Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD" (Deut. 23:2 KJV)

I've been systematically reviewing Rick Warren's book The Purpose-Driven Life on my website. I've done chapters 12-28, and I'm going back and picking up chapters 1-11, on which I previously wrote a brief review.

In Chapter 2, page 23, Warren writes, “While there are illegitimate parents, there are no illegitimate children.” I find this a very helpful distinction!

I remember the animus and disgust that seemed to emanate from an older preacher who referred to his granddaughter’s child conceived out of wed-lock as illegitimate. Besides being an ungodly attitude, it was grossly wrong to saddle a child with the onus of his/her parent’s sin. Yet that is the way sin is. Sin never affects only the perpetrator. It always affects others.

However, as I was writing the above I remembered Deut. 23:2 "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD."

So I looked up the term mamzer (Deut. 23:2; Zech. 9:6), translated ‘bastard’ by the KJV. And I looked up bastard in the Oxford English Dictionary.

does not denote a person born out of wed-lock (HALOT, NIDOTTE). It denotes either a person born of illegitimate mixed-parentage, a half-breed, or a person born from an incestuous marriage forbidden in Lev. 18. An example of a half-breed would be an Israelite who married one of the seven forbidden nations of Canaan. And, interestingly enough, bastard can also mean a person of mixed breed (OED).

Deut. 23:3 is the only other prohibition that forbids entry into the congregation of Israel to the tenth generation: Ammonites and Moabites. If 23:4 didn’t provide the reason for this prohibition, it would be natural to assume since they were born of incest, that is the reason God prohibits their presence in the congregation (which I take to be the worshipping congregation in the tabernacle, not a prohibition of inter-marriage). However, verse four says the reason God is prohibiting their presence is that they did not help Israel in the wilderness but hired Balaam to curse them.

Does Deut. 23:2 have any relevance to the Christian today? In terms of universal principles and specific applications. Deut. 23:2 would be a specific application of the universal principle that divinely approved marriage must be between believers (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14ff) and perhaps that the sins of fathers are visited upon their children. Since the dwelling place of God (the temple) is no longer a physical building, but God dwells within His people, there would be no corresponding specific application prohibiting mixed breeds from God's presence.

Both Deut. 23:2 & 23:3-4 make it clear that sin's consequences extend far beyond the lives of the sinner. Thank God that where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded!

One facet of that grace is that despite illegitimate conceptions, God superintends the design of the resulting child, sent Christ to die for him/her, and willingly dwells within any such person who turns to Christ in saving faith.

Plenteous grace with Thee is found! Praise the Lord!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Our Stewardship of Grace (1 Pet. 4:10-11)

1 Peter 4:10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (NASB)

After enjoining believers to fervent love (4:8) and uncomplaining hospitality toward one another (4:9), Peter calls each of us to employ the gift (Grk: charisma) we have received for the purpose of serving others (4:10). We are to use our gifts in a manner that plainly communicates their source: God. When we serve in this manner God is glorified through Christ (4:11).

Peter's exhortation teaches us several important truths about spiritual gifts:
1. Peter implies that each believer has received at least one gift.
2. The purpose of God's gracious gifts to us is that we serve one another. All gifts are service gifts. None are grounds for self-congratulatory comparison.
3. Peter directly ties our gifts into the primary purpose for which God created us: to glorify Him. God gifts us to glorify Him.
4. We glorify God in the use of our gifts when we openly acknowledge the source and power for our service. It is not inappropriate to thank people for their expressions of appreciation after we have edified them through our gifted service. And neither is it hyper-spiritual to add a phrase such as "the Lord helped me" or "Praise the Lord" after saying, "Thank you."

As I taught through this passage yesterday at the conclusion of a lesson on spiritual gifts, a phrase in verse ten that I had previously overlooked jumped out at me: "as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."

I think most believers associate stewardship with money or possessions. God owns it all; I'm just a steward. That is indeed true. But Peter tells us that we are also stewards of grace.

Have you ever thought of yourself as a steward of grace? The gifts God has given us are grace gifts. That means God has freely given them to us based not on our merit but on His wisdom.

We often approach the subject of spiritual gifts out of curiosity only to learn from Peter that they are actually a responsibility! Or perhaps I should say, they are a God-given opportunity to fulfill the two most important commands--to love God and others--through glorifying God in serving others.

Someday we will give an account for our stewardship of the gifts God has given us. May the Lord find us faithful stewards of His grace serving others to His glory through Christ Jesus!

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Major Reason I Advocate Church Membership

In 1997 I was completely opposed to the idea of church membership. I grew up in a church that did not have official membership. I saw no great value to membership. It seemed like all responsibility and only one privilege—voting—a privilege more likely than not to lead to church problems.

During the summer of 1997, Bob Jones University hired me to write the last in a series of Sunday School quarterlies for their college SS classes. Developing Biblical Interpersonal Relationships was the topic assigned. While researching for the chapter on how to deal with relationships broken by sin, I ran across a true story that ran much like the following.

A church in Colorado had an open-membership policy like I grew up with: if you come regularly and tithe, you’re a member. A young woman, who was a part of the college & career group, decided to move in with her boyfriend. From her perspective, her moral behavior was none of the church’s business.

That wasn’t how the church saw it. Since she had been a regular “member,” the church initiated the steps Jesus laid out in Matthew 18:15-17 for dealing with a brother or sister who sins. First, her friends went to her, but she wouldn’t listen. Then the church leadership went to her, explaining what the Bible says about fornication and Christians, but she wouldn’t listen.

At this point, she decided that since she was being harassed by a bunch of legalists, she would just quit attending that church and go somewhere else. However, the church didn’t look at it quite that way. From the church’s perspective, she was backsliding, and they had to exercise the discipline Christ prescribed in order to bring her back into right relationship with God. So, they took the third step: they brought her case before the church, formally censured her in absentia, and declared her no longer a member of the church.

She sued the church for libel and defamation, and the court awarded her $250,000. The rationale: because she had never made any formal commitment to membership and had told the church leaders that she no longer considered herself a member of their church, the church did not have a legal right to discipline her.

My study of the Scriptural principles for church discipline had lead me to the conclusion that God designed it to function as the immune system for the Body of Christ. A church without church discipline is like a body without an immune system: it will fall prey to every and any disease that comes along. As I pondered the Colorado church’s story, I completely reversed my opinion. Not only am I no longer opposed to church membership, but I see it as absolutely essential for the spiritual vitality of the Church.

The biblical mandate of church discipline and the legal impossibility of exercising it without church membership is one of the primary reasons I am advocating a rethinking of church polity, and especially the way we conceive and practice church membership.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy

This book by John Piper caught my attention because I am unsatisfied with the level of joy in my life. I do desire God. And for that grace I am grateful. Yet, I long to find Him my chief joy.

Verses like the following suggest there is greater joy to be had than I currently have:
  • Hebrews 10:34 For you … accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.
    — Christians accepting the wrongful seizure of their property with joy! Joy because their future inheritance included permanent, unseizable possessions. But that didn’t change the fact that they had lost their property, perhaps all their assets: lands, cash, houses, etc. Why? Because they were Christians. … accepted joyfully!
  • Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…
    — right after love comes joy!
  • 1 Peter 1:8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
    — sounds like those gospel songs that make poetic flights the supposed substance of everyday living … “waves of glory o’er me roll” … the only problem is, this inspired Scripture. … joy inexpressible and filled with glory! Where’s that in my life?!
Here are some quotes from the first chapter of Piper's book that have been deepening my hunger for God:

> “the truth and beauty and worthy of God shine best from the lives of saints who are so satisfied in God they can suffer in the cause of love without murmuring.” (15)

> Jonathan Edwards argued with all his intellectual might in 1729 that “Persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetites.” [Imagine wondering if your appetite for God was getting a little out of hand!?] Edwards continues

“[We ought] to be endeavoring by all possible ways to inflame our desires and to obtain more spiritual pleasures. … Our hungerings and thirstings after God and Jesus Christ and after holiness can’t be too great for the value of these things, for they are things of infinite value. … [Therefore] endeavor to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement. … there is no such thing as excess in our taking of this spiritual food. There is no such virtue as temperance in spiritual feasting. (19)

O God, grant me unbounded appetite for You and grace to lay myself in the way of soul allurement to You.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Losing and Regaining our First Love (Rev. 2:4-5)

Revelation 2:4 'But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place-- unless you repent.

What does it mean that the Ephesians had left their “first love?”

Notice that three actions (not feelings, emotions, or attitudes) are commanded: remember, repent, and do:

1. “Remember” – they are to remember "from where they have fallen." Their current position is one below where they had been. Their current behavior is missing the first deeds that were motivated by their first love.
2. “Repent” – this tells me that whatever it is to “leave your first love” is something that requires repentance, i.e., sin.
3. “Do the deeds you did at first” – Obedience is the perfect expression of love for God (1 John 2:5). The Ephesians’ departure from their first/former love is evident in that they have ceased to engage in the expressions of that love.

I think a fair analogy may be made with courtship and marriage. Many a man, fired by the warmth of “first love,” performs deeds gallant and chivalrous for his bride-to-be/new bride. Due to the nature of the human constitution, the warmth of “first love” wanes. It cannot be helped. Not is it to be particularly lamented, UNLESS with the settling into the routines of married life, the husband no longer does the deeds he did at first. He no longer holds the door, opens the car door, etc. showing his deference and love. The issue is not that he no longer “feels” the same, but that he no longer “acts” the same. It is the action that is the true measure of love. When action is absent, love is absent or soon will be.

This is not to say that emotional deadness is an acceptable condition for a Christian. Scripture will not countenance such a norm.

Yet, Jesus does not call Ephesus (or us) to regain the ardor and fervor of a new convert. He calls us to maintain first love’s deeds, i.e., obedience, regardless of our emotional fluctuations.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Praying with Paul for Discerning Love (Phil. 1:9-11)

Heavenly Father, for those I’m bringing before You, I pray that you would cause their love for You to increase and abound in greater knowledge of You and, consequently, in greater discernment so that they will be able to identify and choose things that are excellent—the things that please You most—so that, from now until Jesus returns, their lives will be blameless in your sight, harmless to others, and filled through Christ’s enablement with thoughts, words, and deeds that are righteous—fully in harmony with Your word—so that their lives will bring glory and praise to You.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Praying with Paul for Empowerment (Eph. 3:14-21)

Dear Father, father of the whole family that bears your name both in heaven and on earth, I pray that you would, in proportion to the unlimited, glorious riches that you have, strengthen those I’m praying for inwardly with power by the Holy Spirit so that Christ may have full right of way in their hearts through faith. Since they have been rooted and grounded in Your love, would you enable them to join all the rest of the saints in comprehending the incredible dimensions of your love, and the love that Christ has for them, a love which is beyond our ability to understand. I pray this so that they would be filled up to all the fullness of God, i.e., become just like Jesus in whom all Your fullness dwelt. Father, you are the One who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that I ask or think, through the power of the Holy Spirit is at work within your children. I give you glory and praise and pray that your name will be glorified in your church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations. Amen!

Praying with Paul for Enlightenment (Eph. 1:17-20)

Glorious Father, God of our Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that you would give those I’m praying for a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in their relationship with You so that they might know You. Since the eyes of their heart have been enlighted, I pray that they will understand and appreciate (1) the hope You have called them to,
(2) the glorious riches of Your inheritance in the saints, i.e., how much you value them and all those who are your children, and
(3) the surpassing greatness of Your power that is available to us who believe — the same power that raised the Christ from the dead and seated Him at Your right hand in heaven.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Notes on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

4:1 Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.
4:2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

As Paul heads toward the close of his letter, he urges the Thessalonians to "excel still more" in pleasing God.

Pleasing God is the relational context within which Paul wants the Thess. to view what he is about to say. I.e., here is further information about how to excel in pleasing God.

4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;

God want us to be "sanctified" -- Paul further defines this sanctification in terms of separation from sexual immorality.

The one word definition of 'sanctification' is separation. To be sanctified or holy is to be separated from immoral behavior to moral behavior, from the impure to the pure, from the unclean to the clean.

The term translated sexual immorality (porneia) denotes any type of sexual behavior forbidden by God. This is not merely premarital immorality.

To be separated unto God involves having nothing to do with sexual sin.

Young people often want to know "how far can I go" when I'm dating. Let's notice a few things about this question.
1. Notice that the question itself assumes that one is going "somewhere." That somewhere is sexual intimacy.
2. The question is asking in essence, how close can I come to sexual intimacy and still be within the bounds of the "ok."
3. In Matt. 5:28 Jesus tells us that merely looking upon a woman (or a man) to lust after them is, in God's eyes, an act of adultery. In other words, you can't even "go there" (sexual intimacy) in your mind.

Sanctification in the area of sexuality is not simply a matter what one does not do with the body. It is also a matter of what one does with the mind.

Rom. 14:13 tells us to make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts. Notice it does not say, "Avoid fulfilling the lusts of the flesh." Nor does it say you should not have fleshly desires. It says you must not do anything that sets up an opportunity for the flesh to fulfill its lusts.
The issue is not just avoiding sin. The issue is also avoiding the actions, thoughts, and places that make it possible for sin to take place.

... for the rest, click here

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Devoted to one another in brotherly love (Rom. 12:10)

I was sharing a section of Barclay’s treatment of the key NT words for love with my Greek I students yesterday. The section dealt with philostorgos in Romans 12:10, which the NASB translates, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” As Barclay explains it, the word translated “be devoted” (philostorgoi) connotes the devotion a parent has for a child or a child for a parent. A verse from 4 Maccabees supports Barclay’s statement: “O sacred nature and affection of parental love, yearning of parents toward offspring, nurture and indomitable suffering by mothers!” (15:13). Similar usage may be found in Josephus (e.g., Ant. 7.252) and Philo.

The “yearning toward [their] offspring” which parents experience is the sort of devotion that the Spirit through Paul is exhorting us to have toward one another. Interestingly Paul qualifies this with the word philadelphia, brotherly love. Because we are siblings in Christ, our devotion should be brotherly.

Frankly, the significance of this passage didn’t really strike me until I started to pray the opening prayer. Can I honestly say that I am “devoted to my fellow believers [including students] in brotherly love?” I’m afraid not. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever even given a thought to being “devoted” to the members of my family in Christ in a manner that approximates natural family devotion. So I had to confess my failure to consider the meaning of this passage, let alone make strides to apply it. Following confession should always be supplication for grace to grow and walk in the light. By God’s grace, I intend to be growing in being devoted toward fellow believers with brotherly love.