Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Wise Reprover and the Listening Ear of Titus 2

Titus 2:3-5--"Older women... are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled."

Proverbs 25:12--“Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.”

1 Peter 3:1-4--"Likewise, wives... Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious."

What woman doesn’t appreciate a great hairstyle, nice clothes, and fine gold jewelry? Yet, such adornments pale in comparison to the beauty God is after. What God finds "precious" and "beautiful" in the feminine heart is something Peter calls a "gentle and quiet spirit." What such a spirit looks like is described in practical ways in the verse above from Titus 2. It includes having a heart that's being "trained"-- in loving one's husband and children, in self-control, in purity, in being a worker at home, in being kind, in being submissive to one's own husband. Note the idea of training as a key ingredient in attaining to this beautiful condition. Note the implication that we aren't born, nor do we go into marriage and child-rearing, knowing how!

Proverbs 25:12 lists two elements necessary for the kind of training that results in beautiful godliness: (1) a wise reprover and (2) a listening ear. It takes both to get the lovely result, comparable in beauty to gold rings and ornaments. Titus 2:3-5 supplies a New Testament identity to these two elements: the older women of the church (wise reprovers), willing and able to teach, and the younger women (listening ears), willing to be taught, and to change, so that "the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7).

Becoming trained in this kind of beauty pleases God so much because it glorifies him. At stake is the reality of the gospel lived out before a skeptical world. Without this kind of grace and transformation in the lives of women, therefore in the lives of families, and therefore in the life of the church, the truths of God are in danger of being blasphemed (that's the meaning of the word translated "reviled" in Titus 2:5). The world sees the difference between our words of profession and how we actually live our lives.

So I ask you today, as I'm asking myself: as Christian wives and mothers, how are we doing in living this out? Do we really want this; are we willing to pay the price to become women who teach and encourage one another to become women with these habits, with these qualities, so precious and beautiful in the sight of God our Savior? Are we willing to submit to God's plain words and work out, in a practical sense, how all this plays out in our homes and in the church? Are we seeking to become both "wise reprovers" and "listening ears," or are we resistant to believing that these words of God could really apply in this way to us?

This is not an easy thing. God's words here, like all doctrine, are open to all sorts of misunderstanding and/or mischievous misrepresentation, especially in our day. But it's imperative, especially in our day, that we grasp its importance. It's not being dramatic to say that the lives of our children and the future of the church depends on it.

When we stand before God to give an account of our lives, he won't ask us how we did with our careers, our portfolios, our workout routines or our wardrobes. Instead, we'll be called to account for how we believed his word and tried to obey it. None of us will perform perfectly--thank God for his gift of righteousness, imputed to the believer through the atoning death of his Son!-but the desires of our hearts will be laid bare, and our failure to love what He loves will surely be cause for regret. I am praying anew, as an older woman, for the grace to be both a wise reprover and to have a listening ear, for the opportunity both to teach and to be taught, for that is the true Christian life. Will you pray about this, too?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Prayer and Listening to God Part 5: How "Rightly Handling" Makes All The Difference

(This is Part 5 of a series of posts on Prayer and Listening to God. Click here for Part 1).

In the last article of this series, I took the opportunity to talk a little about the rich fellowship and communion we can enjoy with God in prayer. Prayer is not "one-sided;" we are not simply talking into the air! God is with us in our prayers. In today's article, as promised, I'll offer a hopefully helpful and interesting overview of Bible interpretation, and how it matters when it comes to the issue of listening for God's voice. In the next article, I hope to present some common examples of misinterpreted Scripture along that line. I was fascinated to see how this misunderstanding has come about in the church, and hope you will be, too.

Hermeneutics, of course, is the fancy word with a simple enough meaning: it’s simply the method of interpreting any text, including Scripture. Using the right hermeneutic is part of what Paul is talking about to Timothy when he tells him, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). There is a right way and a wrong way to “handle” Scripture, and much of this has to do with right and wrong ways of interpreting it. If we rightly interpret the Bible we are well on our way, with the Holy Spirit’s illuminating help, to rightly understanding it, teaching it, and obeying it.

The good news is that in many ways, reading and understanding the Bible is just not that hard. The Bible is literature, a collection of writings written in comprehensible genres like history and poetry. It's important to recognize that and to understand how those genres impact the message. This is done through using the grammatical-historical method of reading and understanding. (This is the exact method used in reading any literature.) Its aim is to discover the meaning of the passage: what the author intended, and what the original hearers were meant to understand.

Old Testament prophecy and the apocalyptic writings are challenging, of course, and require careful and prayerful study within their genre. And of course, the unregenerate man will not understand the things of God. That being said, though, the Bible has great clarity in its message, in that its meaning can be clear to the ordinary reader. Rightly gaining that meaning involves keeping in mind guiding principles like these:

Context is King

This cardinal rule of interpretation means that a verse in the Bible is understood in the context of the chapter it's found in, and a chapter of the Bible is understood in the context of the book it’s found in, and a book of the Bible is understood in the context of the overall message of the whole Bible. I don't mean to sound as if that's always simple and easy, because it's sometimes not. But that's why Paul told Timothy to work hard at rightly interpreting and teaching God's word.

Scripture interprets Scripture

All of Scripture, having the same Author, is in harmony with itself and never contradicts itself. Therefore, less clear passages are always interpreted in light of more clear passages. For instance, a New Testament passage that seems to say that all people will ultimately be saved must be interpreted in light of the many passages that tell us clearly this is not the case. The explanation is that “all” often means, especially with Paul, that both Jew and Gentile are included, or sometimes it refers to people from all different sorts of groups. Sometimes it just means, literally, all! :) The context usually provides the clue.

Descriptive passages do not teach us to expect the same

Descriptive texts are the narratives of the Bible--stories that describe events of certain times in redemptive history. Prescriptive texts are the teaching passages of the Bible that prescribe how we are to live and what we are to expect as Christians. In the New Testament, for instance, the Gospels and Acts contain a lot of narrative, while the Epistles contain mostly teaching. Narrative parts of the Bible teach important things, too, but they do not necessarily teach that the events they describe will happen again. They are historical. For instance, the story of Peter walking on water does not teach that we should expect to walk on water. This will become very important as we look at the issue of listening for God’s voice in prayer. It is to the prescriptive, the teaching portions of the Bible, that we primarily look in order to learn what to expect.

Next post in this series: the enduring legend of the still, small voice!

(Please click here for Part 6.)

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Epistles Give the Standard

"If I might summarize all these dangers, it is the danger of isolating a text or an idea and building up a system around it, instead of comparing Scripture with Scripture. It is the seeking of a short cut in the spiritual world... We must reject anything which is not based soundly upon the teaching of the Epistles. We must be very careful that we do not take an incident out of the Gospels, and weave a theory around it... we must realize that our standard... is to be found in the Epistles." ~ D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times, page 11

Picture: Apostle Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Beware Lest You Defend God!

You would think I'd have titled this, "Beware Lest You OFFEND God." But we need to be just as wary of defending him, lest we end up, in doing so, after all offending him. That's what Job's friends did. Here's the story.

In the book of Job, Job's "comforters," his friends who came to visit after all the disasters described in Chapter 1 had come upon him, didn't like the way Job was talking about God. They felt as if Job was accusing God of sending suffering his way without due cause, so they leapt to God's defense.

"God," they said, "always rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked in just the ways we describe. Therefore your suffering, Job, has come upon you due to wickedness in your life."

But Job refuses this view, instead pointing out what we might call the difficult providences of God. He speaks directly to God about it like this:

"What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment? How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark?" (7:17-20)

Now, these words of Job's must have sounded blasphemous to Job's friends, and they likely would to us, too. So they set about vigorously "defending" God (as we might). But the truth was, Job was on to something that his friends had missed. Job knew that God does not stand in need of misguided defense, as Job's friends tried to provide. Job was seeing and commenting on the whole thing in a more truthful way (although with limited understanding) than his three comforters. His view of God as the sovereign "instigator" of his suffering was spot on:

"But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind" (12: 17).

Even the dumb beasts, even the bushes, could have told Job's friends that God, the sovereign ruler of all things, had brought "all this" about! Duh!

What did God want to teach Job, and all Job's friends, about himself? He wanted to teach them that he is Ruler, and that he is good. That he is sovereign, and that he is merciful. That his ways are higher than ours and past finding out, yet that he is willing to draw near to us. Job wishes for an "arbiter," or umpire (Job 9:32-33) to "lay his hand on us both" (that is, on both him and God, should Job be allowed to bring his unhappy case before God for trial). The New Testament tells us that God did indeed send just such a Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 9:15, 12:24) to do what we weak and unrighteous people could never do: make us righteous by his own blood, and forever successfully plead our case before God the Judge! So we see that the God who sometimes sends affliction is the same God who sends mercy. And he does it all for his own purposes, for his own glory, and for those who are his, their good.

Puny man cannot accuse or defend God. Here is how Job rightly puts it to his friends who are so eager to "get God off the hook" :

"With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding. If he tears down, none can rebuild; if he shuts a man in, none can open. If he withholds the waters, they dry up; if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land... he makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away...

"Will you speak falsely for God and speak deceitfully for him? Will you show partiality toward him? Will you plead the case for God? Will it be well with you when he searches you out?... He will surely rebuke you, if in secret you show partiality!" (Job 13:1-12).

And here is how God finally speaks to the issue, putting it this way to Job's friends:

"My anger burns against you [Eliphaz] and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has... my servant Job will pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has" (42:7-8).

Beware of "defending" God! :)