Thursday, December 27, 2007

Galatians 5:17 Breakthrough!

Galatians 5:16 Le,gw de,( pneu,mati peripatei/te kai. evpiqumi,an sarko.j ouv mh. tele,shteÅ 17 h` ga.r sa.rx evpiqumei/ kata. tou/ pneu,matoj( to. de. pneu/ma kata. th/j sarko,j( tau/ta ga.r avllh,loij avnti,keitai( i[na mh. a] eva.n qe,lhte tau/ta poih/teÅ 18 eiv de. pneu,mati a;gesqe( ouvk evste. u`po. no,monÅ (If this looks like gibberish, download the Greek font bwgrkl.tff from my left sidebar)

For years Galatians 5:17 has bothered me.

On a straightforward reading, it has always seemed to me to contradict verses 16 and 18. My way around the problem has been to say, “Whatever v. 17 means, it can’t be a denial of verses 16 and 18.” Yesterday, during the yearly Brown family Theology Fest, we had a breakthrough!

This year our family theology fest is focusing on the NT’s use of “flesh,” particularly those passages in which it is used in a morally negative sense. We started with Romans on Tuesday afternoon and we made it to Galatians 5:16-18 by yesterday afternoon.

Verse 16 is an incredible promise. An expanded translation helps give its full import. “But I say, be walking in the Spirit and you will never fulfill the desire of the flesh.”

Paul uses a double negative construction to make his negation as emphatic as possible. His point is that a Christian can and will resist fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, if he constantly submits to the Spirit’s control in his life. A life free from willful sin is every Christian’s privilege!

However, everything that verse 16 promises seems to be snatched away with verse 17. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”

It’s that last phrase that seems so strange. For years I have read it as asserting that there is a statemate between the flesh and the Spirit and, as a result, the flesh wins by default. It almost seems to be Rom. 7:25 in different words.

Nathan voiced this observation, I concurred, and Dad flatly disagreed. He argued that v. 17 is saying the exact opposite of what we were saying. There is indeed a conflict of desires between the flesh and the Spirit, but it is not a stalemate; the Spirit wins! We were both incredulous. We had never heard this interpretation from Dad, from whom both of us have learned much of what we know.

No way! Where in the world did you come up with that? Dad seemed to think it's what he had “always” said. Nathan grabbed Grace in Galatia by Ben Witherington III for a third opinion, and Witherington shocked us by concurring with Dad.

As I sat looking at the Greek text, I began to see how that interpretation actually fits the text better than what I had previously regarded as a “straightforward” reading of the text.

1. Verse 17 starts with "for" (ga.r) indicating that verse 17 is a logical extension of verse 16. It is not contrast; it is continuation. The second "for" in v. 17 is a parenthetical explanation of why the flesh and the Spirit have opposite desires.

2. As Witherington points out, there are three possible ways to take v. 17c: (1) you cannot do the good things you (by the Spirit) want to do, (2) you cannot do the bad things you (by the flesh) want to do, or (3) you cannot do either the good or the bad. The third option is nonsense, so that leaves (1) and (2).

Since v. 17 is a logical extension of v. 16, it doesn't make sense to say, "Walk in the spirit and you won't fulfill the lusts of the flesh, for you cannot do the good things you want to do." That leaves only option (2).

3. The KJV translation "you cannot do the things you would" is, at best, misleading. The Greek text says nothing about ability. It does not use dunatai or other similar verbs that deal with capacity or ability. The two verbs in 17c are subjunctives and should be translated to reflect that mood: "...with the result that you may not be doing whatever things you may be desiring."

4. The phrase "whatever things you may be desiring," then, refers to the desires of the flesh. We can paraphrase this last part of verse 17 this way: "so that you by walking in the Spirit may not be doing whatever things your flesh may be desiring."

To recap: verse 16 identifies the solution to the problem of the flesh: walk in the Spirit. Verse 17 explains why this solution is necessary: the flesh and the Spirit are opposed to one another, and the only way to avoid fulfilling the flesh's lusts is by walking in the Spirit.

Verse 18 reinforces this conclusion from a different angle. If you are being led by the Spirit, which is another way of talking about walking in the Spirit, then you are not "under law." The Galatians were being told by Judaizers that they must be under the Mosaic convenant, through circumcision, to be saved. Paul refutes this idea by pointing out that what is begun by the Spirit cannot be completed by something done to the flesh. Being led by the Spirit is the antithesis of living according to the flesh, which places a person under the law.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Degrees of Holiness, Degrees of Reward

I was recently asked, “Do degrees of holiness here on earth result in degrees of reward in Heaven?”

The question assumes there are degrees of holiness. Is that true? When we consult the OT, we see degrees of holiness in the tabernacle. The courtyard and all its equipment were holy, the “holy place” was more holy than the surrounding tabernacle, and the holy of holies was the most holy of all.

Are there degrees of holiness in people ? When we are saved we are made holy (1 Cor. 1:2). This holiness is real, but it is limited. It has not been integrated into every facet of our thoughts and behavior. Thus, it is often the case that new believers who are holy, act unwittingly in unholy ways. The Corinthians are a classic example (1 Cor. 1:2; 3:1-3). The more our minds are transformed to think as God thinks, the more holy our lives become (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1). Holy living flows from holy thinking that is motivated by love for God.

About five year ago I read A Life God Rewards by Bruce Wilkinson. It revolutionized my thinking on the topic of rewards. I found things to disagree with, but I would heartily recommend (most of) this book to all for prayerful, scriptural examination.

To answer the question posed to me, I did a quick examination of the New Testament’s teaching about rewards. Here’s what I found. Jesus taught that God rewards those who
  • love those who do not love them (Mat. 5:46-48),
  • do what is right without seeking to be noticed by men (Mat. 6:1),
  • give to the poor without public acclaim (Mat. 6:3-4),
  • pray in private (Mat. 6:6),
  • fast without calling attention to their fasting (Mat. 6:16-18),
  • receive a prophet or a righteous man (Mat. 10:41),
  • or give even a cup of cold water to a child (Mat. 10:42; Mark 9:41).
Jesus promises “great reward” (degrees of reward!) to two groups: those who are persecuted, lied about, hated, ostracized, insulted, or scorned as evil for Christ's sake (Mat. 5:12; Luke 6:23), and those who love their enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35). In fact, Jesus commands us to "leap (for joy)" because of the great reward persecution secures for us in Heaven (Luke 6:23).

Jesus also teaches that those who make profitable use of the capacities God has given them will be rewarded. The parables of the talents and minas (Matt. 5:14-30; Luke 19:11-27) are interesting because the master rewards faithful servants with administrative responsibility—“I will put you in charge of many things” (Matt. 25:21); “you are to be in authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17).

I infer from these passages that the rewards of Heaven are not primarily, if at all, monetary. Jesus rewards faithful servants by increasing their responsibility and breadth of service. Eternity is not about sitting on clouds, strumming harps, nor it is simply an endless praise service. Earthly work is preparation for eternal service for our King on a much grander scale. Work in Heaven?! Don’t be disheartened! You can be confident that our Designer will so fit our heavenly service to our design that we find it incomparably enjoyable and satisfying.

When we examine Paul's writings, he teaches that God rewards believers according to their works:” We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10; cf. Rom. 14:10). The word “bad” in 2 Cor. 5:10 does not mean sinful. It means worthless or unprofitable. God will test the produce of our entire life by fire in order to reveal its quality (1 Cor. 3:13). Those whose works survive the fire of Divine scrutiny will receive reward (1 Cor. 3:14). Those who works are burned up, will “suffer loss”; however, they will be saved (1 Cor. 3:15).

Paul commands Timothy to teach that those who do good, are rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, store up for themselves “the treasure of a good foundation for the future” (1 Tim. 6:18-19). The reward of a “crown” appears several places in the NT. All those who have loved Jesus’ appearing, will receive a “crown of righteousness” when he appears (2 Tim. 4:8). Those who persevere under trial (Jam. 1:12) and those who are faithful unto death will receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). Elders who shepherd the flock well will receive an unfading crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Jesus warns the Philadelphians to "hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown" (Rev. 3:11).

My favorite passage on rewards is Ephesians 6:5-8. “Whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” In other words, everything you and I do as to the Lord, even if it’s slave-labor, will be rewarded in Heaven! (See also Col. 3:22-24.)

The NT concludes with Jesus promising marvelous rewards to him who overcomes. The one who overcomes will:
  • eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7).
  • not be hurt by the second death (Rev. 2:11).
  • receive some of the hidden manna, a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. (Rev. 2:17).
  • receive authority over the nations, rule them with Christ, and receive the morning star (Rev. 2:26-28).
  • be clothed in white garments; his name will not be erased from the book of life, and Jesus will confess his name before His Father and His angels (Rev. 3:5).
  • be a pillar in the temple of God, he will not go out from it anymore; and I [Jesus] will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name (Rev. 3:12).
  • sit down with Me [Jesus] on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne (Rev. 3:21)
  • inherit the new heaven and new earth, the new Jerusalem, and the spring of the water of life (Rev. 21:1-7).
My quick survey has by no means exhausted the NT’s teaching on rewards, and it hasn’t even touched the OT. Perhaps the most thought provoking OT passage on rewards is Daniel 12:3, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” This statement by Daniel’s angelic interpreter seems to indicate that glorified saints shine with varying degrees of intensity depending on the level of their reward or perhaps as part of their reward.

So in answer to the original question: When we understand that holiness involves not only the absence of that which is sinful, but also the presence of that which is godly, then, yes, degrees of holiness here affect the level of our reward in the next life. The more our lives are filled with the fruit of holiness, the greater our rewards will be.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

When David was a Man After God's Own Heart (1 Sam. 13:14)

"A man after God's own heart." That is probably the phrase most commonly associated with King David in many people's mind.

Unfortunately, that phrase is frequently misused and even misunderstood. At issue is this: Precisely when in David's life did God regard him as a man after His own heart?

The answer: 1 Sam. 13:14 and Acts 13:22.

1 Sam. 13 recounts the story of Saul's choice to offer sacrifice to God without a priestly representative present. Because he violated God's word and did not wait for Samuel to be present, Samuel tells him,
You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.
There it is! David was a man after God's own heart, BEFORE he was anointed king of Israel. It was the shepherd boy David of whom God said he is a man after my heart. God did not say this about David after his adultery with Bathsheba. This was not an end-of-life analysis of David. It was the early, pre-Goliath David who was a man after God's own heart.

Acts 13:22 expands on this passage a little: "After He had removed [Saul], He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, 'I HAVE FOUND DAVID the son of Jesse, A MAN AFTER MY HEART, who will do all My will.'

Here then is apostolic commentary on what it means to be a man after God's own heart: one who will do all His will. I emphasize the "all" because it was Saul's selective obedience that God considered disobedience. God longs for those who will do all His will, not just the parts they like.

Since David began as a man after God's own heart, but failed to remain such a man, there is both promise and warning in this passage.

The promise: we can be men & women whose hearts beat with God's. To be such requires whole-hearted obedience to His will we know.

The warning: we can cease to be men & women after God's own heart. When we deliberately choose our way over His way, we are headed Saul's way. David knew he had followed Saul's path through adultery and murder. That why he prayed so fervently, "take not your Holy Spirit from me." He had seen what happens when God's Spirit leaves.

The difference between Saul and David was not perfect performance. It was repentance. Saul was sorry, but not repentant. David, after confrontation, was both sorry and repentant.

Father, I want to be and live as a man after your heart. Grant me grace to do all your will, even the parts that are hard and painful. For Christ's sake, Amen.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Caleb's Concubines (1 Chron. 2:46, 48) -- corrected

Just read 1 Chron 2:18-4:4 and learned that Caleb, the man who wholly followed God (Deut. 1:36), had two concubines: Ephah and Maacah (1 Chron. 2:46, 48)!

9/12/13 Correction: The Caleb who had concubines was the son of Hezron, son of Perez, son of Judah, and not Caleb, son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite. Same name, different person. My apologies to Caleb the son of Jephunneh!  Post revised to refer solely to King David who apparently had enough concubines that they aren’t even named (cf. 1 Chron. 3:9)

From what we know about the Ancient Near East (cf. Nuzi) concubinage was a specific, legal status that was public—a kind of sub-wife position. Being a concubine was not to be a private ‘mistress’ at all.

I can imagine someone decrying the worldliness of David, articulating the doctrine of marriage from Gen. 1-2 which Jesus himself would later teach, and then separating from these individuals as disobedient to God’s will and plan, compromisers with worldliness.

Would such a person be wrong? No, they would be right. Concubinage was (and is) contrary to God’s will, assimilated from the sinful world, and it brought with it all the consequences of violating God’s will. But the “problem” (for the person who recognizes that concubinage is contrary to God’s will) is that God worked with David anyway. In spite of their blindness to the sins of worldliness in their lives, their hearts were wholly set to please God in view of the light He had given them (1 Kings 15:3).

I think this should tell me that God will work with people as long as they are wholly set to follow Him. The fact that they are compromised by worldliness, unconsciously, will not mean that God cannot or will not use them. The wrong conclusion to draw from this is that God doesn’t really care about what we do as long as we follow Him.

The lesson for me is that my heart must be wholly set to follow God. I must walk in all the light that He has given me. Others aren’t responsible for my light. I am. When I meet or observe modern Davids, I should keep in mind that the fact God is using them does not mean God approves of the areas of their lives where they are living in violation of His word. It just means that God will bless and use anyone whose heart is wholly set to follow Him to the best of their knowledge.

Father, help me to be such a person!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Joy Unspeakable and Job

I had these thoughts in response to Phillip Dickinson's comments on my May 2006 How to Fight for Joy post.

Have you perhaps had something like the following calico account of two of my experiences?

I received news that a donor had agreed to give approximately $100,000 each year over the next ten years to a fund for the establishment of a seminary here at GBS. I was overjoyed, elated.

My wife comes into my office to inform me that her mother is experiencing excruciating pain and has been taken to the hospital. My wife is in tears. Upon hearing the news from my wife, my sense of joy vanishes or at least dissipates rapidly. I'm distressed and seek to be a comfort to my wife.

Did I lose my joy?

Most certainly not! Upon the first opportunity that my mind had to return to the contemplation of the donor's pledge, my inward rejoicing and delight (aka joy) resumed its singing and simmered over time to a happy hum.

My best short description of joy, at present, is that joy is the emotional result of a mental focus. That's the short version. The extended version is: Christian joy is the emotion of happy satisfaction that results from a mental focus on the persons, promises, and character of our Triune God.

This definition identifies joy as an emotion. My best study of the biblical words for joy has led me to this conclusion, so far. Like almost all emotions, we cannot directly manipulate them. Most emotions are the consequence of a pattern of thinking, that is, they are a consequence of our mental focus. Mental focus is the result of the questions we ask ourselves and the assertions we make to ourselves.

For example, to generate the emotions of confusion, depression, blackness, even despair, repeatedly ask yourself the questions, "Why this? Why me? Why now?" when you encounter some negative circumstance. Oh, and insist upon the answer being empirically verifiable and fully comprehensible by your mind. This is how Job got in the pit.

The fruit of Joy produced by the Spirit is really the Spirit granting us desire and power to choose to focus our minds upon the person and promises of God in Christ. The more we do, and consequently the better we "see" Jesus, the greater our joy.

I think I see in this an analogy to the Spirit fruit, love. Love (for others) is a self-sacrificial commitment to seek their highest good as I seek my own and as Christ sought my good. This fruit is in evidence in our lives when we engage our wills to seek others' good self-sacrificially.

Just as God wants such good-seeking to be the character of our life, so He wants it to be our mental habit, our continuous disposition to focus our minds upon His person and promises that our joy may be full. This is how Job got out of the pit. God presented Job a series of questions that changed his focus from himself to God. Same medicine worked for Elijah.

Solomon reveals that there is a time to weep (Eccl. 3:4). It is not appropriate for a Christian to experience joy as the dominant ascendant emotion at all times. Sorrow, anger, compassion. These emotions were ascendant in our Lord at times, but the foundation of joy was always present: a full knowledge of the person and promises of His Father. All that was needed to bring joy streaming back to the forefront was to focus His mind upon His Father.

Fighting for Joy is fighting to see and understand the person and promises of God in Christ more clearly. The clearer our vision, the greater our joy. The steadier our gazing, the steadier our joy.

Father, grant me to see you in Christ more clearly and to gaze upon you in Christ more steadily that I may glorify you more fully by revelling in the joy that attends such attention.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Reading Psalms to Children

Allan came in this morning as I was reading my Bible, so I read him the portion of Psalm 34 that was part of my reading. As I read to him, it occurred to me that reading the Psalms not only identifies the character of God and the paths in which He wants us to walk, but it also identifies how He views and relates to those who choose not to walk in His ways. Conviction and fear would be the result of a consistent reading of the psalms to those who are not right with God. That's another good reason to read the Psalms to children.

34:16 The face of the LORD is against evildoers, To cut off the memory of them from the earth.

34:21 Evil shall slay the wicked, And those who hate the righteous will be condemned.

I was challenged recently to learn that the Stam family, from which John Stam the martyred missionary to China came, began every meal of the day with Bible reading. Each place setting had a Bible and all shared in the reading.

This strengthens my resolve to incorporate more regular Scripture reading into the fabric of my family’s life.