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Theology That Bites Back
Updated: 22 min 59 sec ago

A Theology of Christmas Presents (2)

Sat, 07/12/2019 - 15:17
Introduction

In the first message of this series, we considered that there are three basic kinds of gifts—the mandatory gift of the tithe, where God is teaching us how He runs the world, the free will gift of the offering, where the student demonstrates that he is beginning to grasp the lesson, and the celebratory gift, which God has placed deep within our nature.

So we already considered the ground of our giving, which is the ultimate gift of Christ, the gift that God gave to us in order to restore the world that we had ruined. We have now come to the second point, which is the nature of giving. In future messages, we will look at the nature of receiving, and the goodness of the material world.  

The Text

“And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:32–35).

Summary of the Text

Our text here is the conclusion of Paul’s exhortation to the elders of the church at Ephesus. He is reminding them that his dealings with that church were entirely aboveboard. He first commends them to God and the word of God’s grace, which can do two things. First the grace of God can edify them and build them up (v. 32). And second, the grace of God can give them an inheritance among the sanctified (v. 32). His interest is in them receiving their inheritance, and he moves seamlessly into the next point, which is that he had been no apostolic bandit among them. During his time there at Ephesus, Paul had coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or clothing (v. 33). He calls the elders of the church as witnesses—they know this (v. 34). Paul could hold out his hands and tell them that they know that “these hands” supplied the needs of Paul himself, along with his entourage (v. 34). They did not leech off the church. What Paul taught them to do Paul also did himself (v. 35), showing them how Christians ought to work in a way as to support the weak (v. 35). And Paul then quotes the Lord Jesus, and this is interesting, because it is a saying that none of the four gospels records. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Both giving and receiving are most necessary, as we will see by next week, but if you have to choose between them, choose to be among those who give. It really is more blessed to give than to receive. But as we shall see, because of our finitude it is not possible simply to give.

So Not So Fast . . .

Now notice something here. The Lord Jesus did not say that it is “more proper to give than to receive.” He did not say that it is “more noble to give than to receive.” And He did not say that it is “more polite to give than to receive.” No, not at all. Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. But what is it to be blessed? It is to receive. There is no way to receive the blessing associated with not being a “receiver” except by receiving. A blessed man is a recipient of a blessing, given by another. In this case, the giving is done by God.

It is therefore more blessed to receive by giving than to receive by receiving. We are finite creatures and this means that some kind of receiving is inescapable.

Everything we give away is on loan to us from God, and when we give to Him, we are simply returning to Him what He has given to us. We are like little children buying our father a Christmas present at the dollar store, using a dollar that He gave us for the task.

The word for blessed (makarios) means to be happy, fortunate, enviable, one to whom God has extended His benefits. Another way of seeing this is to understand that for every finite creature, there is a built-in reciprocity for every act of generosity. Like one of Newton’s laws of motion for the spiritual realm. If we are creatures who want to live in the favor of God (which is to say, if we want to live in Christ), there is no escape from giving and receiving.

A System That Cannot be Gamed

So the thing that distinguishes an ungodly giver from a godly one is not the fact that they get from giving. The issue is what they want to get from their giving. When carnal men give anything (with their carnal eye on the carnal prize), they receive what they wanted and they already have their reward. So they already have their reward (Matt. 6:2), and it comes to pieces in their hands. “And he gave them their request; But sent leanness into their soul” (Psalm 106:15).

When spiritual men give anything (with their spiritual eye on the spiritual prize), God honors and blesses them. They refuse to do what they are doing in order to be seen by men (Matt. 6:1). But notice what happens if they sin in this matter, and are showboating for the grandstands. What do they lose? They lose their reward from our Father in heaven (Matt. 6:1).

Now when Paul gave to the Corinthians, he was jealous to protect that reward. “But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void” (1 Cor. 9:15).

Back Around to Christmas Presents

So bring this back to the matter of Christmas presents. That is what we are supposedly talking about, right? What is the difference between a carnal prize and a spiritual prize? To make matters really confusing, sometimes the prize itself can appear to be identical. You shopped long and hard to find that “perfect gift” for your father, and the difference between joy at Christmas and misery in Christmas is to be found in that dark little ego-center of your heart. Compare: “That is just what he wanted—God must be rejoicing to see my father rejoicing” over against “That is just what he wanted—I’m glad I found it before my sister did.”

The Joy Set Before Him

Jesus endured the agonies of His trial and crucifixion because He knew what was in store for Him on the other side of the agony.

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb. 12:1–3).

And we are told, in all our trials, all our striving, all our struggles, all our pilgrimage, all our shopping, to imitate Him in this. We are to look to Jesus, considering His behavior, as we look to modify our own behavior. Otherwise, we are going to grow weary and faint in our minds. We are going to grow weary and faint in our giving, and this applies to giving of whatever magnitude. Do you think anybody grows weary and faint in the Christmas rush, forgetting the whole point?

So everything is to be cruciform—but not a crucifix. And the difference between the two is this. Every cross is a cross in a story, and every Christian story has the blessedness of joy at the end of it. In all your giving, try to give like Jesus did. But also, in all your giving, repent of the folly of trying to be more spiritual than Jesus. He did not remain on the cross because the joy was before Him. We are not supposed to seek to remain there either. We must not try to evade the cross, and we must not try to perpetuate the cross. The story is a cruciform story, not a crucifix story.

And Christ is the one who shows us.

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Categories: People I don't know

Two Sides

Sat, 07/12/2019 - 02:05

“If we are to be true to what the Bible says about itself, we must recognize both the human and the divine authorship. Yet we must not allow either the divine or the human factor to take away from the other. Divine inspiration did not override the human authorship. Human authorship did not override the divine inspiration. The Bible is equally God’s words and human words.”

Stott, The Challenge of Preaching, p. 16

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Categories: People I don't know

A Big Part, Actually

Sat, 07/12/2019 - 02:00

“’MPD, Bradford,’ came an authoritative voice. It was the voice of God’s minister of wrath, the avenging angel, coming to strike down all the firstborn. Johnny was firstborn, which was part of his problem, but pursuit of those issues would take us too far afield.”

Evangellyfish, p. 97

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Categories: People I don't know

Not Bad at All

Fri, 06/12/2019 - 14:06

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Categories: People I don't know

We Preach Not Ourselves

Fri, 06/12/2019 - 02:05

“Our responsibility as preachers is not primarily to give our twenty-first-century testimony to Jesus, but rather to relay to our listeners God’s own authoritative witness to Christ through the eyewitness accounts of the apostles.”

Stott, The Challenge of Preaching, p. 15

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Categories: People I don't know

Which is Not to Call Youth Ministry a Ditch

Fri, 06/12/2019 - 02:00

“And when the blind lead the blind, they both fall into a youth ministry.”

Evangellyfish, p. 95

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Categories: People I don't know

The Content Cluster Muster (12.05.19)

Thu, 05/12/2019 - 17:00
Not Too Soon to be Thinking of Summer Always an Open Road Something

And as always, more to be seen here.

A Kind and Thoughtful Take on Some of What is Going On Here Evidentialist Apologetics

A bobcat jumps over a river with a single leap pic.twitter.com/2wbpEORvjd

— Roberto Alonso González Lezcano (@robertoglezcano) December 1, 2019 But Thy Will Be Done But Thy Will Be Done

“Our feelings should be given to God to be confirmed by Him or to be thrown down.” – N.D. WilsonFull sermon: https://www.christkirk.com/sermon/jesus-in-the-garden/

Posted by Christ Church on Friday, November 22, 2019

“Our feelings should be given to God to be confirmed by Him or to be thrown down.” – N.D. Wilson

Population Map

Half of all Americans live in the red counties, half live in the orange counties pic.twitter.com/m3vgKOKUZE

— Conrad Hackett (@conradhackett) January 3, 2016 BZ is Doing Daily Christmas Devotionals for Families

Keep your ears open this Christmas season. Something I've wanted to do for several years…a daily advent devotional for families to do together. Well, like any good holiday plan…I'm already a day behind… "Christmas Ears" https://t.co/2u1E0U4rNg via @benzornes

— Ben Zornes (@benzornes) December 2, 2019 Christmas Shopping in the Mablog Store

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Categories: People I don't know

The Headwaters of Every Sermon

Thu, 05/12/2019 - 02:05

“This is the foundation on which all Christian preaching rests. How would we dare to speak of God had not spoken? By ourselves we have nothing to say.”

Stott, The Challenge of Preaching, p. 14

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Categories: People I don't know

Those Darn Back Rubs

Thu, 05/12/2019 - 02:00

“Every month or so the stress of youth ministry—dealing with the kids and all their issues—would get to Johnny and so he would head on over to Brandy’s apartment to have her give him a neck rub, followed by her specialty back rub. But somehow her giving him a back rub always turned into him giving her a front rub, and then they would fall again. That was actually how their relationship started, which is to say, through those darn back rubs. It was her senior year in high school, and she was in Johnny’s youth group, which was a combination Bible study and daisy-chain back-rub circle. At the end of that year, they all had a good working knowledge of the gospel of Mark and significantly improved blood flow in the delts.”

Evangellyfish, p. 92

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Categories: People I don't know

Impeaches & Cream

Wed, 04/12/2019 - 16:03
Introduction

The House Democrats are discovering, and may have already discovered, that undying animus is not the same thing as a plan. The Wile E. Coyote memes appear to be writing themselves. Our deep state denizens are coming to grips with the fact that their unceasing attempts to take our normal kind of dirty politics up three corruption levels was perhaps not—as they so wanted to believe—all impeaches and cream.

The Rant of a Simple Man

The various faults and foibles of our president may be said to have passed into the category of received wisdom. No serious person disputes them, and it is not my purpose to go over all of that in any depth here. His rally speeches are inarticulate. He muscles through gaffes. He keeps absolutely everybody, from the North Koreans to the Washington Post, completely off balance. Some say this is the technique of a master negotiator and 3D chess master, meaning that these faults and foibles are intentional and purposive, while others say that his survival thus far has simply been a series of mind-bending flukes, and the next time will be his downfall. All we have to do, the House Dems are saying to themselves, is light the fuse on this Acme rocket, and the rest of it will just take care of itself.

So the faults and foibles are obvious. Let us grant them. This being the case, our respectable establishment does not comprehend how the president got elected in the first place. They do not grasp why he continues to fill up stadiums with cheering throngs. They do not understand how it is even conceivable that the American electorate might well return him to the White House for a second term. And yet it is conceivable, and so these firm believers in democracy want to remove any possibility of the world’s greatest democracy disgracing itself for a second time.

Why does the respectable establishment not understand the continued viability of Donald Trump as a candidate? Why do they not get it? What the respectable establishment does not understand is this—that they are not respectable at all.

Not only are they corrupt through and through, but they are now seen by pretty much everybody as corrupt through and through. They haven’t looked in a mirror lately. They are so focused on how transparent they think Trump is that they haven’t given a moment’s thought to how transparent they are.

On the one hand we have a businessman from Queens who is, let us be frank, kind of non-pareil gaudy. On the other hand, opposing him, we find all the graveyards of the mid-Atlantic coast emptying out into this zombie apocalypse, with thousands of standing corpses, all liquid with decay. And all of them are pointing an accusatory and bony finger, straight at the president, and they do not understand why the American people are not responding to these accusations properly. Why have we not wheeled on the president, saying fiercely under our breath, “Sir, how could you have dared?”

That’s what they have been expecting, and we haven’t done it. But the reason we haven’t done it is because all of those accusatory and bony fingers have a piece of meat dangling off the end, and we find that simultaneously repulsive and fascinating. Why on earth did the powers that be pick this lot to press the case?

I have been referring to the establishment, and the corruption thereof. I am talking about the corrupt print media establishment, the corrupt broadcasting media establishment, the corrupt intelligence agency establishment, the corrupt book publishing industry, the corrupt movie industry, the corrupt administrative state establishment, the corrupt commies running for the Democratic nomination, and the corruption of all the other people standing around. They do pride themselves on having that respectability shine, but it is the shine of a road kill crow, dead three weeks now, and somebody decided to put three coats of verathane on it.

And by corrupt, lest someone mistake my meaning, I intend to communicate that we are dealing with a spectacular collection of debauched, reprobate, faithless, profiteering, rotten, tainted, unscrupulous, venal, mendacious, base, foul, and treacherous miscreants. They have accused the president, and they do not see that in the eyes of the general population, they are all of them one hundred times worse.

In order for them to understand why their surefire plans have not been working, and will continue to not work, they would have to possess a great deal more self-awareness than they do.

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Categories: People I don't know

121: Jeffrey Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself

Wed, 04/12/2019 - 08:00

This week Pastor Wilson talks about the “Jeffrey Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself memes, unpacks the greek word arsenokoites, and recommends the book Eggs Are Expensive, Sperm Is Cheap

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Categories: People I don't know

Evangelism as Hide & Seek

Wed, 04/12/2019 - 02:05

“God is not secretive. He delights to make himself known. Just as it is the nature of light to shine, so it is the nature of God to reveal himself. The chief reason why people do not know God is not because he hides from them but because they hide from him. Every preacher needs to take encouragement from the fact that God is light and longs to shine his light into the listener’s darkness (2 Cor. 4:4-6).”

Stott, The Challenge of Preaching, p. 13

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Categories: People I don't know

So Many Hidden Premises

Wed, 04/12/2019 - 02:00

“But Johnny still agonized over such things—what size earring would the apostle Paul have worn if his mission had been to the skateboarding and pants-droopy youth of today? Not an easy question to answer.”

Evangellyfish, p. 92

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Categories: People I don't know

Though It Might Seem Adversarial

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 18:30

Dear Rod,

Thanks for your note, and congratulations on your engagement. I have only met Kate a couple of times, but I knew her folks well, back when she was just a toddler. They are wonderful people, and it seems evident from your attachment to Kate that she is following in their footsteps. They are a great family. I am sure many blessings are in store for you.

Which brings me to your question, which I hope to answer in a roundabout way. What one thing—at a practical level—would I advise you to remember going into your marriage? I suppose by your emphasis on the word practical you mean that you have already been taught well on the theology of marriage, on role relationships, on the need to keep short accounts with God and with one another, and so on.

So I will say the hard thing first, then qualify it, and then explain it. You need to understand that there will be times, a number of them in your first year of marriage, when your interactions with Kate will seem adversarial, both to her and to you. This is an optical illusion, and you should pay no mind to it. But at the same time, you must understand it.

And here is the qualification. Of course she is not your adversary. And marriage is not a contest, or a competition. Neither one of you should be keeping score. God assigned to you the role of leading her, protecting her, and providing for her. You are the husband. God gave her to you in order to help and support you, in order to complete you, and in order to become your glory and crown. When you come together in marriage, you will have become one flesh, and your responsibility and duty together is to function in complete harmony, in line with reality of that one flesh union. You are one; you are not adversaries.

So why might it sometimes seem that you are?

Both of you are convinced of the biblical teaching of headship and submission in marriage. It is repeated in our circles often, and I know you have heard it taught growing up, and I know that your parents, on both sides, have modeled it beautifully for you.

I therefore take it as a given that you both believe in the biblical order of things. You will be the breadwinner, called to be a husband. And she will assume the role of wife, and in the kindness of God, of mother. And so when God gives you children, you will be the father who comes home at the end of the day, and she will be the mother. Both offices are crucial to the health of the marriage and family. This is a framework that both of you believe in, and both of you intend to follow. You have no expectation that once you are married, she will suddenly announce her feminism, and tell you that she has put out a number of job applications, and when are you going to schedule your vasectomy? Nothing like that. You are both conservative Christians, and so you are both expecting to operate within a biblical framework.

Because this doctrinal understanding is down in your bones, you also have to understand that part of your “self-image,” and part of hers, will be to think you are doing better at this than perhaps you actually are. You will be tempted to think you are being a better leader than you actually are, and she will be tempted to think she is being more submissive than she actually is. This will sometimes result in differences between you that are a surprise to both of you, and during which your interactions might seem adversarial.

But as you settle down in your life together, there will still be a scripturally undefined border between you. You have the big decisions made, but as you move into your daily routines, you will be making little decisions about how things are done, and who does what. You love one another dearly, and yet there will be moments and times when the boundaries are established through being tested. Kate will not be consciously thinking to herself, “What is Rod going to let me get away with?” but there will be times when it might seem to you as though this is what she is thinking. And in those moments, you have to remember what you seem like to her. And in the midst of those two perspectives, you still have to provide leadership.

I may have you completely fogged by this point, so let me make up an illustrative example. In all that the Bible teaches about role relationships in marriage, we have not a word about who keeps the checkbook and who pays the bills. Scripture says nothing about whether the books are kept by the husband or by the wife. That is something that the two of you will have to decide, and you have the complete right to decide it either way. Now for the purposes of my illustration here, let us suppose that both of you are equally good at it, and let us further suppose that both of you want to be the one who does it. Now what?

She wants to keep the books, and she would be very good at it. Further, she has every right to want to keep the books. There is no sin in what she wants. But you want to do it too, and this is why it can become a testing point. As the head of the home, you have every right to give way to her desire, and make the decision that she will keep the books. But if there are twenty situations like this in a row, and you give way to her on all twenty of them, then, even though you are the head, you are not making decisions with that headship in view. This will not be lost on her. She is getting to do all the various things that she wants to do, but she is also having a sickening feeling rise within her that is whispering in her ear that she may have gone and married herself a milquetoast. If you always give way as a matter of principle, you need to remember that a man who always gives his woman what she wants is not giving her what she wants. Or what she needs. Do your level best not to remind her of her old college friend, the one who later came out as a lesbian.

But I am not talking about you creating artificial test cases, where you say no just for the heck of it. What I am saying is that if you married the kind of spirited woman you should have, and if you have a backbone, you will have plenty of opportunities to consider these things. The state of Hawaii does not need to build a salt water production plant.

You don’t want your version of headship theology to be the idea that you should say no only if your wife ever proposes to you that you should conspire together to break one of the Ten Commandments. You need to be the final voice of authority in your home, and both you and your wife need to be able to point to instances when you exercised that authority, and exercised it on workaday matters. If submission comes up every single day, then you may depend upon it, you are doing something wrong. But if it never ever comes up, if you never make a decision that is hard for your wife to swallow, if you are always accommodating because you heard one too many sermons on servant leadership, then you are also doing it wrong.

Whenever people are thrown together—as in the military, or roommates in a dorm, or a bunch of new hires at a company—there will usually be a formal hierarchy already established, and in the days that follow the introductions, there will also be a shaking out that will establish an informal hierarchy. The informal hierarchy might function well within the formal hierarchy, or it may even grow to contradict it. Regardless, somebody is going to be manifested as the alpha. Someone will say let’s do this particular thing, and somebody else will say (someone who has the same formal rank) no, let’s not. And so then, which way does it go? These two people may be great friends, but in that moment they were functioning in a way that seemed adversarial. There is a “challenge,” and there is a “response” (of some kind) to that challenge.

Now Scripture assigns the formal hierarchy of marriage. Wives are supposed to be submissive to their husbands “in everything” (Eph. 5:24). A great deal of teaching in the evangelical world, however, with its wrong-headed emphasis on servant leadership, is interfering with the shaking out that establishes the informal hierarchy. Husbands are taught that if it is not a clear moral issue, or a matter of high principle, then they should simply give way. This is dangerous, pernicious, and false. It can lead, and in many cases has led, to a situation where Christian marriages have the formal and informal hierarchies functioning in direct opposition to one another.

Another way of saying this is that if the only place where you are the head of your home is in the pages of Scripture, you are not actually being a servant leader. A servant wimp is more like it.

But I am not saying that a husband is required by God to be a blustering bossy-pants, insisting on his own way one hundred percent of the time. When a husband and a wife have a difference of opinion on something, there will be times when he decides to go her way, and he can decide this for various good and honorable reasons. It might be that he considered her arguments, and decided she was right. It might be that he just wants to give her a gift. It might be that he can see that his wife cares about the issue far more than he does. Their differences are on opposite sides, but they don’t weigh the same. The fact the husband has authority over the final decision does not mean that he always decides it his way. It simply means that he has the final authority in the decision. But if it always goes the same way, which is to say, hers, then he is building an informal hierarchy that he should not be building. Or rather, he is standing by while his wife is building an informal hierarchy that she genuinely wishes he would not let her build.

When you are first married, the two of you are sizing each other up. You are carving out a functional and functioning relationship. It is in this arena that I am saying you should sometimes act in a way that will seem, in the moment, adversarial.

In the relationship you are forming, there is obviously give and take. There is obviously the kind of discussion where authority and submission ought not to come up at all. But there will also be times when a husband and wife differ with one another, and when the difference matters. In those times, it is not possible to simply take a vote because the vote total would always be a tie. So if the husband loves his wife, there will be times when he makes the decision in her favor. And if he continues to loves her he will also make sure that there are times when that does not happen.

When a marriage goes to pieces, the husband and wife have the grave misfortune of actually becoming genuine adversaries, and that is one of the worst things on earth. I am not commending that at all. What I am urging here is one of the great barriers that will prevent a true adversarial relationship from developing.

If I had to sum it up in a phrase, I would simply say this. Be her husband.

Cordially in Christ,

Douglas

Unsplash, photo by@serjosoza

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Categories: People I don't know

Electronically Dispatched Missives

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 15:06
NQN

Last day of NQN coincides with last day to hunt with a rifle where I live.

Coincidence?!

Jordan

Jordan, total coincidence, or at least as much of one as a Calvinist can allow.

Dear Pastor Wilson,

Thank you for all the free books you gave me this November.

Pastor Ryan

Ryan, you are most welcome.

Another home run for NQNov!

As a US person who now lives in Canada, would like to propose their/our Thanksgiving traditions for our/their Thanksgiving:

Call it a “day of thanks,” keep all the food traditions, Macy’s parade (and perhaps the Madison Square Garden dog show), and drop the “woke”.

Susan

Susan, you are on the right track.

Assorted Questions

One of the things I’ve been most helped by is your cheerfulness and joviality as you address any and all things. I thank God for that in you. So it wasn’t surprising to me that you exhorted your congregation to give thanks “in” and “for” all things. It’s a good word to be reminded that we can always make a bad situation worse if we add misery and bitterness to it.

How would you say Christian lament fits into this? The book of Lamentations and many of the Psalms are not simply saints giving thanks for difficult circumstances. My wife and I have observed that many believers experiencing loss and trial, in the name of trying to please the Lord, seem to adopt a sort of “God is good” mentality, but in such a way that they won’t even acknowledge that death is an enemy, that Jesus wept when Lazarus died, and that we are told to weep with those weep. In an attempt to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” they are more in a place of trying to hide bitter sorrow, and rejoicing in a way that’s more akin to a smile when the dentist pulls your lips apart than the joy of the Spirit.

Nick

Nick, you are exactly right — it is not simply happy, happy, joy, joy. If you don’t weep with those who weep, you aren’t really paying attention. Christian stamina in joy is not stoicism.

I’m attempting to write a defense for paedobaptism, and in my section regarding the objectivity of the covenant I’m confused as to how to determine when one is within the covenant or without it. Your book “Reformed is Not Enough” doesn’t cover Christians who convert to Mormonism or Islam, while having been baptized in the true Church under the true God. Are they still considered Christians and “false” brothers? Are they divorced at that point if they change gods? Thanks for your help and ministry.

Ali

Ali, those who go after another god are apostates, and thus reveal that they never had an ultimate connection to Christ. They were part of the visible church, from which they have fallen away.

In one of your many blog posts concerning Federal Vision, you referenced a book that you read in your early days that traced some of the different views of the covenant in Reformed theology over history. The reason you cited this book was to show that some of the views designated “Federal Vision” have a long history in the Reformed tradition. I can’t for the life of me find that blog post back, and I can’t remember the author or title . . . but would love to read it.

If you’re able to recall what it is I’m referring to, it would be much appreciated.

Thanks.

Jon

Jon, I pretty sure that would have been an essay on the church by John Murray. I think it is in Vol. 4 of his Collected Works.

So since you favor a ban on gay marriage, do you also favor a ban on divorce except for adultery and desertion? Would you change the law so that those are the only two reasons to permit divorce?

Mike

Mike, great question. And the answer is no because Jesus expressly tells us that Moses allowed for ungodly divorce in the civil realm because of “hardness of heart.” Such people ought to be excommunicated from faithful churches if they obtain an ungodly divorce, but Scripture teaches that marriages contracted after such a divorce are true marriages (unlike same sex mirage), and are to be treated as such.

I’m a father of 4 struggling to discern how many kids God wants me to have. Would you be willing to write a public letter counseling fathers with the same concern and/or provide a book review of A Christian Case Against Contraception by Bryan Hodge?

Thanks!

John

John, thanks for the suggestion. In the meantime, here is something I have written in the general area. Link here.

I am in my mid-twenties with a wife, a toddler, and a child on the way. We live very frugally (not austerely), which is just grand, because my current salary is low and I’m the only person in the house drawing one (my wife stays at home). We are not in debt (apart from our mortgage, which is reasonable), nor do we suffer any serious privation regarding food or vehicles or medical care, and we have ample savings, but money is occasionally tight (I say this not to complain of course; this is a fairly common issue among young people starting families). My wife has discovered that we may be eligible for food stamps worth about $100 a month when our next child gets here. My question is, is it licit to receive this benefit, given that we qualify? I have reservations about hand-outs, but I do work full-time, and a little extra money for food a month would lower our expenses and that would help. Am I gaming the system, or stealing from the taxpayer?

I apologize if you have answered this question in the past.

Thanks,

Will

Will, thanks for the question. I am hesitant to declare something like that a “sin,” but I do want to use whatever influence I have to encourage Christians to avoid such things whenever possible. The state really is oppressive, with both benefits and requirements. We ought not to kick at the requirements unless we have learned how to refuse the benefits first. So if you can make it without, I would urge you to do so.

Madness of Crowds

Book of the Month/December 2019 – I am definitely going to read this one. The interviews he’s done are fascinating as well, and very good promos for the book. One wonders if the our so-called guardians of the faith will have the sense to be ashamed at the superior quality of his reasoning vis a vis theirs but I would expect they won’t even notice. Maybe their salaries depend on them not noticing.

Roger

Roger, yes, maybe so.

When the Man Comes Around

Re: When the Man Comes Around. I have two or three questions. I’ll ask one today. Up until early in Rev. 20, the farthest we get in history is A.D. 70. Then partway through chapter 20, we are transported to the end of history. But with chapters 21 and 22, we are brought back to circa A.D. 70 to watch the church descend into history and given a picture of the church in history (and I assume in its fullness). It all seems a bit herky jerky. Any thoughts about the back and forth rather than showing us all of history first then the end?

Bill

Bill, I don’t take the last chapters of Revelation in a futurist way, but rather in a historicist way. In other words, it is preterist through most of the book, and then the descent of the New Jerusalem is what is taking place down throughout the rest of church history, culminating in its complete presence here.

I am in the middle of “When the Man Comes Around,” your excellent new commentary on Revelation, and I wondered if you could comment on something related to the location of Armageddon. From your book:

“The word Armageddon means Mountain of Meggido, and the location referred to is probably Mount Carmel, where Elijah defeated the priests of Baal. This is the nearest mountain to the plain of Meggido. That battlefield was used more than once . . . And so the grim reality represented by this convulsive battle is most likely to be understood as the demolition of Jerusalem.” (pg. 191)

Here’s what I was wondering: You commended your readers to Heiser’s “The Unseen Realm” awhile back and I did in fact read it. One of the interesting sections in there (sorry I don’t have the book anymore or the location of this reference) made an interesting case that what we have translated Meggido in the relevant passages may in fact be best translated something like “The Mountain of the LORD” (sorry, I don’t remember the actual translation), which he in turn made a case for meaning the Temple Mount in Jerusalem itself. The argument seemed reasonable, but I am no scholar, but it really struck me when I was reading your book that the idea of Armageddon being Jerusalem fits very well indeed into your reading of Revelation, so I was just curious if you had reviewed his argument regarding the translation of Meggido from that book and what your thoughts were.

Joseph

Joseph, I read his book, and enjoyed it very much (except for the lame and unnecessary section on Calvinism). But I did not dig deep with regard to that point.

Marriage and Divorce

I appreciate your Exceptions and Loopholes article. Regarding this part: “First, they noted that when it came to how people want to get out of unhappy marriages, they are apt to “study arguments.” ” You see this all over the American conservative evangelical churches (and I assume non-American). Whether its those “women preachers” or those revoicers or many others . . . we look for ways to submit to the letter of the law while hating the spirit of God’s word. It seems like it always comes down to the question of do we want to submit to God or not? Is the Law of the Lord really good? A man after God’s heart – David – loves God’s law. I think we should too. Also, I wanted to thank you for differentiating between divorce and separation. Helpful. Thank you.

Nathan

Nathan, thanks.

In “Exceptions and Loopholes,” you write, “A wife who is abused by her husband should obviously be protected by her church.” In the case of actual abuse, how does a church maintain a distinction from the civil magistrate (WCF 30.1)? Should elders put up the wife and children in one of their homes?

Alternatively, what if a civil court has declared there to be no abuse, but a local session believes that abuse has occurred?

Jeremy

Jeremy, yes, putting her up, or helping her afford a safe place to be. And if the civil magistrate doesn’t prosecute the husband for abuse, and the elders believe that the wife remains in danger, they should help her stay out of range. At the same time, they need to distinguish separation and divorce, and be working for the husband’s repentance.

One verse which you implied but which I did not see quoted was the verse in Matthew in which the Lord Jesus teaches that anyone who divorces his wife for any reason save adultery is essentially guilty of that sin, and that anyone who married an unbiblically divorced woman whose husband was still alive was also an adulterer. There seem to be few people who will take applications from this, I have very rarely heard anyone’s salvation questioned because of remarrying while an unbiblically divorced spouse was still alive, though I have heard salvation questioned on account of cohabitation, theft, covetousness, and even a despairing attitude (this is not to say that true Christians never divorce unbiblically). If unjustified divorce, and remarriage after an unbiblical divorce, were preached as being a form of adultery, a thing a Christian should not do, many marriages that end in divorce would have be saved. Another thing of note is that, although divorce in the case of adultery is more or less permissible, it is never encouraged in any passage I am aware of, and the book of Hosea seems to suggest that it is not usually the best thing to do, as Hosea was told to reconcile with his wife who had been involved in prostitution and had likely given birth to two children out of wedlock

James

James, all of which is to say that divorce and remarriage ought to be a much bigger deal to us in the church than it currently is.

SBC and the Old #9

In your excellent commentary on the recent Southern Baptist resolutions (in Rez Zoh Looo Tion #9), I was dumbstruck upon reading an even more egregious resolution, that while outside the scope of your article, is even worse than the one under consideration. To wit:

“we do not deny that ethnic, gender, and cultural distinctions exist and are a gift from God”

As anyone who has paid attention to the homosexual agenda over the last 30 years or so, the word “gender” has replaced the word “sex” when referring to whether someone is a man or a woman. Gender being an arbitrary cultural/linguistic distinction whereas sex is something immutable, thus setting the stage for the acceptance of the current trans-mania.

The inclusion of this arbitrary gender preference in the quoted resolution as being a gift from God, is an abomination of the highest order. Of course, the author may have possibly used the wrong word by mistake, when he actually meant to use the word sex, but then why is it sandwiched in between such relative terms as ethnic and cultural? And if he did mean the two sexes as a gift from God, seeing how no one could possibly think of denying such a gift, why is it included in the list? Methinks the resolution’s author is more “woke” than is first evident.

While “wokeness” and anti-whiteness is a terrible thing and is setting the stage for genocide, the subtle trans agenda is destructive to the entire human race. It is absolutely Satanic and has been creeping up on us for decades with the misuse of the word “gender.” I welcome your comments on the trans-agenda and the inclusion of “trans” acceptance in this resolution. If you could even devote an entire article to it, I will look earnestly for it.

Scott

Scott, good catch.

Climate Questions

Thanks for the list of questions you raise about Global warming which I think you’ve mentioned a couple of times now (they were, forgive the paraphrasing: 1. Is it happening? 2. Is it bad? 3. Is it caused by humans? 4. Can humans stop it? 5. What role do governments have/do they have the God given authority to do what they want to do?).

I think there’s one more question that needs to be added to make a complete list, namely: Supposing humans are able to stop global warming, are the costs of doing that action less than the costs associated with global warming taking place? Together, these six questions seem to provide an excellent tool to start discussing global warming with and if anyone answers any one of them negatively then they can happily claim the title of being a ‘Climate denier’.

Josh

Josh, that’s a good addition to the questions.

Tying in with ‘Idiocracy’:

Not sure if you’re a regular reader/listener of Mark Steyn, but he just released video of a recent panel discussion he hosted on climate change. One of the scientists on the panel described the atmosphere (moving on . . .) inside the climate science community. It seems some secularists also suffer from good old-fashioned cowardice as well. Here’s the link (good for a long drive or workout):

Bryce

Bryce, thanks for the link.

Thanks, and Thanks Back

I am, after seeing your recommendation to another poster regarding typology , reading the book “Christ and His Rivals.” My thoughts might be premature, but at this juncture (and after reading many of your works) I consider this one of your very best. It is an excellent review of and for the primacy of Jesus Christ, and for the principle of submitting one’s understanding of Scripture by submission to God explaining Himself.

It is quite bewildering to see the turn that the modern evangelical church has made away from the understanding of (capital K) King and Lord and towards compartmentalization. I am writing this today (Thanksgiving Day) after reading something that President Washington (from his proclamation) obviously knew, that many church official and “thought leaders” no longer know: “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor. . .”

Duty? All nations??? I can hear young Greta chastising him right now: How dare he!!!

We are thankful, and thank you for a good book.

Gray

Gray, thanks.

Accreditation Blues

In a 2014 post called “Their Temples of Reason,” regarding some controversies over your brother Gordon teaching a microbiology course at U of I, the issue of accreditation came up. I was wondering what your thoughts were on unaccredited seminaries. I am not talking about training centers like Greyfriar’s Hall; I am specifically talking about institutions like Whitefield Theological Seminary in Florida or Birmingham Theological Seminary in Alabama—because they are cheap, and I wouldn’t have to move my family. Truly, I was just wanting to know if you think that they would be worth it from the ministerial-preparation aspect. My church would obviously have the primary hand in my pastoral shaping (and they do), but would either of those institutions provide me with a good foundation on the theological levels. Thanks!

Desiring to build and fight with you,

Gage

Gage, the main thing you would have to consider in situations like that is what would be accepted and received in the areas where it is likely you would be ministering. In other words, there is the training itself (which could be good), and there is the reputation (which could vary). So my unsatisfactory answer is . . . it depends.

Jim Jordan on Deuteronomy

Re: this week’s letters, you can find Jordan’s Deuteronomy outline here, beginning on p. 57 and with the ten commandments structure beginning on p. 59:

He cites Kaiser for some history of the idea, but has amendments to Kaiser’s own outline.

Scott

Scott, thanks for the link.

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Categories: People I don't know

Which Should be Obvious

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 02:05

“The kind of God we believe in determines the kind of sermons we preach.”

Stott, The Challenge of Preaching, p. 13

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Categories: People I don't know

Which is a Problem

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 02:00

“That was just one problem with ministering to the youth of today—riding the waves of cool and contemporary youth ministry was like surfing the big ones, and with one false move, there you were with sand in your trunks.”

Evangellyfish, p. 91

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Categories: People I don't know

Book of the Month/December 2019

Mon, 02/12/2019 - 15:21

We live in demented times, and proofs of this assertion can be found by pointing in pretty much any and every direction. One of those proofs is the fact that I am able to select as my book of the month a book written by an open homosexual, and with the topic of the book being certain issues surrounding gender and identity. This book, The Madness of Crowds, is that book. I recommend it highly.

The Christian reader has to discount for the fact that Murray has obviously carved out a space in his worldview for his own sin. And if we believe the Bible, we don’t get to go along with him in this. But at the same time, even when he is talking about homosexuality, he does a remarkable job of not politicizing it. He asks hard and pointed questions about how our culture at large is responding to a sexual revolution that has turned itself into a mindless and moralistic crusade. Murray is dealing with the thoughtlessness of that. As the title indicates, he is dealing with the madness of crowds—and this is quite a timely book because we are certainly in the middle of an epic fit right now.

When it comes to sexual topics, a certain party line is being imposed on all of us, and is being imposed with a ferocity that is scarcely to be believed. And Murray is challenging all of that. He is not offended by those of us who believe that he is sinning in his sexual choices, but he is insulted by those who have turned all sexual choices into an all-consuming ideology. He uses the example of how Peter Thiel, another open homosexual, was excommunicated from the “church of gay” when he endorsed Trump. It turns out that sexual perversion is not enough—you have to be homosexual and a hard leftist. Having sex with other men is not enough to make you gay. You have to do that and toe the party line. He uses another example of how Germaine Greer was excommunicated from the “church of feminism” because of her questioning of the transsexual foolishness.

The sexual revolution, like all revolutions, devours its own.

Murray is asking hard questions about how we know what we are claiming to have discovered. The sexual revolutionaries are simply dogmatists, and just because somebody in charge of the propaganda bureau flipped a switch does not mean that we all suddenly “know” that transsexuality is healthy and normal and okay, and what’s wrong with you red state troglodytes?   

What about the epistemic effects of sin? Yeah, that is curious. When it comes to the sexual revolution, Murray’s questions and reasoning are so consistently good throughout this book (with certain exceptions, as noted above), and the reactions of our Christian leaders have been so lame and piecemeal, one is tempted to start looking around for the epistemic effects of sin in places other than the enclaves of sinners and tax collectors. Yeah, there is an epistemic effect of sodomy. But maybe we need to start asking if there is an epistemic effect that comes from an evangelical seminary education also.

Regardless of how you answer that question, this book is worth a read.

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Categories: People I don't know

Exceptions and Loopholes

Sat, 30/11/2019 - 18:00
Introduction

The downward spiral we are now riding when it comes to sexual ethics did not begin with Obergefell. It did not begin in the homosexual enclaves and bath houses. Homosexuals did not want to participate in the great marriage joke until after heterosexuals had turned it into the great marriage joke. But once the center had given way, and the widening gyre began, and easy divorce was first tolerated, then accepted, and then in some quarters celebrated, all the rest of this sexual clown car parade was inevitable.

And the pressures and realities connected to all of this are by no means absent in the conservative sectors of the church. For example, Wayne Grudem recently stated that he had reworked his views on whether abuse was grounds for divorce, and he had gone back to the text in response to a few horrendous situations he had encountered. Now this is an entirely appropriate thing to do, and I am not here disputing his textual work, one way or the other.

What I doing is pointing out that when there have been two scripturally legitimate grounds for divorce that have been slowly expanded into loopholes, then what makes us think this process will stop if we find that there are three scripturally legitimate grounds for divorce? If there is legitimacy here at all, then there is a border between legitimacy and illegitimacy, and that border will have to be articulated and defended by pastors and counselors with backbone.   

What I Am Not Talking About

When it comes to the question of the permanence of marriage, I hold to what I believe to be the standard Reformed position. Even though this is the last day of November, this is less a qualification than it is a circumscription—I am not attempting to prove anything one way or the other about this position. I am simply noting it as the place I am reasoning from.

And to be specific, I believe that marriage is created by God, not man, and that what God has joined together, let no man put asunder. Marriages are not simply contracts which can be voided when the parties to the contract feel like it. Marriage is a covenant, and God is one of the parties to the covenant. This means that a marriage cannot be dissolved except under the two basic conditions that are set forth in Scripture. Those two conditions I believe to be the infidelity of adultery, and willful desertion. When one of those two conditions pertain, I believe the party sinned against may obtain a lawful divorce, and in principle, is free to remarry.

And What I Am Talking About

A great deal depends on whether these two exceptions are treated as exceptions, or whether they get treated as increasingly elastic loopholes.

And so what do I mean by exceptions becoming loopholes? I mean that all adultery is infidelity, but not all infidelity, particularly in seed form, is the kind of adultery that grants the liberty of a divorce. If a husband ogles a magazine cover in the checkout line at the supermarket, then that is infidelity and Jesus warns us about it. But it is not the kind of adultery that triggers an acceptable divorce.

If abuse is shown to be a separate third category that allows for divorce, or if it is included under one of the existing two categories (as being tantamount to willful desertion), the opportunity is immediately created to do the same thing. And that is to say that abuse is grounds for divorce, and then proceed to significantly expand the definition of abuse. True abuse is something that cops can tell you about, as well as pastors. Say a man beats his wife up several times a week—that is abuse, and that would be what Grudem is talking about. But suppose the definition of abuse is expanded to include those instances when a husband wasn’t “there for her, when she needed him most.” What if it now includes a husband who won’t agree to something his wife really wants to do? And suppose that he puts his foot down in a rhetorical manner that indicated he wanted to be crowned as king of the meatheads?

A Quick Review

Here is a statement of the two exceptions as articulated by theologians who were not participating in what might be called our modern “exception inflation.”

“Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments, unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage; yet nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage; wherein a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it, not left to their own wills and discretion in their own case.”

WCF 24.6

There are three significant points to be made from this, and they each indicate that the Westminster Assembly contained a number of experienced pastors.

First, they noted that when it came to how people want to get out of unhappy marriages, they are apt to “study arguments.” They are people with an acceptable conclusion who are on the hunt for useable premises. This tendency is assigned to the corruption of man. We must be careful of this because we live in corrupt time.

Second, the two exceptions are stated. They say that there are no grounds for divorce except for these two situations. “Yet nothing but.” Adultery is the first situation, and that would be defined as sexual intercourse contrary to the standard of fidelity set down in Scripture. And note that the second condition is not simply “willful desertion.” It is “willful desertion” that can in “no way be remedied by the Church or by the civil magistrate.” In other words, there might be a desertion, but we still need to see if the pastor and elders, or perhaps the sheriff, can fetch the straying spouse back.

The third pastoral note is that these determinations should be made by third parties, and not by the disputants themselves.

The Case of Separation

Now what happens when you have a situation that is obviously intolerable, but the two exceptions above do not seem to pertain? It is intolerable because the cops are getting called every third night or so, but there is no sexual infidelity, and the husband, who is the aforementioned king of the meatheads, says that he is not deserting his wife, but really wants to remain married to her. What then?

I think a biblical case for separation (not divorce) can be made, and the basis for it is here:

“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10–11).

1 Cor. 7:10-11 (KJV)

This is talking about a situation where the wife who departs from her husband does not have a biblical basis for a divorce (which would give her the right to remarry). Paul expressly excludes that option. And so Paul says that she should stay right where she is. He is saying this in the light of his cryptic “not I, but the Lord” phrasing.

I do not take this as Paul outlining the inspired parts of 1 Cor. 7, contrasting them with the mere Pauline opinion parts. Rather, I believe that Paul is referring to the Lord’s teaching on marriage in the course of His earthly ministry, where He was teaching in the context of Israel, where both husband and wife were members of the covenant. In that setting, the Lord gave us one legitimate basis for divorce, which was adultery. Paul is referring to that first exception here, and it is the basis for him saying that the wife must remain single if she leaves. If she does not remain unmarried, she becomes an adulteress—committing adultery against the king of the meatheads.

Elsewhere in this chapter, Paul says “I, not the Lord” and he is there talking about a new situation that had arisen. This is apostolic instruction, not dominical instruction. The gospel had by this point gone out into the Gentile world, and the new and relatively common situation of mixed marriages was presenting pastoral questions. One of the partners had been converted, and the other one had not been converted. So the Corinthians wrote Paul and asked if it was okay to be married to a pagan. Yes, Paul says. To have sex with him? Yes, Paul says. But what if there are kids? Won’t they be contaminated (1 Cor. 7:14)? No, Paul says. They will be holy.

Now in this setting, Paul is saying that he recommends against separating, but if she separates against this advice, what does he require? He requires that the woman who depart remain unmarried, or else to be reconciled to her husband. It is clear that he requires this because if she takes up with another man, she will be committing adultery. That means the first century church had the option of a married couple living apart, but where there were still marital obligations in place. In other words, what we would call a separation.

And here is where things can go off the rails. This is where exceptions can become loopholes.

In our pastoral ministry, there have been situations where it really was necessary for the wife to “move out of range.” And our church has consistently sought to provide wives with the kind of protection that a church can give in that kind of situation. Men are sinners.

The Hard Part

But, as should always be remembered, women are sinners also. A wife who is abused by her husband should obviously be protected by her church. But a wife who falsely accuses her husband of abuse should be disciplined by her church. Believe all women is the devil’s lie. This is just another way of saying that husbands, as members of the congregation, require the protection of the church as well. This protection must include things like due process, two and three witnesses, and judges who don’t come to the weighing of the evidence with minds already made up.

There, I said it. Under the cover of a waning no quarter November, I come out squarely in favor of justice and equity. Make of it what you will.

Today’s Giveaway Deals

Note the plural! I said deals.

On marriage, we have Federal Husband available today, and it is here. And because you all have been such good sports all through November, and it is Advent now, we are offering the bonus gift of God Rest Ye Merry, which is here.

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Categories: People I don't know

A Theology of Christmas Presents (1)

Sat, 30/11/2019 - 14:51
Introduction

During this Advent season, I want to spend some time in a series of messages working through a theology of Christmas presents. Quite a number of you are going to be spending quite a bit of time on this aspect of your Christmas celebrations, and so—as Christians who seek to bring every aspect of our lives into submission to the Word—how should we think about Christmas presents? How shall we then shop? We will need to consider in turns the ground of our giving, the nature of giving, the nature of receiving, and the goodness of the material world.  

The Text

“Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;) Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God. For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:10–15).

Summary of the Text

Now in this part of his letter, the apostle Paul is speaking a benediction for the Corinthians. He asks that the God who provides seed for the farmers would bless the ministrations of the Corinthians (v. 10). He asks that this same God would provide them with food, and multiply the impact of their generosity (v. 10). He wants this to result in abundance for them so that they might be equipped to give even more, with the result of even more thanksgiving (v. 11). The reason is that this kind of giving has two benefits—it meets the need, which is one good, and it results in thanksgiving to God (v. 12), which is another good.

As the recipients approve of and rejoice in what they (and others) receive, they are glad for this tangible evidence of the submission of the Corinthians to the gospel of Christ (v. 13). Gratitude from the recipient is a return gift to the giver. In return for the gift, the recipients pray for and long for the donors as they see the surpassing grace of God resting upon them (v. 14). And then Paul anchors his benediction by referring to the ground of all generosity, which is the generosity of God toward us, in the gift of His Son—the unspeakable gift (v. 15). All our gifts, of whatever kind, are to be grounded here. All generosity finds its root and origin there.

Different Kinds of Donations

By the grace of God, you own or possess what you have. Now the Scriptures describe for us different sorts of circumstances under which we give some of our possessions away. And this giving would include anything of monetary value going out from you and with nothing coming back immediately in return. In other words, we are talking about any expenditure that is not “buying” something.

For our purposes here, we can divide this up into three categories—tithes, offerings, and celebrations. Christmas presents would obviously fall into this third category.

Tithes

The tithe is a gift that is not discretionary. In other words, it is God’s tribute, God’s tax, assigned to us by Him. Contrary to the assumption of many believers, the tithe is not a “Mosaic thing.” Abraham tithed to Melchizedek before there was a Mosaic code (Gen. 14:20). Moses certainly included it in his law, but in the same way other ancient practices were included, practices like circumcision or animal sacrifice (Dt. 14:28). And then, in the New Testament, Paul tells us that those in Christian ministry should be supported in the same way that the Levitical priests were supported, which is to say, by means of the tithe (1 Cor. 9:13-14). Paul describes how the priests were supported in the OT, and then says even so, in the same way, Christian ministry should be supported. And that was by means of the tithe. The principle is also stated generally (Gal. 6:6-8), and it is described as part of the fabric of how things simply are. God is not mocked—a man reaps what he sows, and part of this sowing is sharing with the one who teaches.

So if you look carefully at the Scriptures, you will see that lawful recipients of the appointed tithe are ministers of the Word (1 Cor. 9:14), the poor (Dt. 14:29), and the merchants who provide you with the goods for your celebrations before the Lord (Dt. 14 22-29). And in Scripture, the one tithing determines where the tithe goes. Scripture appoints the lawful categories, and the tither determines the precise recipient.    

Offerings

Scriptures frequently describe the giving of the tithe in terms of seed going into the ground, and seed that goes into the ground is the ordained means of obtaining a harvest or a crop (Mal. 3:10). To say that the tithe is a mandatory gift is simply to say that God requires us to put a certain amount of seed corn into the ground. He cares for us. Otherwise, we would tend to eat our seed corn.

But once we learn that money is in its very nature seed corn, the wise among us want to figure out how to give more than ten percent of the increase. But we do not give in order to get, period. We give to get in order to be enabled to give some more. “The liberal soul shall be made fat: And he that watereth shall be watered also himself” (Prov. 11:25).

And so Paul encourages the Corinthians to apply the logic of the tithe to their thinking about their free will offerings.

“But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”

2 Cor. 9:6-7 (KJV)

It is not possible for us to be cheerful givers if we think we are dumping perfectly good seed down a gopher hole. But it is more than possible once we discover that soil is fertile. A cheerful giver is actually a shrewd farmer.

Celebrations

And so we come to the custom of celebrating through gifts. We already saw some indication of this in the Dt. 14 passage, where God requires what might be called a party tithe. But it appears that God has embedded deep within mankind an impulse to give gifts when celebrating. This is even the case with wicked men (Rev. 11:10), who celebrated with gift giving upon the death of the two witnesses. But impulse is also found among the righteous. What happened when the Jews were delivered from a great threat in the book of Esther, at the founding of Purim?

“As the days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day: that they should make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.”

Esther 9:22 (KJV)

The Unspeakable Gift

And so now we come to the basis for all our Christmas shopping. Like all Christian generosity, it seeks to mimic the generosity of God, grounding our giving in the fact that God has given so generously to us. The adage is “freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8). It shares this feature with our tithes and with our offerings.

And, at the same time, all our Christmas gifts are also a celebration of that great gift that was given to us. We celebrate the Incarnation—the prerequisite gift that enabled God to give us the even greater gift of the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus was born to die, and all of this—birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension—was given for us men and for our salvation.

Provided we remember why we are doing it, it is entirely fitting that we give Christmas gifts to one another. It would be weird and strange if we did not do so.  

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