Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Many have heard, “Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals” (I Corinthians 15.33). It’s not difficult to understand the concepts in this verse. If our closest relationships are with worldly people, our ethics and behavior will reflect this. Fun fact: the word for company here is ὁμιλία (homilia). The first part of the word sounds a lot like “homie,” so it’s easy to remember.
I want to look at the word “corrupt” a little more closely. At first, I thought it might be similar to Ephesians 4.29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths…” But that word is completely different and more closely describes decomposition. “Corrupt” in I Corinthians 15.33 means, “To cause deterioration of the inner life” (BDAG 1054).
Paul uses this same word earlier in the book. In I Corinthians 3, Paul talks about the church and her foundation (as in, her foundation is God and not men). By verse seventeen – still addressing the church – he says, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (emp. mine).
“Destroy” is usually ἀπόλλυμι (apollumi) or λύω (luo), but in this verse it’s the same word that’s translated “corrupt” in I Corinthians 15.33.
So what does this mean for us? It’s an extremely solemn warning to those who are corrupting or dividing the church today. At Corinth, the division was due to worldliness and basing their Christianity on prominent men like Paul or Apollos.
If our conduct is dividing the church, we need to read I Corinthians 3.17.
If what we’re talking about corrupts the bride of Christ, we need to read I Corinthians 3.17.
If we abuse the influence we have in the church, we need to read I Corinthians 3.17.
If our opinions, preferences, political views, or behaviors are in any way eroding the family of God, we have to quit them. A bad argument was enough for Paul to tell Euodia and Syntyche to, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2.12). Their argument was hurting the church at Philippi, so Paul told them to get it together or their souls would be lost.
If love for the church does not motivate us to pursue unity, then it is time for us to cultivate a healthy fear of what negative actions can do to our souls. The church is eternally important and infinitely precious, so what could go wrong if we’re always looking out for others?
The Crane Fly is a misidentified and misunderstood creature. It looks like an enormous mosquito, so some will kill it for that reason. I often hear, “Don’t kill those, they eat mosquitos.” The crane fly is either killed for being a “mosquito” or protected based on misinformation about its eating habits. They do not have the anatomy to be predatory, according to Dr. Matthew Bertone with the NCSU Dept. of Entomology. They cannot bite humans, but they also can’t eat other mosquitos.
Some Christian liberties are like crane flies. We may understand that they are harmless in and of themselves (I Cor. 8; 10; Rom. 14.14), but we also understand that others may perceive them as being something they aren’t. To some, our Christian liberties are a mosquito: they see certain practices, lifestyles, clothing choices, consumptions, etc. as being sinful. Still others may see our Christian liberties as being hearty approval of some worldly behaviors, mistaking our enjoyment of this life (I Timothy 4.4) with godless living.
There is a middle ground. Flaunting our religious liberties is counterproductive and sinful (I Corinthians 8). Just because something is a gray area does not mean we should force other Christians to view it in black or white (Romans 14). On the other hand, it is every bit as wrong to condemn a Christian for enjoying a Christian liberty as it is to flaunt that liberty. Paul said, in the context of Christian liberties, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14.4).
So, what is that middle ground? There are, of course, the biblical principles of selflessness, courtesy, deference, discretion, confidence in our position on the matter (Romans 14.5, 20-23), etc. More often than not, though, we’re encouraged to simply avoid any Christian liberties because they may hurt others’ feelings. The middle ground is that we have a faith that is, “our own conviction before God. Happy is the man who does not condemn himself in what he approves” (Rom. 14.22).
Some liberties need not be flaunted but may still be enjoyed privately, if we can demonstrate to ourselves and to God that they do not violate His commands in any way. Some liberties should be kept private so as to avoid causing a brother or sister to stumble (Rom. 14.21). That word for stumble is proskopto, which means, “to strike against something, or to make contact with something in a bruising or violent manner” (BDAG). If what we’re practicing is offensive to others because we’ve made it far more obvious than it should be, we’ve messed up. If we’re doing our best to be discrete and courteous in practicing Christian liberties (which are gifts from God), we’re on the right track.
The best crane flies are the ones we can’t see. No one thinks a mosquito is in the room, and no one thinks a “skeeter-eater” is in the room, either. We can avoid a whole lot of heartburn, headache, and even potential sinning when we keep our Christian liberties private. Or, we could play it safe and, “Not eat meat or drink wine, or do anything by which your brother stumbles.” Whichever path we take, we can never go wrong with the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7.12).
There is an obscure Bible character that holds a great deal of fascination for me. His name is Harbona(h) and his name only appears twice, both in connection with the account of Esther. He is introduced in Esther 1:10 and plays a key role in this divine story of providence in Esther 7:9. His name means “donkey driver.” Granted, his name means more than that. The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names says his name means, “Warlike; martial; a destroyer. Ass driver; the anger of him who builds” (Cornwall and Smith 96). Harbonah was the eunuch in Ahaseurus’ court who informed the king of Haman’s treachery, saying, “Behold indeed, the gallows standing at Haman’s house fifty cubits high, which Hanan made for Mordecai who spoke good on behalf of the king!” Ahaseurus, true to form, wasted no time and said, “Hang him on it.” Thus, ended the life of the man who tried to end the life of the Jews, through whom the Messiah of the world would eventually be born. Thus, Harbonah has an important footnote in the beautiful unfolding of God’s providence in the life and book of Esther. His name is favorably included in only sacred volume God ever moved men to write. That’s a pretty good legacy for a man whose name means “donkey driver.”
All of us are probably curious, if uninformed, about what our name means. I once learned that my middle name, by which as a “junior” I am called, Neal, means “champion.” Lest I should be exalted above measure, my first name, Gary, means “hunting dog.” My surname, Pollard, means “tree topper.” Thus, taken together, I can be proud to know that my full name means “champion hunting dog tree topper.” Solomon wrote about a good name, calling it better than it is more desired than great wealth (Prov. 22:1) and better than a good ointment (Ecc. 7:1). Regardless of what your given name means, what means most and how your name will be remembered on the lips of others, good or bad, is determined by what you do on this earth as is associated with that name. So even if your name is Rafe Bosephus McGillicutty, that name will be sweet on others’ lips if how you wear your name honors the Lord and promotes His cause.
Have you ever heard the expression, “Evil never sleeps?” I tried finding the origin of this expression with those tools available to me. From my limited search, I believe the expression likely originates from Proverbs 4.16.
“For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.” (NASB)
I have taken note of how this is true even during a pandemic.
The first thing striking me was my state still advertised its lottery. Are lottery tickets an essential item for which people should leave their house to buy? I would think not. This soon became a moot point, though, since the state began advertising its existing lottery app one could use to buy lottery tickets online from the “safety” of their own home. Evil never sleeps.
Second, I had seen the news reports of how pornography was profiting from the shutdown. As soon as people began sheltering in place, one purveyor of internet porn noted an immediate spike in visits to their site. India experienced a 95% rise in porn viewership. 1 Only South Korea, who did not shutdown as much of their country, did not see such a porn patronage spike. 2 When other businesses are shutdown, pornography has likewise become lucrative for women seeking employment during tough economic times. 3 Evil never sleeps.
Third, while being disappointed by the designation of religious assemblies as nonessential by government, I’ve noted that they have propped up vice as essential. For example, in Denver pot dispensaries and liquor stores were exempted from stay at home orders. 4 Meanwhile, churches have not been able to meet in their buildings, even with efforts to practice social distancing. On the weekend of April 12th, you may recall that Louisville, Kentucky, mayor, Greg Fischer, even criminalized “drive-in” church services. Fortunately, a judge overturned Fischer’s “edict.” 5 Evil never sleeps.
Fourth, the abortion industry remains alive and well during shutdown. While certain states successfully closed abortion clinics at the outset of the shutdown by stating such clinics offered only elective procedures, judges have overturned such decisions in favor of granting access to it. 6 So, we are currently living at a time when cancer screening is non-essential, but killing your unborn child is “necessary.” Yes, evil never sleeps.
Since evil never sleeps, what are we, as children of God, to do?
Be on guard (1 Peter 5.8). As we have shown, our enemy never sleeps. He is looking to devour us. Thus, we must keep up our alertness.
Redeem our time (Ephesians 5.16). Given the uncertainty of our life, we must make the most of the opportunity God gives us to do His will. Even though COVID-19 is deadly, we note that the things taking a man’s life are far more numerous than viruses (cf. James 4.14).
Pray (1 Thessalonians 5.17). We must always maintain a prayerful heart. It is an avenue allowing us to “cast our cares” upon our Lord (1 Peter 5.7). It is likewise the only means whereby we can discover peace surpassing our ability to comprehend (Philippians 4.16-17).
Evil never sleeps, but we can avoid its darkness by remaining on the path shining as bright as day (Proverbs 4.14-15, 18), while devoting ourselves to doing our Lord’s will.
1 Kannan, Saikiran. “Pornography Gets a Pandemic Boost, India Reports 95 per Cent Rise in Viewing.” India Today, Living Media India Limited, 11 Apr. 2020, www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/pornography-gets-a-pandemic-boost-india-reports-95-per-cent-rise-in-viewing-1665940-2020-04-11.
3 Dorn, Sara. “Business Booming for Cam Girls amid Coronavirus Outbreak.” New York Post, NYP Holdings Inc., 16 Mar. 2020, nypost.com/2020/03/14/business-booming-for-cam-girls-amid-coronavirus-outbreak/.
4 Del Giudice, Vincent. “Denver Exempts Pot Shops, Liquor Stores from Stay-at-Home Order.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg L.P., 24 Mar. 2020, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-24/denver-exempts-pot-shops-liquor-stores-from-stay-at-home-order.
5 Lord, Shaquille. “District Judge Says City Can’t Stop Louisville Church from Holding Drive-in Easter Service.” WLKY, Hearst Television Inc., 12 Apr. 2020, www.wlky.com/article/district-judge-says-city-cant-stop-louisville-church-from-holding-drive-in-easter-service/32115835.
6 Tamburin, Adam. “Federal Court Tweaks Abortion Order, Still Allows Procedures during COVID-19 Pandemic.” The Tennessean, Tennessean.com, 27 Apr. 2020, www.tennessean.com/story/news/2020/04/27/court-tweaks-tennessee-abortion-order-procedures-still-allowed/3033007001/.
Dale and I were recently talking about the marked differences in preference among gun owners, bikers, etc. He made the observation that those who are pro-fill-in-the-blank (revolvers vs magazine-fed, 1911 vs Glock, etc., cruisers vs sport bike, Chevy vs Ford, and so on) are often very enthusiastic about their preference and very hostile to what is the antithesis of their preference.
To use the term in its purest and least twisted sense, there is very little tolerance concerning differences of opinion among those who are passionate about the same things. With motorcycles, those who enjoy cruisers might scoff at those who prefer sport bikes. “They’re more difficult to maintain, you can’t practically go long distances, they’re more dangerous…” Sport bikers might do the same, “Cruisers aren’t as fast or agile, they’re old man bikes, you lose so much power with a belt or shaft drive, they don’t look as cool…” We could go on forever, but if you have any interests where differences of opinion abound (which is just about any hobby or interest), you know what I’m talking about.
We face the same things in the church. Culture influences our preferences in matters of opinion, and I don’t have to go into detail about those opinions or traditions. We’re aware of the range of preferences and the way we can be tempted to respond to opposing preferences. Of course, I’m not talking about doctrines that cannot and should never be altered, but of opinions and traditions that do not affect salvation.
The same responses we observe in every other aspect of our lives – passionate support or passionate opposition – can sometimes be observed in the church. We exist in the world, but we are supposed to be different from the world. Matthew 5.43ff tells us that we should love our enemies. We sometimes treat those with different preferences in the church as enemies; the level of hostility that we (and I mean me, too) can show over those preferences proves this. Do we love them anyway? Are we praying for them?
Matthew 5.46-48 points out (in principle) that if we’re only nice to those on “our side,” it means nothing. In fact, it’s wrong! Twice in this passage we are called to change and be different from everyone else. That is a salvation issue.
The word “tolerance” has become perverted over the last generation or so, but we can’t forget that it does play a role in our faith. We must not tolerate false doctrine, but we must tolerate our differences in matters of opinion. This carries over to everything we’re passionate about!
How we treat those who disagree with us will show others who we serve far more effectively than our professed beliefs will. Does our treatment of those with whom we disagree show that we are genuinely Christian, or does it serve as a perfect deterrent? This is up to us. As things slowly return to normal we can change the status quo in a very positive way – let’s make the best of it!
There’s a part in Sleeping Beauty where the Prince slays a fire breathing dragon with his sword. This is at the climax of the movie, so this entire time the story has been building up to this one, final moment. It’s pretty epic. In our lives, we have many “Fire Breathing Dragons.” At this moment I would like to talk about three of them and how to “kill” them.
First, notice with me the “dragon” of lying. If you look at Colossians 3:9, it says, “Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old evil nature and all it’s wicked deeds.”
Lying in Colossians is labeled under “evil nature.” If we have stripped our old ways, why do we continue to lie? Because much of the lying that we do is for personal gain. For example, someone could come up to me and ask, “How much can you bench?” and I might say “850 pounds.” That’s a classic example of lying for personal gain. From now on that person will believe that lie I told them and possibly tell others. We can slay this dragon by telling the truth. Challenge yourself to tell full truths, and not half-truths.
Second, there is the “dragon” of Hate. Luke 6:27 says, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” The hardest part of this verse is the second half. Trying to love those who hate us is extremely difficult because in our minds they started it so we have the right to hate them back. If you look at Jesus, our example, He says to love those who hate us. How do we do this? It requires a change of vision. We should try to look at those who hate us as a lost soul that needs saving. Looking at them this way might help us to love them more.
Third, and finally, is the “dragon” of Gossip. This one can be very dangerous because it might tear apart a friendship, a person, and the church. If you look at Ephesians 4:29, It reads, “Let no corrupt communication proceed from your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Instead of tearing down someone or spreading rumors, let’s try to build up one another! To keep from letting something slip about someone, let’s try to practice what our parents told us from day one: “Think about what we say before we say it.”
Now there is one more thing we can use to slay “dragons.” The ultimate Two-Edged Sword is for slaying any kind of “dragon.” This Two-Edged Sword, the Bible, can slay any dragon that Satan sends our way. Today we only looked at three of the dragons that Satan uses against us. There are many more, and we must study Scripture to see what they are, and how we can slay them.
Yesterday Carl and I smelled something absolutely awful in his house. Bailey, his trouble-making Carolina dog, had just been let back in; she had evidently rolled around in the remains of an animal that recently reached putrefaction and it showed. We were gagging and gasping for air while attempting to find the source of the odor traumatizing our olfactory lobes. The deceased animal outside was found (kind of) and Bailey was forced into the bath. The sheer power of that stench was incredible.
Our words can have the same effect on a person’s ears that the decaying body of roadkill has on the nose. Ephesians 4.29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only words good for encouragement according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
I want to focus on the word “unwholesome” here. When we hear “unwholesome,” we might think of a dirty joke, curse word, or some other graphic form of speech. That can be included in this word, for sure, but we need to take a closer look at what it means in scripture.
The word is σαπρός (sapros) which means, “to be of such poor quality as to be of little or no value,” or, “bad or unwholesome to the extent of being harmful.” It generally described something that was rotten or decayed and completely useless. That really widens the range of words we can describe as being unwholesome. In modern Greek, σαπρός means “putrid” and is used to describe the same putrefaction process Bailey unfortunately rolled in. It was awful to smell, and putrid words are awful to hear.
The next time we speak to someone, let’s put our words through a simple filter. Let’s ask ourselves, “Is this rotten? Is it going to be beneficial to the person hearing this? Does it encourage?” If our words are closer to rotting flesh than graceful encouragement, we must rethink them before they escape our lips. It’s not just a good idea, it’s certainly imperative to godly living.
The Ford automobile named for Henry’s own son made its debut in 1957 after unprecedented hype. They had started planning and developing the Edsel back in 1955 based on consumer research, polls, and interviews. Ford thought it had tapped into the heart of the buying public with a car that would win its heart. It turned out to be a disaster in every way one can measure such–it was too big, too unreliable and poorly-made, too unattractive, too expensive, and, well, too weird. Even the name is strange. When Ford’s marketing department polled people about how they liked the name, many asked, “Did you say ‘pretzel’?” (info from “The Flop Heard Round The World,” Peter Carlson, Washington Post, 9/4/07). While today the Edsel has become a collector’s item, selling for as much as $100,000 or more, it will forever live among the automotive lemons’ Hall-of-Fame lineup that includes such stellar machines as the AMC Gremlin, Ford Pinto, Chevy Chevette, Yugo GV, and De Lorean DMC-12.
Marketing can be a mean business. Especially is it risky when you take a proven, respected name and attach it to something that dishonors and degrades it–like “Ford” and “Edsel.” So many researchers have sought to identify why the Edsel was such a colossal failure, but the answer often goes back to the problem that “with too many hands working on the Edsel, the project had no direction” (“The Edsel Proved Why You Should Never Design A Car By Committee,” Chris Perkins, Road & Track, 1/23/17).
What does all of this have to do with God and the Bible or Christ and the church? Well, several things.
The Ford Edsel became the focus of a great many studies by the likes of John Brooks and Bill Gates. Its failures helped many industries, not just the auto industry, learn from its basic mistakes. I think there’s insight in it for the greatest “business” of all–i.e., soul-winning. May we get the greatest name (Jesus) to the greatest audience (the world) through the greatest message (the gospel)! That’s a guaranteed recipe for the greatest success (salvation)!
Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ira Boudway wrote a fascinating article about the perennially successful head basketball coach of the San Antonio Spurs. He called the piece, “The Five Pillars of Popovich.” Gregg Popovich, who has led the Texas team to five NBA championships in a little over 20 years, is the epitome of steady in a league notorious for constant change. Boudway laments that Popovich wouldn’t actually cite his own pillars of success, but the thoroughly researched column definitely exposes the principles that have made this legendary coach tick with exquisite precision. Those five pillars, in order, are:
We would modify and adapt the wording of some of the pillars, but the principles are unmistakably sound. When it comes to spiritual leadership, whether in the home or the church, these qualities are powerfully attractive.
Great leaders work hard to give others the credit and, most of all, God the praise. The goal is more important than the glory (Eph. 3:20-21).
Great leaders will not ask others to do what they won’t do (Mat. 23:3-4). They exemplify what they expect (Heb. 13:7).
Great leaders get the difference between the “big stuff” and the “small stuff.” Spiritual wisdom helps them channel their passion nobly. They reserve emotion for the eternal and temperance for the temporary.
Great leaders are learners, growers, and improvers. They hate complacency and disdain settling. Nowhere do they demonstrate this more than their pursuit of sacred truth, as consummate Bible students (2 Pet. 3:18).
Great leaders truly know those whom they lead. Assumptions, perceptions, prejudices, and appearances hamstring and even sabotage leaders. There is no substitute for loving people, genuinely caring about and being intimately involved in the lives of those whom they lead (John 10:1ff).
People are looking for leaders like this. They will follow them to the ends of the earth and, consequently, to heaven! None of these qualities necessitates a Ph.D. or a million dollars. They simply require dedication and discipleship! May God raise up more men who have the will and want to be successful leaders for Him!