iniquitous men (Psa. 141:8). I can’t help but echo the psalmist: Hallelujah!

Why does the Holy Spirit inspire David and Agur to pair the purity of God’s word with His preservation of those who take refuge in Him?

Pure words are trustworthy words, words to stake your life upon, words worth enduring scorn and ridicule over. To trust God’s word is to trust God. To doubt God’s word is to doubt God. He will make no separation between Himself and His word (cf. 2 Sam. 12:9-10). To take refuge in someone will necessarily entail trusting their word. The point seems to be that the sterling character of God’s word marks Him as worthy of our complete dependence.

 “And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee” (Psa. 9:10). Holy, Righteous, and Heavenly Father, I trust you! I trust your word!

[1] Agur appears to be adapting the inspired King David’s Psalm 18:30 where he declares, “As for God, His way is blameless; The word of Yahweh is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.” Proverbs 30:5 is almost a verbatim quote. The only difference is that Agur substituted ’Eloah, a poetic term for God, in place of Yahweh. Even here Agur may be following David’s lead, since the next verse in Psalm 18 uses the word ’Eloah (Psa. 18:31).
[2] For a well-done exploration of God’s motivation for inspiration and its powerful implications for how we receive and understand Scripture, see J. Michael Thigpen’s 2014 ETS paper, “’From the Mouth of God’: Inspiration and Inerrancy in Old Testament Perspective.” Caveat: This copy has my comments and highlighting still in it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Scoffers Seek Wisdom; Yahweh Refuses

Proverbs 14:6 A scoffer seeks wisdom and finds none, But knowledge is easy to one who has understanding.

Who are the scornful / scoffers?
1.      they don’t delight in Yahweh’s torah; they don’t meditate in it day and night; they are not blessed (’ashre) (Psa. 1:1-2)
2.      they delight in scoffing (Prov. 1:22)
3.      they receive Yahweh’s scorn and not His favor (Prov. 3:34)
4.      They will not be reproved and seek to shame those who reprove them (Prov. 9:7)
5.      They hate those who reprove them (Prov. 9:8)
6.      They do not listen to rebuke (Prov. 13:1)
7.      They seek wisdom in vain (Prov. 14:6)
8.      They do not love the one who reproves them. They will not go to the wise (Prov. 15:12)
9.      They do not benefit from being struck (painfully corrected) (Prov. 19:25; 21:11)
10.  They have judgment prepared for them, i.e., just waiting to fall upon them (Prov. 19:29)
11.  Wine is like the mocker, whoever goes astray by either is not wise (Prov. 20:1)
12.  They are proud and arrogant. They act with insolent pride. (Prov. 21:24)
13.  They are the cause of contention, strife, and abuse. Remove them and these things will cease. (Prov. 22:10)
14.  They are an abomination to men (Prov. 24:9)
15.  They will cease to exist “on that day”; they are a subset of “all who are intent on doing evil” who will be cut off (Isa. 29:20)

In this verse, Yahweh highlights the complexity of the scoffer’s character. He is a seeker after wisdom. On the surface that is very positive characteristic. However, the search for wisdom requires a proper orientation to Yahweh. There is no wisdom for those who take no pleasure in Yahweh, His torah, His reproof.

Reminds me of Bunyan’s Mr. Worldly Wiseman. There is a wisdom which is from below, James says (Jam. 3:14-16), and the scornful may have a significant measure of it. But it is all about how to get ahead and survive in this world, not about how to live for the next world.

Positively, the understanding man (nabon) is not a scorner. Wise and nabon occur together as a set of characteristics that go together (Gen. 41:33, 39; Deut. 1:13; 4:6; 1 Kgs 3:12). As a lad, before his entrance into court life, David was known as nabon of speech (1 Sam. 16:18). The nabon gains direction from Proverbs (Prov. 1:5), has wisdom on his lips (Prov. 10:13), has wisdom in his heart (Prov. 14:33), his heart seeks knowledge (Prov. 15:14; 18:15), and gains knowledge through being reproved (Prov. 19:25).

Yahweh, Joseph was a wise and discerning man. You gave Solomon a wise and discerning heart. I ask for such a heart. Increase my wisdom and discernment that I may be a more fruitful servant of yours.

Yahweh, since you scorn the scorner and resist the proud (Prov. 3:34; Jam. 4:6), they cannot find wisdom for it is found only in You (Prov. 2:5-6). You give grace to the humble, and such people find wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. I humble myself under your mighty hand this morning that I may receive more grace.