Thursday, February 27, 2020

Harsh Attitudes and Harsh Words

It is easy to overlook or think little of our harsh attitudes and harsh words. We might think lightly of them because they stop short of dramatic acts like murder. We might think lightly of them because they are so common and feel so natural to us. But Jesus did not minimize them.
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire." (Matthew 5:21-22) 
Jesus teaches that this command goes beyond not killing people. It also forbids anger and insulting and reviling language.

Anger. Some anger is righteous, such as God’s anger. He is slow to anger and justly angry at the right things with right motive. But here Jesus addresses what is most common among us, unrighteous anger. This is anger that reveals in your heart vengefulness rather than patience, hatred rather than love, malice rather than goodwill, bitterness rather than forgiveness and forbearance, envy and resentment rather than a humble spirit that rejoices in the prosperity of another. This anger can lead to physical violence and literal murder, and it is itself a kind of murder. As 1 John 3:15 says, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."

Insults. To insult someone is to belittle him or her. It also leads to violence and murder. Murder usually begins by devaluating a person, lightly esteeming that person, disparaging that person. From abortion to genocide to domestic violence, murderous acts often are rooted in an insulting and belittling attitude to others. It takes away the dignity of a person and it disgraces the image of God. And therefore it is wrong in itself and a kind of murder.

Reviling. Reviling is abusive and harsh language. It includes slander, but can even be true things said in an unkind and unduly harsh manner. These destructive words attack and beat down a person. They engage in tit-for-tat verbal battles. This too is a kind of murder. Do you recognize such language? Have you used it against your family members? Or other people in your life? Or politicians and other public figures?

In drawing out the broader implications of the commandment against murder, Jesus is reaffirming what the Old Testament taught in places like Leviticus 19:17–18,
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
Like Jesus, this verse forbids hatred of a brother, vengeance, and grudges. And it replaces these attitudes with a positive one: love. Likewise, Jesus turns to consider the positive implications. Rather than being angry and disrespectful, you must seek reconciliation and harmony with others.
"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23–24) 
Your worship is polluted unless you have done what you can to be at peace with your brothers and sisters in the church. We no longer go to the temple to offer sacrifices, but we do offer sacrifices of praise (Heb. 13:15, 1 Peter 2:5), and Paul applies a similar principle to the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 where the Supper was defiled by the division among the church.

Jesus will also teach about going to the person who has wronged you (Matt. 18:15-20). But here he talks of going to the one who feels that you have wronged him - not only should you avoid anger, but you should seek to prevent murderous anger in others by seeking reconciliation. What does reconciliation look like? It looks like patiently listening to the other person, being willing to repent if you have done wrong and to make restitution if applicable, and patiently clearing up any misunderstandings.

So the command against murder not only forbids unjust killing of human life, but its original intention was to forbid murderous words, thoughts, attitudes, and to command love for others and the effort to make peace and reconciliation. So while the Pharisees might be content with a merely external and negative command, the disciples of Jesus who are being transformed by grace will engage in a deeper repentance that strikes at the root, turning from murder in the heart and becoming makers of peace.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Judicial Laws of the Old Testament and the Westminster Confession

If you read through the laws of the Old Testament, you probably find yourself thinking about their relevance and obligation in the present day. You are not the first person to consider that question. It has been a topic of study and discussion throughout the ages. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) gave a mature and thoughtful framework for us to use in its chapter 19, "Of the Law of God." It speaks of the moral law (rooted in creation and summarized in the Ten Commandments), as well as the ceremonial laws and judicial laws which God gave Israel. It argues that the moral law forever binds all people and the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament have been abrogated in the New Testament. But its handling of the obligation of the judicial laws on modern nations is more nuanced. It states,
"To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require."
To explain this statement, I have written an article which has been published on The Daily Genevan, "The Judicial Laws of Moses and General Equity." In short, I argue that the "general equity" of the judicial laws refers to the universal and moral basis for those laws, in contrast to other factors such as Israel’s unique position in redemptive history and the context of ancient times. These laws do not oblige nations today except to the extent that they express this basis - to that extent, they remain binding.

I note at the beginning that there is a debate on whether the position known as "Theonomy," such as articulated by Greg Bahnsen, fits within the parameters of this statement. I do not answer that question in the article, since it would take another article to define "Theonomy" and its variations, but my short answer is that it does. But understanding this statement is not just important with regard to that debate - it has many practical ramifications whether you identify with Theonomy or not, as I point out by referring to the debate over women in combat. You can read the article here:

Friday, February 21, 2020

How God Makes Us Partakers of the Covenant of Grace

Our confession of faith and catechisms were written by the Westminster Assembly in the 1640s, and when they began to be published, publishers included what you might call a gospel tract, written by two Scottish ministers, David Dickson and James Durham. It was called "The Sum of Saving Knowledge." You can read it online at this link. Its presentation of the gospel centers on the concept of God's covenant with us, which I wrote about in my last post. Here is how "The Sum of Saving Knowledge" describes the outward means God uses to make people partakers of this covenant:
"The outward means and ordinances, for making men partakers of the covenant of grace ... are especially these four: i. The word of God ii. The ordinances iii. Church iv. Prayer. 
"In the word of God preached by sent messengers, the Lord makes offer of grace to all sinners, upon condition of faith in Jesus Christ; and whoever does confess their sin, accept Christ’s offering, and submit themselves to his ordinances, he will have them received into the honour and privileges of the covenant of grace. By the ordinances, God will have the covenant sealed for confirming the bargain on the foresaid condition. By the Church, he will have them hedged in, and helped forward to the keeping of the covenant. And by prayer, he will have his own glorious grace, promised in the covenant, to be daily drawn forth, acknowledged, and employed. All these means are followed either really, or in profession only, according to the quality of the covenanters, as they are true or counterfeit believers."

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Doctrine of the Covenant

What is a covenant? A covenant is an oath that establishes a relationship between two parties and defines its nature and obligations, binding them to mutual fidelity. Or more simply, a covenant is a bond and alliance between two parties. For example, covenants were made between kings and their vassals, between friends or peoples (e.g. David and Jonathan, Israel and the Gibeonites), and between husband and wife. 

What is God’s covenant? When God makes a covenant with people, he establishes a mutual bond of fellowship and loyalty with them, taking them under his special care, promising eternal life and blessing. "And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people" (Lev. 26:12). 

What is the covenant of works? Initially, God’s covenant with man was conditioned upon perfect obedience, upon pain of death (Gen. 2:17). This covenant with man in Adam we call the “covenant of works.” In it, God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, blessed them as his children, confirmed his promise of life with the tree of life, and they served him in accordance with his commands. Yet, this covenant was broken by sin and we lost fellowship with God. Outside of grace, all the heirs of Adam are condemned as treacherous covenant-breakers.

What is the covenant of grace? God was pleased to make a second arrangement, establishing his covenant with sinners through Jesus Christ, requiring faith as the condition to receive the benefits of Christ’s mediation, promising life and salvation in him. This covenant we call the “covenant of grace.” God made his covenant with sinners on this basis beginning in Genesis 3. There he promised to deliver his people by creating enmity between them and the serpent and by giving them salvation through the “seed of the woman” (i.e. Jesus Christ). In this covenant of grace, sinners are saved by God to be his people, that they might enjoy fellowship with him and serve him in holiness and righteousness forever (Luke 1:68-75).

How did God administer this covenant before Christ? The broken covenant of works and its condemnation is always the background of God’s covenant dealings. It is our default context apart from the gracious provisions of the second covenant. But ever since the fall, God has made his covenant with his people on the basis of grace through Christ. God called them to faith in Christ before his coming through promises, sacrifices, and other types and ceremonies. We find this covenant revealed in increasing detail as God renewed it with his people from generation to generation, especially in his dealings with his people under Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David.

What is the new covenant? With the coming of Christ, this covenant of grace reached its final and permanent form, known sometimes as the “new covenant” (Heb. 8:13). Jesus came to fulfill the covenant of grace by providing its basis in his death and resurrection. He made the former ceremonies obsolete, fulfilling them and instituting simpler and clearer ordinances by which the covenant would be administered, namely, the preaching of the Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. He also poured out the Holy Spirit in great abundance so that this covenant is held forth in greater fullness and efficacy to all nations.

How has God dealt with the children of believers when he has made his covenant? In the Old Testament, the covenant was made with the believer’s household and offspring. Consider Noah (Gen. 6:18; 9:9), Abraham (Gen. 17:7-14), and the Israelites (Deut. 29:10-15). Believers entered into an alliance with God, an engagement to be the Lord’s, with their households. As Joshua said when the covenant was renewed, "But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15). God always welcomed the believer and his household into this alliance. Male infants received the sign and seal of the covenant, circumcision (Gen. 17:7-14, Rom. 4:11). The children of believers grew up with special obligations and privileges as members of God’s people, being treated like the rest as visible saints, heirs of the promise. The covenant was still conditional on faith and apostasy was possible, so each generation was to be exhorted to keep the covenant and hold fast to the Lord (Deut. 10:12-22).  The practice of including the believer’s household was not changed in the new covenant, but rather was affirmed in the proclamation of the new covenant (Acts 2:38-39, 16:31-34).

What was the condition of the covenant made with Israel? If membership was conditioned on works, it would not have lasted a day. If membership was conditioned on physical descent, none could have ever broken it. Membership was conditioned on faith, and therefore it belonged to all those with true faith in the Savior, a faith which proved itself by its works (Heb. 3:7-4:13, James 2:14-26). The covenant sign bound all the heirs of the covenant to share the faith of their father Abraham. Otherwise, they would be cut off as covenant breakers. Today, the true heirs of the covenant and its promises are those who believe in Christ, along with their children, who like the Israelite children of old are called to keep covenant by exercising faith in the Savior.

“They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.” -Romans 11:20

Friday, February 14, 2020

Why Discussing Infant Baptism Is Important

This Sunday I will begin teaching a five-part series on doctrines related to the practice of infant baptism in my church's afternoon Sunday school time. Feel free to join us! You can see our Sunday schedule here.

In the video below, I suggest several reasons why it is important to discuss infant baptism. Not only it is important to know whether we should baptize the children of believers or not, but the discussion brings up other important matters, such as the relation between the Old and New Testaments, the doctrine of the church, and how we ought to view and raise our children. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Thou Shalt Not Covet

The final commandment of the Ten Commandments forbids covetousness:
“You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.” (Exodus 20:17) 
From this commandment, I would note several things:

1. Coveting is an unlawful desire. Not only can actions and choices be sin, but your desires can be sinful as well. You ought to repent not only of your sinful choices, but also for your inclinations for what is forbidden, since even the desire to sin is sin.

2. Coveting is both a sin and a temptation to more sin. Coveting allures us to commit other sins like stealing and adultery. This is one way that Jesus was not tempted - by indwelling corruption. For example, he was not tempted by his own greed, lust, or pride - for he had none. He had natural cravings like hunger, but not sinful cravings like coveting. He "in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). He did not give in one bit. But when we give in, it entices us to go further. Coveting will not be content to be alone - it loves the company of other sins.

3. Coveting is an unqualified (or improperly qualified) desire for that which belongs to another. This commandment does not forbid you from seeking to buy your neighbor's donkey or asking for charity if you are in need. Good desires are desires that are qualified by things such as lawfulness, permission, and love for others: “I would like that if…” For example, one might properly think, “I would like that sandwich if it is for sale and if I have enough money.” It does not desire a sandwich which has an owner who is not willing to share. It does not desire something that is inherently unlawful for you to have, like your neighbor's spouse. Proper desire for good things evidences its goodness by being content if the qualifications are not met. Bad desires are desires that are unqualified: “I want that.” They are not content to hear “no.”

4. Coveting will influence your attitude toward your neighbor. It will blossom into other sinful attitudes directed at the owner of what you covet. Coveting blossoms into envy, resentment, and malice. It leads you to think things like, “I don’t want him to have that,” “I can't stand him since he won't give that to me,” “no one should have more than me,” and “this is unjust - the government should do something about it!” And resentment feeds more covetousness, causing you to have thoughts like, “I want that because they have that.” But when coveting is replaced with contentment, contentment blossoms into respect and love towards your neighbors. It helps you to seek their welfare as well as your own. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4).

And so, to summarize with the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q. 80. What is required in the tenth commandment? The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his.

Q. 81. What is forbidden in the tenth commandment? The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Two Purposes for Clothing: Usefulness and Honor

In my most recent sermon, "Trusting God for Your Daily Bread," I took a moment to comment on the two main purposes for the covering that clothing provides and how these purposes should guide us in our choice of clothing.
By the way, we see here [in Matthew 6:25-34], and elsewhere in the Bible, two main purposes for clothing: first, it is a necessity of life to protect you from the elements, and second, it is adornment to give honor. The entrance of sin has made both things more necessary, by the curse making conditions harsher and by introducing shame among humanity (Gen. 3). These two purposes also should guide us in the clothing we choose. As Peter Martyr Vermigli, one of the 16th century Reformers, said, "since clothes were invented for usefulness and honor in this present life, those [clothes] that lack these two properties deserve censure" ("Theses on Genesis," 1543). Some people only pay attention to one of these purposes, while others today throw out both purposes and choose clothing that is both impractical and shameless. But we are humans, and especially in this age, we need clothing to protect us and dignify us. 
I could refine the point further and say that in some situations one of these purposes may be more important than the other (e.g. usefulness is more important when weeding the garden and honor is more important at a wedding), although both should always be kept in mind. Also, I will add that John Calvin has a similar remark on clothing in his commentary on 1 Peter 3:3, "Two things are to be regarded in clothing, usefulness and decency; and what decency requires is moderation and modesty."

In the sermon, I then go on to reconnect this point with the main point, which is that God cares for the needs of his children.
Sometimes good clothing is hard to come by, and we are reminded in the epistle from James to not show partiality based on whether someone has clothing which is fine or shabby (James 2:1-13). But even if you don’t always have the clothing you want, God knows that you need it and he will clothe his children. If he gives protection and adornment to the grass of the field which lasts for a day, will he not also sufficiently provide for you?

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

God is Building His Temple

In my experience, it seems that evangelicals talk about their bodies being God's temples quite often and rarely talk about the church being God's temple. It is true that there is a verse that speaks of our bodies as temples:
"Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" (1 Corinthians 6:18–19)
This is part of Paul's exhortation against sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. There he argues that since (1) your bodies are members of Christ, (2) your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and (3) you are not your own because you were bought with a price, therefore, you must not use your body to commit immorality. While many people use this text to argue that you should take care of your body, Paul does not call your body a temple to exhort you to take care of you bodies (although you should), but rather to exhort you to not use you body to commit sin. Temples are holy, so they ought not be defiled by sin.

There are other verses which communicate the same idea of God dwelling with the individual believer, even though they do not use the word "temple." For example, Jesus says in John 14:23, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."

Nevertheless, the normal practice in the New Testament is to refer to the church as God's earthly temple. (In the following passages the "you" is plural, referring to "you all.")
"So then you [all] are no longer strangers and aliens, but you [all] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you [all] also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:19–22, see also 1 Peter 2:4-6)
"For we are God's fellow workers. You [all] are God's field, God's building ... Do you not know that you [all] are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you [all]? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you [all] are that temple." (1 Corinthians 3:9, 16-17) 
"What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.'" (2 Corinthians 6:16)
Jesus had prophesied that the temple in Jerusalem would loose its significance and be destroyed (John 4:21, Matt. 24:1-2). Rather, the dwelling place of God on earth would be in the body of Christ, the church.

Ephesians 2 teaches that each Christian is a stone that becomes part of the temple as he or she rests on Christ and the apostolic and prophetic Scriptures and is joined with the other stones (i.e. other Christians). A stone on its own is not a temple. God is building his temple by drawing people to Christ and thereby gathering them into the church.

This means that we should treat the church with love and respect. It means that we should live as fellow members of this temple, in love and Christian fellowship, not forsaking the assembly. God has zeal for his holy temple, for the place where his name dwells. As 1 Corinthians 3 teaches, God will destroy those who destroy his temple. In context, this refers to those who were tearing apart the church through jealousy and strife.

This also means that we should promote the holiness of the church, cleansing ourselves from the defilement of sin. This is the point of 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. This applies to each member of the church, that we might not defile the temple by our own sins, but repent of them, find cleansing in Christ's blood, and endeavor after greater obedience. This also applies to the church as a body, that we should encourage one another in the way of holiness and be holy in the way we treat each other. It means that those who rule the church should be diligent to maintain the holiness of the temple through their teaching, shepherding, and discipline.

This understanding of the new covenant temple shows why individual and corporate holiness should be a priority for Christians. It directs the believer to love and treasure the church. It should also shape our understanding and application of the Old Testament's references to the temple and house of the Lord. God is currently building his temple by building his church through the gospel of Jesus Christ. With this understanding in mind, let us pray that the holiness and glory of the Lord would so fill the temple that all nations would be drawn to its brightness.