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The Amen

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?” (1 Cor. 14:16)

 

The word “amen” (Gr. αμεν) is a fascinating word. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who is unfamiliar with it. But what does “amen” mean? Is it a ritualistic way to end or validate our prayers? Or is it merely a way of signing off and telling God, “That’s it. My prayer is over now”? I suggest to you the meaning behind this word is far richer than we might realize.

 

The word “amen” was transliterated (the conversion of a text from one script to another where the original is copied phonetically as opposed to translation where a new word is provided that best fits the original’s meaning) directly from the Hebrew into the Greek New Testament. “Amen” continued to be transliterated into Latin and straight into English and many other languages. This means that the word “amen,” virtually unmolested through the ages, is practically a universal word. It has been called the best known word in human speech.

The word is directly related, in fact, almost identical, to the Hebrew word for “believe” (amam), or faithful. Thus, it came to mean "sure" or "truly," an expression of absolute trust and confidence. Therefore, when “amen” is used before a discourse it is testifying to the truthfulness of what is about to be said. For example, when Jesus said, “For truly (amen) I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” (Mt. 5:18) He was testifying to the absolute truth and trustworthiness of His declaration.

When the word is used at the end of a discourse, after a statement has been made, the “amen” is voiced as an affirmation of what has been said. In this case “amen” means “so it is,” “so be it,” or “may it be fulfilled.” It was a custom in the synagogues to voice the word “amen” after a prayer or reading of Scripture that passed on to Christian assemblies (1 Cor. 14:16). When the “amen” is voiced after a solemn prayer, reading, lesson, or prophecy the offerors made the substance of what was uttered their own. By way of affirmation, they were joining themselves to what was just said.

But “amen” is not a magic mantra that ensures God’s acceptance of a message. Instead, it is a reminder to us who utter the “amen” that the message must be brought into conformity with God’s will, not our own. “Amen” is a direct reference to Jesus who taught us to pray, “Your will be done” (Mt. 6:10). Jesus modeled His life after this concept of submitting to the will of the Father. His prayer in Gethsemane ended with, “yet not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39). Thus Jesus Himself is the ultimate “Amen” whose life was perfectly in accord with God’s will. Indeed this is how He refers to Himself to the church at Laodicea, “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness” (Rev. 3:14; cf. 2 Cor. 1:20).

We are expected to follow the example of “The Amen” in our prayers and in our lives. Those who “boast in their arrogance” were warned to pray instead, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that” (Jas. 4:15). We should have confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers when “we ask anything according to His will” (1 Jn. 5:14).

So the next time you voice the word “amen” understand that it is not a mere formality to be observed but an affirmation of your agreement and the truthfulness of a statement. The “amen” is a reminder of our Savior, “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness,” and how every aspect of our lives must come under His Lordship.

Is Baptism a Work?

Sunday, July 03, 2016

“having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”  

(Col. 2:12)

 

Many people argue that baptism is not necessary for salvation based upon their conviction that baptism is a “work” and we are not justified by works but by faith in Jesus Christ. There are some problems with that reasoning that need explaining.

 

First of all, are we so certain that baptism is a “work” at all? Interestingly, Jesus tells us that faith is a human work (Jn. 6:28-29) but nowhere else in the Bible do we see baptism being described as a human work. In fact, from Colossians 2:11-13 we see that God is the one at work in baptism not man.

Secondly, the argument that baptism is a “work” stems from confusion about Paul’s distinction between faith and works in Romans 3-4. Look at Romans 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Paul makes a lot of contrasting statements like this (Rom. 3:20, 27-28; Gal. 3:11) but in each case it is clear from the context that when he mentions “works” he isn’t talking about “people doing stuff” but instead “works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28). Most of the time when Paul says “works” when he is contrasting it with “faith” he is talking about “works of the [Mosaic] Law.”  

So Paul has no problem with people who preach baptism in the name of Christ  for the remission of sins (Mt. 28:19; Acts 2:38; 20:22; 1 Pet. 3:21; etc.) because he is one of those people! (see Rom. 6:3-4). Paul’s main concern when contrasting faith and works (of the Law) is with Judaizing teachers who were preaching a different gospel; namely, to be in a relationship with God they taught Gentiles had to be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses. Paul spends a lot of time teaching against this spiritually damaging false doctrine.

 

So if baptism isn’t a “work” by which man earns his salvation nor is it part of the “works of the Law” that some Jews in Paul’s day were vainly attempting to be justified by where do some people get the idea that baptism is a “work” today?

 

Take your mind back 500 years and pretend you’re Martin Luther seeing the corruption of the Catholic Church. You’re disgusted with the sale of indulgences (giving money to the church in order to purchase forgiveness of sins!?). Then you stumble across Paul’s language of justification by faith in Romans 4 and think, “This is the perfect stick to beat the Catholic Church with!”

 

Do you see what has happened? Instead of reading Paul’s inspired writings in their context and applying it to the spiritual battles Paul was fighting against the Judaizing teachers of his day, Luther reads it through the lens of his own cultural context and (mis)applies it to his own spiritual battles with the Catholic Church. Looking for a reason to condemn the Catholic practice of selling indulgences Luther completely misses Paul’s original point. He substitutes Paul’s “works” of the Law for “people doing stuff” to earn their salvation.

 

And today some have taken his ideas and transposed them on baptism to deny that it is necessary for salvation. Friend, the Catholics were wrong to sell “indulgences” and Luther was right to expose that evil practice. But indulgences do not equal “works of the Law” and certainly aren’t the same thing as teaching that baptism is necessary to be saved. Baptism is not a human “work” but rather a work done by God in which man submits to God’s power by faith to receive forgiveness of sins  (1 Pet. 3:21; Gal. 3:26-27).

Unity in Diversity, Not Sameness

Sunday, May 22, 2016

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

(Gal. 3:28)

Expounding upon the manifold blessings of faith in Christ and the purpose of the Mosaic Law, Paul brings to light one blessing in particular that shook the world. In Christ, the spiritual walls of division were finally destroyed. Because the Mosaic Law had been fulfilled by Jesus (Mt. 5:17; Jn. 17:4; 19:30) it had been taken out of the way when Jesus completed the work of redemption on the cross (Col. 2:14). In His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus ushered in the promised New Covenant (Heb. 8:7ff; cf. Jer. 31:31ff) and brought with it all the mercies contained therein.

On top of providing a sacrifice that could properly atone for our sin, the cross of Christ was a watershed of blessing. Because the Mosaic Law had been fulfilled and left behind so was the distinction between Jew and Gentile. This distinction was to be part of the past, “for neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15; cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). There was no longer any dividing wall between them (Eph. 2:11-22) because, through faith in Christ, a covenantal relationship was open to all mankind. It didn’t matter if you were a Jew by nature, in Christ, even the Gentiles could be “the people of God” (1 Pet. 2:9-10).

Not only this but in Christ the lines of spiritual partition between the slave and freeman were likewise broken down along with those between genders, male and female. Paul gives the reason for this in saying “for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Spiritually speaking, there is no benefit or handicap associated with one’s social standing, one’s physical heritage, or one’s gender. This was good news in 1st century communities where an attitude of segregation based on these very things was prevalent. These outward differences had no bearing on the believer’s inheritance; in eternity, God would bestow the same grace toward a man as He did a woman (1 Pet. 4:7), a slave as He did a freeman (Eph. 6:9), and a Jew as He did a Gentile (Col. 3:11).

In Christ and as members of His body, the church (Eph. 1:22-23), the spiritual blessings were poured out on mankind without respect to these outward attributes. However Galatians 3:28 does not teach sameness. Paul is clearly not advocating eliminating all societal distinctions between these groups. There arose a question in the 1st century that went something like this, “Because I am in Christ, these physical distinctions no longer matter and I am free to live as I please.” But Jesus freed us from sin not our societal obligations.

Elsewhere, Paul commands married people to stay married even if their spouse isn’t a believer (1 Cor. 7:10-14). Upon believing it was better for a single person not to seek a partner due to pressure brought on by persecution (1 Cor. 7:8-9). He also advocated that a Gentile should remain a Gentile (1 Cor. 7:17-20) and slaves should remain serving their masters (1 Cor. 7:21-24).

So Galatians 3:28 is not advocating the elimination of these distinctions. Rather Paul is teaching that in the Christian community, the church, these old divisions which sometimes carried with them wrongful attitudes of superiority and inferiority were to be abolished because they were abolished in truth at Calvary. In Christ, diverse individuals are unified by their faith in Jesus. They are “one in Christ” spiritually. Paul is not teaching sameness but rather unity in diversity.

Falling Short

Sunday, May 15, 2016

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)

Paul spent the better part of the first 2 chapters of Romans and most of the third proving that the Law says “no flesh will be justified in [God’s] sight” (3:19). All of humanity is in desperate need of salvation from the wrath of God that we have accrued through our sin. Paul summarizes his thought by stating that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We often focus on the first part of that statement while sometimes neglecting the second.

Most of us readily admit that we have “sinned” or transgressed God’s law in some way. Nevertheless, I met a young man in his twenties that told me he had never sinned or done anything wrong. Even after I gently pushed him to prove his position in light of what Scripture says about sin the young man maintained his conviction. I wondered to myself if this fellow had the mental capacity to be accountable before God. But he is probably the exception. Most of us know we have wronged someone at some time.

But the second part of Paul’s statement is not so readily accepted. We all have sinned “and fall short of the glory of God.” In the prophet Isaiah God speaks to His people in the language of redemption, “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel…” (Isa. 43:1) The LORD calls attention to the fact that He designed and made His people. There is purpose behind His forming Israel just as a potter shapes his clay into a vessel of his design. The LORD goes onto say in verse 7, “Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” We have the same thoughts echoed from verse 1 except the LORD elaborates on His design for His people here in verse 7. The vessel was designed or created for the LORD’s “glory.

That is humanity’s purpose. That is what you and I were designed for. Glorifying our Creator is what we were born to do. Here we come to the point of the second half of Romans 3:23. Falling short of God’s glory is not a simple matter of transgressing God’s law. We already know “all have sinned” and “sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn. 3:4). We’ve transgressed, we’ve walked over the line and gone too far. Again this is the easier pill to swallow. Worse than the sin itself is its consequence. In our rebellion against God we also “fall short of His glory.”

The Greek term for “fall short” means 1) behind 1a) to come late or too tardily 1a1) to be left behind in the race and so fail to reach the goal, to fall short of the end 1a2) metaph. fail to become a partaker, fall back from 1b) to be inferior in power, influence and rank 1b1) of the person: to be inferior to 1c) to fail, be wanting 1d) to be in want of, lack 2) to suffer want, to be devoid of, to lack (be inferior) in excellence, worth. (Bible.net)

The same Greek word was used classically to describe the archer who pulled back his bow attempting to hit the target but the arrow fell short. It lacked sufficient power to reach its goal. So it is with us. Our only purpose was to glorify God and we have come woefully short of our goal. We lack sufficient power to be justified/right in God’s eyes.

This is the great news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Justification comes as a free gift of God’s grace to those who possess faith. When we are made righteous by the blood of Christ washing away our sin we can finally bring God the glory He deserves. In Christ we are empowered to no longer fall short of our purpose but to meet that purpose in its fullness. In Ephesians 1, Paul wrote about the manifold blessings of being redeemed in Christ. He wrote that the ultimate purpose of our being redeemed from sin was, “to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” (Eph. 1:12) Amen! And thank the Lord.

2 Shunnamite Women

Sunday, May 08, 2016

As far as I can tell, there are only two instances in Scripture of Shunammites included in God’s story of redemption. They are both of women from the area of Shunem, a territory allotted to Issachar in Joshua 19:18. Years apart, these two women are both used: one to fulfill a plan of man’s design to failure and disgrace, another to fulfill God’s plan to victory and honor.

The first instance comes at the end of David’s life in 1 Kings 1. God had made a promise to king David through Nathan the prophet that He would raise up one of his sons and establish his kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13). As David grew older, the question became how was God going to fulfill that promise with both Adonijah and Solomon living? Adonijah, the fourth and oldest surviving son of David, took matters into his own hands and set himself up as king. This account (1 Kgs. 1:5-10) comes immediately after David’s servants tried to solve the issue their way:

Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, "Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm." So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not. (1 Kings 1:1-4)

Imagine being the most beautiful woman in “all the territory of Israel”! Abishag must have possessed incredible outward beauty for David’s servants to have chosen her. But the purpose Abishag was to serve was demeaning. She would be little more than a blanket and a bedfellow for the king. The Hebrew expression “wait” appears in Lev. 18:23 as “give herself,” which tells us their intention was for Abishag to make herself available sexually to David. Another phrase, “lie in your arms,” has sexual undertones (Gen. 16:5; 2 Sam. 12:8; Mic. 7:5). This may have been a calculated move to solve the problem of the crown by producing another heir to the throne.

Abishag was used as a pawn to entice David and reproduce. But the king’s impotence (“the King knew her not”) was perhaps what sparked Adonijah’s rebellion in the following verses. There is nothing in the text that suggests Abishag had any choice in the matter. She was simply removed from her village and expected to do the bidding of others. She was a functioning cog in the machinations of men that resulted in failure and to her shame.

Furthermore, after Adonijah’s rebellion is quelled and Solomon establishes his reign, Adonijah asks Bathsheba to “give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife” (1 Kgs. 1:13-18) as a kind of consolation prize. This impertinent request cost Adonijah his life (1:19-25). Poor Abishag, being blessed (cursed?) with physical beauty by God, was only viewed as a possession by others. Her story is not concluded and we are left to wonder what happens to her.

The only other occurrence of a woman from Shunem in Scripture is much more refreshing. It comes years later during the tenure of Elisha the prophet in 2 Kings 4. She was a “wealthy woman” (2 Kgs. 4:8) with a beautiful spirit. She isn’t given a name like Abishag, nor is her physical appearance described. We are left to remember her only for her hospitality and her faith (cf. 1 Pet. 3:3-4).

She noticed Elisha traveling through Shunem so she invited him in to eat (2 Kgs. 4:8). She recognized him as a “holy man of God” and consulted with her husband to make an apartment for Elisha to stay on a semi-permanent basis (4:9-10). Receiving such loving hospitality, Elisha wanted to thank this woman in a special way. He asked her if there was anything he could do for her (4:12-13) but she seemed to need no gift of thanks.

Elisha, in loving consideration of this woman, found out that she had “no son and her husband is old,” and so he called her in to tell the news that “about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” Stunned, she thought the prophet was playing some sick joke but, sure as God’s word, “the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.” (2 Kgs. 4:12-17)

Years passed and the child had grown. He was helping his father in the fields when he felt a pain in his head. Not long after, the boy tragically died in his mother’s arms. It seemed to her like Elisha’s gift had turned out to really be a cruel joke after all. She took hold the prophet’s leg and cried out to him. Through a lengthy process, a failed attempt on the part of Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, and much prayer, Elisha, in a vivid picture, resurrected the child in an extraordinary way (2 Kgs. 4:32-37).

Unlike Abishag’s story, the wealthy Shunammite’s story of Elisha’s day ends with satisfactory closure. Two women from the same area years apart. One’s story is an illustration of man’s twisted plans and how one girl, cursed by her beauty, was caught in the middle and suffered for it innocently. The other’s story is an illustration of how God can use a woman through love, hospitality and working faith for His glory. Abishag was used as man’s instrument in an unrighteous way. The wealthy Shunammite of Elisha’s day was truly God’s “instrument of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13).

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