Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Most people have very strong convictions, pro or con, about religious matters. Many who claim to be religious form opinions and draw conclusions with very little if any biblical consultation. How ironic is it to claim to follow God while ignoring and even rejecting His very revealed will?
Many religious people, church attenders and not, are guided by their feelings, desires, opinions, preferences, and consciences (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3; Prov. 14:12). Perhaps they have a favorite preacher or other religious figure they implicitly trust. Their religion may be submitted and subjugated to the message of the culture or even the media. It may be based on convenience and comfort. Throughout time, man has attempted to serve God on his own terms and based on what he thinks is right. Whether ignorantly or defiantly, he puts himself on a throne upon which only Jesus belongs (Mat. 28:18).
How long could religious error survive if potentially divided parties could lay aside personal interests and objectively study the sacred text? So often, the religious world is divided because of man-made doctrines and traditions. Instead of looking to the Bible to answer the important questions of time and eternity, men often come up with the answers they want and then go looking for Bible verses to support their predetermined views. Consider that some of the most popular religious ideas—salvation by saying the sinner’s prayer, premillennialism, speaking in tongues, women worship leaders, once-saved, always-saved, and instrumental music—are not practiced or believed based upon their being taught in Scripture but instead their being the beliefs and views of mankind. How thrilling it would be if we could unite every religious person in the desire to come to the text, the glasses of prejudice or sectarian beliefs removed, and let God tell us what to believe and how to live! That is possible, but it begins with each of us humble, sincerely asking, “What does the Bible say?”
This is a familiar phrase to most of us, usually used when responding to something so difficult to understand that it warrants saying. Advanced math brings this phrase to my mind (no one should never mix the alphabet with numbers, by the way). For most people, any topic or conversation with very difficult-to-understand components will prompt, “It’s all Greek to me.” We understand that it is used in good humor and not as a slight against Greek, but I believe that it has also discouraged the “average” Christian from studying the original language of the New Testament.
Before I continue, allow me a disclaimer: I am not a scholar, by any means, in the use of the Attic/Ionic-based ancient language known as Koine Greek. I am an enthusiastic student of the language, but not an expert. The purpose of this article is to hopefully knock down some of the myths surrounding the language and hopefully encourage us all to pursue a knowledge of it.
Myth #1: Greek Is Super Hard to Learn
This could not be further from the truth. Greek makes a lot more sense than English! This is not to say that it is easy (learning any language is difficult), but it is most certainly attainable. Start with the Greek alphabet and memorize it. Once you can sound out words, try memorizing as much vocabulary as you can. If you can, find a Greek New Testament with a lexicon in the back and memorize those. With that base, learning the more complex grammar rules and language structure becomes significantly easier.
Myth #2: You Need to Be an Expert to Get the Benefits of Greek Study
Regardless of what anyone says, the New Testament really comes to life when you can read it without the third party that is translation. You get the full emotional and intellectual impact of a writer when you can read his words first-hand. You do not have to be a Greek scholar to get some of that impact! Technology today can be an incredible tool. One such tool is Logos Bible Software. It is a free app that allows anyone to look up a word in the New Testament and understand more about its meaning. Another resource is a good lexicon like BDAG. This can be had (in an earlier edition) on abebooks.com for a couple of dollars.
Why study Greek? It will help you grow immensely in your spiritual life. It will help you understand truths more clearly. It will give you even more joy and excitement in your study. It will give you a better grasp of the English language. It will give you a firsthand look at scripture without the bias sometimes present in translation. This is not, by any means, necessary for salvation or even spiritual growth and maturity. It is, however, one of the most incredible tools any Christian will have for in-depth bible study. As an added bonus, you can chuckle a little more anytime someone says, “It’s all Greek to me.”
During our recent move from Colorado to Kentucky, I sifted through several boxes and shelves and found paper and digital photographs all the way from Kathy’s and my childhood to our sons when they were small. It’s incredible to witness the dramatic transformation they reveal. We’re still taking pictures, which will be snapshots we look back on in years to come.
As I try to get to know the Lehman Avenue congregation better, I have been given recent church directories. Did you know that we have directories going back to 1955? That one has no photographs in it. The first one that does have photos is from 1978. There are not many in that directory who still worship here today, though you will see entries with the last names Bruner, Daniel, Dickerson, Dunning, Ennis, Gilbert, Hunt, Nicks, Phelps, Raymer, Tabor, and no doubt others including those who may have a different last name today. Do you think the 1978 picture looks like the 2019 person? There are resemblances, but also changes.
That 1955 directory does give a snapshot of a different kind. In the forward is written the following:
“The purpose of this directory is three-fold: To give a brief history of the beginning, development and progress of the Lord’s church in Bowling Green; to perpetuate a list of charter members forming the Lehman Avenue congregation; and to better quaint the members of this local congregation with one another, in order that we may work together in the best way possible.”
I appreciate that the compilers of this directory went to the trouble to trace the history of the church’s establishment in Bowling Green. Eugenia Hayes’ research is included in this first edition. She says that Stone and the Campbells were here, helping to establish the church. The first congregation established here was in the mid-1840s, with six members meeting each Lord’s Day and eventually meeting in a house build on a property on College Street. When threatened by digression in the late 1800s, the church here was aided by such men as M.C. Kurfees from Louisville, Daniel Sommer from Indianapolis, and James Harding from Nashville. A building was built on Twelfth Street in 1899, and Lehman was established from this congregation in 1955. Roy J. Hearn was the first preacher.
From these “newborn” and “infant” photographs, we can trace our “development and progress.” More “snapshots” are being made constantly, and not just those which show up in the latest directories or on social media. In encouraging Timothy to embrace his ministry and gifts, Paul urged, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to the teaching…” (1 Tim. 4:15-16a). “Take pains” means to improve by care or study, practice, cultivate…” (BDAG 627). “Be absorbed” is better translated “be in them” but conveys the idea of being involved in or devoted to (BDAG 284).”Progress” means “to change one’s state for the better by advancing and making progress” (Louw-Nida 154). “Pay close attention” means “to be mindful or especially observant” (BDAG 362). Put it all together. Improve, involve, and observe yourself in order to make progress.
When we sit for family portraits, we normally put on clothes we think will flatter us, we give attention to grooming, and we attempt to look our best. What Scripture calls for goes beyond just skin deep. God wants us to focus intently on our “inner man” so that, even as our outer man is decaying, we can “look better” to God each and every day (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16). Look at snapshots of your spiritual past. Look at yourself today. Progress? Regress? “No-gress”? Which is it? Take heart! There’s still time to make changes that will look good to God (and you), so that we can look back with gratitude and satisfaction that we took pains with our spiritual appearance! Strike a Christlike pose!
“Big dummy!” That can be a derogatory statement or the description of a large mannequin. Context makes all the difference! So it is with matters of infinitely greater significance. So much religious error exists because of a failure to consider the context of biblical passages.
Our friends in religion who believe that Jesus is a created being rather than one of the three everlasting personalities of the Godhead defend their view with passages such as Colossians 1:15, which says, “He is the firstborn of all creation.” A further study of the use of the word “firstborn” shows that it is used literally (Heb. 11:28) and figuratively (Heb. 12:23) in the New Testament. Context determines the difference. What is it in Colossians 1:15? The context says that Jesus made everything that was made (16-17). Did He make Himself? No, He cannot both be literally, physically born and be the One who created “all things.” Logically, Paul is speaking in a figurative sense, that in His human nature Jesus is “at the head of His class.” He is first in order, preeminent among men (18). As a human, He is above us and first among all of us.
Others of our friends teach salvation by faith only. They appeal to a couple of passages to assert this idea. One passage is Acts 16:31, where the Philippian jailer is told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is given as proof positive that salvation comes at the point of faith. Another text cited, the “golden text of the Bible,” says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This statement is made as part of a conversation Jesus is having with Nicodemus.
In the case of the jailer, who saw the miraculous power of God in opening the jail doors and who asked what he must do to be saved, he is told to believe in Jesus. It is noteworthy to ask, “How much would the average Philippian jailer know about Jesus?” Thus, Luke adds the important detail that before we read of the man’s response, “They spoke the word of the Lord to him” (31). His response is found in verse 32, where he washes Paul and Silas’ wounds and is immediately baptized. This accords with the broader context of Acts, where believers are told to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (2:38; 22:16).
In the case of Nicodemus’ instruction, Jesus’ makes the statement of John 3:16 in a certain context, too, a context that included talk of water (3:5) and an illustration from the book of Numbers. That illustration is very noteworthy for showing that more than belief is necessary for salvation. It concerns the serpents God sent upon the murmuring and complaining Israelites. Numbers 21:9 says, “So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” How did salvation come, simply by believing in God’s plan or by believing AND looking? Likewise, the broader context of scripture shows faith and works joined together. Israel did not earn the saving of their lives by looking any more than we earn salvation from sin by believing and being baptized. Yet, God makes it as essential to obey today as He did during the wilderness wandering. Context bears this out.
Let us never be “scripture isolationists,” those who peel a verse away from its context or who rest our confidence in doctrines that have been thus constructed. God saw to it that we would have His word and will preserved. How wise of us to make sure we properly study it in context!
Already, we have looked at six reinforcements for our resolutions: (1) Specificity (Resolutions Reinforcements–#1), (2) Prayer (Resolutions Reinforcements–#2), (3) Tenacity (Resolutions Reinforcements–#3), (4) Hope (Resolutions Reinforcements–#4), (5) Self-Control (Resolutions Reinforcements—#5), and (6) Accountability (Resolutions Reinforcements–#6). I’d like to close this series of articles with one last tool of support. To keep our resolutions rolling, may I suggest “reading.”
Especially if you are not a reader, that may sound like drudgery. However, consider the fact that God thought it important enough to have His will and thoughts written down in a book. Certainly, the Bible will help shape, encourage, and assist us in every noble goal. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” How do we know what God considers to fall within these categories? We must read His Word (cf. Psa. 119:105).
Whatever your goals, there are probably plenty of books devoted to the subject (cf. Ecc. 12:12). If you have financial, physical, relational, or spiritual goals, seek out books by those of proven ability in those areas. Perhaps you can ask people who are excelling in the areas where you wish to improve what books they’ve read and would recommend. Some time ago when he still lived at home, my son Dale passed along a book one of our deacons, Scott Phillips, shared with him on finances, entitled Rich Dad, Poor Dad. One of my elders, Dean Murphy, recently recommended The Speed of Trust for effective leadership. Rick Randall, a faithful member here, recommended a faith-building resource called The Truth Project. Just yesterday, Mike Vestal encouraged me to read a book by Gary McIntosh on church growth that was relevant to a goal I have regarding Bear Valley. Connect yourself to readers in your congregation and your circle of friends.
The point is, resolutions are about making improvements. Often, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel. Usually, you’ll have to spit out some bones. Always, you can mine at least some nugget from a book on a subject of your interest that can help you grow. I encourage you to “study up” on ways to maintain and shore up your resolve. Filter it all through the lens of Scripture. Then, most importantly, don’t be a forgetful hearer but rather a doer (cf. Jas. 1:22).
Many know that Psalm 119 is the greatest, inspired tribute to the Word of God known to man. 176 verses, eight verses under the heading of every Hebrew letter, grace these pages of our Bibles. All but a few verses mention some synonym for God’s Word. So many individual studies can be made of themes and thrusts in Psalm 119, but by reading it one discovers David giving many benefits or needs for studying the Bible. Consider what is no doubt an inexhaustible study.
Periodically, we read or hear of “sightings” that unbelievers have a field day with. I refer to “Jesus sightings,” people are claiming in such things as clouds, Cheetos, dental X-rays, cooking utensils, windows, walls, and trees. Wikipedia even has an entry for it (“Perceptions of religious imagery in natural phenomena”). People vehemently defend the idea that these are intentional, divinely sent images. Meanwhile, secular and agnostic witnesses to such claims gather up baby and bathwater together, using such superstitiousness to show how deluded those in Christendom really are. Yet, while responding to superstition in religion would be a fitting use of time, another thing comes to mind when hearing these sad stories. It is a reminder that people are looking for Jesus in all the wrong places.
They want some heavenly sign, some overwhelming feeling, some sensory sensation, and some sort of religious fireworks to create or validate their faith. While God has embedded plenty of these in the marvels of nature and creation, through the product of answered prayer that defies logic or explanation, and by the amazing process of transformation that occurs when people follow Christ, He calls on us to seek for Him in a much less electrifying and cataclysmic place.
When we pick up God’s Word and regularly, intently read, meditate, and study (cf. Psalm 1) it, we see Jesus come alive in powerful, sustaining ways! When we walk with the Lord each day, the resulting relationship built on His character and our trust in Him is powerful! When we actively serve Him and others and put into practice what He teaches us through the Bible, we see Jesus in a vivid way. Daily Christian living, the longer we practice it, brings Jesus into unmistakeable, clear focus. Maybe that is what these “seers” truly desire, and what they need is our help to truly find Him. Let us take that as a challenge and help people really “see Jesus” (cf. John 12:21; Heb. 2:9).
CBS News was doing a report about a new, effective therapy for soldiers who return from combat, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Chris Eder, an Air Force veteran who had near-death experiences, has found a way to cope and helps other veterans in a group, veterans, that loses 22 people every day through suicide. Some turn to legal or illegal drugs or other unsatisfying or unhealthy means of coping, but Eder discovered yoga and meditation. In the course of an interview, he said, “When a warrior sits down to meditate, we know how to focus, and it happens like that” (cbsnews.com/news).
While yoga may certainly seem at odds with the tough-guy picture we have of our military, the idea of meditation is nothing new. One of the Bible’s fiercest warriors, David, was a strong proponent of it. The meditation he called for was not eastern or mystical, but spiritual. 12 of the 15 times the word is seen in the NASB, David is the penman, calling for the godly to meditate. He meditates on the law of God (Ps. 1:2). He meditates in the place of worship (Ps. 27:4). He meditates on God (Ps. 63:6). He meditates on God’s works and deeds (Ps. 77:12; 145:5). He meditates on God’s precepts and ways (Ps. 119:15). That word “meditate” means to “muse” (BDB, n.p.), “to read in an undertone” (Koehler, et al, Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon, n.p.), or the idea of contemplating something before then uttering it (cf. TWOT, n.p.). With all of these definitions, there is the idea of deliberate, prolonged thinking about the object—whether God or His word. The process has a profound change on the person, shaping and influencing them. There are rewards like knowledge, peace, grounding, hope, and godliness for the meditator.
It is great and necessary for you and I to engage in spiritual warfare. We are defined by God as soldiers (cf. Eph. 6:10ff). Yet, when we as spiritual warriors meditate through prayer, study, and contemplation of our God, we do more than soothe the savage beasts within us. We draw greater power and strength to continue doing battle. This week, please be found on the battlefield, but make sure you take time to meditate, too!
Ad consultant Peter Zollman issued a report in June 2014 saying that more than 40 slayings and 30 convicted killers have been linked to Craigslist (Stephanie Slifer, CBS News online, 1/28/15). Robbery is most often the motive behind the crime. Parry Aftab, a lawyer who specializes in Internet privacy and security law, offers these precautions:
If you’re like me, you’ve used Craigslist many times and have lived to tell the tale. We’ve not always followed all these rules, though a great many of them seem like common sense. We’ve bought and sold and have had great experiences with decent, friendly folks. The worst I can recall is that someone in our immediate family bought a vehicle from one less than forthcoming about all its flaws.
While these are very helpful public service tips, there is a danger far greater and much more common. What is at stake is even more serious than the taking of physical life as it involves the soul. The Bible warns about teachers who project themselves to be speakers of truth but are far from it.
So often, these teachers find those already looking for a cheap and easy message. However, often they draw in sincere folks who allow themselves to be misled. In either case, while God holds teachers responsible (Jas. 3:1), He also holds hearers responsible (Lk. 8:18; Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15). We must make ourselves accountable for what we and our families hear—eternity is on the line!