Let’s Brag this Weekend

We tend to brag about pretty much everything. We brag about our jobs and our houses. We brag about our motorcycles and our boats. We brag about our kids and our grandchildren. We brag about our church and our pastor. We brag about our spirituality, and our discernment. We brag about our wisdom and our work ethic. Almost everyone (restrained from saying “all” because I can’t prove that it is universal) brags about something. I don’t know what it is that you brag about but we brag about things. Maybe it is our stricter standards. Maybe it is our doctrinal stance. Maybe we brag because we aren’t the weaker brother. We brag though.

Interestingly to me, the Bible doesn’t tell us not to brag or boast altogether. Rather it tells us what we are to brag in.

1 Corinthians 1:23-31

23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: 31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. 

 

Paul gives a list – similar in some respects to mine. He says, don’t bring glory to yourselves through these things. We shouldn’t boast or brag about all the things I mentioned. Rather, Paul gives us our one option; we are to glory in the Lord. This is echoed from Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

23 Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: 24 But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lordwhich exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.

These passages have the same point, made in the OT and NT – we are to glory in God. We are to boast in the fact that we know Him. That we are his. That we know He is loving and righteous. This is what we are to brag about. Even more specific though is what Paul tells us in Galatians.

Galatians 6:14

14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

It is Good Friday today. A day that we specifically remember the death of Christ (not the only day) – the Cross of Christ. It is this Cross that allows us to glory. It is this Cross by which we are saved. It is the sacrificial death of our Savior and Redeemer, and only that death, which should cause us to glory.

When we return to our jobs and normal lives next week, let us not get caught up in bragging about the food or family. Let us not forget that the reason we celebrate this weekend is the only reason we have to boast of anything. It is the reason we have blessings and grace. It is the reason God can forgive sinners and adopt them. It is all we have. That is why it is what we boast in. There is nothing else for us. All else is counted but dung when compared to knowing Christ. But when we do know Christ, we can boast in Him. We can boast in His cross and what He has accomplished for us. We can and should be telling everyone.

If I caught the biggest fish of my life or shot the biggest buck this weekend, I would probably be prone to tell the person I saw in Publix or my co-worker. I would be telling all sorts of people. Eventually, everyone I know or who knows me, and even strangers would know about the “accomplishment” I achieved over the weekend. My countenance would say that something happened to or for me. My words would testify of it. Let us not just stop boasting of these other temporal things, but boast in God. Let us see the cross and Christ with a renewed image this weekend. And let us boast in it – to everyone we know.

Definitions, Greek, History, Culture, and Context

There are uses for all of these. They all have their place. Sometimes, because we say that the only standard for faith and practice is the Bible, we begin to assume that any other tools are not only a waste but are an insult to us or our faith.

When we read Luke 2 and read about the shepherds who were watching their flocks at night, we understand more when we know what a shepherd is. We need to know the definition of that word. We need to know what a flock is. If we did not have a teacher at some point or a dictionary, we would not know what these things are. Are these necessary for the most important part of the text? No. But do we see what the shepherds were really doing when they left their flocks to go to Bethlehem and see Christ? They were leaving their occupation and their method of providing for their family. They left what they had to go worship their Savior. Do we need to know the historical context of Israel and the value of a flock to know that they made a sacrifice? No, but to understand what type of sacrifice this is, yes, we do. Is it helpful to know the history and culture of that day to realize that they didn’t have cars or automobiles to jump in and drive over and back? Is it useful knowledge to understand the types of countryside that was in the area of Bethlehem? Was it plains, or hills, was it desert or fertile? Of course these things all add to the context of the story. These are things that are not necessary for our Christian faith, but they bring a fuller understanding of what the Gospel narrates to us.

A pastor who stands before his congregate and who brings forth, from hard work and study, the cultural implications – because the Bible was written in a culture and to certain people who understood that culture – so that we might have a fuller understanding today, is appreciated. We appreciate the perspective that allows us to more fully understand the narrative. When he gives us the definition of hard words like “propitiation” we appreciate that so that we can grow in understanding. The Bible itself doesn’t define propitiation for us. It doesn’t tell us what that means. We do know that Christ satisfied the wrath of God against sin. We can learn that theological truth from Scripture, but not from a passage where we don’t even know the meaning of the words.

We need tools, and God has given us tools to help us. These are common sense things. We obviously need to know the definitions of the words we are reading for them to impact us. We need to know the context of the narratives to gain a greater understanding. We need to know the cultural and historical context of the epistles so that we understand what the city of Corinth was like and what idols, temples, and belief systems Paul was combating against.

The original languages of the Scripture are no different. But before we dive into this, we need to understand a smidgen of where our English Bible came from. It didn’t get written by God like the original ten commandments that were shattered on the mount. It didn’t get spoken by God to men to write it down. God never spoke English to the writers. Instead, God had the Bible written (through inspiration – which we are not covering) in the languages of the authors that he used. This leaves three languages which the Bible was actually written in – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Authority is from God and God alone. My authority in my household comes because God has designated me the head of the house. A pastor’s authority over the flock comes at the hand of God and so does the Government’s authority, and any other true authority. All authority is either from God, or usurped. So the authority we have in our Bible is from God. The authority of any translated work is derived only from the original work. If I were to translate Shakespeare, my translation can only be called Shakespeare as it is faithful to the original text. Otherwise I have to put other stipulations in front of it. When it becomes simplified in the same language, we add caveats to the title to make it plain that this is not the original work. As a text is faithful to the original manuscripts of Scripture, then that text carries the authority of Scripture, which is the authority of God. This is one reason there is so much debate over English versions. Which one (or more) is most faithful to the original text? (This is not my goal today, and is considered off topic as far as comments are concerned.) Which carries authority as it is correctly translated from the Greek?

The English Bible you hold is authoritative only because it came from God, and it came from God in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. So, it is only authoritative as it is correctly and faithfully translated to leave the same meanings and words as the original. For centuries (since the Bible was first written, and copied, and copied, and copied) it has been held by orthodox believers that the copies and translations carry the same authority as the original as long as they are faithful. Since the Reformation it has become a standard that the everyday common people should have the Bible in their own language. Theologically it has been defensible, but the reason is because of the origin of authority. It is from God. The Scriptures are self-authenticating (meaning they authenticate themselves, since it is quick [alive]).

Returning to the initial theme of the post, the original languages are helpful for understanding. They are not necessary for our individual salvation. They are not necessary for our individual growth or for our Christian life. But they add context. They add history. They give clarification. English words, like Greek words (and I’m sure most languages), have multiple meanings built into the word. Duck has two (I’m not aware of more?) meanings. It could be the animal – the duck swam in the water, or it could be the verb – to duck beneath something. Greek also has multiple meanings and sometimes one is more obvious than the other. By the context the translators took the Greek words and prayerfully and carefully put those into English for us. We believe that God blessed the efforts and so we have God’s Word in English for us with the authority of Scripture. It was meant for everyone. The priesthood of the believer is an obvious theme in the New Testament and you do not need to learn ancient languages to walk with God. But just because the translators did a good job and were blessed, does not mean that the words they translated into carry the same meaning today.

The example I listed above fits perfectly here. The translators used the work quick coming from the Greek zao which literally means life. So, we have today the option of understanding that the word quick in old English meant alive, or we have the option of understanding that the Greek word from which quick was translated meant alive. Understanding old or new English is not any different from understanding the Greek. Language is a tool.

The problem that often arises with this tool, as opposed to the others I have mentioned, is that in the Bible version debate, it has become acceptable to correct the English version. This means that the English version does not hold the authority of God because it is being corrected by any person to stand in the pulpit with a little bit of language. More often than  the history or the culture you may find a type of gloating in the use of the language when in fact the text said the same thing in English and the use of the language was in fact no help at all. This is insulting and offending. If the authority of the English version is undermined then the response that many feel (“I need someone to explain my Bible to me”) and the emotional chains that come with it (“I no longer am a priest before God but I need someone to intercede and help me”) are completely justified. This is why the retort is usually that the situation is akin to the dark ages under a Catholic priest. Because that is the bondage that is offered to someone who knows the freedom of Christ.

The conclusion then is twofold. For those that do not know the original languages, recognize that they are a useful tool. That our English is only authoritative as it derives itself correctly and faithfully from the original (what we call derived inspiration). Therefore, the citing of Greek or Hebrew is not necessarily an attack but a way for us to see a greater context and gain a deeper understanding. We need to assume this of the speaker. Give him/her the benefit of the doubt when they bring these things up. Know though, as you already believe, that our English version is derivatively inspired and so it is authoritative. You are not tied to the dictates of what others say the languages may say, but as they open up a greater context and deeper meaning, you can search the Scriptures to find whether those things are so (just as you would with a historical or cultural context).

For those that do know the original languages, use them understanding what they are. They are not for each individual at his/her whim to correct the text in front of them. The people who have translated the texts were far more brilliant than most who are looking at a Greek lexicon, or using a study tool. Don’t pick the definition of the Greek word that most opposes the one in the text. Authority comes from God, and an attack on the authority of the English Scripture is akin to putting those believers in spiritual bondage. Don’t cast a stumblingblock, but use the tools you have worked for and been given by God to exhort and uplift.

Godliness, part 3 – Profitable Now and in the Future

Part 1 explained that Godliness is the outworking and demonstration of the many different facets of our relationship with God.

Part 2 examined Peter’s exercise plan for godliness.

So, why should we do it? Why is it worth it? Why exercise unto Godliness?

1 Timothy 4:7-8

But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.

Godliness is profitable now and in the future.  Godliness, Paul says, is profitable in the life that now is and that which is to come. Bodily exercise ends when we die (or when we begin to fall apart, sometimes long before we die). I can go to the gym (or at home) and work on my muscles for hours a week and I can feel the good soreness that comes with it. I can feel the results in my body having more energy, my sleep being more restful, and I can see the muscles growing and the fat being used up. I can see and feel these things and recognize that the time I spent was profitable – for a short future. It is not long term though. Godliness doesn’t just have short or long term viability. Godliness is a long term investment with great short term benefits.

Godliness is useful now as we live our lives as ambassadors for Christ. It is the very thing we have been called to do. We are to represent Him. We are to show Him. We are to let our light shine before men. Godliness enables us to fulfill our job description. It brings us true joy. It allows life to not be focused on the next milestone, or the next thing. It keeps us from looking back to the past for purpose. Godliness allows us to focus on the moment so that we are profitable to God.

This brings God’s blessing on us, and upon our families. It brings God’s blessings now when we obey. These blessings aren’t just physical, but they are spiritual and can be seen in your efforts around you. Joseph found favor in the eyes of all who were around him because he was blessed by God. This is the blessing we desire in our lives. We desire His favor with all we do, and living for Him will bring this. Living godly brings God’s blessings. It brings the fruits of the Spirit. It brings joy and peace to our lives. This is profitable. We don’t have to be full of stress or worry. We are free from those things. It brings sweet sleep and good rest.

Godliness prepares us for the future. There are many Christians who are afraid of going to Heaven. They don’t like the idea. Yet when we live our lives with such a great expectancy upon God, with a character defining dependence, with a fellowship pursuing interest in Him, we will want nothing more than to be in His presence. We will be looking towards Heaven. We will be prepared to go – worship, praise, fear, rejoicing, and reverence are what we will be doing in Heaven, so why not now?

Godliness is what will satisfy the fire of 1 Corinthians 3:11-15

11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Godliness will build upon the foundation of Christ – gold, silver, and precious stones, not wood, hay, or stubble. These are the things we will build with Godliness. That foundation of Christ is the first step in the exercise program Peter laid out – faith. We build upon that with the steps we are given and we will not have the fire consume our works as we meet our Lord. This is the process by which we obtain the coveted evaluation, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of they Lord.” Godliness is profitable for the future. The results of our bodily exercise will no longer apply. The results of our occupation, our nice yard, our American Dream, our pretty house, our games, our sports, our books read – it is all for naught and will no longer benefit us if they were not connected to the spiritual exercise plan. Apart from this, our works will burn up.

Godliness gives confidence and rest now in this life, and it gives promise – great expectation and hope – of the life that is to come. We can expect God’s blessings upon us now, and that things will go well for us when we come before God. People fear that thought. Those who are Godly do not need to. Godliness is profitable for the future, too.

Godliness, part 2 – Exercising unto Godliness

Last time I explained that godliness is our outward obvious lifestyle towards God. It is being the light in this world that God requires. It is being God-ward in everything we do. Our passage was 1 Timothy 4:7-8

But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.

Paul encourages us to exercise ourselves unto godliness. How do we exercise to this? It is much like bodily exercise. Bodily exercise, depending on what we are working towards, can seem to not accomplish much. Sometimes, as you work on a muscle group, or try to lose some weight/fat you feel as if your efforts are in vain. However, anyone who has accomplished these things knows that it comes with time and effort. It takes time in the gym or walking/running every day to get to the point you desire. It takes months of running to prepare for a marathon. It takes years of lifting to hit that new max bench you desire. Exercise unto godliness requires the same dedication of us – in time and effort. So, how do we exercise this? Peter gives us this answer.

2 Peter 1

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godlinessAnd to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The person who wants to lose the weight and be fit follows two simple steps: diet and exercise. We who want to exercise ourselves to godliness must follow the steps outlined here in our growth. But before looking at each step, consider that God has already given to us the power to do this. We have the power for all things that pertain to life and godliness.

There is nothing that we are lacking, except to simply do it. We need to exercise, now. Many people know that if they get off the couch and go running it will help them. Many know that if they are to get stronger they need to go lift the weights. But many continue to sit on the couch, or in front of their computer. Maybe they even are sitting reading on how to run, or how to lift, or how to diet. The extra knowledge will not get them the results they want. They must do it. We have been given everything we need. We have the power; now we must do it.

Peter lays out an order that will be seen in our growth so that we can obtain to this godliness that is profitable unto all things.

2 Peter 1

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

This is the order. This is the workout routine. This is the regimen and plan.

It begins with faith. Faith in Christ, salvation, is the starting point. We can never attain unto godliness if we don’t know God. If we do not have a personal relationship with Him, then that is the starting place. We must know Jesus Christ. We must recognize our sin, understand that Christ as God left Heaven to become a man, lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary (in your and my place) and propritiatory (satisfying God’s wrath) death on the cross, and then rose from the grave by His own power conquering sin and death. This is the Gospel. Without the good news, we can never see the trait of godliness in our lives.

After we are Christians, we are to add to this faith. We are to add things with “all diligence.” We are to work hard for these. We are not to assume that they will come naturally, but that we must strive for them. We must apply ourselves to them. They need to be a priority in our lives to cause us to seek these things. Work diligently towards these things. Exercise without effort is mostly useless. Every article or trainer will tell you there is more value in a shorted time at 100% intensity than only going through the motions. We must be diligent.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

To our salvation, we add virtue. Virtue is that characteristic of valor or excellence. It is that characteristic that causes praise from those around you. It is the ability and characteristic of behaving. It amazes me, as a high school teacher, how often students will not simply behave. It is not a matter of their grades or their work, but misbehavior that causes them to be disciplined. Virtue is where you behave to the point of being praised for it. For having the courage to do the right thing, for being excellent. This is not a thing that needs to be learned. This is a behavior issue. We are to ehave ourselves. We believe in Christ? Now we need to act like the new creature God has made us.

Add to virtue knowledge. There are so many things we know to be right and we need to do them, but after we do them, there is more that we need to learn. We need to get knowledge. Add it to ourselves. This is found in the Scriptures. This is found in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. This is found in devotionals, and studying. Knowledge is important. We need to know what else God requires of us to be couragous towards and in what other areas we are to behave. Add knowledge of right and wrong. Add knowledge of God. Add knowledge of our sinful state. These things will lead us to godliness.

So, this is our exercise plan. Faith, virtue, knowledge, and then as we start to maybe feel we have an idea how to do these, we add on something else. Just as when exercising, we don’t let our body become accustomed to one thing and we add more and change our routine, so we need to keep adding on to our Christian lives.

Next comes temperance. Temperance is that ability to control yourself. The text is not specifically speaking of drinking or substances that take control but more so of the emotions of your own self. The emotions that drive you to things. It is not being controlled by emotions. God gave us emotions. God created us as good beings. Emotions in themselves are not bad, but emotions can cause us to do things that are bad. We must control ourselves so that we are not letting our emotions drive us. Whether this is the issue of losing your temper or the issue of being mad/angry when you shouldn’t, temperance applies liberally to our choices and emotions. It is wrong to get angry at someone, even if they have hurt you, regardless of if you blow up at them. Acting on anger is not something that God has said is OK. Sadness that causes you to withhold justice or turn a blind eye, sympathy that causes you to pervert judgment – these things are just as wrong as “blowing your top” in anger. Temperance applies to our lives in the everyday moment of emotional swings and ups and downs. Temperance is the Holy Spirit given ability that allows us to hold our emotions in check so that our actions are not driven by them.

Add to temperance patience. Patience is not the same thing as temperance. Patience is being able to not just take the wrongness that happens to you, but to do so cheerfully. If temperance is preventing the negative response, patience is having a positive response. I find this so hard. Sometimes I feel as if it takes every part of my being not to lash out in anger, or to respond in a way I know I shouldn’t, and I’m able not to, but I don’t respond cheerfully. I am fighting so hard to hold it in I have nothing left to direct towards patience. My problem is that I am depending on myself and not the Spirit of God. He has given us all power for these things. As we grow in Christ, we will add patience to our exercise routine and step closer to godliness in our lives.

After this, we have made it to godliness. We have exercised ourselves to this benchmark we were aiming for. The exercise goes on culminating in charity.
As we grow in Christ we should continue to exercise ourselves. As you stop exercising or running, you lose ground. You don’t retain what your best goal is but must continue to build upon it or lose it. Runners keep running. Weight lifters keep lifting.

As spiritual exercise, we can’t stop without losing ground. If we are not filling ourselves with the Spirit then we will not grow towards godliness. Exercise requires regular, intense, diligent work to be profitable. Godliness is profitable unto all things. Let us exercise unto it.