“This weapon is your life!”

“This weapon is your life!”

These significant words were spoken by Obi Wan Kenobi to a young Anakin Skywalker, who, in Obi Wan’s judgment, had just been careless with the most important thing in his life, his light saber. Indeed, from a Jedi’s perspective, it was as if he’d been careless with his very life.

For us as Christians, we need to be reminded that we have a “weapon” that is our very life: God’s Word. Eph. 6:17 calls us to take up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” This “sword” is powerful. We are told in Heb. 4:12 that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Indeed, this weapon is more powerful than any other weapon in this world, “for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). And what are these “strongholds” that we must (and can, by the weapons God has given us) destroy? “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). These “arguments” and “lofty opinions” are the weapons our enemy uses to distort or draw us away from “the knowledge of God.” In this context of 2 Corinthians, Paul is talking specifically about some foolish false teachers who are trying to draw the Corinthian believers away from their allegiance to Paul and Paul’s gospel. Nevertheless, Paul is confident in the “divine power” he has been given to overcome these enemies and their falsehood, and I think the primary weapon Paul has in mind is the truth of God’s word, particularly in the gospel.

In what way is “this weapon” our very life? Well, when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matt. 4; Lk. 4) to command stones to become bread to fill Jesus’ hunger, he responded by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus was here acknowledging that life is not sustained merely by eating food. But even more than that, Jesus was trusting that his Father was taking care of him and supplying all his needs according to his riches in glory (to borrow Paul’s language in Phil. 4:19). Notice something else significant about Satan’s temptation, particularly in the other temptations that were narrated for us in the text. Satan cleverly turns Jesus’ words on him. It’s like Satan was saying, “Alright, Jesus, you’re right that the Scriptures say that you must live by God’s word.” Then, Satan uses Jesus’ own weapon against him. Satan’s temptations, I think, are examples of arguments or lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God, twisting the Scriptures even, to try to draw Jesus away from what he knew to be true about his Father and about himself.

So, what do we learn? The sword of the Spirit is our great weapon, and it is our very life. For us to live the abundant life that Jesus provides, to experience genuine fruitfulness under God’s rule in this world as his people, we must hold and use our weapon responsibly. We must treasure God’s word in such a way that we recognize that our very life is dependent on it. We must actually live like the Bible is important to us. We must be diligent not to be found, like Anakin Skywalker, being careless with the great gift that God has given to us. Let us also not misuse the gift we’ve been given, and be (unwittingly) doing the work of Satan (think of Peter, rebuking Jesus when Jesus said he must go and die on the cross….Jesus quickly let Peter know whose thoughts he was thinking!).

At the end of Return of the Jedi, the evil emperor tempts Luke Skywalker to turn to the dark side of the Force. At one point, when he has sufficiently worked up Luke’s emotions, he says, “Take your Jedi weapon! Use it. Strike me down with all of your hate and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!” Thus, the emperor would tempt Luke to use his powerful weapon to serve his own hatred and evil desires. We, too, must be on guard against the evil one’s temptations to use the weapon that God has given us to use in legitimate ways to grow us and to stand firm in the truth of the gospel against all manner of deception in this world. One of the ways that Satan is, frankly, winning this battle is by tempting believers NOT to use their weapon at all, or to use it in such a careless way that it doesn’t actually impact our lives. Let us fight hard against this temptation. May the Scriptures super-saturate our lives, so that there is great excess overflowing all over the place! May we be so zealous to read God’s word and to understand what it is teaching about God and about us and about the world that we can never get enough. May our minds be so filled with God’s word that our conversation naturally uses the language of the Bible, naturally brings the gospel to bear on whatever we may talk about. And may each of us seek diligently to learn more and more about the Bible, the sword that we are supposed to be wielding in this spiritual war. Too many times have I heard from people, “I don’t like to read.” God has revealed himself…in a book!! God has providentially preserved his word through the ages and blessed people with the time, talent, and resources to translate that word into our own “heart language.” Many of these people literally gave their lives to see this come to pass. Let us not take for granted their sacrifice. Let us not take for granted the gift that God has given to us. We are in a war; blessed be the name of the Lord for providing us with the only weapon powerful to enable us to survive to the end of the war!

This weapon is your life! Don’t neglect it! Don’t be careless with it! Don’t expect that your faith will survive without it! Do everything that you possibly can to understand what it is, how it works! (It’s no good holding a sword if you don’t know which end is the “business end.” In The Mask of Zorro, when the old Zorro asked him about his sword, “Do you know how to use that thing?” Antonio Banderas’ character, Alejandro, said, as he was about to become the new Zorro, “The pointy end goes in the other man!” This is true…but, as Alejandro soon found out, this is insufficient!!) Each of us must pray that God would give us a love for the gift he has given us. Each of us must pray that God would cause us to love reading more than we do now, so that even reading the hard parts of Leviticus will be a joy and a delight! Knowing God IS eternal life, Jesus said in John 17:3. While this is very much a relational idea, it is not relational to the exclusion of “head knowledge,” as it is sometimes pejoratively called. How well can you really know a person if you don’t know stuff/facts/details about them?? So, let us go on to maturity, as Heb. 6:1 says, leaving behind the “elementary doctrine of Christ,” always being eager to learn, and by doing so grow into a deeper more intimate relationship with our Savior. Let us ask God repeatedly that he would give us a genuine hunger and thirst for greater knowledge of the Scriptures. And let us ask for wisdom and clarity to see how we may apply the gospel to every area of our lives, from the movies we watch to the way we raise our children, from the books that we read to the way we treat our spouses, from the places we eat to the way we converse with unbelievers. Oh, that we would be a “people of the Book” again!

Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Paul’s Teaching on Widows Marrying

Last night, a classmate astutely pointed out a couple of tough texts in Paul’s letters that seem to contradict one another. The texts are 1 Cor. 7:39, which says, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord,” and 1 Tim. 5:11-12, which says, “But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.” So, Paul, can widows marry, or do they “incur condemnation” if they marry? This, of course, is one of the reasons many scholars say that 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus must not be written by Paul. However, let’s look closely and see what each of these passages is trying to say.

1 Cor. 7:39 is fairly straightforward here, but I think it is important to take careful notice of the way Paul says what he says. Paul says that the widow “is free to be married.” She may choose whether or not to marry again; she has the right or the freedom to marry…with one important limitation: “only in the Lord,” which I understand to indicate that the man whom she would marry must be a believer. But, at any rate, the widow may marry if she so chooses.

1 Timothy 5 is a little more complex. The issue Paul wants Timothy to address is whether or not a widow should be enrolled on the church’s official list of widows who receive support from the church. The widows who are to be taken care of by the church are only widows who have no other family who can support them. Thus, these widows are completely alone now that their husband has died (1 Tim. 5:5). Therefore, Paul says that these widows put their hope on God and are devoted to constant prayer because they are in desperate need. So, the church, as the body of Christ, must supply their needs, as God answers their prayers through the church. Then, Paul adds some other qualifications that widows must meet in order to be enrolled and thus taken care of by the church. They must not be younger than about 60 years old (which was a rare age for people to live in his day anyway), and must have lived lives of godliness up to that day (1 Tim. 5:9-10). This is where verse 11 comes in. Paul commands Timothy not to enroll younger widows, which I suppose means widows younger than about 60 years old (but I suspect he has much, much younger women in mind). His reason for this refusal of younger widows is his observation that their sexual impulses run rampant now that they are left all alone, tempting them to abandon their faith in Christ. Since their sexual desires are unable to be abated, he says, they will then desire to be married again, to fulfill their sexual needs. And Paul seems to be saying that this desire to be married will lead them to incur condemnation, but the specific reason they receive condemnation is because they “have abandoned their former faith.” This is an odd phrase, indeed, but I think it refers to their profession of faith in Christ, since earlier he indicated that their sexual desires, as they get out of hand, would draw them away from Christ. So, how does their desire to be married fit into this scheme?

Well, I think the main issue that we need to hold onto is that Paul is concerned that younger widows will deny their faith and abandon Christ if they are put into this situation. We also need to keep in mind the purpose of the list on which these widows are being enrolled. Widows are enrolled because they have no one left in their families to care for them, and they are turning to God to provide for them through the church. So, I think the issue with the younger widows is that, once they have been placed on the list, and therefore are receiving care from the church, they are more prone (perhaps) than older widows to be drawn away from relying on God to meet their needs through the church, and have a tendency to desire for another husband to take care of their needs (including their sexual needs, which the church cannot provide). I think this is the case because Paul says that, instead of being enrolled on the official support list, younger widows should go get married, “and give the adversary no occasion for slander”! Thus, Paul is concerned to protect the faith of these young women. Their condemnation is due to their response to their widowhood, not specifically because they desire to marry again. He also predicts that such women will not only abandon their faith, but they will even become idlers, gossips, and busybodies, which Paul may mean to include their carrying of false teaching from house to house.

God is just to justify the ungodly as they trust Jesus.

One of the purposes of Paul’s letter to the Romans seems to be to “justify God.” One of the interesting difficulties of the English language when trying to translate from Greek (and other languages as well) is that we have two completely different sounding/looking words for what is one word in Greek. Specifically, I am referring to “righteousness and justice,” or “righteous and just,” or “justify and…” Well, here lies the biggest problem: we don’t have a corresponding English verb for the noun “righteousness.” So, when you read “justify” and “righteous/righteousness” in the New Testament, you have to try very hard to remember that, in Greek, the verb and the adjective/noun are very closely related, more closely than they appear in English.

So, one of the purposes of Paul’s letter to the Romans, as I understand it, is to “justify God” or to show that God is righteous. I see this specifically from a couple of texts. In Romans 3:4, Paul quotes Psalm 51:4, saying, “That you (God) may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” He quotes this verse in order to support or fill out his understanding that the faithlessness of some of the Jews does not nullify the faithfulness of God (3:3). I also see this theme in 3:26 when Paul says, “It was to show his (God’s) righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Now, the “it” at the front of this verse is a big “it.” I think “it” refers back to the fact that God “put forward” Jesus “as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (3:24-25). Now, the reason Paul thinks it is necessary for God (and Paul) to “show” God’s righteousness is “because in his (God’s) divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (3:25). I think that this is referring to the fact that God has not poured out the fullness of his wrath against the sins of all time (at least) prior to Jesus’ coming. The fact that he allows anyone to live another moment in rebellion against him is “divine forbearance” or his great mercy or patience toward people. This is a big problem for God’s justice or righteousness. How can God be truly righteous and not blast sinners into oblivion as soon as a sin is committed? (It’s interesting that the Bible rarely, if ever, addresses the question that we tend to ask: namely, how can a loving God destroy/punish eternally a person made in his image?) So, Paul wants to address this question by explaining what God has done to show that he is, in fact, righteous in passing over all those sins. Indeed, this issue appears in the “programmatic statement” or the “theme verse,” as many readers of the letter have identified it, in 1:16-17: Paul indicates that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes….For in it the righteousness of God is revealed….”

At this juncture, I need to address just what I think “the righteousness of God” means. Some scholars have wanted to define this phrase as, specifically, God’s faithfulness to his covenant and/or his “saving righteousness”/”power to save.” Certainly, I wouldn’t want to deny that God remains faithful to his covenant or that he is mighty to save. However, I question whether we can legitimately equate God’s righteousness with either of these concepts. Whereas these scholars want to say that God’s righteousness is his power for salvation, I think the text clearly says that the gospel is his power for salvation. Perhaps it is better, then, to understand the righteousness of God in broader times, simply as the fact that God does what is right/just with regard to the events of the gospel. Let’s see if I can unpack this by means of Romans 1:16-17.

Paul tells the reason why the gospel is the power of God for salvation: because the gospel reveals God’s righteousness. So, isn’t he saying that the gospel, which is the news/message/announcement of Jesus’ death for sins and victorious resurrection from the dead, shows God to be righteous/just in his dealing with sin and with Jesus? So, is he also saying then that the fact that God is indeed righteous/just in his actions with regard to the events of the gospel is that which undergirds or reinforces the gospel with the power for salvation? Thus, if God were to be shown unrighteous/unjust in the events of the gospel, would that have nullified the power of the gospel?

Perhaps I can say this more simply, with Paul’s help in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:24-25. All have sinned. God has not punished with appropriate punishment those who have sinned (which, due to the nature of the sin, amounts to no less than eternal punishment for everybody). God presented Jesus the Messiah as the ultimate Day of Atonement sacrifice, whose own blood was shed to pay for sins. God then raised him from the dead. The previous two sentences essentially summarize the gospel, the good news. It is good news for sinners that God has done this. This good news has genuine power to save/rescue anyone who has sinned (which is everybody) from God’s wrath, God’s appropriate punishment which he has held back up to this point (cf. 5:9). Those who have sinned may take advantage of what God has done by trusting Jesus, receiving the sacrifice God has provided. By their faith in what God has done in Jesus, those who have sinned are counted righteous/justified by God. Those who have been justified by God do not need to expect that God will ever punish them for their sins (cf. 8:1). Is God righteous/just in doing this? Yes. God has provided an acceptable sacrifice that any sinner may receive. Anyone who does not take advantage of this sacrifice that God has provided by trusting Jesus will receive the fullness of the appropriate punishment for all of his or her sins. Therefore, God is just/righteous in doing what he has done to provide an acceptable sacrifice that sinners may take hold of by faith and thus experience peace with God (cf. 5:1). If God were not just/righteous in presenting his own Son as the acceptable sacrifice, shedding his blood on the cross, and then raising him from the dead, then this gospel would have no real power to bring salvation. BUT, since God is, in fact, shown to be just/righteous by providing this sacrifice, condemning sin in the flesh of Jesus on the cross (cf. 8:3), the gospel DOES have genuine power to bring salvation to all believers.

I’m thankful for the gospel and its genuine power! I’m exceedingly grateful that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8).

Published in: on September 14, 2009 at 11:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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