Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Fool and His Folly

It seems that some people spend a great deal of time trying to find contradictions in the Scriptures. It is interesting that those who know nothing about the Bible and its message of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ are the first ones to dig around looking for some kind of contradiction so they can then say, “See, the Bible is full of contradictions, it is unreliable, and therefore Christianity is false and there is no God.”
 
Wow! That’s quite a stretch in logic, especially considering that the alleged contradictions in Scripture come from minds that are full of ignorance about the true content and meaning of the Bible. Some of the “contradictions” are quite far-fetched, but there is one place in Scripture where it seems to immediately say the very opposite of what it just said. Proverbs tells us the following:
 
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Lest you also be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
Lest he be wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 26:4-5, NKJV).
 
The skeptic will very smugly ask, “OK, which is it? Do we answer a fool according to his folly, or not? That looks like a contradiction to me.” While it may at first glance appear to be a contradiction, it is important to remember that the Bible does not contradict itself. It complements itself. Many examples of this can be seen for anyone who is willing to approach the Scriptures objectively and with a mind willing to deal with spiritual truth. (Note:  It has always been interesting to me that unbelievers can find passages like this that, in their closed minds, seem to fuel their argument, yet they are woefully ignorant of the passages that tell them they are sinners in need of a Savior, and that Jesus Christ is their only hope of salvation.)
 
It is quite clear that there is a time to answer a fool according to his folly, and there is a time not to do so. Discerning when to do each one is a matter of Biblical wisdom and, to some degree, a bit of common sense comes into play. There are likely several possible ways to look at this, but I will consider just one.
 
In verse four, we are told not to “answer a fool according to his folly.” When would it be wise to respond in this way? A simple answer would be to ignore the folly of a fool when that folly is directed at any one of us. Believers are not perfect. Every one of us commits sin, does foolish things, and makes mistakes. Often, we let our ego stand in the way, and we get upset when someone says things about us that are simply not true. The fact is that fools will always say foolish things. Some of these things are nothing more or less than flat-out lies, and other things are simply spoken in ignorance by those who are gullible enough to listen to nonsense.
 
My many years in Christian school administration taught me that people will say all sorts of things that are without merit and without any facts to support them. Some of the things I and other school personnel were accused of over the years by certain students and parents would have been funny if they had not been so pathetic. These things included purposely causing a student not to learn to read, discriminating against a student because of the church he attended, being unfair by enforcing the dress and haircut code, coercing the boys' basketball coach to let a player start because he had two older sisters who had been starters on the girls' team, manipulating who did and who did not represent the school in the speech meet, spelling bee, or art festival, etc., etc., ad nauseam. None of these were even remotely true, and they were not things I would have even considered doing. Funny? Not at all. But laughable? Absolutely!
 
As anyone in Christian ministry knows, it is necessary to develop a thick skin against foolish criticism. I adopted the following statement early in my career in Christian school education as a reminder to myself to pay no attention to the ignorance of foolish people.
 
Keep about your work that God has given you. Do not flinch because the lion roars; do not fool away your time chasing the devil's rabbits. Do your work. Let liars lie, let corporations resolve, let the devil do his worst; but see to it that nothing hinders you from fulfilling the work that God has given you.
 
He has not commanded you to get rich. He has never bidden you defend your character. He has not set you at work to contradict falsehood about yourself which Satan and his servants may start to peddle. If you do those things, you will do nothing else; you will be at work for yourself and not for the Lord.
 
Keep at your work. Let your aim be as steady as a star. You may be assaulted, wronged, insulted, slandered, wounded, and rejected; you may be abused by foes, forsaken by friends, and despised and rejected of men. But see to it with steadfast determination, with unfaltering zeal, that you pursue the great purpose of your life and object of your being until at last you can say, "I have finished the work which You gave me to do (Author unknown).
 
As a former basketball coach, I always admired “The Coach,” John Wooden of UCLA. He said the following:  Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.
 
I also adopted the following Scripture to remind me of the necessity of pleasing God, not men:  For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10, NKJV).
 
The Scripture makes it very clear that we are to use the good works that we do instead of verbal arguments in order to silence the insults and lies that may come our way.
 
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men (1 Peter 2:15, NKJV). 
 
having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed (1 Peter 3:16, NKJV).
 
The result of answering a fool according to his folly when that folly is directed at me will be that I will become like him. Nothing is accomplished by getting into a name-calling contest with someone who has no wisdom. There are very smart people who, because of their bias and ignorance, will do and say very foolish things. There is no point in getting into character assassination, no matter what they may do or say. If we do so, we will, in fact, be just like those who are hurling insults at us. I addressed this concept to some degree in my post entitled Can Smart People Believe Stupid Things?
 
Did I ever make a mistake when I was a Christian school administrator, teacher, or coach? Absolutely! The last time I checked, I am a human being with a sin nature and with many weaknesses. Was I ever unfair to anyone? Not intentionally, but more than once, I found myself apologizing to and asking forgiveness from a student, teacher, or parent when I had too hastily jumped to the wrong conclusion. The truth of the matter is that, while I am far from perfect, I “have a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:16), knowing that I operated the best I knew how with the Scriptures as my guide and with a desire to please the Lord.
 
When we come to Proverbs 26:5, it seems to say the exact opposite of what we saw in verse 4. Instead of telling us not to answer a fool, it says, Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. Now we are suddenly to change course and answer a fool, but notice the reason is different. We are not to answer a fool, “lest we be like him.” Here, we are to answer a fool, “lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Those two reasons are obviously quite different.
 
The Scriptures make it very clear that there is a time to stand up and stand against ignorant statements made by others. The purpose is to defend the faith, sound doctrine, and the character of God Himself. I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3, NKJV).
 
There are many passages that encourage us to be strong and to stand firm in the faith. Following is just one. Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong (1 Corinthians 16:13, NKJV).
 
If our own character is maligned, so be it. If the very character of God is maligned, it needs to be addressed. If the character of God is anything less than perfect, then His Word cannot be trusted. If His Word cannot be trusted, then there is no salvation, and we are all, the entire human race, without hope.
 
We see the Old Testament Prophets, the Apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself taking it patiently when their character was brought into question, but we also see them standing up in defense of the Word of God and the character of God when it was necessary to do so.
 
The Apostles most certainly set an example for us when they refused to bow to the demands of those who would silence the Gospel. Note the account of Peter and John after they were arrested for their faith.
 
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:12-20, NKJV). These men boldly stood up to the foolish demands of foolish men. They did not defend themselves. Rather, they defended the Gospel message.

Later, even though they had been commanded by foolish men not to preach the Gospel, they continued to do so because it was the right thing to do and it was obedient to the Lord. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us! But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27-29, NKJV).
 
In both of these cases, the apostles most certainly answered fools according to their folly, and to have not done so would have been to allow them to be wise in their own eyes.
 
Other thoughts on Proverbs 26:4-5 are found here, here, here, and here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Nonsense, Baloney, Gobbledygook, or “No Stinking Gimmicks, Part 3”

Some time ago, I posted “No Stinking Gimmicks” and “No Stinking Gimmicks, Part 2.” Even though this sermon excerpt does not actually say, “no stinking gimmicks,” it is a fitting conclusion to a three-part series.
 
Our pastor is very Biblical in His approach. The mission statement of our church is as follows:  Grace Bible Church exists to bring people to Christ and toward Christ-likeness by equipping believers to know, live and defend God's truth. For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel (Ezra 7:10, NKJV). This is carried out by reading the Scriptures, explaining the Scriptures, and applying the Scriptures. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading (Nehemiah 8:8). Man’s opinions carry no weight. Only the Word of God is, as many have said, our rule of faith and practice.
 
Following is an excerpt from Pastor Jeff Anderson’s sermon entitled Celebration of Completion, based on Nehemiah 7, which he preached on March 15, 2015. This excerpt falls under the application part of the sermon. The entire sermon can be heard here.
 
… I want to describe to you the continuity of identity that is the Christian church. Did you know that the Christian church is a matter of faithful people who have served God not just in this generation but for thousands of years in the past? What we find in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 is the same thing you find in Hebrews Chapter 11 … a listing of God’s faithful people – people who have walked by faith. And when you start thinking that you are few and far between and that you are the only believers, remember, God has had His faithful people in every generation, and our identity is found with them.
 
Here is the truth – the American Christian church has become so arrogant that we think that we need to reinvent the church. We need to protect the church for the coming generation. If we don’t totally reinvent and do everything in a whole newfangled way, well then, we’re going to lose our relevancy and we’ll lose the next generation. You know what I say to that kind of thinking? NONSENSE, BALONEY, GOBBLEDYGOOK – and if you want to add any other strong words in there, I’ll add them, because all of that is a bunch of nonsense.
 
We’re not here to reinvent the church. We’re not here to revitalize or even protect the church from irrelevancy. What a bunch of nonsense-type of thinking. That’s the kind of nonsense-type thinking that says everything has to be new and cool and hip for a coming generation. We’re going to market our church to Gen X.” We’re going to market our church to this or that or the other. Bunch of baloney; and here’s why it’s baloney – because Jesus said He would build His church and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. That means it is not my job to build the church. It’s not my job to protect the church. It’s not my job to reinvent the church. It’s my job to, in the fear of God, be faithful to what God has given and be confident that Christ is building His church. And here’s the deal – our church is tied in with an identity of a whole long history behind us and a future in front of us, and that gives us the inspiration to take risks and be faithful and obedient and to walk by faith … A majority of the American church is trying to be new and hip and do their own thing ...
 
I love the fact that a younger generation has some new music that celebrates the grace of God. There’s nothing wrong with something that’s new, but to think that everything has to be new and to abort the past – that’s a HORRIBLE mistake. The reason we sing ancient hymns that were written hundreds of years ago, the reason we sing ancient songs that were written thousands of years ago, is to remember that we are not new. We’re not reinventing… We are something that’s built on a foundation that goes back millennia. Just as we enjoy those ancient hymns and the depth and the solid foundation that is there, we come to these new choruses or new songs, and we rejoice in them because they are expressions of the same grace and the same faith and the same Savior that goes all of those years back. [Note:  Our church sings plenty of new songs and new choruses, but they are selected very carefully for solid doctrinal content. We avoid the frivolous, shallow songs that are so often used today.]
 
There is identity, and the identity is that we are part of something that is far bigger than us … We just don’t market and scheme and plan and somehow run it like a business. We are part of what God has been doing among His faithful people for all that time. That gives us identity and it gives us inspiration, and the inspiration says, Just as they have been faithful, brothers and sisters, let us be faithful. Let us sacrifice. Let us take risks. Let us be obedient. Let us walk in the fear of God. Let us be for our generation what a previous generation risked to be for us.
 
I praise the Lord for giving our church a pastor who is true to the Word of God and who gives God all the glory. If you are ever in Colorado Springs, come and visit Grace Bible Church. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, March 9, 2015

"If you could lose your salvation, you would."

"If you could lose your salvation, you would. You understand that? If you could, you would. If it's possible, it will happen. It has to be. If any part of my eternal salvation depends upon my power and ability and commitment and righteousness, I won't get there. Think about Adam. Adam who had no sinful tendencies, Adam living in a perfect world wouldn't know sin. No sin at all. Adam with no sin at all and no sinful tendencies inside couldn't keep himself in a right relationship of obedience and love to God. How would we think we could in a fallen world with fallen natures? And the more mature you are as a Christian, the more spiritually minded you are, the more righteous you are, the more sanctified you are, the more wretched you know you are, right? The Apostle Paul in Romans 7, 'O wretched man that I am,' that's the statement of a very mature Christian ... Spurgeon said, 'No man can keep himself, he'll surely fail. If left to ourselves, we'll go to hell. Only Jesus can save us from our sins.'"
 
John MacArthur, "The Saint's Guarantee"

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Political Qualification: Believe in Evolution?

We were recently treated to another of Howard Dean’s nonsensical rants in which he accused potential presidential candidate Scott Walker of being unqualified to run for the office for two reasons:  (1) He does not have a college degree, and (2) since he is uneducated and uninformed, he apparently rejects the theory of evolution. His concerns were summed up as follows:  "I worry about people being President of the United States not knowing much about the world and not knowing much about science. I worry about that … because evolution is a widely accepted scientific construct and people who don't believe in evolution either do it for hard-right religious reasons or because they don't know anything."

The absolute ludicrousness of the first reason is so laughable that I will not spend very much time on it. I spent the majority of my working life as an educator, but I never did drink the Kool-Aid that says education is the answer to everything. It is not essential for everyone to get a college education. There are many people who manage to get a college degree who then spend their lives working in occupations other than that for which they prepared in college. In some cases, four years of college are wasted on a major which has little or no potential to lead to employment. There is very little demand for people with degrees in Eighteenth Century French Poetry or a hundred other such majors.

On the other hand, there are many very successful people who either never attended college or only attended for a short time. College is necessary in certain cases, but I firmly believe that there are many people enrolled in college who would be better-served to attend technical school or to go right to work out of high school. A degree from even a high-powered, well-known university does not guarantee any measure of wisdom or common sense. Just look at some of our political leaders for proof of that fact.

Dean’s first reason is absurd, but his second reason is quite troubling. We have heard many times that those who accept Biblical creation and reject the evolutionary hypothesis either “don’t believe in science,” or as Dean said, “don’t know much about science.” That is not-so-subtle code for, "doesn't believe in evolution." He then identified evolution as “a widely accepted scientific construct” and further stated that “people who don't believe in evolution either do it for hard-right religious reasons or because they don't know anything." These statements are, at best, foolishness. It is also necessary to point out that truth and reality are not decided by majority vote or by consensus of opinion.

To say that creationists “don’t believe in science” or “don’t know much about science” is ridiculous and utterly absurd. Many of the world’s best scientists accept the account God gave us of the creation of the universe and life. A large number of evolutionists have seen the truth after they opened their minds and looked at the evidence objectively. One example is found here.

Many on the evolutionist side of the argument claim that evolution is the foundational principle of biology and all science, and that science cannot be properly understood without it. That is, dare I say it, STUPID. As I pointed out in another post, many times even very smart people can be deceived into believing stupid things. In reality, one does not have to study or accept evolution as a fact or even as a theory in order to understand science. As a matter of fact, evolution is a roadblock in the way of real science, because so many believe they have to interpret all the data in view of evolution being a fact rather than actually following the evidence where it leads. The reason for this is obvious. Evolution is man's way of trying to push God out of the picture in order to avoid accountability to Him. As one evolutionist said, "...we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door" (Richard Lewontin, "Billions and Billions of Demons" in the NY Review of Books, 1/7/1997).

It is very easy to reach a totally wrong conclusion based on good evidence, especially when there is a preconceived notion involved. I once had an scientist who was an evolutionist take great offense when I said that evolutionists operate on the basis of preconceived notions. However, I stood by my position, because evolutionists must operate on the basis of two foregone conclusions:  (1) everything must have a naturalistic explanation – the supernatural is not allowed, and (2) evolution is true. It is impossible to be objective when things are done this way, and this is exactly why evolution is not and cannot be science. It is merely an idea that has been advanced, without proof, as an explanation for the universe and for life.

The following story illustrates how even good observations can lead to faulty conclusions.

A scientist was interested in studying how far bullfrogs can jump. He brought a bullfrog into his laboratory, set it down, and commanded, “Jump, frog, jump!” The frog jumped.

The scientist measured the distance, then noted in his journal, “Frog with four legs jumped six feet.”

Then he cut the frog's front legs off and ordered, “Jump, frog, jump!” The frog struggled and jumped.

The scientist noted in his journal, “Frog with two legs jumped two feet.”

Next, the scientist cut off the frog's back legs. Once more, he shouted, “Jump, frog, jump!” The frog just lay there.

“Jump, frog, jump!” the scientist repeated. Nothing.

“The scientist noted in his journal, “Frog with no legs is deaf.”  Source here.

Need I say more? Creationists and evolutionists all have the same evidence and the same data. Nevertheless, the interpretation of that data and the resulting conclusions are impacted greatly by the worldview and belief system of those dealing with the data. Since neither creation nor evolution can be observed or experimented with, the best approach is to determine which model (creation or evolution) best explains the data.

If one actually looks at the whole evolution system of belief, it is hard not to laugh hysterically at what they are asking us to believe. Everything we see in our universe, on our earth, in every form of life – all of these things are nothing but a collection of chemicals, totally organized, yet done so in a random manner. All of the organs in our bodies with their various purposes came about through natural processes without a Designer/Creator. What? That is utter nonsense, and this is only a small part of evolutionists expect us to swallow. They teach this stuff to children and young people and expect them to lap it up without the freedom to even question it, and sadly, many do. It is a troublesome commentary on the state of our education system that such nonsense is taught as scientific dogma.

What Dean and others are really saying is that anyone who doesn’t believe in fairy tales has no business running for high office. That is exactly what evolution is – a fairy tale.

The truth is the very opposite of what the PC police are saying. In reality, we need leaders in this country who believe in the God of Creation, the one true and living God, who sent His Son to this earth to die for our sins and to rise again from the dead to secure salvation for all who believe in Him.

...I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you ... by which also you are saved ... For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, NKJV).
 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

PAUL’S VIEW OF HIMSELF: “High Self-Esteem?”

Self-esteem” is a concept that is very popular today, particularly in education. It is interesting to note that the United States is near the bottom in many academic areas compared to the rest of the world, but we rank number one in “self esteem.” In many cases, we are training our young people to know little or nothing but to feel very good about themselves in the process. They are being taught to stand up for their rights when they should be learning to stand up for what is right.
 
Even in some Christian circles, “self-esteem” is taught as a very important component of the Christian life. Some even push the idea that sin is low self-esteem, while salvation is high self-esteem. This is an extreme teaching, and it is far away from Biblical truth, but it is nevertheless out there. Following are a number of quotes from the book, Self-Esteem:The New Reformation, by retired pastor Robert H. Schuller, who ought to know better.
 
“…Sin is any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem … the core of sin is a lack of self-esteem…”
 
“Sin is psychological self-abuse ... the most serious sin is one that causes me to say, 'I am unworthy. I may have no claim to divine sonship if you examine me at my worst.' For once a person believes he is an 'unworthy sinner,' it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.”
 
“To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image – from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust.”
 
“Jesus never called a person a sinner.”
 
“The Cross sanctifies the ego trip. For the Cross protected our Lord's perfect self-esteem from turning into sinful pride.” (What? Jesus could have succumbed to sinful pride?  Heresy!!!)
 
These statements by Schuller are just the opposite of the truth. A person must recognize his terrible condition as a totally helpless, hopeless, vile sinner BEFORE salvation is possible. We stand before God as guilty, lost sinners, and we have no method of salvation other than to “throw ourselves on the mercy of the court” on the basis of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God saves us by his grace, totally without any merit of our own.  "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20, NKJV).
 
Jesus’ View of Self-Esteem
 
Jesus said, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:28, NKJV).
 
Some use this to justify “self-esteem” as Biblical, saying that Jesus was teaching that “You must learn to love yourself first so you can love others.” Is this true? Please note the following, based on the Scripture quoted above:
 
(1)   The emphasis is on loving the Lord first and our neighbor second.
 
(2)   There is an assumption that we already love ourselves. The reality is that every human is born helplessly and hopelessly in love with himself. This is stated quite well in the following quote from my longtime friend and co-worker, Ed Cardwell:  “I think some people we have known over the years suffer from too much of the world’s ‘self-esteem.’ Just ask any thug, criminal, or general meathead bully. They think they are the most important person in the world, and if they don't get their way you might just suffer severely if you happen to be in their way.” This doesn’t sound like someone who needs to learn to love himself.
 
(3)   Self-love is not commanded; it is assumed. There is nowhere in the Bible a commandment to learn to love ourselves. That would be like a commandment to teach our children to sin. They will sin by nature. It would be a Biblical absurdity for God to command us to do those things which we will automatically do because of who and what we are. We will love ourselves without any instruction to do so. "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church" (Ephesians 5:29, NKJV).
 
(4)   Love for God and love for others is what needs to be learned. These things are what Jesus commanded, and His commands are based on things we otherwise would not do without His instruction to do so.
 
Paul’s View of Self-Esteem
 
Some say that Paul was very arrogant because he referred to himself numerous times as worth “imitating” when it comes to spiritual growth and maturity.
 
"Therefore I urge you, imitate me" (1 Corinthians 4:16, NKJV).
 
"Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, NKJV).
 
"Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern" (Philippians 3:17, NKJV).
 
"And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 1:6, NKJV).
 
"For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you … to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us" (2 Thessalonians 3:7,9).
 
Paul did not say these things in arrogance. He had grown in the Lord to the point that he recognized he could say these things because he had learned Godly humility. He had matured, he was imitating Christ, and he knew that if others imitated him, they would also be imitating Christ. Maturity according to Paul is boasting in nothing but Christ’s grace and his own weakness. "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14, NKJV).
 
Paul didn't start out as a humble servant. Before his conversion, he was quite proud of himself. …though I also might have confidence in the flesh. "If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:  circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee;  concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Philippians 3:4-6, NKJV).
 
He was the overseer at the stoning of Stephen.  "and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul" (Acts 7:58, NKJV).
 
He was fanatical, the haughty persecutor of the early church.  "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison" (Acts 8:3, NKJV).  "Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest  and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1-2, NKJV).
 
In grace, he was informed of his error by "…Jesus whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:5, NKJV). Soon Paul recognized the worthlessness of his background and human achievement, and counted all these things "...as rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8, NKJV).
 
Once his view of Christ was proper, Paul's view of himself began to decrease. This continued as he got older. Paul’s view of himself diminished and his dependence on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ increased. Notice the common thread of GRACE than runs through the three steps in the progression of Paul’s view of himself:
 
(1)   Paul begins by recognizing himself as the very least of all the apostles. He knew he had persecuted the church “ignorantly in unbelief.”  "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; (High self-esteem?) but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief (I Timothy 1:12-13, NKJV). For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me " (1 Corinthians 15:9-10, NKJV).
 
(2)   Next, he recognizes himself as “less than the least of all the saints.” Not only did he see himself as the least of the apostles, but now as less than the least of all believers. "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8, NKJV). He became more and more aware of his own worthlessness as he saw the magnificent grace of God at work in his life. If we humans were already righteous, there would be no need for the grace of God.
 
(3)   Finally, near the end of his life, Paul recognizes himself as “the chief of sinners.” "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15, NKJV). By comparison to the righteousness of God, we are nothing but helpless, vile sinners, and each one of us should see ourselves as “the chief of sinners.” That is quite an indictment of self, but it illustrates the tremendous grace of God. "…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more…" (Romans 5:20, NKJV).
 
Only by the grace of God was Paul able to be a humble and effective servant of God, although he was the least of the apostles, the least of all the saints, and the chief of sinners. While in his depravity, man thinks he is higher than the highest, better than the best, greater than the greatest. Paul’s self-evaluation is the exact opposite:  lower than the lowest, worse than the worst, less than the least.
 
Other key Scriptures touch on this topic of self-esteem:
 
"For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3).
 
"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells…" (Romans 7:18).
 
The only Scripture that has both the word “self” and the word “esteem” in it is Philippians 2:3.  "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself" (NKJV).
 
"…greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" (I John 4:4).
 
"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5, NKJV).
 
"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (I Corinthians 15:10, NKJV).
 
Paul knew he could take no credit for what God had made of Him. He was privileged to be a choice servant of the Lord, to lead many to Christ, to pen roughly half of the New Testament, yet he could take no credit. It was all by the grace of God.
 
Self-esteem is not a Biblical concept. We need Christ-esteem, not self-esteem. Proper “self-esteem” is not self-esteem at all. It is Christ-esteem. Paul did not have “self-esteem,” but he had “Christ-esteem.”
 
"He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30, NKJV).
 
"…that in all things He may have the preeminence"  (Colossians 1:18, NKJV).
 
"Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1, NKJV).
 
Paul described himself and others as:
 
(1)   "servants" - from the Greek word which means "under-rower."  An "under-rower" was a slave and an oarsman who served in the lowest level of a ship.
 
(2)   "stewards" - from the Greek word for "house manager." The steward of a household supervised the affairs of a household and was held accountable for the affairs of a household by the owner or master of the house. This word emphasizes responsibility.
 
Jesus Himself, the great Creator-God of the universe, practiced humility. "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8).
 
Based on the teachings of Scripture, we need to remove all of this “self-esteem” nonsense from our vocabulary and from our teaching. We need to see that the grace of God is sufficient to deal with all of our sinfulness, and that an emphasis on “self” ultimately results in pride and arrogance, which will lead our Christian lives in the wrong direction.

Monday, January 12, 2015

IF THIS MAN WERE A PROPHET . . .

Luke 7:39 NAS
by Ed Cardwell

The word ‘IF’, though one of the smallest in our English language, has often been acclaimed the biggest word in the dictionary. That may very well be true in a practical sense, because even the simplest of decisions, contingencies, and eventualities often hang precariously upon the uncertainty implied by this single two-lettered word. As we have all become painfully aware, much in life pivots on this one-syllable instrument of communication.
 
Throughout the Scriptures this one word introduces an almost limitless parade of intrigue and fascination. In Luke 7:36-50, for example, we read the fascinating story of our Lord’s acceptance of an unlikely invitation to dine at a Pharisee’s house. While there He was attended by a woman of ill repute who had found in Him her living Messiah. He had lifted her burden of sin and guilt, and had thereby filled her heart with unspeakable joy and gladness. As He reclined at table she came in behind Him, as was permitted by custom, and attended Him in reverent service while pouring out her soul with tears of thanksgiving.
 
The Pharisee, reclining at table across from Jesus, observed her intimate actions, and knowing who she was, said to himself:
 
IF this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”  LUKE 7:39 NAS
 
On the surface of it one may wonder whether this Pharisee named Simon is on the threshold of a great discovery. Is he searching out this man wondering whether or not He is a prophet? Or is he giving Him the benefit of the doubt waiting to see the outcome?
 
Our key to the penetration of the Pharisee’s thoughts lies in the exactness in the Greek of that smallest of words ‘IF’. We are unable to feel its force in the English, but in the original it speaks volumes!  Let us examine the word more closely so that we might gain added insight into what the Holy Spirit has preserved for us.

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There are primarily three different classes of ‘IF’s in Greek, each one introducing a conditional clause. Each has its respective form and carries its particular power and weight to the meaning of the statement:
 
CLASS I – The ASSUMED-TRUE Condition. This condition was used when the speaker assumed, or wished to assume, that his premise was TRUE. The grammatical construction is simply the introduction of the Greek word ‘if’ (eiv) at the beginning of the conditional clause followed by a verb in the indicative mood (in the same clause).

As an illustration we have the case of the Temptation of our Lord in Matthew 4. In verses 3 and 6 the Class I condition of ‘IF’ is used both cases:
 
IF You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” vs 3 NAS
 
IF You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.” vs 6 NAS
 
Satan’s objective was the nullification of the plan of salvation. His strategy was to lure Jesus out of His self-imposed human character as an obedient servant of God and into His rightful character as Lord over nature, but without first going to the Cross. The leverage the Tempter uses on this occasion is the assumed fact of Jesus’ deity. Satan insisted that the Lord make His rightful demands upon the ‘IF’, or better interpreted, ‘since’, or ‘it being true that’ He was the Son of God.
 
How this passage comes alive to us today with all the intensity of a great drama!  How we can more readily see the infinite pathos of our Lord’s suffering in order that His work FOR US might be fully accomplished.
 
CLASS II – The CONTRARY-TO-FACT Condition. This condition was used when the speaker assumed, or wished to assume, that his premise was UNTRUE. Let us look at three illustrations:
 
a.       A simple example would be the declaration made by both Mary and Martha in John 11. In addressing Jesus upon His arrival, each said in turn:

“Lord, IF You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Joh 11:32 NAS
 
The condition is Class II, contrary-to-fact. We can, of course, surmise this by the context of the narrative. We know that Jesus was not there when Lazarus died; He tarried beyond the Jordan. But had we been unaware of these added circumstances we could have made the matter certain by reading the passage in the original. There we find the special Class II grammatical construction (eiv [ei] + past tense of a verb in the indicative mood + a;n [an]).
 
b.   Another illustration can be found in our Lord’s declaration in John 15:22 and 24. This statement concerns the meaning and result of His coming to earth – to bring the glorious light of Truth and thus to expose sin in all its hideousness, so that men might see their desperate need and thus be drawn to Him, the True Light.
 
IF I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin.” vs 22 NAS
 
IF I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin.”  vs 24 NAS
 
But our Lord DID come and He DID speak to them; and He DID work among them the works which no one else did. So the condition presented is stated contrary-to-fact; and the net result of the unreality is revealed by our Lord in verse 22:
 
“But now they have no excuse for their sin.” NAS
 
In this case, as well as in example ‘a’ above, the meaning is plain from the whole context. But again the Greek grammatical construction of the sentence (eiv [ei] + verb + a;n [an]) confirms the conclusion with certainty.
 
c.   A slightly less obvious example is found in John 5:46. Jesus says, in addressing His skeptical Jewish audience:
 
“For IF you believed Moses, you would believe me .” NAS
 
Our Lord is not leaving anything open to conjecture here; the simple Greek grammatical construction (eiv [ei] + verb + a;n [an]) proves the existence of a conditional clause the negative reality of which is assumed. They didn’t believe Moses. They were idolaters. They were a self-initiated elite who had long since lost the true meaning of being the children of Abraham. They flatly rejected Moses. OTHERWISE, Jesus was saying, you would believe me.”
 
CLASS III – The UNDETERMINED-FULFILLMENT POSSIBLE Condition. In this condition uncertainty is implied, with the possibility of fulfillment. In Scripture the use of the Class III is far more frequent than any of the other conditions, but two examples will suffice:
 
a.   In the story of the Temptation in Matthew 4, referred to above, we have an illustration of the Class III condition in verse 9 where the Tempter says:
 
“All these thing will I give You, IF You fall down and worship me.” NAS
 
Satan was hoping for fulfillment, but doubt encompassed the issue. The premise was neither a question of being True (Class I) nor Untrue (Class II), but remained, at least to him, a possibility of fulfillment. The uncertainty in such cases is often clear, but should the context leave us in doubt, the original once again comes to the rescue with the Class III construction in Greek:  eva.n [ean] + subjunctive mood of the verb.
 
b.      Another interesting example of the Class III condition is found in Acts 5:38 where it is contrasted with a Class I condition in verse 39.
 
The wise Gamaliel seeks to restrain the Council’s murderous intentions against the apostles. He challenges his colleagues to keep their heads cool in this matter:
 
“And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, For IF this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown.”
 
“But IF it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
 
In the conditional clause in verse 38 we find the Class III construction – Doubt, but Possibility. But in verse 39 we find Class I – Assumed True.
 
Gamaliel assumes the validity of Christianity, at least for the sake of his argument, and he puts the alternative (that these activities under discussion are only from men) in the realm of uncertainty. We cannot conclude absolutely that Gamaliel was a Christian nor that he was leaning in that direction; he may merely have wanted, as some suggest, to score a further point against the Sadducee contingent of the Council, whose opposing political and religious influence was suffering embarrassment at the hands of the apostles. On the other hand, neither can we rule out his leaning toward the apostles’ faith at this time, for we read in Acts 6:7 that “A great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” NAS  Also early tradition includes Gamaliel by name in that innumerable company of saints. If so, it would be this contrast in conditions of Class III (verse 38) and Class I (verse 39) that gives us the first hopeful hint at such an eventuality.

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Now, having examined the three possible conditions, let us return to our story in Luke 7.
 
The woman who is attending Jesus is a woman who has been deeply shattered by a new and keen awareness of her sinful state; she is now, however, rejoicing in reverent jubilation that He, her Messiah, has brought to her a new life and a lasting hope, and that without measure. By her presence and by her attendant adoration she is a living testimony to all those reclining at that table that this great Personage has a special attraction for those in great need. Sinners whose lives have become hopelessly shackled to the bonds of sin and degradation need only appeal to Him. And this woman! How animated is her intense display of thanksgiving! What a message to all who are witnesses!

But does the Pharisee hear her testimony?  Does he accept her witness?

By no means! He has a closed mind. He welcomes any shred of evidence that might point to Jesus as a fraud. How revealing is the statement by Simon – to himself:  “IF this man were a prophet…! How intimately we are able to peer into the abyss of his darkened heart and at once learn of his sad condition (and that from his own thoughts!) - that he is a man ruled by pride and overcome by spiritual blindness.

(His ‘if’ statement in Luke 7:39 is found in the original to be Class II – his premise is assumed UNTRUE!  He has, to his own peril, already concluded in his heart that this man IS NOT a prophet. To give evidence and weight to this conviction he reasons to himself further that:  “Otherwise, this man would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” NAS)

Why do such men reject this Jesus? Why do they deny Him? How can they ignore all the evidence that points to His deity?

This Pharisee has judged Jesus through the eyes of one who is confined to his fallen nature, devoid of all spiritual insight. He imagines that his Guest must conform to the contrived and futile standards of spiritually impoverished men, who compare themselves to one another to establish their goodness. He is the ‘natural’ man (1 Cor 2:14) who finds nothing worthy of adoration in Him, but only contempt, and he is, therefore, utterly repulsed by what he observes.

The Pharisee’s mind had been prejudiced by the sundry doctrines of humanism of his day (as is true in our day).  As examples:  We exist by the chance occurrence of ‘favorable’ mutations, ie, we are brothers of the boulders and we are cousins of the stars [evolution]; there is no God outside of ourselves; there is no life after death nor is there a day of judgment awaiting us; and, for the ‘religious’, there are many ways to God. The list is almost endless.

Salvation had come to Simon’s house – in Person!  Oh, how many would have given anything to trade places with Simon! But our Lord chose to visit him. Because it was at Simon’s house that a great sermon was to be preached. But Simon didn’t think that the message was for him. There is no grand reception, no hint of appreciation. He is thankless, cynical, and proud. For he was blinded by his pride and trapped in unbelief, and thus did not recognize this great hour of his visitation – that the full embodiment of the Love and Mercy of the great God of the Universe had left His home in glory to come down to dine before Simon at his very table.

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Additional Scriptural passages which contain the conditional ‘IF’ are given according to Class:

CLASS I:  Mat 5:29, 30; Mar 3:26; Luk 12:26; Joh 8:46; Act 4:9; Rom 7:16, 20; 1Co 7:9; 2Co 3:7; Gal 2:14; Col 2:20; 3:1; 1Th 4:14; 2Th 3:14; 1Ti 3:5; Phm 17, 18; Heb 2:2; Jms 1:5; 1Pe 1:17; 2Pe 2:4; 1Jo 3:13.

CLASS II:  Mat 11:21, 23; 12:7; 23:30; 24:43; Luke 7:39; 10:13; 19:42; Joh 4:10; 5:46; 8:19, 42; 9:41; 15:19; 18:36; Act 18:14; 26:32; Rom 7:7; 1Co 11:31; Gal 1:10; 3:21; Heb 4:8; 8:4; 11:15; 1Jo 2:19.

CLASS III:  Mat 6:14, 15; Mar 1:40; Luk 17:3(2), 4; Joh 11:25; Act 9:2; Rom 2:25(2), 26; 1Co 5:11; 2Co 5:1; Gal 5:2; Col 4:10; 1Ti 1:8; Heb 13:23; Jms 2:2; 1Pe 3:13; 1Jo 1:6, 7, 8, 9. 10; 2:1; 3Jo 10; Rev 3:3; 22:18, 19.

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NOTES:

1. Some scholars identify four Classes of conditions, the fourth being a further division of Class III. This further distinction is most often hazy, is never found in its full form, and has been characterized as a highly ornamental and little used construction. It is therefore omitted here from discussion.

2. Because thought is not always expressed in the most clearly defined forms, the student of the New Testament is met throughout with sundry mixed, implied, and elliptical conditions and grammatical exceptions. All of theses insure that one will never master the language entirely and that he will never exhaust the innumerable challenges presented by these variations.

3. It must be emphasized that the condition itself of Class I and II is concerned only with the statement, not with the actual reality or unreality of the matter.

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