Friday, September 15, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. (Mt 18:31–34)

Do you see the master’s mercy? Do you see the servant’s cruelty? Listen, all who do these things for money: one should not act like this because it is sin. Much worse to act like this for money. How then does he plead? “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” But he did not regard even the words by which he had been saved (for he himself on saying this was delivered from the ten thousand talents). And he did not recognize so much as the harbor by which he escaped shipwreck. Even the gesture of supplication did not remind him of his master’s kindness, but he put away from his mind all these things—covetousness and cruelty and revenge—and was more fierce than any wild beast, seizing his fellow servant by the throat.

What are you doing, O man? Do you not see that you are making such a demand upon yourself? You are deceiving yourself. You are thrusting a sword into yourself, revoking both the sentence and the gift. But none of these things did he consider, neither did he remember his own case, neither did he yield at all, though the entreaty was not on the same order. For the one besought for ten thousand talents, the other for a hundred denarii; the one his fellow-servant, the other his lord. The one received entire forgiveness, the other asked for delay, and not so much as this did he give him, for “he cast him into prison.” Not even to men is this well-pleasing, much less to God. They therefore who did not owe, partook of the grief.

What then did their master say? “O you wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt, because you petitioned me; should you not also have had compassion, even as I had pity on you?” See again the master’s gentleness. He pleads with him, and excuses himself, being on the point of revoking his gift; or rather, it was not he that revoked it, but the one who had received it. For even if the thing does seem difficult to you, yet you should have looked to the gain, which has been, which is to be. Even if the injunction be galling, you ought to consider the reward; neither that he has grieved you, but that you have provoked God, whom by mere prayer you have reconciled. But if even so it be a galling thing to you to become friends with him who has grieved you, to fall into hell is far more grievous. And if you had set this against that, then you would have known that to forgive is a much lighter thing. And furthermore, when he owed ten thousand talents, he called him not wicked, neither reproached him, but showed mercy on him; when he had become harsh to his fellow servant, then he says, “O you wicked servant.”

Let us hearken, the covetous, for even to us is the word spoken. Let us hearken also, the merciless, and the cruel, for not to others are we cruel, but to ourselves. When then you are minded to be revengeful, consider that against yourself are you revengeful, not against another; that you are binding up your own sins, not your neighbors. For as to you, whatever you may do to this man, you do as a man and in the present life, but God not so, but more mightily will He take vengeance on you, and with the vengeance hereafter.

John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew 61.4

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Building a Heritage

Psalm 127 is interesting because, on a surface reading, it is divided evenly between two separate themes. The first section addresses the building of houses and cities.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep. (Ps 127:1–2)
The second addresses the blessing of children.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. (Ps 127:3–5)
At least this is the typical division of the psalm with the intent to bolster arguments for either building projects or large families. However, this misses the overall thrust—building a lasting heritage through the Lord’s enablement.

Solomon begins this psalm with an allusion from the building trades (possibly during the temple construction), wherein all the planning and craftsmanship come to naught if God is not the impetus. Without Him, every effort to establish a dwelling or fortified community will collapse regardless of the effort put forth to ensure longevity: it cannot hope to endure. With this basis, he turns to his main thrust: in the same manner that the Lord is necessary for building structures to create community, He is a vital ingredient for raising children.

Parents want their children to do well in justice, mercy, and walking before God when they are sent into the world to make their own way, therefore fathers and mothers, and grandparents secondarily, instill their experience and His Word into following generations. Children are arrows sent into the world: their effectiveness depends on how they are formed, notched, and aimed. Every step of the process has as a final goal to hit the mark, whether an animal for food or an adversary in war.

In order to build the next generation, we have the responsibility to provide for the family, to be engaged in productive work so that the family might have both food and shelter. While much (or most) of American society sees this as drudgery or a necessary evil, the Christian understands that work provides for a heritage. Solomon made this plain.
Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart. (Ec 5:18–20)
Work is a God-given gift bestowed at Creation (Ge 2:15) later made laborious because of Adam’s sin (Ge 3:17). As a result of its source, work retains the intrinsic quality of goodness, so that the final product or service becomes a reward for a job well done, especially so when the product or service might be exchanged or bartered to increase wealth in order to properly provide and leave an inheritance (Pr 13:22).

A heritage is received and sustained when the family is built on Scripture, raising children to fear Him, and putting one’s hand to the plow, distaff, workbench, keyboard, lesson plan, etc. fulfilling your vocation as spouse, parent, neighbor, or citizen. This is especially true when we consider that the most long-lasting inheritance is a spiritual one. Material goods and wealth will rust or rot despite our best efforts, but the spiritual component will abide long after our children’s children no longer walk this earth. It behooves us to remember that our family and possessions are gifts from the Lord. Let us build our heritage with Christ as the foundation.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Léonard Gaultier (c.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Himself and set him in their midst. He then said, “Amen, I tell you that unless you change and become as little children, you will in no way enter the kingdom of heaven. But whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:1–4)

The Lord teaches that we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless we revert to the nature of children, that is, we must recall into the simplicity of children the vices of the body and mind. He has called children all who believe through the faith of listening. For children follow their father, love their mother, do not know how to wish ill on their neighbor, show no concern for wealth, are not proud, do not hate, do not lie, believe what has been said and hold what they hear as truth. And when we assume this habit and will in all the emotions, we are shown the passageway to the heavens. We must therefore return to the simplicity of children, because with it we shall embrace the beauty of the Lord's humility.

Hilary of Poitiers, On Matthew

Just as this child whose example I show you does not persist in anger, does not long remember injury suffered, is not enamored inordinately by the sight of a beautiful woman, does not think one thing and say another, so you too, unless you have similar innocence and purity of mind, will not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. Or it might be taken in another way: “Whoever therefore humiliates himself like this child is greater in the kingdom of heaven,” so as to imply that anyone who imitates Me and humiliates himself following My example, so that he abases himself as much as I abased Myself in accepting the form of a servant, will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Man Up! by Jeffrey Hemmer – Book Review

Hemmer, Jeffrey.  Man Up!: A Quest for Masculinity.  St. Louis, MO.  Concordia Publishing House, 2017.  224 pp.

Let me begin by saying that I want books that address manhood to succeed—I really do. My hopes are too often dashed by authors who do not understand biblical manhood, give advice based on cultural norms, or address personality caricatures and clichés. Thankfully, Pastor Jeff Hemmer avoids these pitfalls in a marvelous attempt to spur men to be genuinely masculine, rather than effeminate or hyper-macho—both being aberrations of the standard laid out from the sixth day of creation: provide, protect, and procreate.

Part 1 of the book addresses who and what man is in relation to God and woman, including his roles and responsibilities. This may seem elementary, but I was surprised by the amount of information found there from which I had never received instruction: a case in point is the meaning of malakoi (μαλακοὶ) in 1 Corinthians 6:9. There the word is translated in the NKJV as a sodomite, but Hemmer tells us the better translation is effeminate, or in other words, the opposite of masculine. He then addresses the work accomplished by Christ’s incarnation and death to deal with sin and Satan.

Part 2, then, seeks to define what God reclaimed for man by examining who Jesus was as the sole model of godly masculinity and God as the sole perfect Father. With these Hemmer effectively demonstrates what we are to be as husbands and fathers acknowledging both our shortcomings and His provision. He ends with suggestions for ordering our walk:
  • Pray (and sing) like a man
  • Love like a man
  • Give like a man
  • Fight like a man
  • Grow as a man
These cover the last two chapters and provide several practical ideas for properly ordering our lives.

I can say without reservation that this is the best work I have read on this subject. Buy and read this book.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord, remember me, and visit me, and vindicate me before them that persecute me. Do not bear long with them; know how I have met with reproach for Your sake, from those who nullify Your words. Consume them, and Your word shall be to me for the joy and gladness of my heart. For Your name has been called upon me, O Lord Almighty. I have not sat in the assembly of them as they mocked, but I feared because of Your power. I sat alone, for I was filled with bitterness.Why do those that grieve me prevail against me? My wound is severe; when shall I be healed? It has indeed become to me as deceitful water that has no faithfulness. (Jer 15:15–18)

The wonderful apostles who were insulted many times for the truth say, "I am content with weaknesses, with insults and hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ." [2Co 12:10] I know that the basis of hardships is Christ when I am insulted only for nothing other than for Christ, when I am in hardships, when I am abused if I know that the cause of abuse is none other than that I am a champion for truth and am an ambassador for the Scriptures so that everything happens according to the Word of God. For this I am blasphemed. And thus let all of us, as far as our ability allows, strive for the prophetic life, for the apostolic life, not avoiding what is troublesome. For if the athlete avoids what is troublesome about the contest, the sweetness of the crown will never be his.

Origen, Homily on Jeremiah

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Judgment and Loss

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1 Co 3:9–17)

Everything I have heard or read on this passage until now looked at this passage as directly applicable to the individual. In other words, every bit of what you or I do in the Kingdom of God will be judged by fire, so we better be doing the best job we can with the best tools and materials we have in order to continue to build God’s house.  If not, we will lose the reward we could have had because the cheap attempts will be burned up. This tactic is familiar in many Christian circles. The idea is to goad the believer into trying harder to be a better Christian through non-stop evangelism and good works. The effects may last anywhere from nightfall to sometime the next day, but eventually, failure is certain. True, the Christian is able to perform these tasks, however, inevitably such browbeating leaves the believer with a nagging uncertainty that enough has been accomplished because the prescribed application is wrong.

Context, Context, Context
Let me ask this question: what is the context of chapter 3? What has been the thrust of the apostle Paul’s opening remarks? There is division in the church (1 Co 1:11). And how does he respond?
  • I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. (1 Co 1:14)
  • And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Co 2:1–2)
  • And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. (1 Co 3:1)
  • Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Co 4:1)
  • For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Co 4:17)
Read the first four chapters, and the common theme becomes clear. Paul is addressing those who are building Christ’s church with apostolic or apostolic-designate authority. Within the immediate context of chapter three, then, the building is being accomplished by one ordained to the task, not the average Christian in Corinth. The master builder is being judged according to how he conducts himself in the duties of his office. The faithful worker uses the precious, enduring materials of Scripture rightly divided as well as sacraments rightly administered, while the unfaithful build with the common and temporary measures brought in for pragmatic or promotional reasons.

What about Me?
Is there a personal application for this section of Paul’s epistle? Yes, but it is secondary in nature. The common (or lay) believer does not have the burden of responsibility that comes with an ecclesial office, but there is a responsibility to walk in a manner that reflects the gospel as Paul mentions in his epistle to Ephesus:
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,… [but now] we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:1–2, 10)

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1–3)
Because we have been brought from darkness to light, from death to life, we conduct ourselves to one another’s good that all may be lifted up. We show ourselves to unbelievers in a manner that they might see our good works and want an answer for the hope within us.

What of the Judgment?
What do we say of the final judgment for believers? What will that be like? Again we draw from Paul as he wrote in his second epistle to Corinth:
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Co 5:9–10)
We will each receive what he or she has done in the body but not in a way that should instill fear or regret if we hold fast. The author of Psalm 99 exhorts all the people to praise the Lord together. We are reminded that Moses, Aaron, and Samuel all called on His name and were heard, yet they were fallible men able to commit grievous sins. Of what does the psalmist remind us?
O Lord our God, You listened to them;
O God, You were very merciful to them,
while avenging all their ways of living. (Ps 99:8 LXX)
God dealt with the sin in a merciful, yet just, manner. There was nothing for these saints of old to fear after death. Neither should we be concerned. Did these men lose a reward? Yes, in a temporal way, but they still rested on His promise to receive the faithful. If we worry that not enough has been done, perhaps our emphasis is in the wrong place. Each believer is called to be a good steward in his or her vocation or station in life. Do what has been given you to do, not be worried about what you cannot do.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Are You Losing It?

For years I (and many others) have noted that churchgoers no longer consider the lyrics they are singing. This comedy sketch from Cedarville Comedy is obtuse, but it demonstrates the current focus to lose oneself in the worship experience.

One might retort that this is too ridiculous to be believed. To that, I would ask the same to consider the enterprising musicians who manufactured a song (found here) intentionally taking the tag lines and popular styles of leading worship bands to construct a parody song that sounds as good (or better) than the actual groups being parodied.

If your Sunday morning resembles the above, you may need to reconsider if that church is worshiping in spirit and in truth. Better to remember the words of John Chrysostom who warned:
Since this sort of pleasure is natural to our soul, and lest the demons introduce licentious songs and upset everything, God erected the barrier of the psalms, so that they should be a matter of both pleasure and profit. For from strange songs, harm and destruction enter in along with many a dread thing, since what is wanton and contrary to the law in these songs settles in the various parts of the soul, rendering it weak and soft. But from the spiritual psalms can come considerable pleasure, much that is useful, much that is holy, and the foundation of all philosophy, as these texts cleanse the soul and the Holy Spirit flies swiftly to the soul who sings such songs. (On Psalm XLI)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has become His counselor?”
“Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Ro 11:33–36)

Whence this outburst of feeling? Surely from the recollection of the Scriptures, which he had been previously turning over, as well as from his contemplation of the mysteries which he had been setting forth above, in relation to the faith of Christ coming from the law.… The truth is, the Creator’s resources and riches, which once had been hidden, were now disclosed. For so had He promised: “I will give to them treasures which have been hidden, and which men have not seen will I open to them.” [Is 45:3] Hence, then, came the exclamation, “O the depth of the riches and the wisdom of God!” For His treasures were now opening out. This is the purport of what Isaiah said, and of (the apostle’s own) subsequent quotation of the self-same passage, of the prophet: “Who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been His counselor? Who has first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed to him again?”

Tertullian, Against Marcion V.14

God knew from the beginning what man’s behavior and works would be like, in that the human race could not be saved only by the severity of his justice nor could it reach perfection only by his mercy. So at a particular time he decreed what should be preached, whereas before that time he allowed each person to decide for himself, because righteousness was recognized under the guidance of nature. And because the authority of natural righteousness was weakened by the habit of sin, the law was given so that the human race would be held back by the fear engendered by the revealed law. But because they did not restrain themselves and were counted guilty under the law, mercy was proclaimed, which would save those who took refuge in it but would blind those who rejected it for a time. During that time this mercy would invite the Gentiles, who earlier on had not wanted to follow the law given to Moses, to share in the promise, so that the Jews might become jealous of their salvation and because of that jealousy turn again to the source of the root, which is the Savior. This is “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God,” who by his many-sided providence has won both Jews and Gentiles to eternal life.

Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The World Hated Me First

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But you are not of the world, since I chose you out of the world, and so the world hates you. (John 15:18–19)

Last month  I wrote a post on the conflict of postmodern thought with natural law. As I have thought more about the subject in light of current events (Alt-Right vs. Antifa, tearing down monuments, college students demanding the cancellation of invited speakers or the removal of faculty, etc.) While the outbreaks do not appear to be the voice of a national majority, the groups are finding a local or regional voice, specific to their situations. While these outbreaks are localized, they are united in mindset—take every measure to promote, establish, and maintain the groups beliefs. Rejecting any modicum of civility, they manifest them themselves in competing factions of pagan tribalism. Intent on promoting their respective goals, the groups create syncretistic bonds long enough to win the engagement and continue tribal pursuits, often times turning on former allies.

While the politicians and media attempt to dissect the rancor from a worldly perspective, we who follow the Bible understand the issue: they have wholeheartedly rejected our God and His Christ. Mind you, the outrage against our Lord is not some mild indifference, rather the rancor is manifest in wholesale attacks on Christians by making inroads in legislation, then using the judicial system to force the outliers into conformity. It is here that we might ask the same questions put forth by Arnobius of Sicca (ad c. 255–330) in his work Against the Pagans (II.1–2):
If you think it no dishonor to answer when asked a question, explain to us and say what is the cause, what the reason, that you pursue Christ with so bitter hostility? or what offenses you remember which He did, that at the mention of His name you are roused to bursts of mad and savage fury?
In other words, what did Jesus ever do to you to cause such a response? Arnobius offered some possible objections:
  • Did He ever, in claiming for Himself power as king, fill the whole world with bands of the fiercest soldiers?
  • Did He destroy nations at peace, putting an end to some, and compelling others to submit to His yoke and serve Him?
  • Did He ever, excited by grasping avarice, claim as His own by right all that wealth to have abundance of which men strive eagerly?
  • Did He ever, transported with lustful passions, break down by force the barriers of purity, or stealthily lie in wait for other men’s wives?
  • Did He ever, puffed up with haughty arrogance, inflict at random injuries and insults, without any distinction of persons?
What was the great wickedness that Christ had foisted on the world? He extended “the light of life to all” and showed to them “things concerning salvation, that He prepared for you a path to heaven, and the immortality for which you long.” The horror of it all, that Christ should freely offer Himself as the way to the Father. But the issue was the exclusivity of His claim.

The Roman empire had built within it a polytheistic worship system that the citizenry felt needed to be maintained. In like manner, postmodernism asserts that any norm is acceptable if the society, culture, or tribe in which one identifies accepts that norm as its own for a common good. With a multiplicity of worship practices, the empire needed to ensure the diversity of gods and worship practices. In similar fashion, the U.S. is being required to maintain the same level of diversity to accommodate the new tribalism. The exclusivity of the cross is offensive to those wishing to honor the gods sexual perversion, abortion, racism, etc.

Arnobius went on to ask if Christ should be denounced because He was the rightful One to whom homage was given:
Is He then denounced as the destroyer of religion and promoter of impiety, who brought true religion into the world, who opened the gates of piety to men blind and verily living in impiety, and pointed out to whom they should bow themselves? Or is there any truer religion—one more serviceable, powerful, and right—than to have learned to know the supreme God, to know how to pray to God Supreme, who alone is the source and fountain of all good, the creator, founder, and framer of all that endures, by whom all things on earth and all in heaven are quickened, and filled with the stir of life, and without whom there would assuredly be nothing to bear any name, and have any substance?
The short answer was: of course not. Who else would be worthy since He made known the way to the one, true God? And yet there is the problem. The world does not know, nor wants to know, the One who laid down His life that they might live, because it means they were wrong. What seemed to be the normal course of things was actually the way of death and destruction, but through the Lord Jesus, there is life.

The world will continue to hate Christ and His church because we are a constant reminder that there is One who convicts of sin, righteous, and judgment; and there is coming a day when all will be judged, both good and bad. Let us hold fast in the face of a culture desiring to quell the message of the cross.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Apse mosaic, Santa Prudenziana, Rome, c. 415

Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness; for My salvation is about to come, and My mercy shall be revealed.… And I will give it to the strangers that attach themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be to Him servants and handmaids; and as for all that keep My Sabbaths, from profaning them, and that take hold of My covenant, I will bring them to My holy mountain, and gladden them in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations,” says the Lord that gathers the dispersed of Israel; “for I will gather to him a congregation.” (Is 56:1, 6–8)

Heresies and schisms spring from the source of evils, and, therefore, whoever comes to unity returns from vice to nature; for just as it is natural for many to become one, so is it a vice to avoid the sweetness of brotherly love. Let us, then, with our whole hearts lifted up in joy that Christ has restored His friendship in a single Church the people who had perished from love of strife. In this Church, the harmony of love will again receive them. Of this Church, the prophet foretold, saying: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” And again, he said: “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many people shall come and say: ‘Come let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob.’” [Is 2:2–3] Now the mountain is Christ, and the house of the God of Jacob is His one Church, toward which the concourse of nations and assembly of peoples is moving by this pronouncement.

Leander of Seville, Sermon on the Triumph of the Church