Bible Study


Proverbs chapter 18 starts with this:

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1 ESV)

And ends with this:

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24 ESV)

I don’t have much to say about it, this morning. Just thought it was an interesting observation.

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While I was reading the Bible this morning I was distracted by a morning bird’s call.

It sung: Sol Mi Do.

Not an amazing discovery, really, but it caught my attention this morning for some reason.

So I continue my reading and when the bird sings my ear, of course, drags my mind with it to the sound of the bird. This time it sings its pleasant descending arpeggio but it doesn’t stop there. It adds a a tone a half step up from Do (I’m not a Kodaly person, so I don’t know the solfege name of that note).

Now I’m curious. Will that bird sing next in a new key or repeat the tonal pattern as before?

I confess to being a little disappointed that the bird did not sing in a new key, but sang the original tonal pattern. However, because I listened a little more closely I noticed that Mi was not really in tune. It sounded a little sharp. I listened again and I confirmed that Mi was a bit sharp, but that it vacillated between in tune and sharp. And the bird did not always add the additional tone at the end that seemed to be asking the question: am I in the right key, this morning?

Needless to say, I had to ask God to forgive me for being so distracted during my Bible reading this morning. Here are a couple of quotes from the passages I read:

Isaiah 35:4 ESV

Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”

1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

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http://odb.org/2011/03/09/are-we-there-yet/

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t ask this question.

I recently reread Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Dueteronomy and I was struck again by how much the Israelites complained and how much they ‘missed’ out on what God had in store for them. I kept wanting to yell at them and say, “just be quiet and wait! It will be good!” Then I thought, oh wait…they are me. I’ve done a lot of complaining in the last 3 years. I’ve asked countless times, “Are we there yet?” Oh boy…

I know that there is none righteous and that even Moses disobeyed God, but I do know that I will some day see the promised land because of Jesus Christ. As for the journey, I need practice eliminating the whine from my diet.

(On a related score, listening to my own children whine and correcting their behavior has done a lot to highlight my own, adult version of the whining voice.)

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Romans 3:1-4 (New International Version):

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?  Much in every way!  First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.  What if some did not have faith?  Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?  Not at all!  Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”

via Romans 3 – Passage Lookup – New International Version – BibleGateway.com.

I suspect that many a sermon has been preached on this passage alone, not to mention the volumes that exist on the book of Romans as an entirety, but because I can, let me add my thoughts.

I’ve been reading through Romans in large part to coincide with the sermon “series” taking place at Grace Congregational United Church of Christ in Rutland, VT.  The UCC is notoriously liberal in its approach to theology so I won’t devote much time there except to point it out to anyone who may not know that Grace Church’s relationship with the UCC (specifically the Vermont Conference) is on solid ground (to my dismay).  Either way, I’m always looking for anything that will help make my bible study more purposeful and this fits the bill.

As I read the the third chapter this morning (that will be this week’s sermon topic) it was the first four verses that struck me.  I finished reading the chapter and came back and meditated on the first few verses.

The first verse is immediately preceded by these verses from the end of chapter 2:

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

I think I am fairly comfortable with the implications of this passage.  It is the heart, or inner man, that matters to God and what matters to God is all that should matter.

In chapter three, Paul asks, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?”  To which he quickly answers, “Much in every way!”  Now for my limited, human-perspective tastes, Paul is a little short on fleshing out what the advantages are, but regardless of what the advantage means among men, God is still God of both the Jew and the Gentile.

The next part is what strikes me the most profoundly:

First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.  What if some did not have faith?  Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?  Not at all!  Let God be true, and every man a liar.

What if some did not  have faith?  Does that question even need to be asked?  The Old Testament is rife with stories of how the Israelites turned their backs to God and the consequences they faced because of their disobedience.

Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?  Paul hits a home run here in my humble estimation.  Not at all! Wow!  God’s faithfulness is greater than our lack of faith.  A no brainer, but it still hammers home the amazing grace of God and His worthiness to be praised.  If you have a minute, stop and meditate on those few lines and I hope that you will be led by the Spirit to worship God as I have been moved.

With some degree of reluctance I move away from praising God to making it practical for Christians today (I say reluctantly because any manner of disagreement could enter in at this point and make my assertions seem almost political, but that is not what I intend).  As it applies to more contemporary goings on this is how the passage struck me.  A lot is made of the crusades and how bad they were.  Or how was it possible that men of God allowed slavery to be permitted in the founding of our country.  To me, these verses from Romans could, or should, serve as an answer to those accusations and doubts.  It isn’t the faith of men on which we should focus but rather the faithfulness of God.

Most “self-flagellation” over the misdeeds of our forbears in the faith that takes place in the mainline Christian churches (like the UCC) tend to be too human-centered and not God-centered.  In other words, we must make amends for the sins of the past before we can enjoy the fullness of God’s love (although I would argue that it isn’t really God’s love that people seek when they attempt to repent for sins long past, but rather Man’s love).  God’s grace is almost completely ignored in an effort to assuage our collective guilty conscience.  In fact, a case could be made that such “self-flagellation” is sinful in the eyes of God precisely because it fails to recognize the faithfulness of God and His saving grace through faith in Christ.

My fellow travelers in the mainline church need to come to terms with what happened in the history of our Christian church, for better or worse, and allow themselves to be covered by the blood of Christ.  That doesn’t mean to ignore past sins, but to keep in mind and celebrate that God’s faithfulness is greater still than the accumulation of all of mankind’s sins.  What is important is that God be true!

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:3-8)

At one time we too were foolish…

Umm…I’m not sure I’ve stopped being foolish. Despite placing my faith in Jesus Christ and knowing with certainty that my life is secured for eternity by His obedience I can’t help but feel like I am still a fool. Every decision that we make will either bring glory to God or not. And even now, I seem to make far too many decisions that fall well short of bringing glory to God. I lose patience with my children, I grumble at work, or I engage in humor that is not edifying. The list could go on, but you get the point. Even some decisions that have no great significance on the surface prove to be foolish just because I made them without care. It is certainly glorious that Jesus did bring glory to God in everything He did because my “balance sheet” would probably not look good.

…disobedient…

Most days it is my intention to be obedient to God in everything: thought, word, and deed. Most days I fail in at least one of those aspects. Disobedience is not the life to which I was called, but it is the life into which I was born. It is a daily struggle to submit my will to His grand purposes, but praise God that I am washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. His sacrifice is my sanctification and He is worthy of praise.

…deceived…

Who hasn’t been deceived by all the world has to offer? Who isn’t still being bombarded with messages that the world can offer you everything you need and desire? I have come to realize that my faith in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit has removed scales from eyes and unstopped my ears so that I might see and hear more clearly the deceptions of the world in which I live. Even now, however, the scales that were at one time removed seem like a cancer that threatens to creep back over my eyes from remission to cloud my vision regarding what is pure and holy. My hearing sometimes feels muffled because of the buildup of polluted talk and the din of worldly pursuits. Daily devotions help to keep my sight free of obstructions and my hearing sharp, but again I thank and praise God as the one who delivers me and reveals those things which are pure.

…enslaved…

Is there a more powerful metaphor for what it means to be living with sin and without the promise of redemption? Our 21st century sensibilities treat slavery as something that is abhorrent, and that is good. Because of our centuries long campaign against the evils of human slavery however, we seem to ignore its more subtle implications in our personal lives. God designed us to be free and yet we willingly (or unwittingly) subject ourselves to countless fashions, fads, and lifestyles that have the effect of enslaving us to our passions or other people (albeit without the actual label of slavery). Your “need” to have the latest technology may be motivated by good intentions, but it can quickly enslave you if that need outpaces your means. I confess, it is hard to know where honest pleasure ends and enslavement to pleasure begins. Praise God for His mercy and grace.

We lived in malice and envy.

Again I ask myself, do I still harbor malice and envy? While both malice and envy may creep into my thought life, they can’t remain there long because I am reborn in Christ and the Holy Spirit serves to convict me of these grievances. What was it like to live in malice without the redemption of Christ’s love? Well, Paul writes that we were “being hated and hating one another.” Malice consumes. If God did not intervene on your behalf working “behind the scenes”, then malice could easily overtake all of your good intentions and replace them with thoughts of pure evil. Likewise even the smallest bit of envy had the power to grow into a forest of weeds that would choke all things noble and pure from you. Our selfish nature reigned supreme and any good that we may have done to advance our interests would ultimately be overshadowed by the accompanying pain and suffering of malice and envy. It is enough that I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ, but it is essential for me to live out my love for Jesus by putting away malice and envy.

Enter God’s kindness, love, and mercy.

I’ve already alluded to this phrase, but we should never come away from scripture without pausing to reflect how great our God is. How glorious is it to be redeemed by God so that our lives can be made pure and holy? All the facets of my sinful nature are washed by “rebirth and renewal” and I have become an “heir with the hope of eternal life.” The list of sinful deeds and thoughts at the beginning of these verses is what we would inherit if not reborn in Christ. It is not a tribute to me that I am renewed in Christ, but rather more significantly it is a tribute to the Almighty God who has saved my soul from such a destiny. Do I live a life that demonstrates God’s greatness? That is my goal, but I confess to falling short on a regular basis. But thank God I do not have the task of saving souls because too many would be lost by my ineptness at living out God’s promises. I pray that God will direct my paths so that I might be used by Him for His purposes. I have only to follow by devoting myself to what is good. God’s word is good and trustworthy. God is good.

Before I get back into my study of Titus I want to share a few things about how I’m going about this study. First, I honestly have no idea why I chose to start with Titus or with the second chapter, but that’s where I started so that is that. Secondly, I am using BibleGateway.com as my source for the scripture so that I can cut and paste the text directly into my blog. I prefer to use a hard copy of the bible, but for practical reasons this online version works very well. Thirdly, I am using the paragraph delineations as my own in order to keep my thoughts more organized. I realize that there may be paragraphs that cross chapters and I will try and take that into consideration where appropriate. Of course, these are just guidelines and not hard and fast rules, so I imagine I will be “coloring out of the lines” here and there. (Many of you look at the title of my posts and just skip reading, so I guess I’m just writing this for my own edification.) On with the post…

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (Titus 3:1-2, NIV)

Subjecting ourselves to someone (or something) else is a challenging command. Whether it’s your spouse, your boss, the government, or your God, the act of subjecting yourself is something that we think of as a violation of our freedom, or free will. And if there is a moral value we uphold more than any other in our country it’s the idea of freedom. (Well, at least individual freedom. You could argue that we are consistently forfeiting our corporate freedoms more and more each day with the increasingly socialized government we allow, which, of course, is stripping individuals of their freedom one small bit at a time and going largely unnoticed by the vast majority of people. More on that in another post.) Because we cherish our individual freedom we cannot imagine voluntarily giving it to someone else for their use (or misuse). What boggles my mind is that men and women in our culture seem more predisposed to submitting themselves to their bosses, or the government, before being willing to submit to a spouse, or close friend. Is that atypical of human nature, or does it fall in-line with it?

No matter who it is we submit ourselves to we are taking a great risk: a risk that our needs will be brushed aside for the needs of our “master” (no matter how temporary). In many cases that is exactly what happens. Of course, there are often delayed rewards for our submission that will ultimately fulfill our needs or desires, but even with the promise of “benefits”, submitting yourself is not easily done. It takes an act of will.

Sometimes I look at submitting as simply “giving in”. While that may be a part of subjecting myself to another, it misses the more important point. I can’t just resign myself to being subject to someone else, I have to intend on subjecting to another’s will. Whoa. This begins to sound a little bit like what our relationship with God should be like. I can’t just sigh and say, “Okay God, take over and do Your thing.” I have to submit to God and if He wills it, He will “do His thing” through me (or someone else, if necessary). If my boss says, “Take out the trash” then I must actually do something: take out the trash. Maybe that’s too simplified an illustration.

For what it’s worth, I’m not expounding on obedience because for the purpose of this study, I’m considering one who subjects themselves as one who is also obedient. Let’s stop and ask this question:

Who are the rulers and authorities?

Well, I’ll list a few: Our boss (or employer), the government (e.g. mayors, governors, presidents, etc.), the police, our parents, our spouses. Our willingness to subject ourselves to these rulers and authorities probably has a huge variance depending on any number of factors, such as whether we respect the person, or whether we agree with them politically, etc. However, Paul writes to Titus to remind his flock “to be subject”. He doesn’t offer conditions or exemptions. It isn’t an optional activity. As much as it may pain me to comply with the some laws, Paul reminds me that I am to subject myself to the law (blasted speed limits!) not because I need to earn “brownie points” but because in subjecting myself I am showing my love of God.

Paul offers some helpful ideas for behaving in a submissive manner:

Do whatever is good.

I imagine that this is Paul’s reminder to us that doing what is good is for the benefit of our relationship with God. God is good. Doing what is good is an act of worship.

Slander no one.

Bite your tongue. How important is this suggestion? Many of us may never get caught in our slanders of friends, neighbors, or colleagues, but that doesn’t make slandering them any less evil in the eyes of God. Slandering others implies that you have an audience for your slander and not only is that evil in the eyes of God, but it is detrimental to all who hear you. Whether positive or negative we all have an influence on the people we talk to and when you open your mouth to spew forth vindictiveness about someone else, you are most certainly acting as a negative influence (or as a force for evil, if you prefer). For what gain are you slandering? Clearly it is for selfish reasons and that violates so many aspects of God’s law.

Be peaceable and considerate.

This can be hard to do, but is no less important. Make peace. Go out of your way to be considerate. Use language that edifies and encourages. This suggestion, probably as much, or more, as any of the other “suggestions for subjugation”, will go the greatest distance in showing other people who your God is. People will notice peaceable and considerate actions and they will remember them.

Show true humility toward all men.

Paul calls it true humility because too often we find ourselves being humble in an insincere fashion. How often have you acted humbly behind gritted teeth? I know that I have done that too many times. Or if you suspect that a little humility toward certain individuals will get you farther in your career then you are not being humble in a true fashion. God knows our motives, so we’d better be careful about how we act in our humility.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother trying to explain what I read in scripture (either for my own edification or for anyone else’s). I can’t imagine Paul using more plain language that these two verses. I guess it’s more a matter of the application of the language rather than just the understanding of it. I suppose it also doesn’t hurt to remind myself who God is by studying and meditating on His word.

MW

These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. (Titus 2:15, NIV)

 

I find it interesting that Paul instructs Titus not only to encourage but to also rebuke. And not just to simply encourage and rebuke, but to do so with all authority. I have to assume that the authority of which Paul writes is the authority of one who preaches and teaches the good news of Christ as based on the authority of scripture. Perhaps there is more to the authority than my simplified understanding, but for now it will serve us well.

We tend to shy away from rebuking in our culture. Let me rephrase that a little bit. There are certain things that we are free to rebuke and many others that we are cautioned not to rebuke. It is okay for us to rebuke racism and that is a good thing. It is also okay for us to rebuke poor stewardship of the earth’s scarce resources and that is not an entirely bad thing either. However, it has become almost forbidden to rebuke anyone for immoral living and that is truly unfortunate for our nation. Sure, certain types of immorality are “cleared” for rebuking: pedophilia, murder, etc. Other immoral behavior almost gets a free pass from being rebuked: pornography (unless it’s child pornography), lying, cheating, sexual deviancy.

What happened to our culture (speaking of American culture, specifically) that causes us to cry “judgmental” when the authority of scripture is brought to bear in revealing certain types of immorality? Almost all rebuking has been rendered invalid because of the imperfectness of the one delivering the rebuke regardless of what standard they use to levy the charge. The standard of God’s word, however, is becoming especially irrelevant in our culture. Even in the adherence to the law set forth in the United States Constitution, our ability to rebuke is being challenged because of any imperfection found in the rebuke. We are slowly slipping away from a culture based on the rule of law if we can’t point to an establish law and, regardless of our own success or failure with the law, declare someone to be in violation. If, in order to rebuke someone in the law, I need to be in perfect compliance with the law, then the law is doomed. I am not, nor will I ever be, apart from the grace of God, perfect. And nor is there anyone living today that claim the title of being perfect. If no one can rebuke because of their imperfectness, then what happens to the law of God? I will maintain that it will gradually slip into obscurity as is happening today in the United States.

Once the Law of God has slipped into cultural obscurity we can look forward to the laws of the United States to crumble not long afterward.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers in turning the tide in restoring God’s moral law to our precious nation and nor do I have the most stinging and in depth critique. I only offer observations and a hope that God willing, He will restore His law to the forefront of our hearts and minds and that men and women across the country will enthusiastically embrace it. Of course, we cannot impose the law on anyone, we will only be able to encourage and rebuke as Paul instructed Titus. Let us embrace those whose authority lies with scripture and not despise them. Celebrate God’s perfect law and rejoice in Jesus Christ who fulfilled the law that we might lead a life of eternal joy and not of eternal damnation.

Below is an excerpt from Psalm 19 about the glory of God’s law.

Psalm 19:7-11

 

 The law of the LORD is perfect,
       reviving the soul.
       The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
       making wise the simple.

 The precepts of the LORD are right,
       giving joy to the heart.
       The commands of the LORD are radiant,
       giving light to the eyes.

 The fear of the LORD is pure,
       enduring forever.
       The ordinances of the LORD are sure
       and altogether righteous.

 They are more precious than gold,
       than much pure gold;
       they are sweeter than honey,
       than honey from the comb.

 By them is your servant warned;
       in keeping them there is great reward.

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