Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Pride, the Greatest Sin

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ezek 16:49)

There is no doubt for anyone that, according to the teaching of the Scriptures, their sins are unequal. For the one set is called “great,” the other “smaller” by these Scriptures. Now, since sins are unequal, that is, either “small” or “very great,” someone might perhaps ask what the greatest among all sins is, and the answer is readily given that either fornication or impurity or some other pollution of lust is greater than all other sins. And indeed, those are truly abominable and filthy sins too, but they are not as bad as this one, which is condemned by Scripture here as greater than all the others, from which we must guard ourselves.

Then which sin is greater than all other sins? Clearly it is that sin because of which even the devil tumbled down. What is this sin, in which so great an eminence fell, that, as the Apostle says, “being puffed-up, he may fall into the judgment of the devil.”* The devil’s sin is being puffed up—pride, arrogance; because of these faults he passed from heaven to earth. Hence “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”† And “why is earth and ash proud,”‡ so that a man would be lifted up with arrogance, forgetting what he will become, and in how fragile a little vessel he is contained, and in what piles of manure he is submerged, and what sort of excretions he constantly ejects?… Pride is greater than all other sins, and is the primary sin of the devil himself. Whenever Scripture describes the devil’s sins you will find that they flow from the spring of pride; for he says, “I shall act with strength, and by the wisdom of my understanding I shall remove the boundaries of peoples, and I shall consume their powers; and I will move their cities which are inhabited, and I shall seize the entire world like a bird’s nest, and I shall take them away like broken eggs.”§ See how proud his words are, how arrogant, and how he considers everything as worth nothing. Such are all who are puffed up with boasting and pride.

Origen of Alexandria: Exegetical Works on Ezekiel, 9.2.1-2


* 1 Timothy 3:6
† James 4:6
‡ Sirach 10:9
§ Isaiah 10:13-14

Monday, September 1, 2014

It Is Finished

I had the privilege of writing a piece (based on Romans 10:5-8) for Grace for Sinners in their Ascension Series. My thesis was that we try to add works of faith to gain more righteousness before God, but nothing more is needed. The work is complete in Christ.

This morning I learned that the piece had been posted. You can read it here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Now Let's Get This Straight. Let's Get It Clear.

Title taken from Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee.

In a previous post, I shared the requirement the Lord gave for the future kings of Israel to hand copy His Law (most likely the text of Deuteronomy), so that they have intimate understanding of who God is, their unique calling as a nation, and the expectation placed on each and every person in the nation. As application, I recommended that spiritual leaders in each local assembly do the same to see how Jesus has fulfilled the righteous requirements and how that applies to our life in Christ.

Later in Deuteronomy, Moses takes steps for all the people to take in the Law and aid in its remembrance by recording the Law, giving it to the priests, and requiring the priests to read it before all as they are gathered together:
And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lᴏʀᴅ your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deut 31:10-13)
What are the elements of this command and applications for us today?

Place
The men of Israel were required to assemble at a prescribed location:
Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lᴏʀᴅ your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. (Deut 16:16)
At the time of writing, God had promised His name at a particular place (Deut 12:11), but the exact location had not yet been made evident. Israel was not in the land. After the land had been conquered, the tabernacle was set up in Shiloh by Joshua (Joshua 18:1). Here God would be with His people (as He promised) until worship was moved into Jerusalem.

The assembly of the Lord’s people is no longer in a physical locality, but continues to be where He has promised to be—in the midst of His people. As those who are called out from the world, yet called into an entity (body of Christ), we are to function together where Jesus has promised to be forever (Matt 28:20)—the head both universally (Eph 1:22-23) and locally (1 Cor 12:27) in each assembly.

Time
The Feast of Booths was the last of the three annual feasts, and at this time, every seventh year, all debtors were released from their creditors.
At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lᴏʀᴅ’s release has been proclaimed. (Deut 15:1-2)
The early Christians continued to meet according to their accustomed Jewish routine: weekly on the Sabbath and daily, both as a matter of course (Acts 2:42) and for the hours of prayer (Acts 3:1). Eventually, the practice became one weekly meeting shifting to the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). The regular gathering was deemed vital for the growth and well-being of the body. Ceasing that practice notified other Christians that the attendant was no longer being considered a fellow believer.

Worship
At the location would God place His name, the men were to assemble for three particular feasts picturing their relationship with God. During all three, sacrifice and other forms of worship occurred.
They shall not appear before the Lᴏʀᴅ empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God that he has given you. (Deut 16:16-17)
The Lord worked in His people through His word and blessed them monetarily or agriculturally, so each would offer a gift accordingly. God had promised to bless abundantly as the people were obedient, therefore these offerings should never be an issue.

In addition, worship is designed to be corporate. Under the Mosaic covenant, there were at least three present—God, priest, worshiper—but most of the offerings were shared (i.e., fellowship, communion) with as many of the priesthood as would go around, so that all might share and none be wasted. Likewise, all that gathered were expected to join in the praise. Consider David’s words:
I will bless the Lᴏʀᴅ at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lᴏʀᴅ;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lᴏʀᴅ with me,
    and let us exalt his name together! (Psa 34:1-3)
While the Lord had dealt individually with David, the call was for all the people to enter into the rejoicing. All are expected to gladly and willingly take part.

While we no longer offer tithes or animal sacrifices, the people of God are admonished to offer sacrifices of person (Rom 12:1), purse (Phil 4:18), and praise (Heb 13:15). It is these we give to our God because He so richly gives to us each Lord’s Day in His presence and every other day as we live before Him.

Teaching
An individual was unable to secure a copy of the Law because so few were available. The people relied on regular instruction and proper example in order to pass these things down without a personal document. As a result, individual study was impossible. The most logical approach was to teach the heads of the homes and have them pass it along to further generations.

During the release year, the Book of the Law was brought out and read in order to both teach and remind of God’s person and work with the idea that He be feared, and as a result be properly revered and worshiped. This assisted the fathers in their duty to teach their children and establish His word in their homes.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:6-9)
This discipleship program worked well as long as the priesthood were faithful to scripture. When they cut corners or otherwise failed, the families broke down as well.

The church today has no less of a mandate to accurately and faithfully communicate God’s word. Those with oversight are to faithfully feed the flock as good under-shepherds (1 Pet 5:1-4) and entrust the teaching to faithful men (2 Tim 2:1-2), assisting heads of homes to be teaching the next generation. To ensure thorough instruction and reminder, a regular curricular cycle should be in place to teach the whole counsel of God.

Conclusion
When the people returned from the Babylonian captivity, after the temple and city walls were rebuilt, the people asked Ezra
to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lᴏʀᴅ had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. (Neh 8:1-3)
The Feast of Booths properly began on the fifteenth of the seventh month (Lev 23:34), but instead of waiting those two weeks, the people demonstrated their contrite hearts by asking for it early. Notice especially that the people were attentive “from early morning until midday” as they were hungry to receive what had been missing for decades. It brought both pain and refreshment to their souls.

This famine of God’s word came about because it had been snubbed and disregarded. The shepherds of Israel were guilty of dereliction of duty in making it correctly known. His shepherds today must remain faithful to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). They are those who are to instruct and guide the sheep.
 Regular, faithful instruction builds up the body of Christ more than teaching on trendy topics or stroking the egos of the hearers. We are called to know and understand what God has for us in Christ. May we be passing this along.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

To Die May Be Gain, but It Hurts

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phil 1:21)

If you pay attention at a visitation or funeral following a Christian’s death, the above verse gets used regularly—and for good reason. Death, for the believer, does not end at the grave. For a time, the spirit departs and is with Christ in heaven (Phil 1:23) until the time when the body is resurrected on the last day, and even then, there remains the promise that we will ever be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:17).

While this promise is a glorious truth, there remains another facet of that same believer’s death. Someone is left behind who grieves. That’s right—Christians grieve. Death hurts everyone involved. Consider what was going through Paul as he wrote of Epaphroditus who did nothing but be the deliverer of what the church in Philippi had sent:
Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. (Phil 2:27)
“Sorrow upon sorrow”—that’s pain; that’s anguish. The one who dies has his spirit unnaturally removed from his body. Spouses, family, and friends suffer the unnatural separation of their relationships. There is pain that must be endured in order to move forward with life. Paul fully expected the worst but was overjoyed that the Lord reversed what seemed to be the inevitable.

While we are not like those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13) and are able to rejoice in the present state of the believer before Jesus, we long for death to be thrown into the lake of fire at the last judgment. There will be a final reconciliation of all things in Christ, but until then, we move forward longing for our own final existence with Jesus.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Don't Work for What Is Offered Freely

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Rom 10:8-10)

And what does the phrase mean, “The Word is near you?” That is, It is easy. For in your mind and in your tongue is your salvation. There is no long journey to go, no seas to sail over, no mountains to pass, to get saved. But if you are not minded to cross so much as the threshold, you may even while you sit at home be saved. For “in your mouth and in your heart” is the source of salvation. And then on another score also he makes the word of faith easy, and says, that “God raised Him from the dead.” For just reflect upon the worthiness of the Worker, and you will no longer see any difficulty in the thing. That He is Lord then, is plain from the resurrection. And this he said at the beginning even of the Epistle. “Which was declared to be the Son of God with power … by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). But that the resurrection is easy too, has been shown even to those who are very unbelieving, from the might of its Worker.

Since then the righteousness is greater, and light and easy to receive, is it not a sign of the utmost contentiousness to leave what is light and easy, and set about impossibilities? For they could not say that it was a thing they declined as burdensome. See then how he deprives them of all excuses. For what do they deserve to have said in their defense, who choose what is burdensome and impracticable, and pass by what is light, and able to save them, and to give them those things which the Law could not give? All this can come only from a contentious spirit, which is in a state of rebellion against God. For the Law is onerous, but grace is easy. The Law, though they dispute never so much, does not save. Grace yields the righteousness resulting from itself, and that from the Law likewise.

John Chrysostom, Homily XVII on Romans

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Now Is the Favorable Time, the Day of Salvation

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.  For he says,
    “In a favorable time I listened to you,
        and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  (2 Cor 6:1-2)


“The acceptable time.”  What is this?  That of the gift, that of the grace, when it is appointed not that an account should be required of our sins nor penalty exacted; but besides being delivered, that we should also enjoy ten thousand goods, righteousness, sanctification, and all the rest.  For how much toil would it have been proper to undergo in order to obtain this “time!”  But, behold, without our toiling at all it has come, bringing remission of all that was before.  Therefore also He calls it “acceptable,” because He both accepted those that had transgressed in ten thousand things, and not merely accepted but promoted them to the highest honor.  Just as when a monarch arrives, it is a time not for judgment, but for grace and pardon.  Therefore also He calls it acceptable.…  It is a day of grace, of grace divine, therefore with ease even we shall obtain the crown.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Second Corinthians 12.1

Monday, August 18, 2014

Is Your Theology of Worship Scriptural?

Recently, Daniel Block has written a book aimed at recovering a proper theology of worship.  I have not purchased it yet, but if this quote from a Baker Book House blog post is an indicator of the contents, the book should be near the top of your wish list.

A number of years ago I preached in a large church with three Sunday morning services.  I shall never forget when, at a transitional moment in the service, the “pastor of music and worship’ declared to the congregation, “Now, before we continue our worship, let me read a passage from Colossians 3”—as if reading and hearing the Scriptures are not exercises in worship.

This restricted notion of worship is common in our day and is reflected in the ubiquitous labeling of CDs as “praise and worship” music, the specification in church bulletins of the singing period as “worship time,” and the identification of musicians on the pastoral staff as “worship ministers” or “ministers of worship arts.”  In fact, the worship industry tends to equate worship not only with music but with a particular type of music: contemporary praise.

These practices raise all sorts of questions, not only about the significance of other aspects of the Sunday service (prayer, preaching, testimonials, etc.) but also about religious rituals in the Bible and the Scriptures’ relative minor emphasis on music in worship.  Not only is music rarely associated with worship in the New Testament but the Pentateuch is altogether silent on music associated with tabernacle worship.  All of this highlights our skewed preoccupation with music in the current conflicts over worship. (xi)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Trinity in Isaiah's Vision

I have been reading the Bible regularly for almost 40 years, and the surprises keep coming.  While reading a book this past Monday, an author pointed out a fact of scripture I had read before but never connected on my own: the Trinity is found in Isaiah’s vision.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim.  Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said:
    “Holy, holy, holy is the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts;
    the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts!”  (Isa 6:1-5)
Adonai is sitting on the throne in grand splendor and majesty above whom seraphim are ascribing holiness and glory and identifying as YHWH.  He is the Lord God—ruler of heaven and earth and redeemer of Israel.  Isaiah recognized that he could not behold God and live (Ex 33:20), so he fears for his very existence, but the Lord upholds and cleanses him.  After being consecrated, Isaiah receives a message to deliver to the people of Israel:
Go, and say to this people:
    “Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
    keep on seeing, but do not perceive.”
Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.  (Isa 6:9-10)
The question to ask at this point is: Who or what did Isaiah see?  From his point of view, he saw YHWH in resplendent glory.  God the Father, first member of the Trinity, can rightly be said to be the source of the Trinity, in that he is the one who begets the Son and sends the Holy Spirit, but not so that the Son and Holy Spirit have a beginning, since they are all three co-equal and co-eternal.  Of this one we can rightfully say he is the “one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6) and “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 1:3).

In the gospel bearing his name, The apostle John recounts additional information of Isaiah’s vision as he comments on the unbelief that Jesus met during his ministry:
Though [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Therefore they could not believe.  For again Isaiah said,
“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.”
Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.  (John 12:37-41)
We see that the one Isaiah saw seated on the throne in the temple was none other than Jesus, the Son of God and second member of the Trinity, in a theophany (i.e., pre-incarnate form).  His is the form seen seated on the throne.

What of the message itself?  Who delivered it?  Again, according to Isaiah the message to deliver came from YWHW, however the apostle Paul directs us more specifically:
And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:
‘Go to this people, and say,
You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
        and their eyes they have closed;
        lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’
Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”  (Acts 28:25-28)
Notice that the message was authored and actively communicated by the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, and whose glory can also be said to be seen by the prophet as Ambrose states in his treatise On the Holy Spirit: “It is, then, the Spirit Who sent Isaiah.  If the Spirit sent him, it is certainly the Spirit Whom, after Uzziah’s death, Isaiah saw” (III.21.160).

We can see from Isaiah's vision both the distinctiveness and interconnectedness of the three persons of the divine Trinity.  When interacting with one, the interaction is with all.  To say that Isaiah saw and heard one member of the Trinity does not contradict another writer of scripture testifying that a different member was involved, for all three were present in the call of Isaiah and the delivery of the judgement message.  When one acts, all act.  Thus the three persons of the Godhead worked (and work) in unity as Gregory of Nyssa summarized:
And that “in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead,” the mighty Paul attests: yes, moreover, through the prophet Isaiah it is attested, as to the manifestation of the Divine appearance entrusted to him, when he saw Him that sat “on the throne high and lifted up;” the older tradition, it is true, says that it was the Father Who appeared to him, but the evangelist John refers the prophecy to our Lord, saying, touching those of the Jews who did not believe the words uttered by the prophet concerning the Lord, “These things said Isaiah, when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.”  But the mighty Paul attributes the same passage to the Holy Spirit in his speech made to the Jews at Rome, when he says, “Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet concerning you, saying, Hearing you shall hear and shall not understand,” showing, in my opinion, by Holy Scripture itself, that every specially divine vision, every theophany, every word uttered in the Person of God, is to be understood to refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Against Eunomius, II.14

While researching this post, I quickly noticed how many over the centuries had made the same connections.  No new thought materialized, but the exhilaration of the truth coming to light in my head made my day.  The lesson to be learned: continue reading your Bible, and let the Holy Spirit bring these to light, not by virtue of placing yourself in the Bible but allowing God to speak for himself through his Word.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Beware the Well-Dressed Idol

You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore.  The like has never been, nor ever shall be.  You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore.  And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them.  (Ezek 16:16-18)

If we mutilate and rip to pieces these multi-colored garments and beautiful cloaks, which God has bestowed on us, and wrap them around false teaching in order to deceive people, there is no doubt that we are covering idols* with multi-colored garments.  Look at … a defender of whatever heresy you like, and consider how he clothes his idols, that is, the fictions which he himself has composed, with gentleness and chastity, so that his words, ornamented by the goodness of his way of life, may creep more easily into the ears of his audience.  And when he has done this, understand that he has taken up a multi-colored garment of excellent habits and lifestyle and has thrown it over the idols which he himself constructed.  And in my opinion, at least, the heretic with a good way of life is much more harmful, and has more power in his teaching than does the one who brings disgrace on his teaching by his lifestyle.  For one who lives a wicked life does not easily attract people to his false doctrine, and is not beguile the naïveté of the audience by means of a shadow of sanctity.  The one who is corrupt in his discourse and contrary to salvation in his teachings, but has well-ordered and adorned habits, is doing nothing other than receiving the multi-colored clothing of good practices and a tranquil lifestyle and putting them around his idols, the better to beguile his audience.

Therefore, let us painstakingly beware of heretics who have an excellent lifestyle: perhaps it is not God but the devil who has taught them their way of life.  For just as bird-catchers put out certain enticing bait, in order to catch birds more easily through an appeal to the pleasure of their palates, so also, so to speak a little audaciously, there is a certain chastity that belongs to the devil, that is, a snare for the human soul, so that through chastity and gentleness and righteousness of that kind he may be able to catch more easily and trap them in the net of false discourses.  The devil fights using diverse kinds of stratagems, in order to destroy the wretched, and he grants a good way of life to the wicked so as to beguile the spectators, and thus he brands a bad conscience into the good.

Origen of Alexandria: Exegetical Works on Ezekiel, Homily 7.3.1-2

* See Crafting Idols from Eisegesis and Prooftexts.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Crafting Idols from Eisegesis and Prooftexts

You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore.  (Ezek 16:17)

[T]he “vessels of exultation,”* about which Moses wrote in Numbers—the incense-pans, the libation-bowls, the golden lampstand, the ark overlaid in gold with gold inside and outside, and so on—“you took” and melted them down, and “you made masculine likenesses and fornicated with them.”  According to the allegorical interpretation, however, the passage will be explained in this way: The golden and silver vessels, that is, the incense-pans, the libation-bowls, the golden lampstand, and so on, are what we have in the sacred writings; therefore, when we twist the meaning of Scripture into another meaning, which is contrary to the truth, we melt down the divine words and change the things of God into other likenesses.  If we do this, we have fallen into the sin which Jerusalem had now committed.  The vessels of our exultation are the Law and Prophets; we exult over these; in these we are raised up.  But when we expound them in a way different from the truth, we transform the vessels of our exultation from the rational silver and the perceptible gold, which God has given to us, and we are making for ourselves masculine images, and fornicating with them.

Origen of Alexandria: Exegetical Works on Ezekiel, Homily 7.2

*  Origen is using the words of the Septuagint which relate to “beautiful jewels” of verse 17.  These are the vessels in which the people justly gloried because they were given by God’s hand.