Shout for Joy
God holds everyone – the aboriginal as well as the scientist in his lab – responsible for recognizing his existence. The informed know there is a god whether or not they accept it; the uninformed in the jungle know it because they see his “eternal power and divine nature” in creation. However, neither goes to heaven because they know about god. It is by accepting what God has revealed of himself that secures eternal life. The patriarch Abraham “believed God and it was counted as righteousness” (Rom 4:3). What specifically did he believe? Genesis 15 says it was the Lord’s promise that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky (v. 6). He wasn’t declared righteous (saved) because he “accepted Christ” but because he believed what God had said – “You’re going to have a whole lot of descendants!” While it is faith that saves, what that is specifically is determined by historical context.
How does this relate to the uninformed native? Very simple; if he looks at God’s created universe and says to himself, “There must be a powerful being who made all this,” he is agreeing that a powerful being (a god?) truly exists. But does that meet the requirement for salvation? Is it parallel to Abraham believing he was going to have many offspring? I’d like to give you a crisp clear answer, but the truth is that I – and for that matter, the vast majority of scholars who have studied this) – don’t know. We do know from scripture inspired by God that Jesus said there was no other way to the Father except through him (John 14:6). Absolutely true; it is through the redemptive death of Christ that the way was opened. But what about Abraham believing he would have multiple descendants? It looks like a parallel: Abraham and descendants on one hand, the native and someone-is-behind-creation on the other. If Abraham is on good ground then isn’t the native as well? Scripture affirms Abraham’s faith, but not the native’s, so we simply do not know what would happen to the native who believed all God expected of him at that time.
A somewhat parallel is childbirth. I think that all evangelicals would say that children below the age of accountability (usually put at 12) will go to heaven.
But they haven’t accepted Christ!
Right, but you can’t hold them accountable for what lies outside their experience.
Okay, so they go to heaven. And is that not parallel to the uninformed native?
My conclusion: whoever ends up in heaven is there because Christ died for the sins of the world and they accepted it as true. I repeat: What do they do to get there? Believing in what God has revealed: for Abraham, numerous descendants; for the child under 12, God’s gracious acceptance of those not as yet sufficiently mature to accept or reject; for the native, . . . . Not sure, will you help me?
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)
The book of Proverbs has to do with knowledge, not simply information. The role of the proverb is to take information and show in a crisp and effective way how it relates to life. Solomon holds that there is but one entrance to real knowledge and that is “fear of the Lord.” So important is this basic truth that the phrase is repeated fourteen times in his book of wise sayings.
But what does it mean to fear the Lord? Probably the best translation of the Hebrew term is “reverential awe.” However, it captures a wide range of meaning, going all the way from shrinking back in terror to drawing close in awe. (Alan Ross in the EBC). It is the controlling principle of knowledge, the entrance to true understanding. Put simply, it says, “to have knowledge, you must first have reverence for the Lord” (TEV). There is no other way. To fear the Lord is the direct opposite of living as a “fool” (mentioned 34 times in the book).
As we work our way through the book, discussing four or five proverbs in each chapter, we will be reminded of basic truths we probably have been aware of for a long time. What makes Proverbs so rewarding is that those same observations come into focus and become divine instruction on how to carry out our daily life. New life is breathed into ideas that earlier on hadn’t impressed us as being the mind of God. It is when we read a proverb as one who fears the Lord that we realize that God himself is speaking to us, helping us to understand how best to meet the challenges of the day. God becomes our personal guide to understanding!
The second part of the verse speaks of the fool, one who has “no respect for wisdom and refuses to learn” (TEV). Solomon characterizes them as given to mocking (1:22), un willing to accept good advice (10:8), immoral (10:18), always thinking they are right (12.15), unwise (14.13), proud (30:32), and on and on goes the negative description. It is an incredible privilege to realize that as we read and reflect on any one of Solomon’s proverbs, God is there, wanting to teach us something of real value for life. Humility allows wisdom to be recognized and adopted, but the failure to stand in awe of God, who he is, what he has done, and what he says, blocks the path to genuine understanding. True knowledge is for those who stand in fear of the Lord.
Peter had just healed the lame beggar who always sat at the temple gate asking for money. Once healed, he jumped to his feet and began to walk. Wherever Peter and John went he was right there with them, always praising God. The people were astonished by the miraculous healing and came running to watch what was taking place. One might think that this was an excellent setting for Peter to explain to them the miraculous nature of what would happen. He could present the “Case for Christianity” (as it was later known) in a logical and persuasive manner. Logic would win the day and everybody would agree that the new Christian faith was intellectually convincing. But somehow it didn’t work out that way. Peter didn’t follow the rules of polite discourse. Let’s look at the text.
Peter began his case with the abrupt question, “Why are you staring at us as though we made this man walk by our own power?” (v. 12). Then, before they could answer, he accused them in no uncertain words of being the very ones who had disowned Jesus before Pilate and “handed him over to be killed” (v. 13). That sure doesn’t seem to be the best way to win a convert. But Peter didn’t stop at that. He pointed out that they were the culprits who decided in favor of Barabbas, a murderer, rather than Jesus. They made their choice and “killed the very author of life” (v. 15). They must have been astounded that a Galilean fisherman, of all people, would have the nerve to reprimand them so sternly right out in public.
Truth clearly stated has a unique power of its own. So often we cushion the truth to make it more acceptable. What happens is that the more it is disguised by well-intentioned safeguards the less effective it becomes. I’m not suggesting that we disregard polite standards of communication; only that truth needs to be stated with clarity. Words are intended to communicate but they become less effective when they are unnecessarily multiplied. Peter simply tells the crowd in no uncertain terms that they “handed him over,” they “disowned him before Pilate” and, with the help of wicked men, “put him to death.” There was no question but that they were the ones who killed Jesus. Obviously, no one would like to be accused of something like that, but they listened, were “cut to the heart” (v. 37) and “about three thousand were added to their number” – became believers and joined the movement – on that occasion. Sounds to me like a superb way of winning people to the faith!
In Psalm 2 the psalmist declares in no uncertain terms that all opposition to God is ultimately futile. God laughs at man’s desperate plans to break free, but in time his laughter turns to rebuke. When nations come to realize that God is involved in all that happens to them they are terrified.
The book of Proverbs was written, or to some degree compiled, by king Solomon, who ruled over the nation of Israel some 950 years before Christ. His wisdom has resonated down through the halls of history. The fact that he maintained a sizeable collection of some 700 wives and 300 concubines has raised more than one eyebrow! My answer to the conundrum of wives and wisdom is that there is no necessary problem between wisdom and multiple female partners. In fact, I have a suspicion that a part of Solomon’s insight came from that group.
Solomon begins his collection of proverbs by telling us with clarity why it is that he has set out on the project. Before all else, the purpose of a proverb is to help people gain wisdom, have a clear understanding of the insights of the wise, and that this, in turn, will result in just and orderly lives (1:1-3). The value of wisdom lies not in its intellectual astuteness but in its help in living a life that is satisfying and productive. Wisdom is “moral instruction” (NET). Of those who pay attention to the proverbs and put them into action it will be said that their lives are “honest, just, and fair” (TEV).
Having said that, let’s look at the proverb itself as a guide for living. A proverb has several values. First, it is the summary of people’s experience over a long period of time. It has been found to work better than any of its alternatives. In a democracy we hold that the people’s opinion should be followed because over all it is superior to the limited experience and insight of a single person – king, sage, or president. There is safety in numbers. Another thing about the proverb is that it is short, pithy and easy to remember. For example, that “haste makes waste” is hard to forget because: (1) It is short, and (2) we and everybody else, have found from experience that it always seems to work in whatever the situation may be.
So, to have a firm grasp on what the human race has discovered up until now about the way to experience the summum bonum of life, look to the wise proverb, especially as recorded in holy writ. It will provide “disciplined insight (TEV) into doing what is “right and just and fair.” Solomon’s goal (and mine as I discuss a number of his proverbs) is to help us all to understand and apply those insights into living that make for the better life.
Unfortunately, the one prominent characteristic of the church at Laodicea was that it was lukewarm. So distasteful was that to the Lord that he said to them, “Because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16). Just prior to this he said he would rather have them be hot or cold than lukewarm (v. 15). People have wondered why God would rather have the church cold rather than lukewarm ¬– after all, lukewarm is headed in the right direction. The answer is that “cold” refers to the refreshment of the cool water some ten miles up the glen. So the point is that the church was neither refreshing like that cool water nor was it healing like the warm water slowly passing over the nearby spillway.
A lukewarm believer is an anomaly because that condition is so far removed from the radical demands of the faith. An avid football fan doesn’t stay home from a game simply because the weather is not just right. A true believer shows by the way he lives that his concern for people on their way to perdition is genuine. To bear the title, Christian, demands total compliance with the redemptive mission of Christ. Francis Chan writes, “Lukewarm living and claiming Christ’s name simultaneously is utterly disgusting to God.” However, God’s reaction to “lukewarm Christianity” (the designation is in quotes because there may not be any such thing) is not to walk away but to try once more. Verse 19 says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” In fact, he “stands at the door and knocks” (v. 20). He wants in; he desires a change of heart that will remove the inconsistency between what the name Christian implies and what in fact is taking place.
Many years ago I heard a speaker refer to God as a gentleman. He stands outside the heart’s door and politely knocks. He will discipline where appropriate but is always ready to work with you toward change. He doesn’t bang on the door, he merely knocks, and not too loudly for that manner. God knows that to force his opinions on you would accomplish little. Unless you accept his gracious knocking and open the door he will in time move on to more responsive hearts. What an incredible God! Lukewarm believers (if there be such a thing) makes him nauseous. Yet he knocks on the door of your heart and offers both spiritual healing and refreshment. Again, what an incredible and loving God!
The Reign of Darkness (Luke 22:53)
I once heard a public speaker observe that there is no such a thing as darkness. It is simply the absence of light. You can’t handle it, smell it, weigh it, or put it somewhere because it has no real substance. It is simply the absence of its counterpart. At night you think you can see it but what you are looking at is the absence of light.
What brought this up in my thinking is the story of Judas giving Jesus that treacherous kiss in the garden of Gethsemane. After correcting the disciple who had whipped out his sword and cut off the ear of one of the officials who had come to capture him, Jesus touched and healed the man’s ear, then argued cogently that they could have arrested him during the day when he was teaching in the temple courts. He concludes his remarks saying, “but this is your hour – when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53). Darkness may not exist, as the speaker claimed, but it still has the power to reign. How could that be? A non-existent something has the authority to control something that does exist.
It seems to me that this reflects a basic principle of sin. The hubris of darkness leads it to claim control of a situation. It walks into a difficult relationship and declares that from now on it’s in charge. It is like the actor who walks into the hospital declaring himself to be a professional surgeon. No one seems to have the nerve to correct such confident self-assurance. And so for several weeks professional darkness in the form of an actor pretending to be a surgeon is the accepted modus operandi. It is only when a superior authority from without unmasks the deception that things return to normal.
When Jesus said that darkness was in control he was acknowledging that a non-entity was now in charge of what was happening. Obviously he could have changed it, but in fact he had surrendered himself to the role of Savior and that called upon him to not be that one from the outside who would take control. It seems to me that life in the 21st century is operating in the same way. We believe that God is omnipotent and could have controlled the events of the day, but to fulfill his redemptive role in history called upon him to give the authority to a simple non-entity. Such condescension is remarkable! The positive thing about this reversal of rule is that it allowed Jesus in his resurrection to reestablish sovereignty over everything including darkness. Never again would darkness be allowed to reign. In the book of Revelation John speaks about there being no need of a sun in the new Jerusalem because the Lamb is its lamp and the glory of God gives it light (Rev. 21:23).
Darkness has had its day. Whether or not it has substance, it has ruled secular culture throughout time. In heaven there will be no darkness, no tendency to direct human nature to serve its own interests, but every person’s desire will be for the benefit and welfare of the other. Darkness cannot exist in such brilliant light.
I was sitting at the piano one day somewhat musing and I looked out the large bay window that frames a portion of the San Juan Islands. The sun was sinking in the west engulfed in the dramatic colors of a very special sunset. What an incredibly beautiful scene! I said to myself, “Lord, I see your love of beauty in the sunset.” I took a piece of paper and wrote it down and then my imagination went to the other end of the spectrum, and I wrote, “I feel your awesome power in every storm.” By the time the sun was totally out of view I had finished my poem. It chronicles the history of the human race from walking with God in the garden, through the tragic fall, the incarnation, and the monumental return of the prodigal to Eden.
July fourth celebrates freedom; to that great gift let’s add the ultimate release from sin into the joy of ultimate freedom in and through Jesus Christ.
Romans 5 closes with the truth that God’s grace has brought eternal life to all who believe (v. 21). Now we face the “so what” of believing faith. Since we are saved by the grace (“unmerited favor”) of God what are we to do or be as a result? The following verses answer that question without hesitation. Here is the logical sequence in verses 1-4: We are not to continue in sin because when we were “baptized into Christ” we became “one with him in death.” Then we were “buried with him” and just as he was “raised from the dead” we too are to “begin living a new life” (NJB). The point is that dead people don’t continue to live as they used to.
Now the question is: What does that new life look like? The obvious answer is that since we are dead to sin we ought to look like the One who never sinned. That seems like an impossible goal, but remember it doesn’t say we should in fact match his spiritual attainments. Paul is not saying that anything less than sinless perfection is unacceptable. He is calling on us to begin taking on a Christ-like approach to all of life. In so doing I don’t have to suppress my own personality but allow it to express exactly what it means for a person like me to be alive in Christ. It is who He is, living through, who I am (in terms of my personality and gifts). God wants us revised not replaced.
Here are some qualities in Jesus’ life that stand out:
He was kind. On the outskirts of Nain, Jesus met a funeral procession on its way to bury the young son of a widow. Moved with compassion, he reached out and touched the coffin and the dead son came to life and was returned to his mother’s arms (Luke 7:11-17). No, we don’t need to raise the dead; but we need to be kind to all, especially those in times of sorrow.
He was joyful. He told his disciples that when they were cursed for following him they were to “leap for joy” (Luke: 6:23), and Jesus certainly would not expect of others something foreign to himself.
He was determined. In the last period of his ministry Jesus “set out for Jerusalem determined to carry out his role” (Luke 9:51). What has God planned for your life? Do it! His role was difficult beyond comprehension (going to the cross to for the sins of the world) but he did it.
Many more of Jesus’ exemplary qualities are discussed in a recent book, The Good New Dictionary. Among them I point out the following (and more):
He was obedient
He was humble
He was true to his convictions
He was unconventional
He was prophetic
He maintained his priorities
He was righteously angry
He was sensitive
He was unafraid
He was wise
He was understanding
He was empathetic,
and, using the only words he spoke of himself,
He was “gentle and humble.”
It is clear how we are to live, is it not?
Poverty or ruin – who cares
“Let the brother of limited means take pride in his high position, and the wealthy brother in his humiliation, because like a flower in the meadow he will pass away” (James 1.9-10)
From the very beginning believers viewed themselves as citizens of a distinctly different “city” – the City of God. Their primary allegiance was to a spiritual world with its totally different set of values. They believed in honoring the place where they were, but they embraced a set of values that were culturally distinct. I make this point because the casual reader might miss the irony in the way James spoke of taking pride in being brought down as well as having been raised up.
It is true that most church members do not find themselves in the upper income brackets of their local community. That is simply the way it is. I’ve known a good many professional people with strong Christian convictions, but throughout history most believers would fall into the “humble circumstance” category. The nice thing about being where they are is that they can “take pride in their high position” (v. 9). Just think of it – they are children of God, sons and daughters of the King of kings! You say, “But that’s all future!” I don’t think so. Today’s believer may not have an excess of stuff right now in this brief moment of time we call life, but eternity is waiting with every possible spiritual blessing – and that will last forever! What James is telling his readers to do (and the Greek verb is an imperative) is to stand tall as citizens of the New Jerusalem. Take pride not only in what you will be, but also in what you already are – members of God’s royal family.
In contrast to the brother of limited means is the “wealthy brother” (v. 10). Although the text doesn’t identify “the rich,” it’s reasonable in context to assume that James is comparing two believers at different income levels. So we ask, in what way can a well-to-do Christian take pride in what James calls “his humiliation?” The answer is that while the first brother looks forward to glorious state, the second looks back to a time he once felt was “glorious.” His “humiliation” took place when he became a believer, shared his surplus with the less fortunate and became one with them in a movement generally held in contempt by the world. He should be proud of the fact that while at one time he was about to pass away like a withering flower, he became a believer and now along with the rest of his fellow Christians will live forever in the eternal mansions of heaven. A wise choice no matter how you look at it. The question is not how much you have but who has you – stuff for the moment, or Christ forever?
If one should question the propriety of being proud for what they received or for what they gave up the answer is that the Christian is proud of neither in the way the question was asked. What they are proud of is that by faith they were given a high position in Christ and that by humiliating themselves by exchanging social prominence for membership in a lowly group they became spiritually rich. So it’s a proud life for the child of God whether we were raised to it or brought down to it.
Robert H Mounce