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Morality

Modesty in the Summer

Sunday, July 31, 2016

It’s hot outside. What am I going to wear? This is good question with a faulty premise. It should be: I belong to Jesus Christ... and it’s hot outside. What am I going to wear? Do you see what happened there? The same question filtered through the lens of the gospel suddenly comes into sober focus. Friends, we must never remove Jesus from His rightful place: the authoritative throne of our decision making called the “heart”.

 

If we allow other considerations to usurp Christ’s authoritative position over our lives then we that Jesus is not really our Lord. Scripture teaches that every aspect of who we are ought to be informed on a fundamental level by the person of Jesus, what He has done, is doing, and promises yet to do for us in the future.

 

How we choose to clothe ourselves broadcasts a message to those around us. Clothing is a visual indicator of an invisible characteristic. How we dress says something about us. If the gospel is the seed that is planted within the invisible heart then modesty is one visual fruit it will produce. What message are we sending with our dress? If Christ is our King then that message must not get in the way with our bodies being a sanctified temple in which the thrice holy God is pleased to dwell.

 

Some say, “Amen! Amen!... except if I go swimming, because then it is socially acceptable to be seen publicly in the waterproof equivalent of underwear.”

 

Obviously this logic will drive us away from the relationship God desires to have with us. We must not allow the shifting societal norms and increasingly immoral standards of the world to crowd out what God has plainly revealed about the proper use of our bodies: “...your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God... You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) Bathing suits are acceptable by today’s societal standards. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is acceptable by God in heaven. Jesus cleansed the temple of our body so that God could take up His residence within us. This means that what we do with our physical bodies matters to God.

 

We understand this principle of modesty reaches far beyond the realm of sexually immoral dress. “Modesty” (Grk. ‘aidous’) means a sense of shame or honour, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect. Modesty is an attitude of heart. It follows, therefore, that the modest woman refuses to dress in a way that draws worldly attention to herself. This does not have to be overtly sexual. It could be any attention that does not befit godliness, a respect for herself or others, or reverence toward God.

 

This is how Paul used the word in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, “...women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness-- with good works.”

 

Even though Peter doesn’t use the word “modesty” he speaks in the same way when he instructs wives with unbelieving husbands to show their “respectful and pure conduct” in 1 Peter 3:3-4, “Do not let your adorning be external-- the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.”

 

So our dress isn’t the thing that ought to cause people to see godliness in us but rather our behavior. In both passages dress is downplayed (what does that say about priestly garments, crosses or other ‘religious’ attire that garners attention?). “Don’t dress to draw attention to yourself but live in such a way that others would see Christ” seems to be the thrust of their message. Even though dress is downplayed, immodest dress would undermine this whole principle.

 

The profession of godliness must be met with dress that reflects that profession or, at the very least,  does no harm to that profession. Anything less is hypocritical. The apostles didn’t write this to make women angry or to demonize fashion. Their primary concern was to point their audience to the cross for their spiritual well being. However, if their audience did feel a sense of shame by their immodest dress choice then, all the better; they were beginning to develop a modest heart. Remember that modesty is a “sense of shame,” the ability to blush. And despite what the world says this is a good thing.

 

It is true that women cannot control the thoughts and desires of the men around them. However, they can influence them by their behavior and choices, not least of which is dress. To dress without regard for your brother or neighbor and to say, “I’m not responsible for stirring up that man’s lustful desires” is as unloving, wicked and foolish an attitude as the man who lustfully looks at another woman and says, “I’m not responsible for the lustful desires her immodest dress stirs within me.”

 

We are charged to help people get to heaven by preaching and living the gospel. If my immodest dress, which not only compromises my own personal holiness, causes another to stumble I will be held accountable for both in the judgment. Those of us who have children must plant the seed of modesty by first being modest ourselves and second teaching them at an early age what constitutes a modest heart.

 

The next time you reach into your wardrobe this summer make sure to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14)

 

Have more than thou showest, Speak less than thou knowest--from Shakespeare's ‘King Lear’

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).

Waging War

Sunday, March 13, 2016

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Cor. 10:3-4)

The apostle Paul made many enemies throughout his life. At first it was his Jewish countrymen who opposed him. Then it was Jewish Christians who, in their stubborn efforts to bind circumcision on the Gentiles, became enemies of the cross. But a new breed of enemies who professed faith in Jesus stirred in Achaia. These were men who looked, spoke, and acted like they thought an apostle of Jesus ought to act. These enemies of Paul were out to discredit his apostleship (12:12; 13:3) and sought to elevate themselves in the eyes of the Corinthians in the process.

One charge leveled against Paul by these insurgents was that he walked “according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:2), that is, he conducted himself based on human terms or was motivated by self-interest. This seed of doubt was already planted in the minds of the Corinthians as Paul’s motives for changing his travel plans were questioned earlier in the epistle (1:12ff).

They attacked the substance and style of his preaching (1 Cor. 1:17; 2:1-5) while they held eloquent and professional oration in high regard. They questioned his motives for his refusal of financial support from the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 9:1-27; 2 Cor. 11:7-8) thinking he had a guilty conscience.

In short, they just plain didn't like Paul. He didn’t fit into the mold of what they thought an apostle of Jesus should be. Why was he so poor? Why was he constantly suffering, so bold in his letters but cowardly in person? They mistook his meekness for weakness, his patience for cowardice, and his gentleness for indecision. So they reasoned in their hearts that Paul was a fraud. The ramifications of their logic were severe. For, to disregard the apostleship of Paul was to disregard Christ himself, as it was Jesus who appointed him.

The war was on and the time had come for Paul to flex his apostolic muscles and exercise the full extent of his authority as a true ambassador of Christ. In the last section of 2 Corinthians (chs. 10-13) he wages an all-out battle upon the small but poisonous insurgency (10:1-2) at Corinth. He had suffered these “fools” (11:19) long enough. They were preaching a different Jesus (11:4) and were seducing the saints (11:2-3, 20).

But how did the apostle wage war? By the Spirit of God, he took up his pen and methodically refuted every charge brought against him and exposed, in the highest measure, what his opponents really were: “false apostles” (11:13), “ministers of Satan” (11:15), and “intruders” (11:3-4) who were destroying the faith of some.

He conceded to his opponents that he did live or “walk in the flesh” but certainly did not wage war “according to the flesh” (10:3). He drew a sharp distinction between walking “in” and waring “after” the flesh. Outwardly, Paul freely admitted he is a regular man, weak and wasting away in his “earthly tent” (5:1; cf. 4:1, 16), just as Jesus walked “in the days of his flesh” (Heb. 5:7).

Unlike Jesus in the flesh, Paul was weak in temptation and had a tendency toward rebellion, pride and passion. This being the case, he happily depended upon God’s grace in his weakness (12:9-10). But, as he walked “in the flesh,” Paul was very careful not to wage “war according to the flesh,” that is, he did not use the same tactics his opponents used against him: the carnal weapons of war, namely, judging according to appearances, using a standard of measurement other than the gospel of Jesus Christ (10:12).

This did not mean Paul did not wade into battle. He never backed down! The meek and gentle Paul (10:1) was also the mighty warrior of Christ, who defended the gospel with his very life. In this “good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12) Paul armed himself with “divine power” (2 Cor. 10:4) or weapons that were “mighty through God” (KJV) (cf. Eph. 6:11-17).

Paul understood the rapier of eloquent speech and the longbow of human logic were powerless to “pull down” the “mighty strongholds” (10:4 KJV) that men erect in their hearts to resist God’s word. If he wanted to be successful in destroying “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (10:5) he needed a bigger gun, that is, the dynamite of the gospel; God’s explosive “power unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Most importantly, throughout the defense of his apostleship, Paul exercised the love of Christ (10:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-25).

Herein lies a great lesson for us. We may be attacked for living the gospel. It is not wrong to defend yourself and your faith. In fact, it would be a disgrace to Christ not to (1 Pet. 3:15). But we must be careful not to wage war “according to the flesh” for if we do, not only are we bound to fail but we dishonor God.

Using carnal means to defend the faith (e.g. name calling, personal put-downs, emotionally charged but scripturally unsound points, etc.) might win the argument but they are powerless to win the heart of your opponent. It will not tear down the barriers that your fellow man has erected in his mind against God, these “mighty strongholds,” lofty towers of opinion “raised against the knowledge of God.”

Only when we speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) can we boldly brandish the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) with such precision that it will have its intended effect: “piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). That power belongs to God, not you and not me. Yet God has given it to us to wield in a loving and godly way in order to equip us with “divine power.”

Next time you are called to defend the faith don’t back down! Arm yourself with the same attitude and power that Paul was equipped with and watch as the walls of the opponent of the gospel fall like the walls of Jericho!

Spreading Goodwill

Sunday, January 10, 2016

“So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those of the household of faith.”

(Gal. 6:10)

Two weeks ago I wrote an article about choosing your friends wisely using my great grandfather as negative example. I received a comment on the website asking a question.

“There are certainly kids growing up today who are in these high risk situations. I know of some horrid circumstances (jail, drug use) where the help of responsible people will have to bring these kids up and dedicate their lives to God’s work. An interesting question would be, “What do you think is the church’s (our) part in all this?””

Good question. Now that we have been added to the church (Acts 2:47; 5:14) what do we do? Paul answers that in Ephesians 2. Dead in our sins and doomed to eternal separation from God, God intervened with His love and mercy saving us by His grace through our faith in Him for a specific purpose; “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (v.10; cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10)

Those blessed by God to be called His children are, in fact, duty-bound to will good to their neighbor. A Christian is to love his neighbor as himself. This is one of the great commands (Mt. 22:34-40), second only to the command to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. Disciples of Jesus are to be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. Jesus says, being the salt and light of the world will encourage our neighbors to glorify God. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16)

The application of this teaching is varied. To love our neighbor simply means to act in his best interest at all times. If God has blessed you with something, He expects you to share that blessing with someone in need. This is the principle taught in the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30). If you have wealth, God expects you to share your wealth with someone in need (1 Tim. 6:17-19). If you have time, prove that your religion is “pure and undefiled” by visiting the lonely and brokenhearted (Jas. 1:27). This love can take shape as any act of goodwill that is done in the best interest of one’s neighbor (Phil. 2:3-4ff).

William Barclay defined love as “unconquerable goodwill.” This is an apt description of the kind of love we are to have for our fellow man as it mirrors the kind of unselfish and invincible love of God toward the world (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 3:16). Despite how they are treated, children of God continue to love their neighbors and even their enemies (Mt. 5:43-48) with the same love shown and taught them by God.

There is no question that the spreading of this goodwill is the work of every Christian. As Ephesians 2:10 suggests, we were made for it. As Titus 2:14 says, we are to be zealous it, that is, we are to have a burning desire to do good works. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:30-37), we are taught to be the best possible neighbors by sacrificing our time and resources for others’ benefit.

Is it inconvenient? Yes. Is it costly? Yes. Can it sometimes be painful? Yes. But such are the footprints of Jesus we walk in. This is all part of the presentation of our “bodies [as] a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual service of worship.” (Rom. 12:1) In other words, this is the Christian way of life.

In the end, this life of sacrifice that is pleasing to God is only a sum of its parts: many smaller sacrifices in the form of simple acts of kindness adding up. But how easy it is to “neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Heb. 13:16)

Many of us, including myself, miss these opportunities because we are so preoccupied with our own needs that we fail to notice the needs of others. The key to maturing in this regard is to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23; Col. 3:10).

This is accomplished through prayer and practice but primarily, this renewal comes by carefully studying the Scriptures to “prove what the will of God is.” (Rom. 12:2) By His word, God is able to make us “adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

God equips us to lift our suffering neighbor out of drug addiction, a broken home, alcoholism, or an abusive relationship. You never know, this act of goodwill could lead to the giving of an even greater gift (God’s grace) with an even greater result (the winning of a soul). “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who wins souls is wise.” (Prov. 11:30)

Does Doctrine Matter?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

“Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.””

(1 Cor. 15:33)

Does doctrine make any difference? Does it matter in the slightest what a person believes? Most parents roundly warn their children using this very verse. “Now little Timmy, remember what Paul said, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”” Usually this is a warning against hanging around with kids who break windows, steal from their neighbors and drink beer--a morality issue. But the primary aim of Paul’s warning in verse 33 was not of moral danger, as it was earlier in chapter 5, but of doctrinal danger. There were some (v.12, not all) in Corinth who denied the general resurrection of the dead.

Paul understood that the diverse people that make up the Lord’s church will not agree on every single detail nor must they to be saved. As he told the Ephesians, one is saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). In the same epistle Paul went on to say that unification was based on 7 “ones” or 7 foundational truths of the Christian faith (Eph. 4:1-6).

Therein lies the problem at Corinth. This disagreement fell under the umbrella of “one hope” (Eph. 4:4), that hope residing in the resurrection (Acts 23:6). This doctrinal schism would have torn believers apart, so Paul sent the stern warning that the good morals of some in Corinth would be corrupted by the denial of the general resurrection that others held.

Do you see the connection? A person’s beliefs and convictions can and will influence their behavior and morals.

Doctrinal deviation is a serious matter for the very reason that the convictions and beliefs of a person are the foundation upon which all their actions are based. People behave based on what they believe is true. The person who is convinced in his own mind that he is doing the right thing by doing what God says is wrong is still behaving based on what he believes is true. Paul reminisced of his crucified life when he said, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). He believed Jesus was an imposter and those who followed him were heretics. His actions followed his convictions.

That’s why it matters what we believe. Paul understood the necessity of having one’s convictions founded upon God-breathed truth which is why he spent the first 11 verses of 1 Corinthians 15 illustrating that the resurrection of Jesus was real. There were witnesses of the risen Christ the Corinthians could have interviewed (vv.5-7). The Scriptures testified to the death and resurrection of Jesus (vv.3-4). Paul began this discourse by affirming that he delivered to them “as of first importance what I also received…” in other words, this was the unfiltered revelation of God.

We mustn’t use 1 Corinthians 15:33, as some have, to justify a monk-like, isolated existence. This runs contrary to Matthew 5:13-16; the disciple is to be salt and light in the midst of a tasteless and dark world. The effect being that men would “see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (v.16). Christ living in us enables us to be the leavening influence (Mt. 13:33) of righteousness that this “crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15) so desperately needs.

However, the figure of leaven works both ways. Christ used leaven to describe the evil influence of the Pharisees (Mt. 16:6). Paul used the same illustration to warn the church at Corinth of the gross immorality that one of their members was engaged in (1 Cor. 5:6). The leavening influence could be wicked behavior but please note, as we have already, that 1 Corinthians 15:33 was written in connection with a doctrinal perversion and not an immoral lifestyle. Significant? More than a little, methinks. Know the truth, believe it, obey it, and it will set you free (Jn. 8:31-32).

 

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