March, 2010

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Guest Post by Rebekah Tidball: A Conversation Between Christian & Tolerance

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

An allegory.

Conversation Between Tolerance and Christian
Christian: Tolerance, I have some questions for you.
Tolerance: Dear Christian, I have been expecting you.
Christian: You have?
Tolerance: Of course. I knew you would come around sometime.
Christian: Well Tolerance, can you tell me why so many think us Christians are intolerant?
Tolerance: I’d be happy to. They think that because you are.
Christian: How can I become more tolerant then?
Tolerance: It’s quite simple really. And you will be accepted and loved by others if you just follow a few simple guidelines.
Christian: That doesn’t sound so bad.
Tolerance: Christian, it is wonderful. First of all, no more saying there is only one way to do things. People don’t like that. It’s offensive and intolerant.
Christian: But the Bible says…
Tolerance: Wait. That’s another thing right there. No more talk about the Bible. We’ve done well with our tolerance movement and have even convinced some Christians to get rid of their Bible’s and no longer read them even in church. The Bible is offensive, Christian, and it is not tolerant.
Christian: I see.
Tolerance: Yes. See my master has made sure that we have been successful in whispering in the ears of top leaders and politicians to make sure people are more tolerant overall. It’s the only right way.
Christian: And who is your master?
Tolerance: We’ll get into that later. To be more tolerant you need to stop telling people about sin and that they are wrong. It’s a chosen lifestyle. Not sin. Sin is way too harsh of a word. Christian, I only want the best for you. And using words like sin and wrong will not make you any friends.
Christian: I think…
Tolerance: Hold it. See, you need to stop with all the thinking. That’s where you get into trouble. Don’t think. As a matter of fact we have made sure that people are starting to stop thinking for themselves. Do you know there are even directions on how to eat a marshmallow? Look at the back of the bag. We will tell you what is o.k. and what is not o.k. A lifestyle choice is all right. What you want to believe and what you want to think is right and wrong and what works for you is officially in.
Christian: Seems broad.
Tolerance: Exactly. See, now you are getting it. Broaden your world views and be more open instead of being intolerant.
Christian: I think I understand.
Tolerance: Good. It doesn’t have to be major changes. Not at first. Take things slow and compromise little by little. You will feel enlightened and at peace.
Christian: I have a question, Tolerance. Why is it that we have to be tolerant of all beliefs and all people but no one wants to be tolerant of Christians?
Tolerance: See, there you go thinking again. The problem with Christians is they are intolerant. They think they know what is right and wrong and everyone is incorrect. Sad really.
Christian: But the Bible says…
Tolerance: Remember Christian, the Bible is not at all tolerant. You should get rid of yours. Quickly.
Christian: I’m getting this. I understand.
Tolerance: Good. I knew you would. People will like you and you will be accepted the more tolerant you become.
Christian: So to be more tolerant I need to accept all beliefs and stop thinking there is such a thing as right and wrong. I need to believe that everyone chooses for themselves what is right. How’s that?
Tolerance: My master would be pleased.
Christian: Who is this master you are talking about?
Tolerance: He has many names. Don’t worry about it.
Christian: O.k. so in addition to accepting all things I need to stop believing my Bible?
Tolerance: Absolutely. That Jesus character was above all people intolerant and look what happened to Him! You don’t want to be hated like he was do you? You don’t want to be killed or even jailed for intolerance, do you, dear Christian?
Christian: Hmm.
Tolerance: Seems like an easy answer to me.
Christian: So to be more tolerant I need to forget about Jesus and all He stood for. Forget right and wrong. And I need to compromise.
Tolerance: Compromise. Yes. I love that word.
Christian: I need to compromise my faith, my beliefs, and above all compromise on the Word of God?
Tolerance: Yes.
Christian: Seems to me, Tolerance, that telling me what I believe is wrong, by telling me the Bible is intolerant and offensive, by telling me I can’t say others are wrong and sinful and by telling me I must compromise; is well….intolerant.
Tolerance: Poor Christian, so deceived.
Christian: You never told me who your master is.
Tolerance: Let’s just say he is very powerful, he has the ear of many politicians and world leaders and thankfully even church leaders.
Christian: I think we are at a standstill, Tolerance, because I am just not willing to compromise here. You see I believe the Bible is the true Word of God. I believe being right doesn’t mean you’ll be liked or popular. I believe there is a right way and a wrong way.
Tolerance: You are intolerant, Christian. It’s displeasing.
Christian: Displeasing? To whom? Your master? I think I know who your master is, Tolerance, and I would be more than happy not to please him. In fact if being tolerant means pleasing him then I want to be the opposite.
Tolerance: People will not like you, Christian. We are working hard to make laws against you and your intolerance and we are working very hard to make these laws applicable even in your churches. We are watching what you do and what you say. Be assured, being intolerant will get you in hot water.
Christian: The more I talk to you the more I am o.k. with that.
Tolerance: You will be left to stand alone in your hard and intolerant beliefs…….…Christian, why are you smiling?
Christian: Because I know the uncompromised truth.
Tolerance: And what is that?
Christian: I never have to stand alone. If all the world forsakes me and decides I am too intolerant then I know I will not stand alone because God will always be with me.
Tolerance: So you say. I think it’s time for me to go. I have a busy schedule ahead. My master and I are always hard at work.
Christian: I have to go too. I have something important to do.
Tolerance: An appointment or something, Christian?
Christian: I need no appointment for where I am going. If what you say is true Tolerance then I am going to my knees.
Tolerance: Prayer you mean?
Christian: Yes.
Tolerance: Oh brother. That won’t do much. If you disagree with me that much then get out there and protest and make a fuss. Make a big spectacle of yourself and defend yourself!
Christian: No thanks. I don’t have to. When the time comes to defend myself, and it may come, then I trust that the Lord will speak through me.
Tolerance: I’m out of here. I have business to do.
Christian: Thank you, Tolerance, for your time. I’m going to my knees now.
Rebekah Tidball
March 16, 2010

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God Humbles Death

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I must say that I am sick of death. During the past two weeks, a prominent Northern Irish Bible teacher whom I know of succumbed to cancer. Another brother I know personally departed this life suddenly last week, shocking his friends by his sudden exit from this world. This past Sunday a sister in the Lord lost her father to a recently diagnosed illness. Meanwhile, a dear brother in our home church is gravely ill with multiple maladies that could take his life at any moment. Serious diseases plague more than one personal friend, as well as a close family member. All of this leads me to strongly reiterate: I am sick of death. Thankfully in light of the work of Christ, death is a temporary phenomenon.
“Nothin’ Certain But Death”
Dr. Edwin Shneidman, a psychologist & authority on suicide once said: “Dying is the one thing — perhaps the only thing — in life that you don’t have to do…Stick around long enough and it will be done for you.”i Death is the terrible consequence of sin in this world. The gravity of the situation is famously described in the New Testament: “The wages of sin is death…” and “…sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (Rom. 6:23; Jms. 1:15.) Sin’s ugliness is seen in the havoc it produces in men’s lives – the perverted hearts, wrecked marriages, and ravaged bodies and minds which it leaves in its wake. Its heinousness is demonstrated on a thousand battlefields and its pervasiveness is seen on the sick beds of the rich and poor alike. Loathed and feared by humans of all walks of life, Death reveals the seriousness and harmfulness of sin.
It is well that it is so terrible, for sin is independence of the one true God, the Creator of heaven and earth. In its essence it is rebellion against the Almighty. Its true face is seen by the first temptation in human history: humans can be divine (Gen. 3:5.) When one turns away from Him, one leaves the source of light and life (Jn. 1:3-4.) What is more, if someone dies in their sin they are eternally cut off from these things – a tragic state called “the second death” (Rev. 20:6, 14.) This spiritual alienation afflicts all people who have not been born again by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and will endure for eternity unless they repent (Eph. 2:1; 2 Thes. 1:7-9; Jude 13.) In order to be transferred “from death to life” one must have his sins removed by the work of the Christ (Jn. 5:24.)
An Obituary For Death
The exhilarating truth of death’s demise is seen in the effects of Christ’s victorious death. The seventeenth century metaphysical poet, John Donne’s oft-quoted words sum this up well:
“DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so, For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow, Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”
He finishes his meditation exulting: “…death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”ii
In fact, death has already been mortally wounded. It is on borrowed time, and is a vanquished relic of the fallen earth’s past. By His death on the cross, the Lord Jesus paid for sin entirely, suffering the penalty and satisfying the righteous requirement of God. He tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9.) Three days later He rose from the dead, proving that His sacrifice was accepted, vindicating His claims, and demonstrating His victory over the grave, death, and hell (Acts 2:22-33; Rom. 1:4.) When Christ returns, His people who have died will rise to meet Him in the air. Those who are still physically alive at that time will also be caught to be with Him forever (1 Thes. 4:13-18.) The Christian’s triumph is best summarized in these taunting lyrics: “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55.)
HIS be the Victor’s name Who fought the fight alone; Triumphant saints no honour claim, His conquest was their own. By weakness and defeat, He won the meed and crown; Trod all our foes beneath His feet By being trodden down. He Satan’s power laid low; Made sin, He sin o’erthrew; Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so, And death by dying slew. Bless, bless the Conqueror slain, Slain in His victory; Who lived, who died, who lives again — For thee, His church, for thee!iii
i “Edwin Shneidman, Authority on Suicide, Dies at 91”on nytimes.com May 21, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/21shneidman.html?partner=rss&emc=rss Accessed on 3/16/10.
ii John Donne, “Divine Sonnet X: Death be not proud”; the differences in spelling are original with Donne. Accessed on 3/16/10 at http://www.bartleby.com/105/72.html .
iii S. Whitlock Gandy, “His Be The Victor’s Name,” Spiritual Songs, Hymn #24: http://www.stempublishing.com/hymns/ss/24 Accessed on 3/16/10. Emphasis mine.

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Faith & Love That Cling

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

“Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.” Ruth 1:14
The verse above presents a beautiful picture of devoted faith and love. After the tragedy of losing her husband and two sons Naomi desperately abandoned Moab for her homeland in Bethlehem, where there were stories of renewed prosperity. Years before, hardship drove her family from the land of Israel, the place of God’s provision and blessing – beloved Eretz Israel, as a Hebrew would habitually call it, thereby indicating that no other land was like the one given to them by the Lord. In spite of his pious-sounding name, when famine stalked the land Elimelechi decamped for Gentile territory in search of a fruitful way of life. Of course the adverse agricultural situation reflected the spiritual departure within the nation itself. These were the days of the Judges, when “…there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25.) God had forewarned the Israelites of the dire discipline that would befall them if they departed from serving Him and turned to idols. Conversely, He promised to bless their land and give them the early and latter rains which were essential for fecundity (Deut. 11:13-17.) If they did turn from the Lord, the remedy would be found in heartfelt repentance, rather than in fleeing to greener pastures in neighboring nations. (Abraham’s woeful experience during a famine in Genesis 12:10-20 demonstrated the folly of going elsewhere during hard times.) Sadly, Elimelech led his family to nearby Moab to their cost.

God’s Unfailing Mercy Confronts Human Failure
Despite the human failure evidenced in what befell Elimelech’s family, God was working to bless the widows Naomi and Ruth. Through this destitute pair He would also bring about unlikely benefits to Israel extending to David’s time and beyond to the line of the Messiah, Christ Jesus Himself. Although Moabites were ordinarily prohibited from reception into the congregation unto the tenth generation, the Lord graciously received Ruth into Israel and used her as an ancestress of the Christ (Deut. 23:3; Matt. 1:5.) At the time of Ruth chapter 1, however, things looked much bleaker to the three grieving widows.
Thinking practically, Naomi strongly urged her two daughters-in-law to return to their parents’ homes, where they would have better prospects of finding new husbands. Conventional wisdom would say this was sound strategy for there were few other economic possibilities for widows in those days; they were among society’s most vulnerable members. The New English Translation graphically depicts the women’s response: “Again they wept loudly. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung tightly to her” (Ruth 1:14, emphasis mine.) As one of the translator’s remarks in a study note: “Orpah is a commendable and devoted person (see v. 8); after all she is willing to follow Naomi back to Judah. However, when Naomi bombards her with good reasons why she should return, she relents. But Ruth is special. Despite Naomi’s bitter
tirade, she insists on staying. Orpah is a good person, but Ruth is beyond good – she possesses an extra measure of devotion and sacrificial love that is uncommon.”ii Putting it succinctly, Ruth possessed the love and faith that cling.
Holding On For Dear, Eternal Life
The faith that is of eternal value is confidence in the true and living God. As Hebrews 11:6 expresses it: “…he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”iii Trust in Him is never misplaced, for He is true and faithful (Deut. 7:9.) Ruth looked beyond self-effort and human aid to the Lord, who is merciful and able to save. Accordingly she clung to her mother-in-law, her only link to Israel’s God.
Those who are born again by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ have an enduring type of faith, which is illustrated by Ruth’s actions. It clings to the Lord in life’s storms, forsaking the easy pathway for a life of trust in the Lord. Believers from ancient times to the present day endure persecution, illness, humiliation, material privation, and all manner of tribulations. Nevertheless, they bear it with God’s help, and cling to the Lord who will faithfully complete the new creation He has begun in them (Phil. 1:6; 2 Cor. 5:17.) They love Him who first loved them, and walk through the valley of the shadow of death by His gentle leading (1 Jn. 4:9-10; Psa. 23:4.) Sometimes in hard circumstances all they can do is cling – just hang on to the Lord as the clouds pass overhead. In clinging to Him, the Christian has an unmovable rock. What is more, He will never let go of His people (Jn. 10:27-30.)
i Elimelech literally means “My God is king” in Hebrew – an ironic name under the circumstances, seeing that he ignored God’s word & fled to enemy territory in troubled times.
iiThe NET Bible First Edition (Biblical Studies Press, 2006.) http://bible.org/netbible/index.htm ; emphasis mine.

iii Verses appear in the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.

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The Death of the Cross

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

“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. 2:9i
To modern people the cross is at best a ubiquitous Christian symbol or at worst a mere piece of jewelry. In the ancient world things were far different. In Bible times the cross was a form of execution, “…reserved for the most notable and notorious ne’er-do-wells of antiquity.”ii It was not something one spoke about in polite company; nor was it a desirable end to one’s life. Every facet of crucifixion was meant to demean and demoralize the condemned one. Though it meant a lonely, tortuous death, the Lord Jesus willingly went to Golgotha and laid down His life in obedience to His Father. To fathom the profound shame associated with this act, modern sentimentality about the cross must be stripped away. To appreciate what Christ did for His people one must perceive the humiliation connected with this form of execution.
The Old Rugged Cross
In order to properly understand Christ’s gracious work one must survey ancient opinions on His manner of death. To the Romans, crucifixion was an odious, humiliating process, kept in store for society’s vilest dregs. One writer describes their revulsion in this way: “Origen called crucifixion mors turpissima crucia (‘the utterly vile death of the cross’), and Cicero called it, ‘that most cruel and disgusting penalty.’ It was reserved for rebellious foreigners, violent criminals and robbers, and it was considered the typical punishment for slaves.”iii Another adds: “…Cicero…expresses his feelings about crucifixion as follows: ‘Far be the very name of a cross, not only from the body, but even from the thought, the eyes, the ears of Roman citizens’.”iv A third writer comments on the problems with which early Christians were confronted by pagan adversaries:
The shame of crucifixion was in fact to be widely utilized in precisely this fashion in later anti-Christian polemic. Caecilius, Minucius Felix’s pagan interlocutor, reasoned as follows: ‘To say that their ceremonies center on a man put to death for his crime and on the fatal wood of the cross is to assign to these abandoned wretches sanctuaries which are appropriate to them and the kind of worship they deserve.’ Tacitus had already utilized the dishonor of the crucifixion of Jesus to cast aspersions on the Christian movement. ‘Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate.’ The resulting ‘disease’ (malum) found its way to Rome, ‘where all things horrible or shameful [pudenda] in the world collect and find a vogue.’ For Christians in Philippi, the sharp verticality of their social world would have served only to accentuate the foolishness and shamefulness of worshiping a crucified Christ.v
Suffice it to say that speaking of death by crucifixion in a Roman colony like Philippi would link the executed one with the lowest type of shame.
The Jewish Opinion of Crucifixion
The Jewish view of the cross was just as bad as the Greco-Roman estimation of this gibbet of shame. Deuteronomy 21:23 affirms: “…he who is hanged is accursed of God.” As Martin points out: “…[it] meant that the victim was outside the pale of Israel, and that he was under a ban of excommunication from God’s covenant. It was this thought which proved the stumbling-block of the cross to the Jew (1 Cor. 1:23)…”vi The Dead Sea Scrolls link this verse in Deuteronomy with crucifixion.vii Later Jewish literature scornfully refers to Jesus as Ha-Talui (“the Hanged One”), emphasizing that He died as a condemned and accursed One.viii Before, during, and after the time of Christ crucifixion and crucified people were repugnant to the Jewish mind.
Given the universal abhorrence of crucifixion in the ancient world, Philippians 2: 9 reveals the astonishing fact that the Lord Jesus voluntarily submitted to this sort of treatment. His unparalleled obedience to the Father’s will is demonstrated by His willing self-sacrifice in such a humiliating way. He subordinated His own well-being to the overarching divine plan of redemption. So that the Father might be glorified, the Son laid down His life and abased Himself. His reputation was put in the dust that the Father’s name might be exalted. God must be revealed as Just and the Justifier of the repentant sinner (Rom. 3:25-26.) God’s love was unequivocally declared and His fathomless grace demonstrated for all of the universe to see (Rom. 5:8; 2 Cor. 8:9; Eph. 2:7; 3:10.)
Through the resurrection and ascension, the Father exalted the Son to the highest position in the universe for His selfless obedience, which previously led Him to such depths of humiliation. He who went lower than any other, is now exalted over all creation. Every human and angelic being will one day be compelled to confess His position at first place, declaring His peerless Lordship (Phil. 2:10-11.) Thus Christ’s death on a cross is the unlikely launching point for the greatest rise in world history. Paul aptly used this truth to exhort the Philippian Christians to greater selflessness, mutual love, and unity. Elsewhere, he points to the tremendous blessings that comes to every believer and him through Christ’s ignominious death. The benefits of His crucifixion are so vast that the apostle refuses to boast in anything else (Gal. 6:14.)
Oh, my Saviour crucified, Near Thy cross would I abide, Gazing with adoring eye On Thy dying agony.
God is love I surely know, In the Saviour’s depth of woe; In the Sinless, in God’s sight, Sin is justly brought to light.
In His spotless soul’s distress, I have learnt my guiltiness; Oh, how vile my low estate, Since my ransom was so great.
-Robert Cleaver Chapman
i Emphasis mine; all Scripture references are from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
ii Ben Witherington III, Friendship & Finances in Philippi: The Letter of Paul to the Philippians. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press, 1994, p. 64.
iii David J. MacLeod, “Imitating the Incarnation of Christ: An Exposition of Philippians 2:5-8,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 158:631 (July 2001), Dallas: DTS, p. 328f. The quotes from Origen & Cicero may be referenced at Origen, Commentary on Matthew (27:22–26), quoted in Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), xi; & Cicero, Against Verres 2.5.165, quoted in Hengel, Crucifixion, 8, n. 15.
iv Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 11, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987.
v Joseph H. Hellerman, “The Humiliation of Christ in the Social World of Roman Philippi, part 2,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 160 (Oct. 2003). Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 2003, p. 427ff.
vi Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 11, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987, brackets mine.
vii Gerald G. O’Collins, “Crucifixion,” in Freedman, David Noel. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1996, p. 1207.
viii A google search of this term reveals that it is still a common slur against Jesus in certain quarters.

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The Mind Of The Spirit

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

This article first appeared in the Sept.-Oct. 2009 issue of Uplook.

The human heart craves sympathetic understanding – someone who can perceive its deepest sorrows and urgent needs. Characterized as this life is by rigorous trials and pervasive pain, “a shoulder to cry on” is required gear for journeying in this fallen world. Christians are not exempt from this natural desire for comfort and encouragement. So it is with great joy that one reads of the magnificent work of “the mind of the Spirit” in Romans 8:27, for it tells of the Spirit’s ministry on behalf of suffering saints. All three persons of the trinity are mentioned in this beautiful passage. How blessed it is to know that the triune God is vitally interested in the saints’ well-being! What is more, He will faithfully and adeptly conform them to the glorious image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29).
The Comforter’s Credentials
The Holy Spirit is a person with the same attributes as the other members of the Godhead. Like the Father and the Son, He possesses all of the characteristics of divine personality, including omniscience. His intellect not only encompasses all knowledge, but also is in full agreement with the other persons of the Trinity. As 1 Corinthians 2:10 expresses it: “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God”.
When the Lord Jesus was preparing to leave the world in order to go back to the Father, He told His disciples that He would send “another Comforter” (Jn. 14:16). Just as He had looked out for all of their needs and instructed them in the things of God, so the Holy Spirit would also reveal the things of Christ to them (Jn.14:16-18, 26; 15:26; 16:13-15). Like the Old Testament servant showing tokens of Isaac’s wealth to Rebekah, so He woos and instructs the saints by manifesting the inheritance that they share with Christ (Rom. 8:23; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:14). Just as the Lord Jesus showed love and grace to His own while on earth, even so the Spirit of God faithfully ministers to them throughout the vicissitudes of their pathway.
Divine Prayer Brings Eternal Security
With its monumental teaching on the unshakeable security of the believer for time and eternity the eighth chapter of Romans is one of the most encouraging passages in the New Testament. It begins with “no condemnation” and ends with no separation (v. 1 and v. 39). Nonetheless, in a world where suffering and pain are endemic, how may one be sure of joining Christ in glory? After all, the creation is groaning under the weight of the consequences of man’s fall (Gen. 3). Natural disasters and diseases plague this cursed planet. The poet Tennyson graphically described the animal kingdom as “nature, red in tooth and claw”i. The saints are not exempt from the deficiencies and pains inherent in fallen creation. The believer also groans, awaiting “the adoption…the redemption of the body” which will transform our bodies of humiliation into glorious bodies like that of the Lord Jesus (Phil. 3:21, JND).
Integral to the Almighty’s sovereign plan is the intercession of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26). He aids believers in their “infirmities”, ministering to them in the weakness and pain that accompany life in the sin-afflicted world. The creation groans, and the believer also groans, but most surprisingly of all, the Holy Spirit groans (v. 26)! Such is the depth of His sympathy with suffering saints.
Some balk at the idea of such unvarnished emotion coming from God, but this verse fully agrees with the other emotions that the Scriptures attribute to the Almighty: for example, perfect love, unparalleled mercy, matchless grace, and ineffable holiness. The true and living God is not impassive; nor is He cold and austere. Certain Greek philosophers – such as Plato – imagined that deity has no emotions. Throughout the Scriptures, the Lord describes Himself in emotional terms. He is not fickle, capricious, or mutable like human attitudes; nevertheless, He thinks, feels, and wills – all in a perfect way. He hates sin, yet loves sinners (Rom. 1:18; Jn. 3:16). He loves righteousness and hates iniquity (Heb. 1:9). Rather than cling to a neo-Platonic conception of God, one must adhere to the explicit teaching of the Bible.
Instead of being an undignified expression of garish emotion, the groaning of the Spirit encourages one that He understands and empathizes with human sufferings. He is not aloof from the rough and tumble trials of this world. He enters into the deepest human thoughts, desires, and pleadings, and ministers accordingly in the way that best suits each need. What is more, though these groanings are unutterable (v. 26), the Father understands what the Spirit is saying, for “…He [the Spirit] maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (v.27). The Holy Spirit always prays for the believers in complete harmony with the Father’s will; moreover, there is no possibility of misunderstanding within the Godhead – put simply, the divine persons understand One another perfectly.
Minding God’s Business
Verse 27 speaks of “the mind of the Spirit”; well-known Greek scholars define the word “mind” in this passage as ““aim, aspiration or striving”.ii Another explains it as the “…intention of the Spirit, what He means by these unutterable groanings”.iii Thus, what the Spirit wants is clear to the Father and the intercession is effective. The Spirit’s omniscient mind knows how to pray for the suffering saints in their necessity, and therefore brings incomparable power to the process of working out the divine will in the lives of Christians.
The famous “All things work together for good…” would be impossible, but for the will of the Father and the intercession of the Spirit and the Son (v. 26-27, 34). One person of the Trinity intercedes for us in heaven (v. 34), the other on earth (v. 27). Each of them perceives the exact requirement of the moment, and uses all the circumstances of life to bring about God’s purpose of glorifying the saints with Christ (v. 29). Every experience, every trial, every tear is all masterfully employed to conform us to the altogether lovely image of Christ, God’s ideal “second man” (1 Cor. 15:47) – “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Like a brilliant
surgeon skillfully wielding the scalpel to cut away extraneous flesh, or the genius sculptor applying the mallet and chisel to a piece of granite, so God employs “all things” to bring about His purpose for His glory and believers’ eternal blessing. In his classic hymn Darby rhetorically asked “And is it so, I shall be like Thy Son?” According to Romans 8:28-29 the answer to this interrogative is a definite and resounding “yes”!
David’s claim: “For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust” (Psa. 103:14) accurately describes the mind of the Spirit. In the saints’ weakness, He demonstrates sympathetic understanding and compassionate strength. The Spirit of God is mindful of Christians. His exhaustless intellect and omnipotence tirelessly and inalterably work to bring about the divine will. This results in the eternal well-being of the saints, who will always dwell in glory with the ascended Christ. The mind of the Spirit agrees with the will of the Father and knows how to pray and work for His people. Such incomparably massive mental powers are marshaled on behalf of Christians. Indeed, one could not ask for more effective labor to bring about the most good for God and man.
i Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memorium A.H.H., canto 56.
ii Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 866
iii Charles Hodge, Commentary on Romans, electronic edition, comment on v. 27.

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Worldly Charity

Monday, March 1st, 2010

In yesterday’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an Op-ed piece on the recent humanitarian efforts of various “faith-based” mission organizations. In the article, he focuses on World Vision, which he describes as “a Seattle-based Christian organization (with strong evangelical roots) whose budget has roughly tripled over the last decade.”i He approvingly references the efforts of organizations such as this in assisting in disaster situations, combating diseases like malaria and AIDS, fighting poverty, etc. Although he is not mentioned in this article, Rick Warren is also urging the churches in his sphere of influence to devote themselves to solving these gargantuan problems.
Throughout the piece, Kristof repeatedly cites a book by Richard Stearns, World Vision’s head in the United States. One of his allusions to this work is especially conspicuous: “In one striking passage, Mr. Stearns quotes the prophet Ezekiel as saying that the great sin of the people of Sodom wasn’t so much that they were promiscuous or gay as that they were ‘arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.’ (Ezekiel 16:49.)” According to this revisionist understanding of Scripture the great sin of Sodom was apathy towards the underprivileged rather than gross moral sin. Kristof also comments on their lack of proselytizing in these words: “Some Americans assume that religious groups offer aid to entice converts. That’s incorrect. Today, groups like World Vision ban the use of aid to lure anyone into a religious conversation.” These ideas are sadly becoming more common in the professing evangelical church, revealing the worldliness that is rampant in modern Christendom.
Historic Christianity And Charity
Historically, Christian missionaries led the charge in ministering to the poor, the sick, the weak, the oppressed, and the vulnerable. The early church was noted for its care of the poor, as well as unprotected groups like widows and orphans (see Acts 2-6; 1 Tim. 5; James 1:27, etc.) In the centuries after the New Testament was completed, the church continued to extend its missionary efforts to the far reaches of the globe. Everywhere the true gospel went its hearers were bettered through hospitals, education, and development of science and technology. Whereas historic biblical Christianity used these philanthropic endeavors as a platform for preaching the good news of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, some prominent “evangelicals” downplay evangelism. They passionately argue that the church has a moral imperative to help the poor, eradicate disease – even save the planet from global warming! As laudable as these goals are, they actually reflect a worldly attitude.
In many Christian’s minds worldliness is usually associated with gross immorality or perhaps even connected with certain types of music and styles of dress. It is true that these things are
often worldly; nevertheless, they do not exhaust the scope of the term. To be worldly is to focus on this world at the expense of God and His glory (2 Tim. 4:10; 1 Jn. 2:15-17.) If one’s heart is set upon this world, rather than the one to come, they are held in the tyrannical grip of worldliness. If charitable deeds merely have the amelioration of present suffering in mind then they are worldly. What benefit would there be in someone being fed, healed, or educated in this life without their deepest need being touched? Far worse to humanity than AIDS, poverty, or natural disasters is the problem of sin, which separates mankind from their Creator. Any supposedly Christian organization that ignores the spiritual need and eternal destiny of their charges is worldly and inimical to the desires of the Lord Jesus Christ. He healed and did good deeds, but He did not stop there: He also saved souls by leading them to faith in His sacrificial work on the Cross and glorious resurrection (e.g. Jn. 9.)
Déjà vu All Over Again
This new “don’t preach, just help the poor” idea is not really new. It is merely a contemporary evangelical repackaging of the early twentieth century social gospel, which had its origin in the liberal theology of Schleiermacher, Ritschl, and others. That movement was adept at gutting historic Christianity of its biblical belief, leaving behind an insipid shell of Christianity with a false gospel and no lasting hope for its adherents. The modern resurgence of this error risks the destruction and marginalization of the professing church in the west. Christians should – and do – care for the poor and the weak. This philanthropy must not stop there. It must also be coupled with fearless preaching of the gospel of the crucified Christ. Our love for the weak and helpless will lead them to a hearing of the good news that can heal body, soul, and spirit for eternity.


i Nicholas D. Kristof, “Learning from the sin of Sodom,” published 2/28/10, posted on nytimes.com, accessed on March 1, 2010. Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/opinion/28kristof.html 

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