Thursday, June 4, 2009

It's not what you say, it's how you say it?

I honestly believe miscommunication to be the cause of much discord among friends, family, co-workers, church members, etc. because we have become a careless people with our speech. We rarely clarify ourselves, we say much more than we need to, and we've become a people who praise the loudest tongue in the group for being "bold, assertive, and telling it just like it is." I wander at what point did being rude, obnoxious, and hurtful became a quality that we admire? Indeed there are times to be bold and assertive, and there are times "to tell it like it is." But, when we are damaging lives, alienating others, hurting the public testimony of the church, and representing our God and Savior in the most horrible of ways, we need to re-examine our speech.

I think most will be familiar with the multitude of Proverbs written in regard to the dangers of a loose tongue, gossip, slander, etc. Most can recite James' Epistle in which he likened the tongue unto a small flame that sets ablaze a large fire that destroys everything in it's path. Most will inform you that you should "speak the truth in love." I'm constantly hearing sermons on 1st Corinthians 13, and hearing about the need to love in word and deed. If we as Christians are so familiar with these texts, why are we saying the things we are saying that seem to exemplify the opposite of love?

Here is something I hear quite often, "Just read Matthew 23, and you'll see the example Jesus gave of how to witness when he nailed the Scribes and Pharisees to the wall! He sure wasn't all lovey dovey with them!" Then it's always followed with either "...and Peter flat called the Jews a bunch of murderers in Acts 2" or the old "Paul called false teachers like Hymenaeus and Philetus gangrene, just go read 2nd Timothy!" These scripture passages are often used as excuses to call people such vile things as morons, devils, idiots, and a few other things I wont repeat, all in the name of "not compromising Biblical truth."

Let me clarify there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a deep running passion for the truth of God's word. I would pray that all men everywhere would diligently search the scriptures, and be passionate in presenting it's salvation message to others. We should be ever ready to give an answer to the unbelieving world when we are put on trial for our faith, and should it happen we should earnestly contend for the faith! We should make known heresies as gangrene, and if needed to protect the flock of God we should name those who are teaching such damnable doctrines. HOWEVER, our passionate proclamation of truth must always be coupled together with meekness, love, compassion, and fear!

Meekness carries the idea of control. Nothing rages out of control any faster than our tongue. It is a slippery serpent which reveals our sinful heart at every given opportunity. Perhaps the admonition to speak less and listen more would save us all much heartache and woe. How often have we allowed a few moments of unbridled spewing by our "little member" ruin our entire day? How often has the poison of our tongue driven someone farther away from any interest in the things of God, rather than being used of God to proclaim Him? I dare to say we are all guilty of not controlling our tongue. Our very nature is revealed in our speech for from the abundance of our heart, the mouth speaks. Paul stated in Titus 2:8 that his speech should be of such soundness that he never be condemned because of it. He told Titus in the conclusion of that verse that sound Godly speech puts his opposition to shame in a manner that no one could speak evil of it. When we finish "contending for the faith" and even the unbelievers around us are condemning the way we speak, we've failed in this imperative.

Love must saturate all we do. Love for God, and love for others. All the law and prophets hang upon these two commands. Love does not compromise, is not coated in sentimental hypocrisy, and does not rejoice in evil. Love also does not belittle, aimlessly rant, and express itself in a vile and heartless manner. Love seeks to express the truth in such a manner that the wicked are warned, the righteous are encouraged, and the world is compelled and commanded to repent and believe, and it does so without wrath, vengeance, malice, and bitterness intervening.

Compassion for those in error, and compassion for the lost should not even be discussed. When we consider the mire from which we were raised from death to walk in newness of life, we should be overwhelmed with compassion for others. But for the grace of God, there goeth I.

Fear must govern our speech. Rather, let me interpret my use of the term fear to mean reverence. We should so revere the Holy Scripture that we treat it and express it in a most careful manner. As we speak God's truth we should be reminded of the Supreme Judge which shall hold each man accountable who speaks on His behalf. While Paul rightly asserted in Galatians 1 that his example was not that of preaching to please men, but rather he preached to pleaset God, and that he even withstood Peter over a dispute about Gentiles and Jews, Paul never stooped to screaming slurs toward Peter or anyone else. Paul understood the weight of bearing upon our shoulders the message of God. Therefore he governed his speech, and chose his words wisely.

We can and should proclaim what we believe, and we should be ready to earnestly contend for the faith. We should be passionate in doing so, and eager to do so in a manner that glorifies God, edifies the church, and proclaims the Gospel to the lost. Yet, as we do so I pray we keep the following statements in mind...

1Timothy 4:12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

Titus 2:7-8 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.

Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

1 Peter 3:8-11 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hermeneutics Part III

Finally, the opportunity to sit down and post a few thoughts on point 5 from the original post on hermeneutics!

5. Perspicuity of scripture, in that it can be understood (and should be read and studied) by the layman.

First it should be noted that the ten rules of Biblical interpretation that I set forth were given in simplicity, and hopefully in clarity to the reader. Yet, as rightly pointed out, this point should be clarified further for the advanced reader.

In the 1689 Confession in Chapter 1 Of the Holy Scriptures, we find the following statement in paragraph 7, "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.( 2 Peter 3:16; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130)" I believe this statement perfectly captures the thought I intended to relay. Scripture is knowable! What a marvelous truth this is indeed! The layman may delve into Holy Writ and see clearly those magnificent truths so beautifully articulated by the most learned theologian. Those great and marvelous truths pertaining to justification by faith alone, the security of salvation in Christ alone, the sufficiency of scripture alone, and so forth. Not only can these great truths be known, but they should be regularly read with a prayerful heart, and meditated upon as the Holy Spirit effectually applies these things to the readers heart so as to produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness.

The concern made known in an earlier comment was well noted. Perhaps we could marry that concern to the following statement, "Truth can be known to every believer, and indeed is. The Holy Spirit is the true Teacher of truth, and apart from Him truth can not be known. Therefore, I need no earthly institution such as the church, nor earthly teacher such as a Pastor, nor earthly witness such as a fellow Christian mentor." To much of this statement we can say "Amen!" Yet the statement carries with it certain untruths that hopefully we can address.

"Truth can be known to every believer, and indeed is." And all God's people said "Amen!" The Holy Spirit is the true teacher of Truth, and apart from Him truth can not be known. And all God's people said "Amen!" Therefore, I need no earthly institution, teacher, guide, helper, Pastor, etc. And all God's people said "Ummmm, wrong conclusion dear friend."

Note the following statements, prayerfully consider them, and then re-examine the above question...

In writing to Timothy to encourage and edify, Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:14-15 "I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth." Notice the church is the pillar and buttress of the truth. It is the church which God has chosen to be His earthly institution by which He preserves, proclaims, and professes His truths. We need the church of the Living God! Some of the greatest error found in our Culture could be corrected if the rebellious would abandon their private interpretation tainted by hedonism, and turn itself to the historic Christian faith still proclaimed by the Lord's faithful church.

The wisdom writer rightly asserts in Proverbs 11:14, "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety." Also we might note Proverbs 24:6, "for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory." Here is perhaps the most convincing statement speaking of the value of wise counsel found in Proverbs 8:33, "Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it." Even the novice understands the value placed upon truth and wisdom by the Author of the Proverbs. Statements such as these, statements exalting the benefits of listening to wise teachers, and growing wise yourself from their instruction are showered throughout the wisdom literature. Oh that we might heed Proverbs 13:14, "The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death."

The New Testament scriptures are no different. God has placed within His church Pastors/Teachers for the edification of the body of Christ. Our building up, our edification, is accomplished through the God chosen means of Pastoral care, and their feeding sound doctrine to the flock. We are warned not to make their labor difficult, lest they become of no benefit to you. The polar opposite is that of encouraging your Pastor that he might be of benefit to you! It's true, your Pastor is not there to be your personal lawn care provider, your plumber, electrician, mechanic, and psychologist. He is to be given to prayer and the scriptures that he might instruct you in sound Biblical doctrine. Paul reminds young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1-2, "You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." There were great and precious truths taught to young Timothy from Paul, and Paul expected young Timothy to then entrust those things unto others, and so forth. This was accomplished through the fellowship, and teaching ministry of the church local.

My prayer is two-fold. I pray that we all as God's children would hunger and thirst for a prayerful personal study of His great truths contained in Holy Writ. Yet, I also pray that we be given over in prayerful excitement for the ministry of the Word as it is taught by His servants whom He has chosen.

Too often we as Pastors are met with such bitter scrutiny that our every syllable is examined with such microscopic accuracy that the slightest miss pronunciation of "Jesuit" will lead to a theological lynching following the service. One such conversation followed a sermon I once preached on the subject of the Perseverance of the Saints. I was informed afterward by a visitor that such dribble is why they never attend churches. I was a mere follower of men, and God had told them through their study of scripture that if they didn't "live it" they would never "make it." They had no desire to be fed, no desire to hear instruction, no desire to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. They wanted someone who would agree with their private interpretation, or the rope would swing from the gallows. I asked him why he came at all if he needed no earthly teacher, and his response was that he, "thinks the Preacher is just there to confirm what God has already shown me, and not to teach some kind of new stuff I can't get on my own." Heart breaking. This man never understood the blessing of accountability. We need not only accountability as far as morality and church discipline is concerned, but we need accountability theologically.

A wise man rejoices in correction, and this I truly believe. I have personally rejoiced in times past as I have been corrected by scripture, as well as wise counsel. I have learned to enjoy, and appreciate the great teaching ministries of others. I've also come to understand that wise counselors and gifted teachers are a blessing from the Almighty. So may we each experience the joy which comes from helpful teaching ministry! God bless, and grace to you.