Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Remembering and Being Inspired by His Suffering

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.” - 2 Timothy 2:8-9 (NIV)

These are the words that Paul told Timothy. He wanted to remind Timothy of the necessity of keeping Jesus Christ at the center of his mind. Paul reminded him that this Jesus has been, “raised from the dead” – and thus proven to be fully God, while at the same time a human “descended from David” – and thus fully man. So Timothy, as Paul might say, it is the suffering “God-man” that must be at the center of all things, and we must have such a view of him before us that it would cause us to be willing to suffer as well for the sake of His gospel.

What does such a view entail? It means seeing God for who He is, in all of His majesty and glory, discovering him anew from different angles as we read the Scriptures and experiencing him daily in our prayers and worship. And it means taking special notice of His suffering. The focal point of all of history is found in the One who took on flesh. And He suffered, and we should be living out our faith so boldly that we suffer along with him, thus identifying ourselves as His followers.

But I have a hard time believing that we can actually have that sort of view of him or even have a willingness and desire to suffer when our eyes are fogged up with temporal things and worldly distractions that never satisfy. I am guilty of this. Even the noble business of doing “ministry” may clog up one’s spiritual arteries and jerk your mind off of Jesus if you're not careful. Which is why Paul said to Timothy – remember Jesus Christ! And specifically - remember his suffering. Take hope from that, and consider it over and again in your mind.

We should have such a love and holy boldness for Christ (and such a clear identification with Him) that it naturally ought to bring a measure of persecution and suffering to us who live in world that is hostile towards Jesus. Let us evaluate our lives to see if we are suffering in any way because of our allegiance to and outspokenness for Christ.

I would go as far to say that in the same way the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) are necessary marks of a Christian life (as is faith, hope, and love – 1 Thess. 1:2-3), so is the idea that “suffering in some measure for the name of Christ” must also be a mark of an obedient Christian (2 Tim. 3:12). That’s bold to say – and may generate some comments. But where are we experiencing that hostility? I hate to say it, but if we are not suffering (in this sense), perhaps it is because we look like everybody else and are much too in love with and conformed to the pattern of this world (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:2).

Remember Jesus, beloved. Remember his suffering. For until we fully grasp how He suffered for us, we will never be inspired and inclined to live the kind of obedient life that God expects for those who are to be suffering as “aliens and strangers” to this world.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Beware of playing "matchmaker"

Recently at my church we have been discussing the topic of marriage and singleness. Few areas are more near and dear to people’s hearts than their “love interests.” Being single in today’s world is not easy. For some it may be a “spiritual gift” ( 1 Cor. 7:7), for others it may be a matter of not yet finding the right mate, and for some it may be a matter of making school or a career a priority for this season of life. Singleness may be by choice, or not by choice. Everybody is different.

The pressure that singles often feel from our social culture, whether by family or friends, can often times be overwhelming. Some have felt opinions of others who may wonder if there is something “wrong with them. They can’t seem to find love.” The expectations that are placed are often unfair. “Maybe someday they will grow up and settle down,” some may say. Even parents and grandparents have hopes for grandchildren and great grandchildren. It’s not bad to want those things, but when those expectations and judgments hover over someone’s head who is single, it can be devastating.

Yet being single is not anything to be “ashamed” about. In fact, in God’s sight it is honorable, right, and good (1 Cor. 7:1). The freedom one has to serve the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32), the unbridled devotion to give of themselves to Kingdom priorities, being spared from some of the unique challenges and encumbrances that married life can bring (1 Cor. 7:28), are just but a few of the advantages of remaining single if God so wills it.

Don’t get me wrong. Marriage is a gift of God. It is a unique way to portray the relationship that Christ has with his church (Eph. 5:22-33). It is a blessing in numerous ways. But marriage is not the end all. It is not to be elevated and idolized above all else. Our primary satisfaction should not come from an earthly relationship, but from a heavenly one. A relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Therefore, we should be careful what we say and how we approach friends and family who for whatever reasons are single. It may not be God’s will for them to get married, or at least not just yet. And if they do desire to get married, but haven’t found the right person yet, we should still do everything we can to encourage them to be content with where they are right now until God chooses to bring the right person along. Because if they are not content when they’re single, it’s not likely that they will be content once they are married. Contentment is not merely achieved by a change of circumstances. No, it runs deeper than that. Contentment is a spiritual issue.

For example, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks…will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” (John 4:13-14) Our goal then should find our delight and satisfaction not in the temporal, but in the eternal. That’s contentment. So true contentment comes from knowing Christ, not from things of this world, no matter how good the love or the relationship may be at the human level.

Why do I say all of this? Well, I think it’s important to remember all this when it comes to our attempt at “matchmaking.” It may be all in good fun, and maybe on occasion it might actually work. But beware of once again putting unwarranted pressure on someone and feeding into an attitude of discontentment by always coming up with someone to solve their “problem” of being single. Like I said, singleness may be no problem at all, but God’s will. But we may make it harder for someone to find that contentment if we are always suggesting somebody new that they could go out with.

A word of advice. If you want to set someone up with someone else, ask permission first. Ask your friend whether he or she even wants you to offer to do that for them. Don’t assume they need your help, unless, of course they ask for it. Remember, our deepest desire for them is that they are happy and content, and they have to find that part in their relationship with Christ first. “The best way to find the right spouse is to be the right spouse.” And that’s what you want to aid them in the most, preparing them spiritually to be satisfied in Christ (and thus the "right spouse" for someone else) so that if they do enter into a relationship it is on solid footing right from the start. That’s the best thing you will ever do for them, whether they get married or not.

So have fun, but be careful, and mindful of what people really need more than anything. They need Jesus. As do we all.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Bible Without "Error"


Thanks to God’s providence and power, Scripture, in the original manuscripts, is for us a completely errorless text in all it affirms. Every word, every fact, every matter of faith and practice is without any error, in keeping with the character of God, who inspired (God-breathed) the text. In the process of writing Scripture, the Holy Spirit spoke infallibly through fallible men, all the while allowing the style and personality of the writer, and the cultural distinctives (including the various literary genres) to shape the final form of the original text.

We must certainly be willing to acknowledge the potential for errors to occur in the transmission process, and comparing what known manuscripts we currently have can substantiate many of these errors. This is likely to happen through hundreds of years of copying by scribes. With this understanding, the science of textual criticism is then employed, so as to arrive to as close a reading as we can to the original autographs. We can acknowledge mistakes in transmission, but it is more important to acknowledge the fact that God does not lie and does not communicate to us in such a way that what he says is contrary to fact. Using the context to aid us, we can safely conclude that we have the original manuscript with 99 percent accuracy and that none of this compromises important doctrine. Furthermore, it is not necessary to see discrepancies in numbers (which may be rounded) and a lack of concrete language as “errors” in the text. To be imprecise is not necessarily to be in err. Modern day tests of precision and accuracy need not usurp inerrancy. As John Frame rightly asks and answers,

But why does God allow vagueness in His inerrant Word? Because vagueness is often both necessary and desirable for communication, and God’s purpose in Scripture is to communicate, not to state the truth in the most precise form possible.[1]

With regard to numbers which may be rounded, for it to be concluded that what was written is factually in error, it would have to be shown that “the degree of precision implied by the speaker and expected by his original hearers” is completely or grossly contrary to historical fact.[2] Thus to claim that there were 1,000 men killed by Samson (Jud 15:15) when in fact it could be substantiated that there were only 3 or 4 killed would be to indeed find an error.[3] The issue we are getting at here is truthfulness, which must be measured in its rightful context. It is essential to affirm that chronicles in Scripture can and do provide accurate “informational” content, because it is impossible to disconnect the theological or moral meaning from its historical moorings. Much work has been done to show that many “problem texts” in Scripture can indeed be resolved and harmonized through deeper historical, linguistic, and literary study. I find it interesting that even as I write this, archaeologists have just uncovered the ancient wall in Jerusalem built by Nehemiah. I love it when this happens!

The analogy of faith is also a binding conviction in my understanding of Scripture. This is a principle of interpretation that recognizes the inherent unity of the Bible (Genesis through Revelation). We then can clarify “problem texts” that are suspicious that would seem to advocate more than just a factual error. For example, a contextual study of James 2:24 would help us see that it does not contradict Ephesians 2:8-9 or Romans 3:28. The harmonization of these texts reveal to us that although we indeed are saved by grace through faith alone, a true saving faith is one that will embody fruit or works in keeping with repentance. Therefore, the Bible does not contradict itself resulting in some doctrinal and moral error. It is, as Wayne Grudem puts it, a “gracious condescension” for God to speak to us in human language through the Holy Scriptures. And as such, it is an "action" of God that is without error.[4] In what the Bible claims, whether this is a historical fact or a theological or moral assertion couched in such, it is wholly true.

[1] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1987), 221. The latter emphasis is mine.

[2] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 91. Grudem also notes that it was acceptable in the ancient world to loosely quote the content of an earlier speaker or writer without presenting an exact quotation (92). Surely this is what many of the Apostles did in the NT when quoting the OT. Yet using a loose quotation (an indirect quote) does not deny the truthfulness of what is being said or cause one to note a contradiction resulting in a false assertion.

[3] For a helpful essay which seeks to resolve some alleged errors in the text, see Gleason L. Archer, “Alleged Errors and Discrepancies in the Original Manuscripts of the Bible,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 57-82.

[4] The connection of seeing Holy Scripture as divine action embodied in human language is further reason why one can advocate inerrancy. God is performing an action when He speaks, and all His actions are perfect. These are known as "speech acts."