Archive for May, 2011
In his 1963 short story, The Sky Is Gray, Earnest Gaines tells the story of a young man who interrupts a worship service, imploring those gathered to “question and question and question…Question everything. Every stripe, every star, every word spoken. Everything.” When the preacher wonders if even God should be questioned, the young man responds, “Question Him, too…His existence as well as everything else. Everything.”
This past weekend in ABC, I invited you to do what the young worship service crasher in Gaines’ story demanded: I invited you to question everything. Indeed, I outlined three Greek words in the New Testament which are often translated as “question”: Erotao, which denotes questioning with a desire to acquire new information, aiteo, which describes questioning with the purpose of acquiring divine help, and deomai, the word for “prayer.” For prayers often consist of our questions. The Bible, it seems, encourages questioning. And we are free, it seems, to question everything.
And yet, even though the Bible encourages us to question everything, how we question everything can be just as important as the questions themselves. A person can question sincerely, an activity which is encouraged, but he can also question cynically, an activity which is very dangerous. This is the case with the first question in history. Satan slithers up to Eve and asks, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’” (Genesis 3:1)? Now, Satan knows full well the answer to his question. Satan knows full well that God did not forbid Adam and Eve to eat from any tree; rather, He forbid them to eat from only one tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For if they were to eat of it, they would die. Satan’s question really isn’t a question at all. Instead, it’s a trap, designed to lead Adam and Eve away from God’s truth into confusion.
Sadly, these same kinds of traps, masquerading as questions, are still launched against believers even today. To say to a Christian, “How could you believe what the Bible says when it was written by a bunch of male chauvinist pigs who had a mythical view of the world?” is hardly a question. It’s a statement of incredulity. Questions are good. Cynicism is not.
Thus, I present you with this question: How do you question? With antagonism or with acquisitiveness? With cynicism or with sincerity? The preacher of Hebrews directs us: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart” (Hebrews 10:22). It is fine to question everything, even God, but we are to do so with a sincere heart. How we ask is just as important as what we ask. So be open. Be teachable. And prepare to be answered. For God is not silent. He answers. I hope you’re listening.
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In light of recent predictions that the rapture would take place on May 21 at 6 pm eastern time, Pastor Tucker and I thought it would be helpful to address what the Bible truly teaches about the last days and Christ’s Second Coming in worship and ABC yesterday. After all, there are clearly many unbiblical views of this age’s last days floating around, the May 21 rapture date being one of them. Pastor Tucker and I had a great time addressing head on the lies of this world with the truth of the Bible. In an effort to further cut through some of the confusion, I wanted republish an article I wrote a couple of years back for our church body concerning the Bible’s preeminent apocalyptic book: the book of Revelation.
Revelation is truly one of the most difficult books in Scripture to read and understand. If you’ve ever tried to read Revelation, you’ve encountered everything from dragons to beasts to horsemen, oh my! Saint John, who wrote revelation, has imagery that is overwhelming. He has metaphors which are befuddling. And his numerology is harder to crack than your college calculus course. So how in the world could we ever read, much less understand, such a confusing book?
Yesterday in ABC, I offered two tips to help you wade through Revelation’s mysteries. I figured that if two tips for reading Revelation are good, then seven tips must be even better. What follows, then, is what I like to call, “Zach’s Seven Tips for Reading Revelation Realistically.” I arrived at these tips after writing a series of daily blogs on the book of Revelation.
It is important to note that these tips are not meant to offer a full-fledged interpretation of Revelation as a commentary might do; rather, they are meant to offer a hermeneutic – that is, a method of interpretation – to assist you as you read Revelation for yourself. They are, in some sense, meant to “teach a man how to fish” so that he can properly read John’s mysterious opus. So, with this in mind, remember these tips when you engage in eschatological inquiry with Saint John.
Tip #1: If it didn’t mean that in John’s day, it doesn’t mean that in our day.
Many interpretations of Revelation get real weird real quick. The Christian theologian and humorist G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” The reason so many people find so many wild things in Revelation is because rather than asking, “What was John actually thinking about when he wrote Revelation?” they instead try to arbitrarily connect John’s visions to all sorts of current events. Whenever we read Scripture, however, we should first try to understand the author’s own intended meaning rather than making up our own meanings. Old Testament professor Tremper Longman III explains cogently: “If literature is an act of communication, then meaning resides in the intention of the author. The author encoded a message for the readers. Interpretation then has as its goal the recovery of the author’s purpose in writing.” When we read Revelation, we should first try to decipher John’s purposes in his imagery rather than our own. Sadly, many people fail to do this. For instance, some people actually think the infamous Mark of the Beast, 666 (13:18), is a code contained on computer chips which will one day be implanted by our government in our foreheads in a conspiracy to make us all lobotomized Satanists. The problem is, there were no computer chips in John’s day. Thus, John is probably not talking about computer chips here. And to say that he was is to claim that we understand John’s revelation better than John himself. This constitutes the height of arrogance and ought to be avoided.
Tip #2: Know your Bible.
John employs countless biblical allusions in Revelation that we can miss and misinterpret if we don’t know the rest of our Bible. For example, in Revelation 16, John writes, “Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon” (16:13). Huh? Frogs coming out of a dragon? Well, a “dragon” is John’s image for Satan (12:9) and “frogs” are classified as unclean animals in Leviticus 11:10. John seems to be saying, then, that Satan will speak unclean, deceiving, and blasphemous things about the Gospel. Now it makes sense! But you have to know the rest of your Bible in order to catch John’s point.
Tip #3: Know your history.
John wrote Revelation while exiled on the island of Patmos (1:9), a Roman penal settlement in the Aegean Sea. During John’s exile, Domitian was emperor of Rome. According to the ancient Roman historian Suetonius, Domitian demanded that the subjects of the empire worship him and even call him “lord and god.” The German theologian and numismatist Ethelbert Stauffer writes of this emperor: “Domitian loved to hear…the cry of ‘Hail to the Lord!’…Other forms of acclamation…were the following: Hail, Victory, Lord of the earth, Invincible, Power, Glory, Honour, Peace, Security, Holy, Blessed, Great, Unequalled, Thou Alone, Worthy art Thou, Worthy is he to inherit the Kingdom, Come, come, do not delay, Come again.” In Revelation 4:11, Jesus receives this acclamation: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.” Many scholars believe that John is parodying the praises sung to Domitian in that day, saying that these praises to the emperor really belong to Jesus. But we only know this by knowing history.
Tip #4: If you feel like you’ve seen this before, it’s because you have.
Revelation tends to be more thematic rather than chronological in its organization. Indeed, when reading Revelation, you find that the world ends no fewer than four times (6:12-17, 11:15-19, 14:14-20, 16:17-21)! Following these four apocalypses, John then offers a detailed account of history’s conclusion in chapters 17-19. It is vital to recognize that all of these “endings” describe the same time period from different perspectives. It is not unusual, then, the get a case of déjà vu when reading Revelation. This is important to keep in mind Revelation’s thematic arrangement because if you try to read this book as a strictly chronological document, you can wind up with charts, diagrams, and maps detailing multiple returns and judgments of Christ that are so complicated, even Stephen Hawking can’t understand them. There is only one second coming of Christ. There are no third and fourth and fifth returns.
Tip #5: Don’t balance your checkbook using John’s math.
John’s numerology is meant to be interpreted symbolically, not literally. For example, in Revelation 7, John talks about a group of 144,000, sealed for salvation (7:4). 144,000 is 12x12x1000. The number 12 is associated with the church in Revelation (e.g., 21:14) and the number 1,000 is a Scriptural number for completeness (e.g., Psalm 50:10, 2 Peter 3:8). John’s point, then, is simply this: All who trust in Jesus are sealed for salvation! And just in case we miss his point, John continues by saying, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (7:9). John’s 144,000 turns out to be innumerable.
Tip #6: John’s imagery is polyvalent.
Yes, I just used the word “polyvalent.” It’s a word I learned in seminary describing something that has more than one interpretation or meaning. And much of John’s imagery certainly has more than one interpretation or meaning. One example comes with the frogs spewing from the dragon’s mouth in Revelation 16:13, referenced previously under tip number two. In the interpretation proffered above, I mentioned that frogs are unclean animals according to Levitical law. Therefore, John is positing that Satan will speak unclean, deceiving, and blasphemous things about the Gospel. But that’s not all that John is positing. This plague of frogs, along with the other plagues in Revelation 16, parrot the plagues against Egypt in the story of the exodus (cf. Exodus 7:14-11:10). Thus, while the enemies of God are crushed by plagues of frogs (16:13), blood (16:3-4), sun and darkness (16:8-10), and hail (16:21), the people of God remain “blessed” (16:15). Thus, this chapter is also a chapter of comfort for God’s people as they are protected through terrible plagues. One symbol – more than one interpretation. John’s images, then, are not meant to be precise predictions, but general descriptions of both the sad state of wickedness in this world as well as the glorious promise of salvation we have in Christ. One image can have more than one referent. So even if you’ve cracked one code, there may be another lurking behind that same image.
Tip #7: Do not be afraid.
Too many people look at the second coming of Christ with fear instead of faith. They are scared of bloodshed, doom, gloom, and demise. But as John’s vision opens, he hears Jesus speak these words: “Do not be afraid” (1:17). In spite of a world full of trouble, Revelation is meant to offer us hope and comfort because it reminds us that Jesus wins over evil, as an elder in one of John’s visions says: “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed” (5:5)! If Jesus wins, we have nothing of which to be afraid.
So there you have it: Seven simple tips to help navigate the labyrinth of mystery that is our final biblical book. Are you ready to take it on? If so, remember Revelation’s promise: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (1:3). Reading Revelation results in blessing. It will bless you. And that, at least for me, is reason enough to read it and, yes, even enjoy it. I hope you’ll read and enjoy it too.
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and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
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 G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Company, 1909) 29.
 Tremper Longman III, Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, Moises Silva, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 135.
 Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, H.M. Byrd, trans. (Wordsworth Editions, 1997) 358.
 Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1952) 155.
Loneliness is epidemic. An old Gallup poll from 1990 found that 36% of Americans report feeling lonely. And yet, study after study has shown that the feeling of loneliness and physical isolation are not always interconnected. Three social scientists from the University of Chicago, the University of California, and Harvard University recently conducted a study which noted that there is a “discrepancy between an individual’s loneliness and the number of connections in a social network.” These researchers concluded that loneliness is, at least in part, contagious. They point to a 1965 study by Harry Harlow on rhesus monkeys. Harlow noted that when an isolated monkey was reintroduced into a colony of monkeys, the monkey was driven away from the community. The researchers then noted, “Humans may similarly drive away lonely members of their species…Feeling socially isolated can lead to one becoming objectively isolated.” The idea, then, is this: Subjectively feeling alone leads to objectively being alone. But this is not a good thing. Indeed, the researchers open their study with this sobering statement: “Social species do not fare well when forced to live solitary lives.”
What three social scientists spent many years and thousands of dollars to study and discover, the Bible already knew. From the very beginning of creation, immediately after God created the first human being, Adam, God knew, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). As I mentioned in ABC, in a twist of cross-phonological irony, the Hebrew word for “alone” is bad. And when this word is applied to human beings, this is indeed the case. It is bad for a human being to be alone. And yet, at least at first glance, the case seems to be somewhat different with God.
“You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship You” (Nehemiah 9:6). “God alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). “I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by Myself” (Isaiah 44:24). In each of these instances, the Hebrew word for “alone” is bad. And it is used, quite proudly I might add, of God. But when this word is used with regard to God, it is not so much used to describe God’s isolation as it is used to describe God’s uniqueness. It is God alone who created the earth and can use His creation as He desires. No one else has this privilege and prerogative. God is unique, but He is not isolated. Indeed, God’s very Trinitarian nature is evidence that He is not alone in the reclusivist sense, for He is in perfect communion with Himself.
As a reflection of the communion that God has within Himself, He had designed us to have communion with other people. For a human being to live life alone is indeed bad – in the English sense. This leads us, then, to some questions. Do we have deep, meaningful relationships where we know others and are known by others? If you are married, is your marriage strong and is your spouse you first and finest earthly companion, or are you merely two individuals who happen to be living in the same house? For those who do suffer from loneliness, do you seek to befriend others in Jesus’ name?
God is not alone. And we should not be alone either. This is why Jesus’ final promise was not one of isolation, but of presence: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In Christ, we are never alone. And that’s a good thing.
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Today begins Concordia’s Thirty Hour Famine for our youth. During this special period of fasting, Concordia’s youth will devote themselves to prayer, as is the norm in Scripture: “I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and petition, in fasting” (Daniel 9:3). Among the items for which we are urging our youth to pray is our government. In our politically divisive and derisive climate, it is important to remind ourselves what the Scriptures say about how Christians should relate to their government. Thus, I have prepared a short synopsis of what the Scriptures say concerning governmental authorities which will be used as part of the Thirty Hour Famine. Though simple, I thought I would publish it on my blog as a reminder of how we should appropriately engage in the political process. I hope it’s a blessing to you!
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2)
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13-14)
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
These passages from Scripture remind us of the importance of honoring our governmental authorities. From these passages we learn:
- God’s authority stands behind government’s authority. God Himself has established all political authorities.
- Because God’s authority is behind government’s authority, we ought to submit to our government as long as its policies do not conflict with God’s Word (cf. Acts 5:29).
- Not only should we passively submit to the government’s authority, we should actively pray for our officials. They deserve our prayers and honor.
Clearly, many people do not obey the Bible’s guidance when it comes to governmental authority. Rather than respecting and praying for our governmental officials, many people mock and ridicule them and, in some extreme instances, even threaten them. Yet, when all of these biblical admonitions to respect the governing authorities were written, the person in power was the Roman emperor Nero. Nero hated Christians. Some traditions hold that it was Nero who was at least indirectly responsible for the deaths of Peter and Paul, the authors of the above biblical quotes. When a fire destroyed Rome in AD 64, Nero blamed the Christians for the city’s destruction and launched a fierce campaign of persecution against them. The first century Roman historian Tacitus writes of Nero’s persecution: “Covered with the skins of beasts, the Christians were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44). In spite of all of this, the biblical authors still urged Christians to respect the governing authorities.
Whether or not we agree with the policies and politics of our elected officials, we should still respect our governing authorities and pray for them. We should especially pray for them when they do things out of step with God’s Word. We should pray that they would repent and listen to God’s voice. We should also pray that God’s will be done, even if it is done through imperfect politicians.
Finally, we must remember that no matter who is in power, government will not and cannot solve all of this world’s problems. Many people seem to believe that if one or another political party would only gain power in Congress and the White House, then all of our problems would be solved. Though governmental officials can do many things, they cannot save the world. Only Jesus can do that. This is why, while respecting our governmental authorities, we do not put our ultimate trust in them. We put our ultimate trust in Christ alone.
One of the frustrations of teaching through a whole book of the Bible in the scope of a mere hour, as I did in Sunday’s ABC, is that, inevitably and necessarily, I must leave many aspects of the book unaddressed. Thus, as I taught the book of Esther yesterday, I found myself frustrated with all the things I didn’t have time to talk about! Thankfully, however, I do have this blog. And so, I thought it might be helpful to touch on a fascinating subplot in Esther’s story that I did not cover yesterday.
The basic contours of Esther’s story are these. The Jews are under the rule of King Xerxes of Persia in the fifth century B.C. When Xerxes’ queen, Vashti, embarrasses him at a party, he banishes her and launches a search for a new queen. After an exhaustive quest, Xerxes settles on Esther, a lovely young Jewess. Shortly after Esther becomes queen, however, an evil advisor to Xerxes named Haman concocts a plot to destroy the Jews. Esther has a cousin named Mordecai, and when he catches wind of this plot, he sends the queen a message, begging her to help her people. Esther then holds a series of two banquets to which he invites King Xerxes and the evil Haman and, at the second banquet, reveals to the king Haman’s nefarious objectives. When the king learns of Haman’s plot, he becomes furious and orders Haman to be executed by hanging. And the Jews are saved from extermination. This is the story’s major plot.
The subplot of Esther’s story centers around the queen’s cousin, Mordecai. We are first introduced to Mordecai in Esther 2 where we are told, “Mordecai had a cousin named Esther, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother” (Esther 2:7). Thus, Mordecai had taken Esther under his wing. Later in this same chapter, we read this interesting anecdote:
During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king. (Esther 2:21-23)
Apparently, Mordecai is a Xerxes loyalist. When the guards of the king’s chamber conspire to kill him, it is Mordecai who foils their plot. Incidentally, about ten years after this assassination attempt, Xerxes is indeed assassinated by some new guards who also keep watch over his chamber. What is especially important to note, however, is the thanks Moredecai receives for saving the king’s life. He receives no thanks. The king quickly forgets about his valiant act, though it is recorded in his annals.
Well, several years pass, and the night before the king and his right-hand man Haman are to attend Esther’s banquet where she will reveal Haman’s plot against the Jews, the king comes down with a case of insomnia:
That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him. It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. “What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?” the king asked. “Nothing has been done for him,” his attendants answered. The king said, “Who is in the court?”…His attendants answered, “Haman is standing in the court.” “Bring him in,” the king ordered. When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?” So he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’” “Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. “Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.” (Esther 6:1-10)
Mordecai finally receives his well-deserved commendation from the king. But how he receives it is comical. He receives it from Haman, the very man who is plotting to kill Mordecai along with all his people! And Haman could not be more humiliated that he is compelled to honor Mordecai in this way: “Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief” (Esther 6:12).
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Clearly, Haman is presented as an insufferably arrogant character. His delusion concerning his own greatness is sickening: “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?” Haman believes there is no one greater than himself. But before we scorn Haman for his haughtiness too quickly, it is worth asking if we don’t suffer from a pride similar to Haman’s. After all, who among us does not think we are somehow worthy of high honor? And who among us has not gotten angry or bitter or resentful – if only internally – when we did not receive the acclaim we thought we deserved?
Haman’s hauteur should remind us all that we are called to be humble servants of Christ. For we follow One who “humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Do you live your life with Christ-like humility?
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Concordia’s Senior Pastor, Bill Tucker, has written a letter to the congregation concerning the death of Osama bin Laden and how the Christian should respond to such an event. My prayer is that it is helpful to you as you ponder what this event means not only in the life of our nation, but in your life as a Christian.
My Beloved Concordia Family,
The death of Osama bin Laden was reported on Sunday evening, May 1, 2011. As news of his demise spread, people responded in different ways. Some responded with jubilation, happy to see an enemy of our country destroyed. Others felt sorrow: Bin Laden’s death reopened painful scars from the events of 9/11 and losses suffered in our War on Terror. Still others responded with concern: For the evil in this world, ultimately, will not be defeated by human action, but by Christ alone. Perhaps you, like me, have experienced some of each.
As I have been sorting through my own personal response, there have been many from our beloved family of faith doing the same. How should a Christian respond to the death of Osama bin Laden? Hopefully this brief note, with some guidance from God’s Word, will be helpful in your contemplation of that same question.
From the Bible we learn that death, even the death of the wicked, is not pleasing to God, nor is it part of His design. The prophet Ezekiel states it well: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) God’s preference is always that the wicked – even Osama bin Laden – repent and be forgiven. This does not mean, however, that God won’t execute His judgment on those who refuse to repent. In the very next verse, Ezekiel continues, “But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.” (Ezekiel 18:24) The apostle Paul affirms, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) God punishes evil.
We also know that God uses earthly governments to execute His judgment. Paul writes, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established…He is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He [the governmental authority] is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:1, 4) We can conclude, in circumstances like this, God uses governments and militaries to bring judgment on criminals. We remain thankful for our troops and their service on behalf of our nation and respect their God-given vocation as governmental officials.
Finally, as Christians, our response to the death of the wicked should mirror God’s Word. The wise man of Proverbs wrote: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice.” (Proverbs 24:17) These words lead us to respond to this news without reckless jubilation, but with measured sobriety. We thank God for His judgment on wickedness. At the same time, we keep our hearts and minds humble, so we do not slip into arrogance and sin.
In these times, it seems certain there will be more terrorist plots. We must pray for these evil efforts to be confounded, for evil men to be brought to justice, and for peace and security to be reestablished. However, when we pray for peace, it is with the knowledge that our hope comes from the Lord.
Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, describes the Christian’s hope for peace, even in the midst of war, like this: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” May this be the prayer of us all.
It always concerns me when I’m talking to a parent of a young child and he says something like, “I’m going to let my child make his own decisions about religion as he grows. I may take him to church every once in a while, I’ll give him a Bible, but ultimately, it’s up to him. I don’t want to cram religion down his throat.” I once heard of some parents who took their daughter to church until she was eight, at which time they began to ask her: “Would you like to go to church this morning, honey?” I leave it you to guess which decision she made.
This past weekend in worship and ABC, we kicked off a new series titled, “All in the Family: Discovering God’s Plan for Your Family.” In this series, we are taking a look at the roles God has given husbands, wives, parents, and children to play in their families. At the heart of each of these roles, however – whether your role is that of a husband, a wife, a parent, a child, or some combination thereof – is the preeminence of Christ. In other words, if you are part of a family, you should never simply leave it up to another family member’s discretion as to whether or not they want to “be religious.” Rather, you should clearly, compellingly, and persuasively present Christ’s gospel. You should model to and for your family what a Christ-centered life looks like.
In our text from Matthew 10, Jesus gives us a straightforward estimate of the cost of a Christ-centered life: “I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:35-37). A Christ-centered life means that you are to love Christ and follow Him above all else – even your family. And if this upsets your family – if this turns them into “enemies,” as Jesus says in verse 36 – so be it. It is important to remember that at the same time the gospel of Christ unites, it also can divide. It is a “stumbling block” to those who refuse to believe (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23).
Interestingly, the Greek word Jesus uses for “enemies” is ekthros. This word is first used in the Bible in Genesis 3:15, when God curses the Satanic serpent for tempting Adam and Eve into sin: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your Offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel.” The Greek word for “enmity” is again ekthros. This is the Bible’s first prophecy of Christ, reminding us that He, as a descendent of Eve and the very Son of God, will crush the head of Satan on the cross. We also are to be enemies of Satan and all he teaches and touts.
Sadly, sometimes, even within families, one person teaches and touts the truth of God while another teaches and touts other things not of God. In this way, they become an enemy of the faith as Jesus says. But there is still hope!
In the early days of Christianity, it was not uncommon for two pagan people to marry and then for one to convert to Christianity. This created a situation where one spouse was believing and the other was not. Thankfully, the Bible offers some guidance on how to graciously and whimsically witness to those in our family who do not have faith in Christ. Though much of the biblical guidance is given specifically to husbands and wives, it can certainly be applied in the context of other family relationships as well. So here are three thoughts on how to witness to unbelieving family members.
First, remember that even if a family member does not trust in Christ, they are still part of your family! The apostle Paul writes, “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Notice what Paul says: If your spouse is an unbeliever, you don’t disown and divorce him or her; rather, you stay in the marriage. After all, that person is still your spouse! He or she is still your family! Thus, a difference in faith is not a basis for estrangement.
Second, your life in Christ and for Christ is a powerful to witness to family members who do not believe. The apostle Peter writes to wives who have unbelieving husbands: “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (1 Peter 3:1-2). Peter’s goal is for wives to “win over” their husbands by their witness to Christ, even if their witness to Christ is a silent one. This witness to Christ is one born out of behavior and purity. Thus, as we spend time with unbelieving family members, it is important to ask: What kind of witness – in word and in deed – am I giving for Christ?
Third, your greatest affection must be for Christ, not for your family. Jesus could not be clearer: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). Your highest allegiance and affection must be for Christ. To love anyone – even your family – more than Christ is sinful. Indeed, it is only by loving Christ that a person can truly learn how to love his family. For the best love we can give our families is a love that is from and of God. Any love that we give our families apart from this love is only a cut-rate love. And who would want to give their families that?
Having unbelieving family members is never easy. But, by God’s grace working through His holy Word, unbelieving family members do not need to stay unbelieving forever. They can be transformed. Jesus can save them. After all, he saved us. And if Jesus can save a guy like me, there’s hope for us all!
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