Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: October, 2015

NO OTHER GODS

Most ancient Near Eastern cultures had laws against murder, theft, adultery and the such like. These are the kinds of legal problems which every civilized society must contend. But what made ancient Israel stand out from the rest was its monotheism – its belief that there is only one God, that He is the Creator of all else, and that as human beings we are directly accountable to Him for our actions. This radical conception was enshrined in the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3; NKJV).

“To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord Himself is God; there is none other besides Him” (Dt. 4:35). Because there is only one God, and we owe everything we have to Him, even our very existence, we have a very definite obligation to Him. First of all we own Him our complete love and devotion. The great creedal statement of Israel is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Dt. 6:4). And then this is immediately followed by a moral injunction: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you soul, and with all your strength’ (v. 5). Jesus called this “the first and great commandment” (Matt. 22:36-38). If God is wise and good and holy, if He has blessed us with life and health, with intelligence and strength, then He is infinitely of our love and devotion. We would be stupid jerks not to acknowledge His goodness toward us and respond accordingly.

But there is more involved than just that. We are also to fear God. “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” (Dt. 10:12,13). To “fear” God in this sense does not mean to be terrified of Him, the way a child might be afraid of a drunken and abusive human father. Rather it means to hold God in reverential awe. God is infinitely greater that ourselves, eternal, all-present and all-knowing. He is the Creator of heaven and earth, and He is absolutely pure and holy in His character. Such a consideration should fill us with awe and wonder, and profoundly humble us. Who are we, mere specks of dust, to approach such an awesome God?

One thing that the fear of God should do for us is prompt us to obey Him.

“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;

Pride and arrogance and the evil way

And the perverse mouth I hate.”

(Prov. 8:13).

If we could even begin to have a true conception of God’s power and holiness, we would shudder even to think of doing something He hates. We would cringe at the prospect of doing anything He dislikes. We would live every day of our lives knowing that He can see everything that we think or feel, let alone do. How differently would we live!

On the other hand if we truly feared God as we ought we would never fear human disapproval. Jesus stated the matter quite pointedly when He said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). There will come times when we will have to choose between obeying God and obeying human authority. The human authority may have the power to arrest, imprison, torture and even kill. And yet our eternal destiny is at stake and God is the one who determines the final outcome. It is pure folly to ignore Him.

In such circumstances we must learn to put our trust in Him. David could write:

“Truly my soul silently waits for God;

From Him comes my salvation.

He only is my rock and my salvation;

He is my defense;

I shall be greatly moved.”

(Ps. 62:1,2).

When faced with real problems in life (in his case often outright persecution) David looked to God to provide a solution. In some cases this meant that he had to wait patiently for an answer.

“My soul, wait silently for God alone,

For my expectation is from Him.”

(v. 5)

The answer may not come right away. We may have to wait to see results. But a firm trust in God takes Him at His word and waits patiently for the promised deliverance.

The temptation here, of course, is to lose patience and take matters into our own hands, sometimes resorting to questionable means and methods to achieve our goals. But God’s warning in such situations is unmistakably clear:

“Do not trust in oppression,

Nor vainly hope in robbery;

If riches increase,

Do not set your heart on them.”

(v. 10).

The ends do not justify the means!

Why, then, should we worship and serve God alone? First of all, because He is our Creator.

“Know that the Lord, He is God;

It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”

(v. 5).

His “mercy” (Heb. chesed) is His favorable disposition towards His creatures to show them kindness. His “truth” (Heb. ‘emunah) is His honesty, consistency and reliability – His complete trustworthiness. In other words, God’s character should capture our admiration. We should love Him for the way He is; when we fail to do so it speaks volumes about our own perverseness.

Most modern people do not bow down and worship physical images. But we find a zillion substitutes for the true and living God as He has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. God created us for Himself, and when we exclude Him from our lives it creates an emotional and psychological void which we must then fill with something else. It might be financial success, or sports or politics or entertainment. It might be the grosser vices of sex, drugs or alcohol. Or it might be a false religion or philosophy. Anything and everything to avoid acknowledging the one true God, the God who actually made us. In this sense what passes for modern civilization is a religious travesty. What will it take to wake us up?

 

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THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

Moses Delivering God's Law to Israel

Moses Delivering God’s Law to Israel

 

We have seen, then, that God is the righteous Judge (Oct. 10, 2015). So, then, what exactly does God require of us in the way of ethical behavior? The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the then commandments” (Q. 41). The answer, however, is a little misleading.

The Ten Commandments reflect something of the character of God Himself. When He revealed Himself personally to Moses on Mt. Sinai He proclaimed Himself to be “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth . . .” (Ex. 34:6; NKJV).   “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, / Slow to anger and great in mercy. / The Lord is good to all, / And His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:8,9). It is not surprising, therefore, that He would condemn anything that runs counter to these core values.

“For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,

Nor shall evil dwell with You.

The boastful shall not stand in Your sight;

You hate all workers of iniquity.

You shall destroy those who speak falsehood;

And the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”

(Ps. 5: 4-6)

Moreover, when we come to the New Testament, when the Christian message goes out into the world at large, many of the same principles are enjoined upon the Gentile converts as well. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites nor thieves , nor covetous, nor drunkards nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9,10). Thus it becomes apparent that the Ten Commandments really do embody basic moral principles that apply to all mankind.

Yet we must be careful here. If we ask the question, what does our Creator expect from us in the way of attitudes and behavior, it is evident that the answer must entail more than just a negative prohibition on such forms of external conduct as murder, theft and perjury. And when we look at the sum total of Scriptural teaching on the subject it becomes apparent that much more is involved.

The positive requirement of God’s law is not merely that we refrain from injuring one another, but that we love one another. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (I John 4:7,8). We are to care for each other actively and seek to do each other positive good. What the law does, on the other hand, is to point out what we should not be doing. “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” (I Tim. 1:8-10).

Another way of looking at it is that love is the fulfillment of the law. “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ’You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10). Thus the Larger Catechism is justified in laying down as a rule of interpretation for the Ten Commandments that “where a duty is commanded the contrary sin is forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded . . .” (Question 99).

What we are dealing with here, then, is no mere human law code, but rather with universal moral principles that come to us form none other than Almighty God himself. As such they are absolute and not subject to negotiation or compromise. These are laws by which we will be judged at the end of the world. We would do well, then, to heed them carefully.

While we hesitate to say, then, that the Ten Commandments comprehend the whole duty of man, they do provide us with a useful framework in which to consider the various duties contained in the moral law, and we shall therefore proceed accordingly in our exposition.

GOD THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGE

In recent decades we here in the U.S. have witnessed a dramatic change in public morality. What was unthinkable a few decades ago, and would have absolutely horrified our Victorian great-grandparents, is now rapidly becoming accepted as the norm. No-fault divorce, legalized abortion, and now same-sex marriage have radically altered the moral landscape. Biblical morality, by contrast, seems antiquated and out of date.

It is hard for modern Americans even to understand the rationale behind many of the biblical injunctions. Our whole political system is built around the idea of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Laws are made by our elected representatives, supposedly for our benefit. Thus when these contentious social issues reach the courts, considerations of morality are usually dismissed, and the presumption is that people are free to do as they please unless the government can show some compelling reason why they should not.

How vastly different is the biblical view of things! We live in a world that was created by God and designed to fulfill His purposes. He is the ultimate Lawgiver and Judge. Morality consists of a set of norms established by Him, and are unchanging.

The Bible portrays God as “a great King over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2; NKJV). As such He combines functions that we normally assign to different branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. In His executive capacity he rescues the victims of wrongdoing. In particular He is interested in the welfare of the weak and vulnerable members of society, those who are apt to be taken advantage of by the stronger and more dominant elements of society. “He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing” (Dt. 10:18). In His judicial capacity “His eyes behold / His eyelids test the sons of men” (Ps. 11:4). And then, reverting back to His executive function, He punishes the wicked: “Upon the wicked He will rain coals: / Fire and brimstone and a burning wind / Shall be the portion of their cup” (Ps. 11:6).

When God, then, looks down upon mankind from His throne in heaven, what He sees is different from what we see. We tend to think in terms of our own personal freedom and self-interest, and our political and economic systems are structured accordingly. God, however, is in the position of an objective, third-party observer; and He is more concerned with how we treat each other. And what He sees in us is that

“They have all turned aside,

They have together become corrupt;

There is none who does good,

No, not one.”             Ps. 14:3

God’s overreaching concern is to see human society functioning the way He intended it to function when He created it, and specifically he is concerned to see that people do not mistreat each other or take unfair advantage of each other. Part of it, as we have seen, arises out of His own moral character, and part of it arises from His design in creation. Part of it is God’s sense of equity and justice – all men were created equal, and no one deserves to have a special advantage over another. “God shows no partiality, nor takes a bribe” (Dt. 10:7). To that end He proposes a very simple rule of the thumb to guide our conduct: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Put yourself in the shoes of the other person: how would you want to be treated in that situation? That, then, is how you should treat him. The “Golden Rule” is a marvelously simple definition of social justice.

The first thing that this obviously entails is that we do no harm to others.

“These are the things the Lord hates,

Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

A proud look,

A lying tongue,

Hands that shed innocent blood,

A heart that devises wicked plans,

Feet that are swift in running to evil,

A false witness who speaks lies,

And one who sows discord among the brethren.”

(Prov. 6:16-19).

But God’s Law involves more than simply not harming others. It must be remembered that we live in a human society in which we are in some way dependent upon each other. We can harm someone, therefore, by withholding from him something that he needs. Therefore God intended that we would be actively concerned for each other. Thus when Jesus was questioned on the matter He said that the Law could be summed up in two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Dt. 6:5) and “. . . you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18; cf. Matt. 22:36-40). Thus the biblical standard of morality entails a sense of duty – a set of responsibilities, obligations and commitments. We are called to honor those obligations because they serve the greater good, even if they involve personal sacrifice.

It is also important to note that God is not merely concerned with external conduct, but with the underlying motives and desires. As King David neared the end of his life he gave his son Solomon charge, saying , “know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts” (I Chron. 28:9). God is not impressed with hypocrisy!

Our calling in life, then, is to serve God, to strive to please Him in all that we do. Our chief concern ought always be to discern His will, and to perform it faithfully. This will require us, at times, to take stands on issues that are at variance with the thinking of modern society. But we must keep eternity in view and be prepared to make the necessary short-term personal sacrifices.

CHRISTIAN ECONOMICS 101

Jean-Francois Millet: The Gleaners

Jean-Francois Millet: The Gleaners

 

“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

                                                                                                            Eph. 4:28, NKJV

Here, in a single verse, barely thirty words long in the New King James Version, are laid out for us the three basic principles of Christian economics: Honesty, Productivity, and Generosity. We would do well to pay careful attention to all three.

The first principle, of course, is honesty: “Let him who stole steal no longer. . .” God expects us to be completely honest in our dealings with others. “Thou shalt not steal” is the Eighth Commandment. The sin of theft, however, can involve much more than just armed robbery. We can steal from others by misrepresenting our goods and services to our customers, by “goofing off” on the job, or by not reporting all of our income our tax returns. In each of these cases we are failing to give to others what is rightfully theirs, or taking something from them under false pretenses that rightfully belongs to them.

“You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin . . .” (Lev. 19:35,36; an “ephah” and a “hin” were both measures of capacity in ancient Israel). “You shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure, that you days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord you God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who behave unrighteously, are an abomination to the Lord you God” (Dt. 25:15,16). The main ethical requirement in business transactions is to represent our goods and services accurately, and to deliver on all of our promises. The customer deserves to know what he is getting and what the real cost to him is, and we need to be careful to give him everything for which he has paid. Everything else is fraud. Does this impose too heavy a financial burden on the businessman? As the old saying goes, “What a perilous web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” We may feel we are saving money in the short run but shortchanging our customers, but the long term consequences can be catastrophic. The real truth cannot be concealed forever, and when the truth finally comes out the damage to our reputation can be irreparable. Witness the fine mess that Volkswagen has just gotten itself into! It is better to tell the truth upfront – some people might become angry with you at first because they don’t like what you’re saying, but you will win their confidence in the long run if they sense that you were being honest with them.

The second great principle of Christian economics is productivity: “but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good . . .” God created us to work. When God created man, He put him in the Garden of Eden “to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Interestingly, Paul specifically says “working with his hands,” suggesting manual labor of some sort. The word “good” points to what is useful and beneficial. The apparent idea here is that truly productive labor is labor that takes raw materials and turns them into finished products that have real market value. Wealth is created by people who use their hands to make things. In a healthy economy the bulk of the workforce will be employed in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. That does not mean that everyone has to be a “blue collar” worker – there is also a need for scientists and engineers to invent and design things, and for managers to plan, organize and direct the work. But strictly speaking real wealth is actually created by people who use their hands to make finished products. Lawyers and politicians are simply living off the wealth created by others.

The third great principle of Christian economics is generosity: “that he may something to give him who has need.” The basic requirement of the moral law is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that means that if we see our neighbor in need we are to respond. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (I John 3:17). What is the point of gaining wealth through our productivity? To live a life of luxury and ease? “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let him do good, they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share . . .” (I Tim. 6:17,18). By sharing our wealth with others here we gain wealth in heaven, where it lasts forever.

God wants us, then, to be honest, productive members of society, and to use the wealth we gain thereby for the good of our fellow human beings. In so doing we create a genuinely prosperous society.