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Difficult Texts, Bible Interpretation

August 29, 2013
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My Take on James 4:4

Are Believers in View or Not?

From what I see in the text, James 4:1-3 sets up our understanding of verse 4 and following.

James is speaking to the early Church predominantly full of Jews (1:1), and so he uses language that they would immediately understand in order to connect the dots with what the OT says and what he’s saying to them. They would understand by looking back to when Yahweh called Israel an unfaithful, adulterous wife because they were unfaithful to the Mosaic Covenant he made with them (Jer 3:20; 31:32).

Different translations translate “moichalides” (adulteresses) which is helpful to view here. ESV says “you adulterous people.” Phillips says “you are like unfaithful wives.” RSV says “unfaithful creatures.” KJV says “ye adulterers and adulteresses.” HCSB says “adulteresses.” So we see this term being treated in a variety of ways. What’s good to notice here is that context helps us better determine how to understand this term.

James 4:1-3 speaks to the kind of attitude he sees within the church that mirrors worldly attitudes. They crave after things seeking ultimate satisfaction in them, and not in their Lord, making them guilty of the 1st, 7th, and 10th commandment. They exhibit a lack of control. They exhibit spiritual immaturity. They want pleasure achieved by their own means for their own good, yet want to use God to help them get there like some genie. So not only do they not worship the one true living God. They jealously envy those who have what they don’t. This leads to them committing adultery in the heart.

James uses the plural form of adultery to implicate those who are behaving unfaithfully towards their covenant keeper, namely God. You may assume he’s expecting to generate repentance by using such a strong word. Wanting someone else to please them is a sign of unfaithfulness.  It’s a sign of worldliness, meaning it shows that Christians still struggle with loving certain parts of the world’s system. This is what James is driving at, which is why he calls it adultery. Adultery is a pleasure issue indeed, and finding pleasure in anything or anyone over and above God is adultery.

It’s helpful to notice how James phrases this with a question. He’s appealing to the minds and hearts of readers. So because God is the covenant keeper, and you’re guilty of wanting another besides your covenant keeper, how do you think God will respond to his covenant people being enamored with the world? That’s easy and the 1st commandment helps us with this – he’s a jealous God. Therefore, he won’t tolerate friendship with the world, so repent.

Friendship with the world isn’t an easily understood term. So I enlisted some help on this one:

Thomas Manton remarks that by friendship with the world James understands an emancipation of our affections to the pleasures, profits, and desires of the world. People try to please their friends, and they are friends of the world if they seek to gratify worldly people or worldly desires and if they court external vanities rather than renounce them—a practice that is inappropriate to religion. You may use the world but not seek friendship with it. People who want to be dandled on the world’s knees lose Christ’s friendship. “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). It is the same with gratifying worldly desires. We may use the comforts of the world but may not serve its desires and pleasures—a description of the worldly state (Titus 3:3). (A Practical Exposition of James)

John MacArthur adds this to our discussion – “James has in view professing Christians, outwardly associated with the church, but holding a deep affection for the evil world system…The sobering truth that unbelievers are God’s enemies is taught throughout Scripture”

I do want to point out that I came across a pastor, R. Kent Hughes, that I admire that disagrees with me:

God regards pleasure-dominated believers adversarily, as Jas 4:4 makes so clear: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Thus we understand that a Christian, someone who has trusted in Christ alone for salvation, can become an enemy of God—God’s adversary. This is horrifying!…

These are painful thoughts—that a Christian for whom Christ died when he was still an enemy (Ro 5:10) should in effect lower himself to live as a redeemed enemy of God! Yet this is the very focus of our text because James is writing to Christians. And it rings true to our Christian experience. Many Christians, believers who have not disclaimed God or announced their allegiance to the world, derive their pleasures and entertainments in things which are patently hostile to God. (Hughes, R. K.. James : Faith that Works. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books)

However Hughes does issue the following clear caveat to his previous comments…

It must be said that those who persist in living as friends of the world are very likely without grace, not Christians, despite their claims to faith. Paul says of such, “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Phil 3:18, 19-notes). They are friends of the world! (Ibid)

I include his view because I want to be fair with my findings by displaying this Orthodox view.  I do want to leave us with this excerpt from Piper:

John Piper writes that James 4:4 pictures the church as the wife of God. God has made us for Himself and has given Himself to us for our enjoyment. Therefore, it is adultery when we try to be “friends” with the world. If we seek from the world the pleasures we should seek in God, we are unfaithful to our marriage vows. And, what’s worse, when we go to our heavenly Husband and actually pray for the resources with which to commit adultery with the world, it is a very wicked thing. It is as though we would ask our husband for money to hire male prostitutes to provide the pleasure we don’t find in him! (Piper, J. Desiring God. Page 164. Sisters, Or.: Multnomah Publishers)

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Apostasy

August 29, 2013
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This is quite the controversial term. Quickly used as a dart by evangelicals against those who disrupt their brand of orthodoxy. Randomly used as an arrow to those who withdrew from the fold of Christianity dating back to the annals of church history to the present. Never used as a descriptor of those who are truly guilty thanks to the 11th commandment, thou shall not judge. Perhaps things aren’t always so cut and dry in this black and white world.

If we’re honest, we all have perhaps been guilty of these 3 uses of the apostasy. Here is the Hebrews 6 text that’s often pointed to in defining and describing apostasy:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

To understand those who are being described here, it’s of utter importance that we carefully read from the beginning of the chapter. Chapter 6:1 begins this way: “therefore let us,” and verse 4 says, : in the case of those.” Did you see that? The Hebrews writer starts out talking about us and then points at them. What’s even more helpful to see is verse 9, “though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.” It’s like the structure of the text goes us, them, and back to us.

This is a necessary distinction to maintain because it speaks to the power and perseverance of the gospel, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the eternal choosing of God’s elect by God. This is a gospel issue. And the Bible isn’t unclear on this point one bit.


SBC Won’t Raise My Child

August 28, 2013
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Cat’s out the bag…I’m an unashamed Southern Baptist! I find my denomination to be a stalwart of truth on one hand and in the media being maligned (sometimes deservedly) on the other hand. It can be a catch-22 many times. As much as I enjoy standing with the thousands of brothers and sisters seeking to be faithful to the local church with a Baptist distinctive, there is one area I must say ‘no’ to and bow away from.

In most Southern Baptist churches, there is this vein of bible teaching that brings a shredded fear to my bones and chalkboard scratching noise to my ears. And thanks to where I live, I’m privy to the Baptist Messenger newspaper that focuses on what prominent local Southern Baptists are doing in their churches as well as general teachings for the reader to peruse from. And then there’s this page that seems to never change – the ABCs of the Gospel. The SBC won’t raise my child.

The ABCs stand for acknowledge, believe, and confess. These all sound like great terms, and they are in. These are all bible terms. So what issue might I have with the acronym? I don’t find the gospel anywhere in it. And believe me I’ve searched and suffered through the variety of ways of explaining the great, awesome, and fruitfulness of the SBC acronym. The SBC won’t raise my child.

Generally speaking, Southern Baptist preachers are calling people to acknowledge who Jesus is, believe in what Jesus did for you, and confess it with your mouth. I find this to be no different from the Campus Crusade for Christ motto “Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That’s what scares me. No mention of sin; no mention of repentance. I mean c’mon…we’re specifically called ‘people of the Book’ and we pull stuff like this. The SBC won’t raise my child.

There’s a lot to be thankful for within the walls of Southern Baptist life, however, biblical child training isn’t one of them. Don’t let a denomination raise your child. Let the Christian Scriptures.


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Blessed And Highly Favored

August 18, 2013
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This phrase has its origins from a different gospel and yet it has crept into good and godly Churches around the world. There are many assumptions as to why this has caught on like wildfire and spread across the pews and remained aflame in pulpits. And as new (or old) as this type of thinking may appear to be to you, I assure you it the Christian Scriptures have spoken to the root of this teaching from a different gospel.

Teach and urge these things. 3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Paul in this passage, 1 Timothy 6:3-10, has rightly understood this argument and speaks directly to it.

So what makes folks say they are blessed and highly favored? They typically mean “look at all the stuff I have.” That stuff consist of money, clothes, kind of car, beauty of significant other, size of house, promotion on the job, size of church, coupon savings, and many other things. In other words, these folks are “imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” But what you have gained speaks absolutely nothing to your level of godliness. In fact, there are plenty of times in the Bible, especially in Revelation, where saints are suffering while looking at downright wicked sinners prosper without a care in the world. They have more stuff than Christians; they get out of legal trouble easier; they are judged less; and they are loved more by the world.

So what folks inside the Church claim as proof of being blessed and highly favored is actually proof that they are “puffed up with conceit and understand nothing” in the bigger picture. These folks are usually the ones who can only handle the milk of the Word, which the Hebrews writer says ain’t good. They profess to be mature in the faith, while actually being “deprived in mind and deprived of the truth.”

We need to eradicate this type of thinking, believing, and speaking from within the body of believers. Instead of being fascinated with “stuff” we need to be focused on contentment. Seeking satisfaction from a black hole will never satisfy. Searching for the approval of the world based on the accumulation of stuff is equivalent to a black hole. Time to wake up believers. Time to be corrected and repent of your foolish ways. This type of teaching and speaking “does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness.”

Let your contentment set on being godly be the sole reason as governed by Christ to be the reason you’re blessed and highly favored.


The Sermon On The Mount Is Gospel

August 4, 2013
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Wonder what you’ve ever heard about the sermon on the mount? I’m sure the array of answers stem from Jesus explaining the law to some good and needed things the first century Jews needed to hear, and everything in between. And I’d affirm those responses with a hearty Amen because that could help describe Matthew 5-7.

But there’s a better way.

The text is our best identifier to understanding what’s being said and how the divine text defines it. In Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew bookends chapters 5-9 with the same phrase: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” This phrase is found in 4:23 and 9:35! Why should this excite you? Because the text helps you understand what it’s saying with its own divine outline.

Matthew is laying out for us the two things Jesus is doing within chapters 5-9: teaching the gospel and healing the people. And if you turn to chapter 8, you see Jesus beginning his healing ministry starting with the leper being cleansed (which has OT implications by the way). Therefore, chapters 5-7 pertain to Jesus teaching the gospel. Matthew 4:23 is the first time the word “gospel” is used which means Matthew defines the gospel as the sermon on the mount. Are you following me? Your definition of the gospel may be clean and nicely polished, which is fine, but ask yourself this, would the sermon on the mount be able to fit into your definition?

Oh by the way, the sermon on the mount is all about Jesus defining the terms of his kingdom reign and who gets in.

May we be willing to reshape our understanding and definition of common church terms by the way those terms are used by the biblical writers.