One of the most intriguing people in all the gospels, to me, is the beggar sitting by the road near Jericho. Mark 10:46 tells us that the man’s name is Bartimaeus. Matthew tells us that there is another man sitting with him, and that man’s name is not given (20:30). This man was shameless in a good way, persistent despite the crowd sternly discouraging him (39). I wonder if there is a more pathetic person disclosed to us in the Bible (maybe Lazarus back in Luke 16). He is needy in at least five ways, according to Luke 18:35-43:
He’s physically impaired (35)–“a blind man”
He’s economically disadvantaged (35)–“by the road begging”
He’s socially outcast (39)–He’s not depicted as a respected member of society, but one to be corrected by the others
He’s emotionally distraught (38-41)–Begging for mercy and longing for sight
He’s spiritually incomplete (42)–When Jesus heals him, He tells the man, “Your faith has saved you.”
I love how the man is so stripped of his dignity, power, and resources that he boldly pleads for Jesus’ help. It may seem strange, but all of us need to get to that place if we will receive what only He can give. He wanted His mercy. When he received it, look at the response. He “began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God” (43). Don’t you want your submissive, obedient life to be a drawing card for others to see their need of God and to glorify Him? God really shows His power when He takes the lowliest and transforms them by what He does with and through them. That’s why I love this account.
A researcher at the Royal Society of Medicine in the UK published a paper called “The Spoilt Generation.” He ties the alarming rates of child depression, teenage pregnancy, obesity, violent crimes by adolescents, and more to a basic lack of respect for authority (Daily Mail). The Cato Institute published a study simply entitled, “Respect For Authority.” One of its most basic findings is that the public believes social instability follows disrespect for authority (Cato).
What do you think? Have you noticed a decline of respect in society for parents, teachers,the police, employers, and others in a position of authority? Most of us would agree it’s happening, and that it is not good. Peter warns about it in the most sobering of terms, speaking of the unrighteous who face eternal punishment as those who, in part, “despise authority (2 Pt 2:10). Jude offers a very similar warning, describing those who turn God’sgrace into permission to do whatever they please (4), and this includes their “rejecting authority” (8). So why do we often have a problem with authority?
We have a problem with rebelliousness. Saul, the earthly king, had a problem with rebellion (1 Sam. 15:23). Paul writes Timothy, discussing why the Law of Moses existed. It was for unrighteous people, and at the top of that list were the lawless and rebellious (1 Tim. 1:9). Rebellion is insubordination. It characterized the period of the Judges, when everyone did what they thought was right to them (17:6; 21:25). As we look at crime in our current society, we see the fruit of rebellion. CNN reports a 33% increase in homicides in major U.S. cities from 2019 to 2020, and now it is up another 24% since the beginning of 2021 (CNN). Yet, cities like Baltimore no longer prosecute drug possession, prostitution, and other low-level offenses. In California, shoplifting has in some places ceased to have any legal ramifications. How many looters in major U.S. cities have never served a day in jail or paid a penny in fines? Romans 13 clearly condemns this. Paul says “whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (2). Most of us would condemn this nationally, but do we struggle with rebellion against authority closer to home? Do we struggle with it against employers, elders, and parents? Rebelliousness can be milder than murder and more limited than against government. Do we only submit if we accept what they lead us to do? Do we maintain meekness and gentleness only if we agree with them? Rebellion is not the mark of a disciple of Christ; such have a different master.
We have a problem with respect. Paul says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Th. 5:12-13). Esteem, as a verb, is found 28 times and means to think, consider, or regard. Paul is telling the church how to regard their leaders (“very highly in love”) and why (“because of their work”). Interestingly, the noun form of this verbs is often tied to various types of leadership–“Ruler” (Mt. 2:6), “leader” (Lk. 22:26), “governor” (Acts 7:10), “chief” (Acts 14:12) and “leading men” (Acts 15:22). But in 1 Thessalonians 5:13, it is a verb and means to engage in the intellectual process of thinking of them with the highest respect. The word “esteem” deals with our character generally and not just how we treat elders and any other leaders. Philippians 2:3 says, “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” But Peter speaks of some who “count it a pleasure to revel in doing wrong” (2 Pet. 2:13). Respect is a matter of how you set your mind. If we don’t have it in our hearts to respect those in authority, it can’t help but show in the way we speak to them or about them. Our children learn how to treat authority figures by watching and listening to us. What are we teaching them?
We have a problem with our religion. “Religion” is only found four times in the New Testament. It means appropriate beliefs and the devout practice of our obligations (Louw-Nida, 530). How do we properly express our religion? It is not just about worshipping the way God commands. That’s a vital part, but only one way. Paul tells us what his pre-Christian religion looked like (Acts 26:5). He tells us about the false religion of some, ruled by their fleshly minds (Col. 2:18). James uses the word “religion” twice, in James 1:26-27. He teaches that pure, untainted religion is proven or disproven by your thoughts, words, and deeds. When I show disdain toward those in authority in or out of the church context, I’m telling everyone who witnesses it about my religion. I am making an impression on them that will either lead them closer to God or farther away from Him. Whatever I tell them about the one(s) in authority, I am telling them far more about me. If they follow my lead, will they stumble (cf. Lk. 17:1-2)?
Our problem with authority is ultimately a problem with God. When Paul tells Rome that those who resist authority oppose God’s will, he was talking about a government ruled by wicked Caesars who murdered Christians. When I disapprove of or disagree with those in positions of authority, in the nation, church, workplace or home, I must respond how God says respond. I must leave the rest to Him.
Every home has some kind of system in place to keep order. Maybe you were told to take your shoes off at the door, keep your elbows off the table, make your bed in the morning, or brush your teeth more than twice a month. Every home is different and the expectations for conduct and cleanliness vary accordingly. However your home was structured, you were at least bound to a set of rules in some form.
God’s house is no different. I’m not just talking about the building we meet in for worship, but that anytime His family offers up worship to Him we are expected to follow His rules. I Timothy 1.4 talks about God’s “house-law” (often mistranslated “stewardship” or “godly edification”). The word is οικονομία (oikonomia), combining οίκος (house) with νόμος (law). What does this mean in context? In I Timothy Paul publicly berates two members who were teaching “myths and endless genealogies which do not promote the house law of God in faith” (1.3, 4; 20).
If any teaching goes against what God has told us He wants, it’s a violation of His house-law. We understand this when it comes to daily life outside of religious activities. If we break the law we are held accountable to it. We understand that violating the laws our governments put in place to maintain order and promote justice carries consequences. Some, though, do not act as if the same applies to God’s people in a religious context.
God’s house-law is more specifically defined in I Timothy 2.1-8. Anytime and anywhere Christian men and women offer worship together, God expects qualified Christian men to lead. This is made clear with the phrase, “…in every place” (2.8). God’s house, God’s rules.
Not just any man can lead, though! He must be someone who is able to lift holy hands (that is, he is pure in life and can offer worship without the stain of sin), he must be cool-headed, and he can’t be unstable in his faith (2.8). God’s house, God’s rules.
God expects women to avoid drawing undue attention to themselves (2.9, 10) and are to allow godly men to lead them in worship (2.11-14). His house, his rules.
In all of my vast wisdom and experience as a child, I didn’t always agree with or like all of my family’s house rules. Probably every teen and their unfortunate parents experience this. My feelings about a house rule did not alter its validity in any way. It was not my house so I was not in a position to change or violate the rules. Trying to do so was not only futile but often carried consequences.
God’s design for His church is not acceptable to the secular world. In their disagreement or downright hostility toward it they have pushed many churches into changing God’s house-laws. This doesn’t fly in the legal world, the home, or in any setting where rules were set in place by those most qualified to make them. Why would it work with God?
We may not always understand why God made the laws that He did, but this is where the faith aspect of 1 Timothy 1.4 comes into play. We have to ask ourselves, “Do we trust that God knew what He was doing when He made these laws, and do I really want to challenge Him on the rules He made for His own family?” At the end of the day we must remember that in God’s house we follow God’s laws. Many of the problems facing the church in 2020 can be solved simply by accepting this fact! If we do – as in any family – we will not only have harmony in the church, but a permanent, peaceful home with God after this life.
When it comes to sports, there are certain ways of playing. There are rules to follow, specific plays to make, and mistakes to avoid if a team wants to succeed. This same idea applies to our Christianity. In Joshua 1:5-9, we read of certain aspects needed in order to live life God’s way. By following these things we will reap the benefits that are found inside of Christ.
Joshua says that God’s way is conditional. In Joshua 1:7, we read, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” God gave Israel conditions to His being their God: be strong and courageous, do all according to the law of Moses, and do not turn from the right or to the left.
Thinking about our personal relationship with God we can still apply these same commands to our spiritual lives today. For example, the blessings we are promised are received by being strong and courageous in the work place, doing all according to the law we are under (the new covenant), and not wavering in our faith. If we want to live our lives according to God’s will we must understand that our relationship to Him is conditional. Our relationship is based on our willingness to listen to His word.
We must also understand that God’s way is a command, not a suggestion (1:7-8). He is the creator. He has the authority to create the way, He has the authority to make what He says a command. If we want the blessings of following His way, we must practice the commands He has given each one of us.
Just as the Israelites were given certain commands, we also are commanded to follow certain laws. Love the Lord our God with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are commanded to love God with every aspect of our lives (Matt. 22:36-40). When we think about our lives, every decision should be based on the will of God. We must recognize that God’s way of living is a command.
If we want to live our lives God’s way we must recognize that the blessings we are promised are conditional, and the things we read in scripture are a command. But we should find joy in knowing that God’s way is comforting. Joshua 1:9 reads, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
There is absolutely no reason for us to tremble when the Creator is on our side. There is never a reason to be dismayed when the defeater of sin is with us. We have a loving God with us wherever we go in life. God’s way of living is best, and if we will let Him control our everyday lives we can find comfort, hope, and joy in Him.
We’re going through I Peter in the college class at Lehman Avenue and we most recently studied part of chapter three. This chapter further discusses the theme of submission (giving up our power willingly to another) frequently appearing throughout the book. Christians are essentially told, “It’s not about me,” that we should get rid of certain behaviors, and an explanation for why we give up certain behaviors or power is given.
For example, we should get rid of hatred, taking advantage of others, hypocrisy, jealousy, and character assassination (2.1), because we know that God has shown us mercy (2.9, 10). That’s hard. We should listen to our government, even when we disagree with them (as long as it doesn’t violate God’s word), because God uses them to maintain some semblance of law and order (2.13-17). That’s hard. We should be good employees, even when our bosses aren’t fair, because Christ suffered, too, and God looks at us favorably when we suffer for doing the right thing (2.18ff). That’s hard.
In the same way – that is, keeping with the theme of surrendering our own power and doing something difficult for the sake of goodness – Peter addresses women and men specifically in chapter three.
This is an interesting study because it sheds light on a controversial topic: wives being submissive to their husbands. Let’s look at the text:
Γυναίκες (wives/women): Submit to ιδιοις (your own) husbands. Not all men, just husbands. Peter is not saying that women are inferior and should submit for that reason.
Ινα (in order that): For the purpose of cultivating godliness and influencing a fallen husband. It’s not for the purpose of manifesting inferiority, but to influence a lost husband! This involves a difficult task – as in 2.18 – which demonstrates the power of the word.
Δια (through/by): γυναικών αναστροφής (womanly or “wifely” conduct). Through her submission to her husband and through an emphasis on timeless inner beauty, she can save his soul. “Men and women have different ways of expressing godliness. Peter is showing how women can powerfully influence their husbands, which is by submitting to them” (Edwin Jones).
This sensitive topic is nonetheless a powerful one. Wives are not told to submit because it’s “just what women should do,” or because of a belief that women are somehow inferior, but are told to submit because it can save souls. Men are told to assign value to their wives and to be respectful and considerate with them if they want to be right with God (3.7), followed by a general set of commands for all Christians to act a certain way for the sake of godliness (3.8ff).
We submit and suffer as Christians to save souls and to remember that, “It’s not about me.”
Raymond Burke, an American Catholic Cardinal serving in the Vatican, voiced his opinion about the novel coronavirus. He stated that one “cannot consider the present calamity in which we find ourselves without considering how distant our popular culture is from God.” He continued, “It is not only indifferent to His presence in our midst but openly rebellious toward Him and the good order with which He has created us and sustains us in being.” 1
Burke’s comments follow his observation that in times past when plagued by disease, people normally turned to God. Under our current circumstances of trying to mitigate COVID-19, however, we are forbidden from meeting in assemblies of more than 10 persons. Burke went on to say that our homes are “a little Church into which we bring Christ from our encounter with Him in the bigger Church.” Hence, he encouraged Catholics to pray.
From a purely doctrinal standpoint, I am unable to agree with Raymond Burke. Even so, I was struck by the quotation by him which I shared. Right now, we are isolating ourselves from one another to prevent the spread of a virus. Yet, people have been keeping themselves distant from God for years. And not only do they seek to stay distant from God, but they also promote an environment that seeks to distance others from Him as well. Burke sighted those sins like abortion and the perversion of God’s design for sexuality as proof of this distancing from God. I’d be hard-pressed to disagree with that thought.
Yet, it is not just those sins that cause people to become distanced from God. For example, in Isaiah 59, Isaiah reminded those people in a covenant relationship with God under Moses’ Law that God was separated from them by their hands defiled with blood, fingers defiled by iniquity, lips speaking falsehoods, and tongues muttering wickedness (3). He further stated they conceived mischief and brought forth iniquity (4). He said their feet ran to evil (7). Consequently, they made crooked paths for themselves, which deprived others of peace when they traveled upon them (8). Frankly, modern America sounds no different.
And what was the consequence of being distant from God? Isaiah began by saying that God had become separated from them which prevented Him from hearing their prayers or helping them (1-2). Justice was far from them and despite their hope for light, they were ensconced in darkness (9). Indeed, the Israelites were blind men groping along the wall and stumbling during the day as though it were night (10). They were compared to dead men (10). Truly, without God people are in a terrible position.
During this pandemic, I have noted more references to God on television. As I’ve heard the discussion of our mental health during this crisis, even news commentators have lauded the role of faith in preventing people from despairing. After all, hope is an anchor. Vice President Mike Pence, in commenting about the deaths from the coronavirus, quoted from 1 Thessalonians 4.13 that we do not grieve like those who have no hope. 2 As refreshing as all of this is, I am afraid that it smacks of waiting until the house has burned down to call the fire department.
If we truly want for God to bless us individually, as the church, or to bless our secular nation, we cannot afford to practice social distancing from God. We must allow for the only name given under heaven among men that saves (Acts 4.12) be always on our lips as we preach and teach to our neighbors (Matthew 28.19-20).
Peace conjures a number of different images in our minds; from hippies to nature’s beauty to inner calm to lack of anxiety. Nearly every group of people in the world craves peace – no rational human being wants to live in constant upheaval. We all want to have peace, but our world somehow is still getting worse and worse. Why is this? The prince of this world is not a being who desires peace (II Corinthians 4.4; Ephesians 2.2; John 12.31). His very existence is dedicated to bringing down anyone who believes in God (I Peter 5:8) and he has no care or concern for the fate or well-being of anyone on this earth. Total, lasting world peace will never be possible as long as time continues (see Romans 8.18-25: sin caused the earth to be subjected to futility).
Total, lasting world peace may not be possible in this life, but this does not mean the world cannot experience any peace at all. How can we experience peace in our lives?
Firstly, it has to come from us. The world will never act in a way that brings peace. Anytime the world wishes to better its conditions, it incites civil unrest, riots, protests, and other not-very-peaceful behaviors. Christians, however, are called to be different. I Timothy 2.1ff tells us that praying to God on behalf of all men, for kings, and all who are in authority will allow us to lead quiet and tranquil lives in all godliness and dignity. We can have peace by being obedient to government authorities – even if we do not agree with them politically – because God put them in place (Romans 13). If we want peace, we have to show that peace by how we live. Since man is naturally attracted to peace, our quiet, godly lives will draw others to Christ.
Secondly, even if our world is in chaos we can have inner peace. Philippians was written to break up a nasty fight between Euodia and Syntyche. To have the “peace beyond what we can understand,” they had to rejoice in the Lord, be reasonable, not be anxious, and reach out to God for their every need. The same applies to us today! Do we get our joy from God or from worldly pursuits? Are we worried about meeting personal needs or do we rely on God (see Phil. 4.19; Matt. 6.25)? Do we try to fix our own problems, relying on our own strength, or do we place them in God’s hands and work with His guidance and providence? The Christian life is not easy, nor is it always peaceful, but the inner peace that a faithful Christian experiences, knowing that their name is in the book of life and that nothing in this short life can disrupt God’s love for them, makes every struggle in this life worth the pain.
If we want peace, we have to be that peace. We have to live peaceful lives. We have to submit to governing authorities (as long as it is within the parameters of godliness). We have to be unified as a church. We have to look to God for all of our needs. We have to trust that He will take care of us, even if that isn’t in this life. If we can do these things, we will have peace.
—And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery (Mat. 19:9).
—Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
—For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error (Rom. 1:26-27).
—And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all…There is one body (Eph.1:22-23; 4:4).
—And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18-19).
—A woman is not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet (1 Tim. 2:11-14).
Passages like these are hotly debated, denied, and derided by those who either cast them against other Scripture or subjugate them to current cultural expectations. Those who desire to accept verses like those above as simple truth are often thought to be ignorant or, worse, dangerous.
The same book reveals the person and sacrifice of Jesus. It reveals the nature and attributes of God. It tells us where we came from and where we are going. It speaks of grace and faith. We accept these truths at face value. But when we come to passages that go against the grain of popular opinion (in or out of religion), cultural mores, or religious orthodoxy, we somehow attempt to say they do not say what they say they say. Jehoiakim’s scribe’s knife and his brazier fire did not eliminate truth (Jer. 36:23). It actually intensified the message against him (36:29ff). The number of academic degrees, religious followers, or oratorical skill will not change the truth of Scripture. It is what it is. Our role is to humbly submit to it or forever beat ourselves against it. May we love and revere God enough to always do the former.
I have pondered lately about why there is such a growing tendency to overlook the plainly revealed will and mind of God in favor of what either lacks authority or violates His Word. It would be impossible to be exhaustive, lacking the ability to read the mind, judge the motives, and know the heart. However, in a general way, here are a few observations.
Feelings have taken priority over reason. Personal preference and one’s inner voice becomes the guiding star for one’s behavior and concepts, and truth gets dethroned. Hearts are hardened against revealed truth and decisions are made based on personal sentiment. In an attempt to avoid hurting feelings, escape ostracism, preserve an image with the world, and have its good will, individuals become their own judges, juries, and pardoners.
We have witnessed people of influence “get away with it.” For years, our national heroes and leaders, athletes, politicians, and celebrities, have “gotten away with it” (see both presidential candidates). If society’s elite and influential can do wrong and get away with it, why shouldn’t everyone else?
God does not practice instant retribution in the Christian Age. God does not execute immediate punishment upon the wicked or wrongdoer today. “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness…” (Acts 17:31). The fact that some do not get “caught” in sin in this life does not mean God won’t exact justice upon the impenitent ultimately, but because He does not immediately execute sentence against an evil work we can conclude He will not at all (cf. Ecc. 8:11).
Man has developed an insatiable hunger for instant gratification. Pleasure and passion, for many, have become stronger determining influences than eternity and judgment. When the flesh is in control, spiritual things are crowded out of the mind. Jesus says that one can only submit to one master, never two (Mat. 6:24). Flesh and spirit are warring parties (Rom. 8:4-8). Gratifying the flesh can kill concern over the consequence of misdeeds.
We cannot do it alone, without God. The fact is, we must totally surrender to Him. His guidance must be embraced. His will must rule. His strength must be accepted. Truly making Him Lord means making His Word the governing influence of our hearts and lives. Such a humble, honest, and heartfelt submission will help us defeat a mindset set on minding our thoughts and ways over His (see Isa. 55:8-9).
The word is maligned by some, especially by those to the right of biblical truth who believe any attempt at it is “soft.” The word is misunderstood by others, especially by those who believe avoiding difficult, hard truths constitutes the concept. Yet, in this age of extremism, the need for it has never been greater. While balance takes in a great many things regarding both one’s life and teaching, many seem to have forgotten the importance of pursuing it in following Christ.
Balance is threatened when we equate our opinions, judgment, proclivities, and personal beliefs with divine truth. This is especially of great concern when those with heightened influence among us press these matters to the point that they are portrayed as matters of faith and fellowship. Several issues of late have emerged as such tests–that dating is sinful, that homeschooling is the only biblical means of educating our children, that having a special program or even Bible classes for youth in a congregation is wrong, and the list seems to keep growing. Often, the old “anti” argument is made: “Where is your authority for that?” Yet, like our non-cooperation brethren, there is a glaring lack of understanding about how God authorizes (especially as regards “generic” and “specific” authority). Can we be opposed to dating, public schooling, homeschooling, and the like? Certainly. Can we be divisive or draw lines over them in the Lord’s body? Never! God is as condemning of law-making as law-breaking (Rev. 22:18-19; Mat. 23:2ff).
Balance is threatened through compromise with the world. Balance is not blending in with the world, as a chameleon in its environment. Balance is certainly not conformity (cf. Rom. 12:2). Some preachers never touch hot-button-issues like modesty, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, instrumental music, the sinfulness of denominationalism, and more through a misguided sense that such avoidance is balance. While one must avoid making any of these subject “hobby horses” that are ridden endlessly and exclusively, these are all biblical matters part of the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Often, they are avoiding out of fear or favor. Such is not balance!
Extremism, especially noised angrily and vociferously, looks more like the culture than the Christ. Let those of us who teach, write, and otherwise publicly communicate beware of the higher standard to which the Lord holds us (Js. 3:1ff). Let us stand firmly and courageously upon the foundation of Christ while being careful not to press what He has not taught or suppress what He has.