Wisdom, Righteousness, and Reward: Four Reflections on Proverbs 8

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In Proverbs 8 we find wisdom personified, a woman speaking who is sometimes called Lady Wisdom.

In church history, this chapter has raised all sorts of exegetical and theological questions with respect to eternal deity of Christ—Did God “possess” (ESV), “make” (HCSB), or “create” (LXX) wisdom in verse 22? Is wisdom speaking of Christ directly or indirectly (typologically) or not at all?

These are the debates made famous by the heretic Arius, who denied Christ’s eternal deity, and they are important questions, but my focus is not on this debate. Rather, I want to consider how Proverbs 8 speaks of wisdom with respect to righteousness and reward in verses 8, 15, 16, 18, 20.

In these verses we discover at least four truths about wisdom and righteousness and reward. They are worth our consideration and application, especially as we see how Christ is God’s Wisdom, who teaches his (once foolish) disciples to walk wisely after they have come to trust in his wisdom (cf. Matthew 11:28–30). Continue reading

Six Marks of True Repentance

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For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
— 2 Corinthians 7:8–9 —

Repentance is a eminently biblical word and a necessary (if graciously-given) prerequisite for salvation (see Acts 5:31; 11:18). But often when some sheds tears over sin, it is difficult to know if this repentance in its biblical form, or a counterfeit sorrow for the bitterness of sin. Indeed, as Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians 7:8–9, there is a sorrow that leads to godliness, but as Pharaoh (Exodus 9:27; 10:16) and other false professors reveal, there is a sorrow for sin devoid of any spiritual grace.

For that matter, wise counselors, pastors, parents, and Christian encourager need to know the signs of genuine repentance. In short, because repentance means turning from sin; genuine repentance is seen in the abiding desire and effort to continually flee from sin by the power of the Spirit. As John the Baptist puts it, true believers “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

In this way, a simple principle for repentance is that time not tears is the mark of genuine repentance. But beyond time, what marks genuine, God-given repentance?

In answer to that question, Thomas Watson in his classic little book, The Doctrine of Repentance, suggests six things that accompany true repentance. In these six marks, which I summarize and expand below, Watson helps us see how sorrow for sin leads to abiding repentance. Continue reading

Marriage: Counter-Cultural in Every Generation

louis-moncouyoux-3615There are many who have read Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22–33 as an accommodation, or even an appropriation, to the Greco-Roman culture. However, Clinton Arnold in his outstanding commentary on this section, shows why that cannot be true. Taking an extended look at “The Roles of Wives in Roman-Era Ephesus and Western Asia Minor” (pp. 372–79), Arnold shows why Paul’s words are radically counter-cultural—both in his day and in ours.

Writing to a church combatting spiritual powers, Paul is not adopting the idea of patriarchy and headship from the Roman culture. If anything, he is opposing an ancient form of feminism that saw women asserting greater independence. In particular, citing many primary sources, Arnold shows how growing wealth among women, coupled with positions of leadership and the rise of goddess cults all worked to create “freedom and opportunity for women,” which had the effect of creating competition between married men and women (376).

This “new Roman woman,” as Arnold calls it, shows why Paul’s words about marriage and the family in Ephesians are not simply a cultural accommodation. Rather, as he puts it,

Ephesians was thus written to a place and at a time where traditional Greek and Roman roles for women and wives were in a dynamic flux. It is no longer accurate to portray the social-cultural environment as oppressive for women, denying them opportunities for leadership in religious and civic institutions, and extending to them no places of involvement outside of the domestic sphere. Of course, these opportunities would not have been available to most of the peasant and populations. But the same opportunities would have been closed to peasant and slave men as well since their primary focus was on survival. (378)

This is a vast change from the way many have read Ephesians. But we can ask, what significance does this have for our reading of Ephesians? Continue reading

Reading the Bible in Context(s): Why Faithful Interpretation Means Considering ‘Various Strata of Biblical Discourse’

aman-bhargava-272763When reading the Bible (especially the Old Testament) we must always endeavor to read it “in context.” However, because Scripture is book composed of many books, written by many authors, and recorded over many centuries, reading the Bible in context means paying attention to “various strata of biblical discourse.”

On this point, Andrew Abernathy, in his book The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdomoffers a balanced approach to reading in context that both holds fast to the grammatical- historical of the Old Testament context and the biblical-theological context of the whole canon. His words are worth considering, as we seek to understand any passage of Scripture and apply it through Christ to ourselves.

In the opening pages of his book, Abernathy writes, Continue reading

Seeing the Grace of Christ (Better) Through the Chiasm of Mark 6:7–8:30

luke-palmer-305434Chiasms are the beeessstt!
— Nacho the Librarian —

If the name Nacho is unfamiliar, I’m not sure I can or should help. But if the word chiasm is equally enigmatic, let me encourage you to do some reading on the subject. It will pay huge dividends in your reading of Scripture.

Here’s why: Chiasms are a literary device often used by biblical authors, who seek to emphasize certain points in their writing. Because Hebrew Prophets and New Testament Apostles wrote without B, I, U on their keyboards, they had to make use of other devices to stress emphasis. And following from the repetitive nature of Scripture (see Peter Gentry, How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophetsch. 3), chiasms became a regular way biblical authors made their points. On chiasms, Gentry writes,

The word chiasm comes from the letter . . . chi (X), . . .where the top half of the letter is mirrored in the bottom half. If an author an author has three topics and repeats each on twice in the pattern C B A :: C’ B’ A’, the second cycle or repetition is a mirror image of the first arrangement.

A nice example is found in Isaiah 6:10, where Yahweh explains what will happen during Isaiah’s long ministry of preaching:

Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed. (46–47)

This way of writing fills the Scriptures. And growing disciples of God’s Word must learn how to identify such structures (and how to reject fanciful literary creations of the modern interpreters that are not in Scripture). Still, more often than not, when we find repetitions in Scripture, they are there to help identify the main points of the author. Thus, rather than being some esoteric approach to Scripture, seeing the structures of the biblical authors is a necessary and vital for understanding the message of Scripture.

Thus, I share the following outline of Mark 6:7–8:30, a section of Mark’s Gospel that identifies Jesus as the Christ. By paying attention to Mark’s literary structure, I contend we can better understand who Christ is and how disciples of Christ come to know him as Lord.  Continue reading

What John the Baptist’s Bullhorn Teaches us about the Good News?

jason-rosewell-60014When John came preaching “good news,” it may not have sounded like the good news we think of today. In fact, in our day it seems that any call to repentance, to deny self, or to do hard things is either dismissed as unloving or labeled legalism. And yet, to think biblically about the good news requires us to see how Scripture presents the gospel, both in content and tone. And thus, it is worth meditating on how John the Baptist in Luke 3 presents the gospel with many exhortations.

In Luke 3:18, the good doctor summarizes John’s preaching ministry with these words, “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” This summary statement follows three ‘paragraphs’ outlining the content of John’s message (vv. 7–9, 10–14, 15–17) and precedes the arrest of John the Baptist by Herod the tetarch (vv. 19–20). For our purposes, it is worth considering what John said in order to see how he presented the gospel. Continue reading

Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us: A Biblical Theme That Comforts Scared Sheep

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Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care;
In thy pleasant pastures feed us, for our use thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us, thine we are.

Dorothy Thrupp’s “Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us” is a powerful hymn that drinks deeply from the biblical imagery of God as Shepherd. While many are familiar with the Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23) or Jesus’ identification as the Good Shepherd (John 10), the theme actually extends the length of the whole Bible. To help see that, let me share a brief roadmap that traces this soul-comforting, biblical-theological theme.

Genesis 48:15–16; 49:24

In Genesis flocks go back as far as Genesis 4:4. And throughout the book of beginnings, God’s people are often seen around and among sheep. Accordingly, God’s people were very familiar with the mannerisms of sheep and what it would take to be a shepherd. It’s not surprising then, the imagery of God as a shepherd began from the beginning. (For a full treatment of this shepherd theme with application to pastoral ministry, see Timothy Laniak’s Shepherds After My Own Heart). Continue reading

Praying for the Inner Man: D. A. Carson on Ephesians 3:14–21

huy-phan-100866For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith
— Ephesians 3:14–17 —

When I preached through Paul’s prayers a few years ago, I read D.A. Carson’s A Call for Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His PrayersIn that book, Carson recounts how we should think about Paul praying for the “inner man” (Ephesians 3:16). That section struck a deep nerve with me, and as I prepare to preach that passage this Sunday, I share it with you.

Most of us in the West have not suffered great persecution, but all of us are getting older. In fact, sometimes we can see in elderly folk something of the process that Paul has in mind. We all know senior saints who, as their physical strength is reduced, nevertheless become more and more steadfast and radiant. Their memories may be fading; their arthritis may be nearly unbearable; their ventures beyond their small rooms or apartments may be severely curtailed. But somehow they live as if they already have one foot in heaven. As their outer being weakens, their inner being runs from strength to strength. Conversely, we know elderly folk who, so far as we can tell, are not suffering from any serious organic decay, yet as old age weighs down on them they nevertheless become more and more bitter, caustic, demanding, spiteful, and introverted. It is almost as if the civilizing restraints imposed on them by cultural expectations are no longer adequate. In their youth, they had sufficient physical stamina to keep their inner being somewhat capped. Now, with reserves of energy diminishing, what they really are in heir inner being is comin out.

Even for those of us who are still some distance from being senior citizens, the restrictions and increasing limitations of the outer being make themselves felt. My body is not what it was twenty years ago. Every time I take a shower, a few more hairs disappear down the drain never to be seen again. I have arthritis in two or three joints; I have to watch my intake of calories; my reaction times are a little slower than they used to be; in a couple years I shall need reading glasses. And someday, if this old world lasts long enough, I should waste away, and my outer man will be laid to rest in a hole 6 feet deep. Yet inwardly, Hall insists, in the inner man, we Christians are being “renewed day by day.”

The Christians ultimate hope is for the resurrection body. But until we receive that gift, it is our inner being that is being strengthened by God’s power. In a culture where so many people are desperate for good health, but not demonstrably hungry for the transformation of the inner being, Christians are in urgent need of following Paul’s example and praying for displays of God’s Mighty power in the domain of our being that controls our character and prepares us for heaven. (184–85)

Few reflections on prayer or the spiritual life have arrested my attention like these words. Why? Because as a man still young in ministry and relatively young in my Christian walk (compared to those who have walked with Christ for 30, 40, an 80 years), I wonder, “Is my outward maturity more a mark of spiritual strength or a good memory? Do I obey the commands of God because faith motivates love, or because disobedience would impugn my reputation?” Continue reading

Teddy Roosevelt and His Rough Riders: An Illustration of Diversity’s Glory

teddy

There is a peculiar kind of glory that comes to a man
who unifies and empowers genuine diversity for a common good.

In history, we celebrate stories of heroic leaders who take disconnected misfits and make them a strong army. If you are familiar with the Bible, you might think of David and his mighty men—a diverse group of malcontents who became champions under David’s command. If you are more familiar with popular movies, you might think of Remember the Titans, where Coach Herman Boone led a newly-integrated T.C. William high school to a state football championship.

Indeed, we love to hear stories of leaders who take natural-born opponents and unite them together for the same cause. And even more, in our ultra-divided world, we need to hear these stories. And thankfully, there are many such stories that can be told.

Recently, I came across such a story in Jon Knokey’s book, Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of American LeadershipIn this fascinating book, Knokey tells the colorful tale of what happened when 1000 radically-different men from all over America were formed into a single fighting unit under the leadership genius of Colonel Roosevelt.

Here’s what he says. It’s long but entertaining and worth the read as it gives a fresh illustration of what we find in Ephesians 2—something I sought to bring out in yesterday’s sermon on Christ and his Church. Continue reading

“Give Me Life . . . According to Your Word”: How God’s Law Leads to Gospel Life

ben-white-131241There is a way of thinking today that says life and liberty are found by rejecting or rewriting the law. Personal expression is all that matters: “Just be yourself . . . Be authentically you!” And if any rules or laws—be they religious or otherwise—get in the way, just reject or rewrite those restrictions.

Importantly, Scripture is not silent on this matter. And it teaches the opposite. Instead of rejecting the law as a place of life and freedom, it actually says that life is found in keeping the law. Or to be more specific, life is enjoyed as one seeks to obey the law. Yes, Paul says that the law does not have power to make alive (Romans 8:3), but that is not all he says about the law (see Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:13–14).

Moreover, Psalm 119 demonstrates what a heart cries, when it has been circumcised by the law. In other words, whereas mere obedience cannot earn life; those who have been made alive by God will hunger and thirst for life in the law. Obedience to the law is not antithetical to life; it is the very essence of life under the Lord.

So let us consider how Psalm 119 cries out for life in the Word of God. Continue reading