‘Fill Up What is Lacking in Christ’s Afflictions’ – What Did Paul Mean?

Someone recently asked me what Paul meant when he wrote to the Colossian believers, “I Paul am made a minister, who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind (lacking) of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s’ sake, which is the church.” (Col 1:23-24). What did Paul mean by “fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh?” A literal translation reads, “And in my flesh I complete (fill up) what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the church.” This is a much-disputed verse, but I believe the general sense of it can be made clear.

Let it be said, Paul was by no means inferring that Christ’s suffering and death was not sufficient payment for our sin and that he or any other saint must do something to “fill up” or bring to completion the atoning work of Christ. He is not saying there was anything deficient in the sufferings which Christ endured to atone for our sins. By no means does this verse teach Christ’s atonement is defective and that the sufferings of the saints in some way are necessary to supplement His work on our behalf. Nothing in Paul’s writings ever contradicted the Apostle’s belief that Christ’s death was absolutely totally sufficient and complete to atone for sin.

So what did Paul mean when he said that something in Christ’s afflictions was “still lacking?” The Greek word translated “fill up” or “complete” in Colossians 1:24 occurs only here in the NT. It is the word antanaplēróō which is made of two words that mean “corresponding to” or “in place of” and “fulfill” or “complete;” meaning to “fill up or complete what is wanting or lacking.” Paul, and the early Christians, recognized that suffering or persecution for the cause of Christ was an accepted reality. For Paul, union with Christ involved union with Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10),  and he was willing to suffer for the sake of the Body of Christ, the Church. There is nothing “behind or lacking” as to the atoning efficacy of the sufferings of Christ, but there is much yet to be endured by His followers for the further spread of the Gospel and the building-up of His Body, the Church. Paul’s sufferings were for the Church’s sake and the furtherance of the Gospel. Paul in enduring persecution for the Gospel’s sake, which corresponded to sufferings as Christ endured from persecutors during HIs earthly ministry , was for the purpose of advancing the message of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. The enemies of Christ when persecuting Paul were in reality persecuting Christ. Whatever the church suffers can be considered additional sufferings by Christ Himself. Because Christ’s enemies had not filled up all their hatred on Him, they turned their hatred on those who, like Paul, preached the gospel. Paul in prison as he penned Colossians, writes that the church was benefiting from the fact that he has suffered and continued to suffer for the cause of Christ; as his sufferings furthered the spread of the Gospel. Such suffering brought him joy because the sufferings Christians endure are a continuation of what Christ endured on earth and in that sense the Christian is identified with His afflictions.

The “afflictions of Christ” are the afflictions “which Christ endured.” T.K. Abbott comments, “Paul’s description of his troubles as the afflictions of Christ in his flesh [means] that ‘Christ’s afflictions are regarded as the type of all those that are endured by His followers on behalf of the Church”[1] J.B. Lightfoot has written, “It is a simple matter of fact, that the afflictions of every saint and martyr do ‘fill up’ the afflictions of Christ. The Church is built up by repeated acts of self-denial in successive individuals and successive generations.”[2] As Christ suffered persecution, there is plenty of suffering left for Paul and for each Christian to endure.

So in summary, when Paul writes about identifying with or filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, there is at the heart of his thinking a commitment to suffer to the extent that Christ suffered, without, of course, any idea of atoning value, for the purpose of the spread of the Gospel. He is saying that the sufferings he and other saints endure in the spreading of the Gospel are in the interest of the Body of Christ and knowing that one can rejoice. Until we join Christ in glory, Christians will experience some of the same suffering and persecution that Jesus Christ experienced. Paul’s motivation for enduring and rejoicing in the midst of persecution was that it benefited and built up the Body of Christ.

The French philosopher and theologian Blaise Pascal once remarked that “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world.” [3] Pascal reminds us that as we follow Jesus the enemies of the Savior, when they persecute Christ’s followers, they are persecuting Him. As previously stated, whatever the Church suffers can be considered additional sufferings by Christ Himself. The Church is the Body of Christ and when His Body is suffering, the Savior is in agony, as well. Yet the afflictions Christians endure for the cause of Christ, in the end is a demonstration of the triumph of divine love for those whose salvation Jesus purchased with His precious blood.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

Footnotes

[1] T.K. Abbott, The Epistles of Paul to the Ephesians and to the Colossians (Edinburgh: T & T Clark), 232.

[2] J.B. Lightfoot, Colossians (London, 1879), 166.

[3] Blaise Pascal, The Provincial Letters (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1866), 48.

WAS JESUS GOD IN THE FLESH?

I recently was contacted by someone who became engaged in a discussion with a person who said the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus was God nor did Jesus ever make such a confession. One who makes such a statement reveals their lack of understanding what the Bible teaches  about who Jesus was. There are many places in the Four Gospels where Jesus affirms He and the Father are One (John 10:30) and there are numerous NT passages which confirm Jesus was God in the flesh (I Tim 3:16). But there is arguably no passage in the NT which affirms the deity of Jesus and that He and the Father are One more than is found in John 1:1-3, 14. These profound verses read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” And John 1:14 reads, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Wow!! What verses. Let’s examine them closely.

John says of Jesus that He was/is the “Word” ( λόγος logos) (1:1; 14). One of the distinctive terms he uses is the Greek word logos. Matter of fact, logos is a keynote theme in the Fourth Gospel. Logos is translated “Word” throughout John. While John uses logos to denote sometimes the message of Jesus or the sum total of Jesus’ teaching, it was applied to Christ Himself, which is the distinctive feature of John in the use of the term. Logos  means “a word, being the expression of thought, putting  words together and so to speak; an utterance.” Logos is derived from the verb lego, meaning “to say, to speak, and to tell.” When speaking, logos is the expression of one’s thoughts. Logos signified the outward expression of  inward thought; words expressing what is in the mind. John is saying that Jesus is God expressed. Christ is the expression of our Creator; He is the Creator being expressed in human form. In Christ, God is revealed, expressed and explained. Jesus as the Word is the divine “Communicator par excellence.“[1]

What prompted John to use the term logos? What is the background of the term “Word” John used to describe who Jesus was/is? An understanding of the background of the word logos will shed light in answering the question, “Was Jesus God in the flesh?”

Logos in Greek Sources
The use of logos in a philosophical sense had a long history before its use in John. The earliest Greek writer to give expression to a logos principle was Heraclitus (500 B.C.)[2] He believed that logos was that one abiding principle in the universe that was not subject to change. Logos was the unifying principle, the Law or Reason which accounted for the stable pattern in the ever-changing world. He believed the logos principle pervaded everything.

Plato (400 B.C.) tied the logos principle to his theory of ideas. Behind all things there must be thought, the logos being the giving of expression or verbalization to ideas in the mind.[3] Ideas are abstract, but the self-expression or verbalization of one’s thoughts and ideas was the logos. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) applied the word logos to refer to a reasoned discourse or an argument. Christ is the reasoned discourse and argument of God!

The Stoics (third-century B.C.) believed the logos was the source of all things. The logos was creative and pervaded all things. While pantheistic, the logos created and held all things together.

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (second-century B.C.), the term logos is used for the Word of God; it is His creative power from heaven and that which exists by His sustaining power (Psalm 33:6).[4] In Alexandria there was a Jew name Philo (ca. 20 B.C.-50 A.D.), who was steeped in Hellenistic or Greek thought and philosophy, whose teachings and system of thought were developed around the logos.[5] He sought to combine the two, Greek and Jewish thought. He used the term some thirteen hundred times in his writings. He lived during the time of Jesus. He was influenced by both his Hebrew and Greek background. For him the logos was God’s instrument for fashioning the world; the logos was the rudder that guided all things in their course, impersonal Reason which created and preserved the universe. Philo wrote that “the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated.”[6] Philo taught the logos was eternal, the power in creation and revelation.

Having looked briefly at the background of how Logos was used in the Greek world, seeking an understanding of how logos was used in Jewish sources will prove profitable.

Logos in Jewish Sources
First, in the OT the logos, or the Word of God, has extensive meaning. The logos is God’s creative power (Genesis 1, Ps. 33:6, 9), His sustaining power (Ps. 147:15-18), His judgment (Hosea 6:5), His will accomplishing its purpose (Is. 55:11), His means of revelation (Jer. 20:9, Ez. 33:7), the whole message of God to man (Ps. 1199, 105), His Wisdom (Prov. 8), and the logos is pre-existent (Prov. 8:27).

Second, in the Apocryphal writings the idea of logos is found. In the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon, the logos leapt down from heaven as a warrior. “Your all-powerful Word (logos) leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command, and stood and filled all things with death…” (Wisdom 18:15-16). In other texts the logos is said to penetrate all things because it is the breath of the power of God. Logos is pictured as eternal light. The logos is also found as coming forth from the mouth of the Most High God.

Third, is the rabbinic idea regarding the Torah (first five books of OT). The rabbis taught the Torah, as the logos or the Word, was pre-existent and created before the foundation of the world.[ 7] The Torah was regarded as being in the bosom of the Father and was an intermediary between God and the world. They believed the words contained in the Torah, penned by Moses, are life for the world. That gives sense to why John said Jesus Christ, as the logos, was superior to Moses the law-giver (John 1:17). Whereas the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth came though Jesus Christ. Being in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), Jesus fulfilled the function of the pre-existent Torah and is able to give life to the world.

Jesus as the Logos
When you consider the Greek and Jewish background for the word logos we can understand better why John declared Jesus the Logos.

Greek readers would read John’s Prologue and understand him to say the one rational principle of the universe became flesh; the Reason and Wisdom by which all things were created and exist became flesh; the one abiding principle in the universe, in a world of change, became flesh and dwelt among us. The divine Reason, the creative power that pervades all things and holds all things together became flesh and dwelt among us. Reason and Wisdom, the universal Infinite Personality, came to dwell with us as a man and walk on earth amongst us.

Jewish readers would read John’s Prologue and understand the Evangelist to say God’s creative power, His sustaining power, His judgment, His message, His wisdom, His power, His revelation, His will accomplishing purpose, His eternal written Word (Torah) became flesh and dwelt among us.

John’s message is clear to both Jew and Greek, Jesus Christ is the incarnate Logos; the One he is writing about is God who took upon Himself the form of a servant and came in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7).

John makes five affirmations about the Logos, about Christ.

First, Jesus is eternal. “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). He always was. Was means “expressing continuous timeless existence.” [8] There never was a time when the Word was not. Rather than being a created being, Christ always was before creation. He existed not merely as a principle or an idea; He was a Person.

Second, Christ is equal to God. “The Word was with God” (John 1:1). In the Greek “was with (Gk. pros) God” means the Logos, Jesus, in timeless past was face to face with God. This speaks of equality and intimacy, “the Word having the same nature as God.” [9] In ancient times if one entertained two guests of equal rank they would be seated on an equal basis. So, Christ was not a lesser created being of God. He was equal with God.

Third, Christ was God. “The Word was God” (John 1:1). Christ is not one of many created beings coming out of God. Christ is eternally God, is equal with God and is God Himself. John 1:16 tells us in Christ is the fullness of God (Colossians 2:9), the state of being God; God in all His divine essence and fullness. That is who Jesus is; in Him is found God in His fullness. Frank Stagg writes in New Testament Theology, “As the Logos, Jesus Christ is God in self-revelation (Light) and redemption (Life). He is God to the extent that he can be present to man and knowable to man. The Logos is God.” [10]

Fourth, Christ is the Creator. “All things were made by Him” (John 1:3). He created into being the universe. The Logos (Jesus) is the One found in Genesis 1 and 2.

Fifth, Christ who is God in all His fullness, became flesh (John 1:14), dwelt among us and “declared God” (John 1:18) in our midst and exegeted Him. The Greek word translated “declared” in John 1:18 was used to speak of giving an interpretation of a text, to reveal what the text says, and also was “often used for publishing or explaining of divine secrets.” [11] Jesus is the Exegesis and Explainer of God; He interprets and reveals Him. And of His fullness have we received, grace for grace. The Creator became the Redeemer, and Jesus makes that clear when He told Philip, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Conclusion
It is clear just from John’s Prologue that the Beloved Apostle is affirming that Jesus was more than a mere man, but that He was the God-Man, He was God become flesh who dwelt among us. To come to any other conclusion than that Jesus was/is God is to close one’s eyes and mind to John’s wonderous  declaration that Jesus, the Word (Logos), “was God” (John 1:1-3). And our God who became a man (Jh 1:14), Paul declares why He clothed Himself in flesh and dwelt among us, “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing [counting] their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19).

Yes, our God became a Man….and Jesus, the eternal Word  (Logos), not only offered the Sacrifice for our sins, He was the Sacrifice! O, what a Savior!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

Footnotes

[1] Cleon L. Rogers, Jr, and Cleon L Rogers, III, Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Michigan: Zondervan, 1998), 175.

[ 2] For a thorough examination and an excellent treatment of the word “Logos,” see Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981), 321-330.

[3] See C.K. Barrett, “The Philosophers and Poets,” Chapter 4 and “Philo” Chapter 10, The New Testament Background (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1995).

[4] Dale Moody, The Word of Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1981), 132-140.

[5] See Barrett, “Philo,” Chapter 10, The New Testament Background (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1995).

[6] Philo, De Somm. II. 45.

[7] See W.H. Howard’s summary, Christianity According to St. John (London: Duckworth, 1943), 48-52.

[8] Rogers and Rogers, Linguistic, 175.

[9] Ibid, 175.

[ 10] Frank Stagg, New Testament Theology (Baptist Sunday School Board, 1962), 138.

[11] Rogers and Rogers,  Linguistic, 178.

THE POWER OF A TOUCH

The pandemic has brought much change throughout society and in our personal lives. We could all list ways our lives have been affected and what we miss most about the personal sacrifices we have been asked to make. One common practice that I have missed in all the “social distancing” is the simple touch experienced between fellow sojourners…. the shaking of someone’s hand, the warm touch of an affirming hand placed on the shoulder by friends, a mutual hug by two individuals who express their caring for one another. “Social distancing” has reinforced the truth that touch is an essential human need. The exchange of a touch is fundamental to the human experience. The magic involved in a touch often transfers messages that the verbalization of ten thousand words cannot communicate. When we greet one another with a friendly and firm handshake, place a supportive hand on another’s shoulder, or embrace another with an encouraging hug, our bodies release neurological chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin that make us feel good, while at the same time inhibiting chemicals that cause stress.

Jesus knew the power of a touch. We see him extending His divine hand of mercy on numerous occasions, often to those who had been ignored by society: lepers, blind, beggars, outcasts. The hand of the Master transferred to them hope, encouragement, assurance, forgiveness and healing. His touch always changed the life of the one who felt His divine hand on their flesh.  The Greek word translated “touch” in the NT is “haptomia” which means “to attach oneself to, to touch, to cling to, to fasten to, to lay hold of.” It is found 36 times in the NT. Interestingly, “haptomia” comes from “haptó” which is used five times in the NT and is used to refer to “fastening fire to a thing, to kindle, set on fire” (Luke 8:16, 11:8, 15:18, 22:55; Acts 28:2). When we receive a touch from another person, especially the Savior, there is kindled a spark, a fire in our soul and spirit which can not come from just mere words spoken to us.

Oh, how I miss the touch of fellow believers whose affirming touch always kindles within my soul those sparks that burn inwardly, helping me to experience the warmth of love, kindness, assurance, caring, encouragement, and leaves me greater enriched than before their gentle touch. Touch is a powerful means of communication. Touch is how we first learned to communicated as infants before a word was ever verbalized.

We must never underestimate the power of a touch. Studies have shown that athletic teams that touch one another through high-fives, chest bumps, hugs, fist bumps, and pats on the back, perform much better than teams that don’t.[1] Those non-verbal gestures speak of confidence, cooperation, a close-knitness between teammates and fosters a sense of connectivity. As well, research has shown that physical aggression and violence is not as prevalent in adults where there was consistent physical affection during the childhood years. Homes where children have been deprived of physical affection are left with a hole in their emotional soul.

We all know from experience, physical affection and the touch of a caring friend or a loved one soothes our psyche, reduces our stress, can lower our blood pressure, and actually change our outlook on a bad situation. No words are spoken…only a touch. But it is a touch of caring, encouragement, compassion, empathy….it is touch of love. A touch is an expression of love that doesn’t have to be spoken but is joyfully conveyed to the emotions.

The magic of a touch instills security and assurance in the midst of uncertainty and upheaval. Just think how a mother’s touch enhances attachment and signifies security between mother and child. When our knees seem to buckle and legs are shaky, a touch on the back or an arm around the shoulder by a friend or loved one can work wonders. A gentle, caring touch can whisper, “I believe in you. I am praying for you. You are going to make it through this difficult time.” When a weary traveler experiences the touch of a caring friend, such a touch speaks words of encouragement to one who is about to throw in the towel.

A touch can convey positive reinforcement to another who needs such bolstering. As one who has been involved with coaching high school runners for some forty-five years, when an athlete receives positive reinforcement by an arm around the shoulder, a hug after a stellar performance, a high-five after a great workout, that athlete will give you 100% when race day comes because the gestures of touching tells them you genuinely care about them. I remember one young man who came from a home where there was no father and the mother worked two jobs to put food on the table. Every day that young man would come up to me and like a shadow stay on my shoulder, and he would stay there until I put my arm around his shoulder and tell him I was proud of him. He would grin and off he would go to do his workout. He always gave me 100%. What he needed was positive reinforcement which came through a caring touch. We never outgrow the need for such touches!

While we have been told “social distancing” has been necessary to flatten the curve of this pandemic, I sure do miss the power involved in a touch. We were created to be community beings. Oh, let us pray for that day when we can get back to “touching” one another again. We don’t realize how important an action is until we are  not allowed to engage in  it any longer. So, when it is announced “social distancing” is no longer necessary, don’t be surprised if in those first few days when I shake your hand, I might hold my grip a little tighter and  longer than I used, too.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

Footnote

[1] Kraus, MW, Huang, C & Keltner, D., “Tactile Communication, Cooperation, and Performance: An Ethological Study of the NBA,” Emotion, October 2010, Vol. 10, No. 5, 745-749.

A LEAP INTO THE LIGHT

in the midst of the confusion of the hour, people are searching for truth. In the midst of darkness, there is a longing for light.  In the midst of all which used to be considered certain has become uncertain, there has been a resurgence of  faith in hopes of finding some stability of truth amidst the chaos.  However, the atheistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) once stated, “Faith is not wanting to know what truth is.” He believed that one who embraced faith would never discover truth. Sadly, he spent his whole life searching for truth and fighting against the very source of truth — Jesus Christ. He dismissed faith as irrational and angrily concluded that God was dead. He spent his final days in a state of insanity. His dismissal of faith in Christ as the road to discovering truth took him down a road that led him into madness.

Unfortunately, there are those who see faith as irrational. If they can’t see, touch, taste or reason it, then it must be dismissed. However, faith is not some nebulous attitude or wishful outlook on life that is built upon shifting sands. Faith is not, as the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) said, a leap in the dark. The Christian faith is not a leap into  uncertain darkness, but it is a leap into the arms of Him who said, “I am the Light of world” (John 8:12). In the midst of the irrational, one who embraces faith in the Christ of the cross finds in His presence the illumination  of truth. The light of truth shines brightest in the hour of darkness.

P.T. Forsyth stated of his Christian conversion, “Through the Cross into the Light.” Faith is not, as Nietzsche said, not wanting to know what truth is, but it is just the opposite; faith is the road to discovering what truth IS. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Not waiting for an answer, he turned and walked way. He didn’t have eyes to see that he was standing in the presence of Him who declared that He was “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Faith is not an irrational violation of one’s will, but is willingly knelling before the outstretched arms of the Christ of the cross.

The Christian faith is built upon the bedrock of the Christ of the cross. It was there at the cross He dealt with the sin debt which humanity owes to a holy God, which debt we could never pay. Faith is the deep-seated conviction that at the cross Christ, as our Substitute, did for us what we could never do for ourselves. When Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), the transaction between God and Christ was completed that resulted in our sin debt being marked – PAID IN FULL! We find provided in the Christ of the cross that quality of rightness (righteousness) that allows us to find right standing before the Holy Father. For in Jesus Christ is found the fulfillment of what the perfect Law of God demanded and what the prophets promised.

The Christian faith is not creative in regard to what is truth, it discovers and embraces He who IS truth and what He has already accomplished for us on the cross. The Christian faith is not in an idea or merely a creed, but in the person of Jesus Christ who is our Savior, our Mediator, our Advocate, our Rock and our perfect Righteousness. Faith is not a leap in the dark, but is built on that which was done in the light – the perfect life of Christ, His Substitutionary payment on the cross for the sins of humanity, and His resurrection from the grave. Faith is anchored in the knowledge of the historic revelation of God in Christ Jesus.

Oswald Chambers defined faith as “implicit confidence in Jesus. Faith is committal to One whose character we do know because it has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ.” Faith is not closing one’s mind to reason and truth, but realizes implicit faith in the Christ of the cross is most reasonable and the road to truth. Faith is the highest kind of reason, built on the knowledge of who Christ was and is. Faith in Christ is an action that enables us to apprehend, grasp and sense what is beyond us and otherwise unattainable. Faith in the Christ of the cross gives an understanding to the riddle of life and the problem of humanity. Faith in Christ enables us to soar like an eagle into the very presence of God, which would otherwise be inaccessible.

There is much more to living life than just by our sensory-perceptions and only believing what can be proven in a laboratory test tube. When one’s life is built on the historic and solid foundation of the Christ of the cross, one will discover He will prove Himself in the test tube of our lives that He truly is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Christian faith rests in and on the Christ of the Cross in whom we can trust with certainty, confidence and assurance.

And may our faith be found fleshing out Truth in a world that so desperately needs HIM.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

THERE ARE NO ROCKS IN JESUS’ HANDS

One of the most interesting stories in the Bible is found in John 7:53-8:11, “The Woman Caught in the Act of Adultery.” [1] The story is filled with simplicity, yet profoundness and mystery. It is a story that is a contrast between the harshness of hypocrisy of the enemies of Christ and the overflowing grace of our Lord. The story vividly pictures for us the heart of Jesus, and reveals to us the marvelous truth that there are no rocks in the Jesus’ hands. That is Good News to all who recognize their sin and seek forgiveness.

As the story dramatically unfolds, one day Jesus was teaching when the Pharisees suddenly interrupted Him and brought before Him a woman they had caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:3-4). The hypocritical Pharisees were not interested in the woman, but their intent was to trap Jesus. They demanded, “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned, but what sayest thou?” (John 8:5). It appeared that Jesus was trapped by His enemies. If Jesus said, “Stone her,” He would be going against His own teaching of mercy, grace and love and helping those broken by sin. As well, if Jesus sought to carry out the sentence of stoning, He would be usurping the Roman’s authority which alone had the right to carry out capital punishment. If Jesus said, “I extend grace and mercy to her,” He would be going against the law of Moses which prescribed stoning for such an offense. It seemed how ever Jesus answered, it was going to be the wrong answer. What will the Master Teacher do?

Before Jesus spoke, He “stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground as though he heard them not” (John 8:6). This the eternal Word did twice. What did Jesus write? There has been no shortage of suggestions as to what He wrote; however, there is one this writer believes is  the most plausible explanation. The Pharisees came to Jesus to act as a judge and pronounce what was to be done with such a sinful woman. What Jesus possibly wrote can be explained by the practice in Roman criminal law. [2] The presiding judge would first write down the sentence, read it aloud, and then publish it for all to see. Following this explanation, Jesus, as the presiding judge and following Roman law, wrote down for all to see the prescribed punishment for adultery under the Mosaic Law, but upon “lifting up Himself, said unto them, “He that is without sin among you. Let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). As the punishment was written down, on the ground in this case, for all to read, as Roman law prescribed, Jesus as Judge said, “The one who is without sin can cast the first stone and carry out the punishment.” The response of Jesus to the accusers was one of divine genius, for the Savior upheld the Mosaic Law in regard to punishment for the adulteress, but at the same time His answer to the accusers rendered impossible carrying out of the sentence.

The actions and words of Jesus penetrated the hearts of the Pharisees, and recognizing their own sin, John writes, “And being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last” (John 8:9). There could be heard…thud…thud…thud as one after another dropped their rock, and with heads held down, walked away. As the crowd dispersed, Jesus was left alone with her (John 8:9). Interestingly, the only One who was qualified to hold a rock in His hand, had none. Instead, found in His hands was grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy.

The woman, no doubt filled with shame and trembling in fear at what had transpired, was left in the presence of holy-love. Left in the presence of the One who was without sin and could carry out the sentence, He forgave her and extended to her grace in exchange for her sin. Asking the woman where her accusers were and who it was that now condemned her, “She said, No man, Lord” (John 8:11). Jesus sent her away forgiven and with a promise and a command, “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

Many truths flow from this dramatic story, but two stand out: (1) There are no Rocks in Jesus’ Hands and (2) There is Redemption in Jesus’ Words.

First, there are no rocks in Jesus’ hands. Jesus was without sin. He was the only one entitled to have a rock in His hand and cast it, but instead found in Hands was grace, mercy and forgiveness. We all deserve rocks of judgment hurled at us for our sin, but Jesus took those “rocks” for us. Found in those holy hands are nail prints, which should have been ours. The judgment we deserve, He on the cross took our judgment that we might  know His amazing forgiveness and grace. Let us be thankful there are no rocks in Jesus’ hands, but only grace.

Second, there is redemption in Jesus’ words. In verses ten and eleven Jesus says, “Woman, where are those thine accusers?… Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.” Jesus didn’t just not stone her, He redeemed and restored her. Jesus addressed this fallen and broken creature as, “Woman” (v. 10). The Greek word translated “woman” (gune) was used in classical Greek literature to address queens and women of distinction. Queen Cleopatra was so addressed by Caesar Augustus. Think of it, Jesus was addressing this fallen woman as Caesar Augustus addressed Queen Cleopatra!! Wow! Jesus saw this woman not for what she was but for what she could be. You see, when Jesus extends grace to us, He redeems us, He restores us and sends us forth changed individuals. He says, “I don’t condemn thee, go and sin no more. You are no longer what you used to be, but you are a new creation in Christ.” What liberating words!!

Encountering One who extends such love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, who looks beyond our faults and sees our need, who sees us not for what we are, but for what we can be…. how can one not but serve such an amazing Savior!!! If you know not Christ, bring your sin unto to Him today. You will find there are no rocks in Jesus’ hands, but words of redemption and restoration.

O, what a Savior!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

Footnotes

[1] There are some scholars who contend that John 7:53-8:11 (called the Pericope de Adultera), while an authentic incident in the life of Christ, was not originally part of John’s Gospel, but was a later scribal insertion. It is not this writer’s intention to address the issue here, but will simply remark that after over forty years of studying reasons given for the exclusion of this passage from John, contend that the story is not only a genuine story out of the life of Jesus but belongs in John’s Gospel right where it is. This writer arrived at this position as result of examining: (1) Early Church Fathers,(2) Early Manuscripts, (3) Early Versions, (4) Early Church Councils, (5) Style and Theology, (6) Test of Canonicity, (7) Intrinsic Power, and (8) Providential Preservation.

[2] Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1963), 228.

THE OPTIMISM OF CHRISTIANITY

Through the years I have read and heard unbelievers charge Christianity with being a negative and pessimistic religion, that it doesn’t contain an optimistic message. Such an accusation  is baseless and unwarranted. While Christianity places no confidence in the fragile house of cards built by fallen humanity on foundations of godless secularism, the Christian faith is filled with optimism and hope which is contained within its very message.  Let’s examine three areas where the sunshine of the Christian faith chases away the darkness of pessimism.

First, Christianity is charged as viewing man negatively, by labeling him a sinner. That is not negativism that is realism. There is one scriptural doctrine that is self-evident, and that is man is a sinner who has come short of what he was created to be by His Creator. Being a sinner doesn’t mean that all men sin as much as they can or that we all sin alike, but we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Man’s sinfulness is manifested in his failure to give God rightful place in his life, his selfish motives and attitudes, and his malicious acts against his fellow man. Man was created in the Image of God, but his deliberate rebellion against the One who created him has marred that image and brought separation between God and man.

But the message of Christianity is a positive one. Yes, there is separation that exists between a holy God and sinful man, but the Good News is that God in Jesus Christ took the initiative to bring about reconciliation. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 cor. 5:19). Religion is man’s futile attempt by his own efforts to become reconciled and have a restored relationship with his Creator. Christianity says God in Christ took the initiative and reconciliation has already been provided. In the face of pessimism of man’s sinful condition, there is the optimistic message that in Christ reconciliation is found.

Second, Christianity is charged as viewing man’s eternal fate negatively, regarding he is deserving of hell’s judgment. “After all,” the argumentative question goes, “if God was loving why would He allow anyone to go hell?” This is where our sinful nature fails to grasp the holiness of God. God’s holiness, His pure nature which is above sin, which abhors and opposes sin and that which is unrighteous, can only allow in His presence that which perfectly complies with His holiness. Judgment is holiness’ righteous reaction against sin. If God ceased to be holy, if His holy nature ceased to judge sin, He would cease to be God. And that which cannot comply with His holiness, that which cannot return unto Him like holiness, is excluded from His presence. Since man is a sinner by nature and choice, He is unable to comply with God’s demand to return unto Him like holiness; therefore, even though God is love, His holy-love will not “overlook” His demand for holiness in His creatures. What is man to do?

The Good News is, God’s holy-love doesn’t dismiss our sin, but judges sin in Jesus Christ. The same holy-love which judges sin, provides in Christ salvation and forgiveness for our sin. Herein is true love, God’s holy-love provided in Christ, our Substitute, the holiness we need to be able to have a relationship with the holy Father and to someday dwell with Him in heaven. The Good News is that in Christ God did for us what we could never do for ourselves. Christ complied with the holy demands of God on behalf of humanity and then took the judgment you and I deserve for not being able to comply. Now that is not a negative message, but a message filled with optimistic hope which makes the heart rejoice and burst forth with praise.

Third, Christianity is accused  of  having a negative view of history. Unbelievers accuse Christianity of being negative in regard to man’s ability in his own autonomy to bring about the utopia man has always sought to establish. Civilization after civilization has proved man in his own wisdom and self-sufficiency is incapable of establishing that sought after utopia. When man was created, he was placed in a Paradise, but because of sin Paradise was lost. Ever since, man has sought to experience that which John Milton wrote about in his epic poem, “Paradise Regained.” But is not the Christian view of history which is negative and pessimistic, it is the non-Christian; they having a cyclical view of history, which sees the universe as having no beginning and history continually repeating itself. Atheistic philosophy calls the cyclical view of history as “eternal recurrence,” seeing history as having no goal, but only repeating itself.

The Bible, however, informs us the world did have a beginning and that the flow of history, guided by divine Providence, is headed for the day when Paradise will be restored and regained. Christians view history through the concepts of creation, fall, and redemption; a progression of events beginning with God’s good creation, humanity’s rebellion against God, and God’s ultimate plan for divine intervention, redemption, and restoration. In face of the darkest hour the Christian has the optimistic hope of that day when there will a New Heaven and New Earth. Christian’s are given the hope that after man has done his worst, there is coming that day when our Lord Jesus Christ will return and will rule and reign. The Christian should not be pessimistic about the future, but optimistic… for each day that passes is one day closer to the return of the King of kings and Lord of lords, who shall reign forever and forever. This belief in a climactic conclusion causes Christians to adopt an optimistic view of history that reflects the vast meaning with which God has destined  history.

Is man a sinner, yes; is there a hell where sin is judged, yes; is history a testimony to man’s inability to establish utopia, yes….but the optimistic message of Christianity is that in Christ God has provide the sinner with a Savior, a way of escape from our deserved judgment of hell, and a promise that there is coming a New Heaven and New Earth where Paradise will be restored, Christ will reign, and believers will reside.

While the Christian is a pessimist when it comes to putting confidence and hope in the sand castles of fallen man, A.W. Tozer has written, “The cross-carrying Christian…[should] be an optimist the like of which is to be found nowhere else on earth.” O, wise is the person who seeks Christ, for He is the true source of optimism in history and in life.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

SHINING THE LIGHT OF THE WORD INTO THE STRONGHOLDS

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians, he was writing to a group of believers who found themselves living in the midst of a culture that was immersed in pagan worship and immorality. The basest behavior was taking place all around them, and unfortunately some of the immoral attitudes and behavior found in society had seeped into the church. Paul had to remind the Corinthian believers they were in a war and gave them instructions how as soldiers of Christ they were to successfully wage the war. He wrote, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

There are several key words found in our text that beg our attention: walk, war and weapons.

First, Paul uses the word walk (V. 3). Paul lets the Corinthians know that when they were saved, the Lord didn’t take them immediately to heaven, but left them on earth to walk in this world as a witness for Him, to shine His Light of revelation of the truth. Though now saved with a new spiritual nature, Christians are still clothed in the weakness of the flesh as we walk here below. The question is, how are we to live a victorious life as a spiritual person who is still clothed in a robe of flesh and still living in a culture that is under the grip of sin? How can the Christian reflect Christ in their walk and not succumb to the weakness of the flesh and the influence of a sinful society?

Second, Paul uses the word war. Paul reminds the Corinthians, and us, the Christian is in a war. We are in a constant battle against evil. The word translated “war” (v. 3) and “warfare” (v. 4) come from the Greek word “stratos,” referring to a full-fledged campaign taking place, a strategic plan of action. The word “stratos” is from where we get our word “strategy.” The imagery is that of a bitter and relentless strategic warfare. For the Christian who fails to realize they are in war, in a war that is strategically planned by the enemy, is doomed to failure. Two things the Christian must always  remember: (1) The battle we are in can’t be fought in the flesh; and (2) we must understand the strategy of the enemy. A football coach once remarked, “I could win every game if I knew beforehand every play the opposing team was going to run!” Well, Paul tells us the strategy of the enemy.

Third, Paul uses the word weapon. We find in these verses a contrast in weapons:       (1) Satan’s Weapons and (2) Saint’s Weapons

(1)  Satan’s Weapons. Satan’s strategy or weapon is found in four words Paul uses, all four being intertwined: “strongholds, imaginations, high things, and thoughts” (v. 4-5). An examination of each of these words give us an understanding to Satan’s strategy against Christians and Christianity.

(a) “Strongholds” (v. 4) is a translation of the Greek word “ochuroma” that means fortresses or fortified places, like a castle. It referred to military positions with massive walls that appeared inaccessible. The word was used figuratively of the arguments and reasonings by which a disputant endeavors to fortify his opinion and defend it against his opponent. A fortress, of course, is a strong defense built to keep something out. The question is, what are these fortresses or strongholds trying to keep out?

(b) “Imaginations” (v. 5 )is a translation of the Greek word “logismos” which means logic, an argument, or reasonings. A good rendering of the word would be rationalization.

(c) “High things” (v. 5) is a translation of the Greek word “hupsoma” which means an elevated structure like a barrier, rampart or bulwark. The purpose of a “high thing” was to keep something from getting in and to give a sense of security from attacks to the one residing behind the bulwark.

(d) “Thoughts” (v. 5) is a translation of the Greek word “noema” which means a thought, purpose, design, or schemes. Noema is used in 2 Corinthians 2:11 to speak of the devil’s schemes or devices.

So, what are these fortresses and high things of the Devil designed to keep out? They are specifically designed to keep out the revelation or knowledge of God’s truth (v. 5). In their context, the words “strongholds, imaginations, high things, thoughts” reveals that the strategy or weapon of Satan would be a system of thought or arguments which is contrary to the truth of God’s Word. Satan always provides for unregenerate man (and the regenerate man) a system or pattern of thinking that is contrary to the truth of God. As “strongholds” and “high things” were for the purpose of not letting something in, the Devil’s barriers of rationalizations and arguments “against the knowledge of God” (v. 5) are designed for the purpose of keeping the revelation of truth from entering into people’s hearts. The Devil is always ready to offer arguments, logic, schemes, human reasoning as barriers set up to block the revelation of God’s truth from penetrating walls of error and falsehood. This is why there is always a push to silence Christians and the watering down of the Word of God, because the unsaved man (and sadly, some saved people) seeks security behind walls of antichristian reasoning and arguments and doesn’t want the revelation of God’s truth penetrating his fortresses and high places.

The Devil always supplies man with a fortress/high place of rationalization or argument to hide behind to resist the truth of God’s Word. We see this very pattern of thinking beginning with our first parents, when the Devil said to them, “Has God said?” (Gen 3:1). And he provided them with reasoning why it was ok to disobey God’s revelation. Our enemy continues to offer men arguments to disobey God’s revelation. The revelation of God’s Word reveals that human life begins at conception, yet the Devil supplies fortresses of elaborate human logic and arguments why terminating the life of a child created in the image of God is ok. The revelation of God’s Word reveals that all matter of sexual promiscuity is destructive individually and societally, yet the Devil supplies fortresses of human logic and arguments why such behavior is acceptable. The revelation of God’s Word reveals that the cross of Jesus Christ is God’s only plan of redemption, yet the Devil supplies man with fortified towers of philosophical arguments and reasoning whereby he can resist the truth in an effort to thwart God’s plan of redemption. Any time man is faced with the truth, the Devil has always had a system of thought ready to implement which will provide the human heart with fortresses of arguments that will allow one to feel secure in their own self-sufficiency and sin. Not wanting the Light of revelation penetrating and disturbing his self-constructed strong towers, silencing the Christian voice is often the goal of society. But what is to be the Christian’s response?

(2) Saint’s Weapons. The Christian is not defenseless against the Devil’s arguments. The Christian must realize our weapons are not of the flesh but “mighty through God” (v. 4). In verse 5 Paul is literally saying we are called upon “to demolish arguments and every false thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Paul tells us we are to take on the systems, philosophies and man-centered thinking of unregenerate man. How do we do this?

This warfare is a war over thoughts, thinking and what’s right and what’s wrong; it is war over the revelation of God’s truth (v. 5). We are not to run from the battle but our weapons are two-fold: (1) keep proclaiming the Word; and (2) and being obedient to the Word.

First, we must keep proclaiming the Word and not compromise the truth. The only way we can counteract the false arguments of man, is to continue proclaiming the supernatural, life giving Word of God which contains the revelation of God’s Light. The Word has the power to penetrate the darkness with His Light and pull down those strongholds of false fortresses provided by Satan where men seek to  hide. We can never penetrate those strongholds by watering down the Word or compromising with the world. It is past time to return to proclaiming the Word and make known “the knowledge of God” (v. 5). The Word is more powerful than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12).

Second, we must be obedient to the Word (v. 5). Unscriptural “thoughts” (v. 5) are to be brought under subjection to the obedience of Christ’s Word. If the Word doesn’t change our lives, we cannot expect it to change the lives of others. We can’t change the world by being like the world. While we are in the world, we are not of the world. While we walk on earth in a robe of flesh, we are spiritual beings headed for a City beyond the bonds of earthly gravity. We must seek daily to impact and influence others by our personal pursuit of the truth as found in His Word. We must continually shine the Light through obedience whereby others can find their way out of the darkness.

We are living in turbulent and dark times. We are in a war and our path to victory is found in continuing to shine the Light of Christ’s revelation through proclamation of the Word and walking obediently in the Word. Only then can we effectively witness the weapons of our warfare penetrating and pulling down strongholds of entrenched unscriptural thinking and beliefs, in our lives and the lives around us.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

WHERE HAVE YOU PLACED YOUR CONFIDENCE?

The sudden events of life have a way of stripping from us all we have trusted and placed our confidence. We have found through this pandemic the “things” we have been putting our confidence in to give our lives stability, when taken away, what we thought was stable ground is little more than shifting sands. When we find ourselves confined, we are faced with the stark reality that confidence in our “normal” routine of life can vanish like steam from a teakettle. How true this is in the materialistic realm and even more so is it true in the spiritual realm.

When Paul wrote the book of Philippians, he was confined to a Roman prison cell. Where was he going to place his confidence? He had been stripped of all materialistic stability and he had long since been stripped of his stability in his religious heritage. As he faced an uncertain future, and eventual death, he evaluated his past spiritual heritage as being unworthy of his confidence in times of trial, trouble, and death.
Far too many people have placed their spiritual confidence in “things” that are not sufficient to bring stability in the unchanging events of life and when death comes calling. Paul warns about putting faith in false confidences. He should know, for at one time he had. Listen to Paul: “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:4-6).

Frist, don’t put confidence in a rite. Paul says he was circumcised the eighth day (v. 5). That was an important Jewish rite that could be traced back to Abraham. But this important rite in Judaism didn’t aid Paul while in prison or facing the executioner. There are many people who have placed all their hope in some rite (baptism, catechism, ceremony, etc) to be adequate to enable them to stand in confidence before a holy God. Paul reminds us confidence in rites will fail us when we stand before a righteous God.

Second, don’t put confidence in race. Paul says he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews (v. 5). His race created pride in him, but his race didn’t help him when bound in chains, facing death. Sadly, there are many who think they are superior to others because of their race. Well, God is no respecter of persons, and anyone who is trusting in their race in hopes of finding approval in the sight of God is going to be in for a rude awakening.

Third, don’t put confidence in religion. When it came to keeping the Mosaic Law, Paul was blameless (v. 5-6). Paul was immersed in the Jewish religion and had few equals (Gal. 1:14). But his religion was devoid of a relationship with God and left him empty, dissatisfied and unprepared to stand before the Lord in confidence. Religion without a relationship with God is like a thirsty man trying to draw water from a dry well.

Fourth, don’t put confidence in a record. Paul had attained before man a blameless life and he had on his resume of being a Pharisee (v. 5-6). Many people have all the qualities of being a “good person,” of doing good works; their record is enviable. But it takes more than good record before men to enable us to be acceptable before a holy God.

Fifth, don’t put confidence in personal righteousness. Paul had placed his confidence in his own righteousness (v. 6). He thought the life he was living and the works he had done was all the righteousness (right-ness) he needed to earn him standing before God someday. There are too many people today who are trusting in their own righteousness, thinking the life they are living measures up and complies with the requirements of being able to stand with confidence before a righteous, perfect and holy God.

Thankfully, Paul’s heart was awakened to realize that confidence in rites, race, religion, record and personal righteousness, was all to no avail in that day when he would stand before God. Paul writes, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my LORD: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil 3:7-9).

When all in this life we have placed our confidence in is stripped away from us, we come to the realization there is only one place we can rest our confidence….in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, who has provided for us all we need to be able to find stability in this life and possess confidence in that day when we stand before our holy God. It is not religion or works that saves us, but it is through a relationship with the living Christ, who in His life, death on the cross, and resurrection has provided us that quality of right-ness that allows us to stand before the Lord someday with confidence. God in Christ has done for us what we could never do for yourselves. Our confidence before God is not earned, but is a gift of grace!

Anything other than Christ we are placing our confidence in, Paul says it is “dung” (v. 8). The Greek word is σκύβαλον (skubalon – skoo’-bal-on), found only here in the NT. The word had a wide range of meaning in Greek literature, used to refer to “waste thrown to dogs, like filthy scraps of garbage; excrement; rubbish; trash that is the result from sweeping, that which is worthless, what is good-for-nothing except to be thrown out.” Paul is clear, if we are placing our confidence in anything or anybody other than Christ, our confidence is in vain and will fail us in times of extreme trial and when we are called upon to give an account of our lives to God.

Where is your and my confidence placed? If not in Christ, our confidence is misplaced. It is my earnest prayer that through this pandemic it has resulted in all of us learning to sing the hymn Edward Mote penned in 1834: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ, my righteousness, I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but only lean on Jesus’ name! On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand, All other ground is sinking sand.”

O, what a Savior.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

TIMELESS TRUTHS FOR TURBULENT TIMES

When in seminary, over three decades ago, I took a course on the book of Philippians. One of the requirements of the course is we had to memorize the whole book. That was quite a task, but by reading the four-chapter book at least three times a day and listening to it being read on a cassette tape at least twice a day, I was able to commit it to memory. While I had the book in my mind, I have prayed through the years the many profound truths found within Paul’s marvelous epistle would become internalized. It is a book we should turn to time and time again when faced with issues, circumstances and obstacles that seek to defeat us, drag us down or destroy us. Found within the pages of Philippians, the Apostle seeks to combine the practical with the theological.

As much of America is under “stay at home” orders, Philippians becomes a book that contains many relevant truths which are worth revisiting. Being confined at home, many are searching for ways to cope. Well, Paul being confined in a Roman prison he was definitely under “stay at home” orders. What is so amazing, one of the key words in Philippians is the word “joy,” found some seventeen times. What truths can we glean from Paul’s marvelous epistle that will help us to have joy even in the midst of our confinement?

First, Rely on Prayer to the Lord. One truth which is paramount throughout Philippians is Paul’s emphasis on prayer, constant communication with the Lord. Prayer is talking to God, being on unbroken speaking terms with Him. Prayer recognizes our dependence on the Lord in every situation life brings our way. Paul exhorts us to pray about everything, good or bad (4:7). Philippians encourages us to pray with thanksgiving for others (1:3-11), to be like Christ (2:1-8), for the sick (2:26-30), for spread of the Gospel (3:1-14), for those who labor in the Gospel fields (4:3), and in all things (4:6). One truth I have learned over the years, you cannot carry on a conversation with the Lord and have a “woe is me” attitude very long. When we talk with the Lord the focus is off of ourselves unto the One who is our help in strength in times of “confinement.”

Second, Rest in the Peace of the Lord. Paul writes, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (4:7). Paul writes this after talking about praying about all things. Peace flows from prayer.  What a truth to rest in when fear and confusion seek to “break out” within us, divine peace stands guard over our hearts and minds to keep the “break out” from overtaking us. The word translated “keep” is the Greek word φρουρησει (phroureo froo-reh’-o),  a military term picturing soldiers standing on guard duty, the word also referred to the guarding of the city gate from within as a control on all who went out. His peace “passes all understanding.” The word “passes” refers “to that which is superior, surpasses and rises above” fear and confusion. The peace that is superior to fear and confusion is not found within ourselves but found by resting in Jesus Christ.

Third, Rejoice in our Position in the Lord. One of Paul’s favorite phrase found in all his epistles, and found multiple times in Philippians, is “in Christ” (εν χριστω, en Christo) (1:13, 26; 2:1, 5; 3:1; 4:4. 4:21). The little Greek word εν (en) is a primary preposition denoting a fixed position in place and time. What did Paul mean by “in Christ” or “in the Lord”? Being “in Christ” means we have an abiding relationship (a fixed position) with Christ that is not subject to time, place or circumstances. Paul says rejoice in that eternal truth (4:4). No matter what we are going through or what circumstances seem to confine us, our relationship with Christ is a fixed position not affected by time, place or circumstances. Our relationship in Christ transcends any earthly relationship or any adversity that may come our way. What a glorious truth to know and rejoice in!

Fourth, Realize the Power of the Lord. Paul writes, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (4:13). The Greek word  translated “strengthen” (ενδυναμουντι -endunamounti) means “to empower, to give strength to, to infuse strength into someone.” The power which enabled Paul to face “all things” was not strength found in himself, but it was found outside himself, infused in him by Jesus Christ. The Greek literally reads, “I have the strength to prevail over all things because of the power that has been infused into me which comes from Christ.” We, as well, need to realize whatever we face in life, we possess a strength to triumph because of a power that has been infused into us by Jesus Christ. What a wondrous truth!!

Fifth, Recognize our Plenty in the Lord. Paul writes, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (4:19). This verse speaks of the plenteous supply found in Christ to meet our needs. “Shall supply… according to His riches in glory” (4:19). The word “supply” is the Greek word pleroo, which means to fulfill or to make full. If we have any legitimate need in our lives, God has promised to supply that need. How does He supply it? By His riches in glory. The word “riches” is the Greek word ploutos, which describes immense wealth or riches beyond imagination. It is from where we get our word plutocrat, which describes a person who possesses riches so vast that they are immeasurable. God knows no lack and has a plenteous supply to meet our every need. What a glorious truth to recognize when we lift our petitions to the Lord.

Sixth, Recall the Promise of the Lord. One hope the Christian has is the promise of His return. In 1:10 Paul speaks of the “day of the Lord” and in 4:5 he says “the Lord is at hand (near).” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see we are living in perilous times, the kind of times the Bible teaches will be manifested in the days before Christ’s return. Paul calls this hope, this promise, “our blessed hope and His glorious appearing” (Titus 2:13). It is this “blessed hope” that bolsters our spirits and instills within us an eternal hope when evil, the oppression of that which is righteous and good, and times of confusion and chaos unfold around us. During such times, let us not resign to dejection, but recall the promise of Christ that such times only indicate that His coming again is near. Hallelujah, what hope we possess!

As can be seen, Philippians is a most relevant book for our current hour which is filled with timeless truths for turbulent times….truths not only relevant through this pandemic, but in all of life’s situations and circumstances. Knowing Christ infuses us with a joy that is not dependent upon right circumstance, but is anchored in the One who defeated death, hell and the devil, and who triumphantly says to us, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And in Him we will, too!

O, what a Savior!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

SHOULD A CHRISTIAN COUPLE OBTAIN A MARRIAGE LICENSE?

We are living in a society where the government has redefined the traditional (biblical) definition of marriage – that being only between a man and a woman. As a result of the pandemic a question has emerged from the thinking of many Christians which has been waiting for the right occasion to be verbalized. Since in many states county clerk offices have been closed, which prevents couples who desire to be married from obtaining a marriage license, coupled with the government’s ever weakening definition of what constitutes a legal marriage, the question being posed concerns whether or not it is really necessary for a Christian couple to obtain a marriage license from the state? Seeing that marriage in essence is a covenant between the couple and God, is it important or even  necessary for a Christian couple to obtain a marriage license to have their marriage affirmed by the state?

In seeking to address this issue, it would prove beneficial to examine it from four perspectives: theological, historical, practical, and rational.

Theological
When was the first marriage? The first wedding is found in Genesis when God, who was not only the best Man who presented Eve to Adam, He presided over the first ceremony. Being pronounced man and wife, our first parents became one flesh. Marriage is presented as a relationship ordained by God, not a relationship instituted by man. The Bible declares marriage to be honorable among all relationships and since “God is the founder of marriage,” as John Calvin states, it is a holy covenant.
The word “covenant” is a word that is interwoven throughout the Bible. “Covenant” (Heb. berith) appears 286 times in the OT and 24 times in the NT (Gk. diatheke). The origin of the OT word “covenant” has been debated by scholars. Some contend it comes from a custom of eating together, while others have stressed the meaning has reference to the cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them in making a covenant. The generally accepted meaning of the word indicates a bond or a binding, referring to two or more parties bound together. Covenant is used frequently to describe the divine-human relationship between Yahweh and Israel and God and His chosen people. Throughout the OT, Yahweh’s unique covenantal relationship with Israel is used as analogous to the special relationship that is to exist between husband and wife.

The corresponding word in the New Testament the Greek word διαθήκη (diatheke). Generally rendered “testament” in the Authorized Version, it has the same meaning as the word berith of the Old Testament, “covenant.”

Solomon and Malachi both state marriage is a “covenant” (Proverbs 2:17; Malachi 2:13-16), and is superior to all other human covenants or contracts. Marriage is a covenant because (1) it is ordained by God, and (2) it requires a mutual pledge from both the man and the woman in the presence of God. Malachi states that God is a “witness” when a man and woman enter into a marriage covenant and God expects the couple to honor the covenant between each other and the Lord. Malachi writes:
You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering and accepts it with favor at your hand. You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. “For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel, and covering one’s garments with violence, says the Lord, the God of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless” (Mal. 2:13-16).

In the NT Jesus confirmed that marriage is a holy covenant relationship between a man and a woman. The Master stated, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Paul in describing the relationship between Christ and His Bride, paints the ideal picture of how the bond of marriage should be. He writes: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Eph. 5:25-31).

It is abundantly clear from Scripture, God created marriage and it is a holy covenant designed between a man and a woman. Any “partnering” other than the uniting of a man or woman is a perversion of God’s original design. A scriptural marriage is a covenant made by a man and a woman before God, a permanent commitment being vowed. Since God ordained marriage, it is much more than just a cultural idea. Since marriage was instituted by God and established apart from any governmental or state entity, there are those who say since God is the one who binds a man and woman together, and not the state, there is no reason that a state issued marriage license or state affirmation is necessary.

While Scripture is clear marriage was ordained by God, and marriage existed even before “governmental entities,” they, too, were ordained by God. But historically have societal entities generally sought to affirm marriages? A look at marriage from a historical perspective will prove beneficial in answering our original question, is it important or even necessary for a Christian couple to obtain a marriage license to have their marriage affirmed by the state?

Historical
Historically, practically every culture has had an event, action, covenant, or proclamation that has been recognized as affirming a couple as married. Yes, marriage is a covenant before God between a man and a woman, but through history marriage has also been a public declaration to society that a new relationship has been established. American jurist Joseph Story once wrote: “Marriage is treated by all civilized societies as a peculiar and favored contract. It is in its origin a contract of natural law. … [Marriage] is the parent, and not the child of society; the source of civility and a sort of seminary of the republic. In civil society it becomes a civil contract, regulated and prescribed by law, and endowed with civil consequences. In most civilized countries, acting under a sense of the force of sacred obligations, it has had the sanctions of religion superadded. It then becomes a religious, as well as a natural and civil contract; . . . it is a great mistake to suppose that because it is the one, therefore it may not be the other.” (Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Conflict of Laws, Foreign and Domestic, in regard to Contracts, Rights sand Remedies 100, at § 108 (1834)).

Historically, Jewish and Christian tradition have viewed the covenant of marriage as an integral part of the mosaic of society. The entering into the covenant relationship of marriage has historically been viewed by society as the positive intertwining of the commitment between a man a woman within social and community life. While marriage is a personal commitment before God, in Jewish and Christian tradition marriage has been both private and public, personally celebratory and community celebrated, and temporal and transcendent in quality.

Even going back to the time of Abraham, we find an agreement between families as a testimony to the particulars of the marriage. When Isaac married Rebekah, Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, presented a dowry, which was integral in the recognition of the marriage as being formally established in community life (Gen. 24:1-67). When Boaz desired to marry Ruth (Ruth 4), he publicly assembled ten elders of the city to declare his intentions. While Boaz didn’t obtain a marriage license from the elders, he sealed his intentions to marry Ruth by publicly taking off his sandal! (Ruth 4:9) When one reads the Song of Solomon, one can’t help but notice the interactions between the bride, groom, and the community. Joseph and Mary registered as a couple in their participation in the mandatory census, and in so doing they submitted themselves to the legal authorities and the community at large.

From Deuteronomy 24:1-4 we find Jewish law requiring a certificate of divorce to dissolve a marriage. The very fact that it was necessary to provide a certificate of divorce, indicates that marriage was a relationship under Jewish law which was more than a private matter but also had public ramifications.

Even before the time of Christ, Jewish Rabbis created the ketubah, or a marriage contract. The ketubah, derived from the Aramaic and Hebrew root “katav,” means “to write.” According to the Babylonian Talmud, the ketubah was enacted “in which the husband and the wife spelled out the terms and conditions of their relationship before, during, and after the marriage, and the rights and duties of husband, wife, and child in the event of marital dissolution or death of one of the parties” (Maurice Lamm, The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage, (New York: Jonathan David Co., 2008), 197-206). In a male oriented society, the ketubah was viewed as essential in the protection of wives and children in the event of divorce or death. While it is God who binds the man and woman together, the Rabbis contended that a ketubah was necessary for the integrity of the marriage. To not have a ketubah was the same as the woman being a concubine, as the difference between a wife a concubine is that the wife had a ketubah and a concubine did not. The rabbis considered not having a ketubah placed the woman at an unfair disadvantage, and put the woman on the level of a concubine. Though the terms of the ketubah were often privately contracted between the man and the woman and the two families, both families and the rabbinic authorities were usually actively involved in the creation of the contract and in the execution of the terms. The ketubah revealed that while marriage was a private affair it also had, as well, societal consequences which needed to be addressed before tying of the knot.  Again, not having a ketubah even reflected on how the woman was perceived in society, as a concubine and not a wife. According to Maurice Lamm, the Jewish rabbis thought the ketubah of such importance that “when the Jews of France were robbed of all their possessions and expelled by Philip the Fair in 1306, they moved en masse to Provence. Rashba, who was one of the most brilliant Talmudists of medieval Spain, ordered that no married life be resumed there until every man give his wife a replacement ketubah.” (Lamm, Love and Marriage, 197-206)

In John 2, Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a wedding in Cana. It is of significant interest that Jesus chose his attendance at a wedding to perform his first miracle. His attendance at the wedding celebration in Cana, where no doubt a ketubah had been agreed upon beforehand, indicates He approved of what was transpiring. Jesus’ presence at the wedding indicates His affirming of the wedding ceremony and its impact on community life.

Until the Middle Ages marriages, though they had communal ramifications, were usually private contracts between two families and the individuals involved. Beginning in the Middle Ages churches began keeping records of who was married to whom. Marriage licenses began to be issued during this period, for the purpose of permitting a marriage which would otherwise be deemed illegal.

During the Reformation, Martin Luther sought to turn over the recording of marriages to the state instead of the church. John Calvin, who has had much influence on Western thought, believed that for a marriage to be valid it needed to be both recorded by the state and officiated by the church. Calvin taught that God participates in the formation of the covenant of marriage through his chosen agents on earth. Calvin saw marriage as having four prongs. (1) The couple’s parents who instructed the young couple in the morals of Christian marriage and give their consent to the union; (2) at least two witnesses who testify to the sincerity and solemnity of the couple’s promises and attest to the marriage event; (3) the minister, holding “God’s spiritual power of the Word,” blesses the union and admonishes the couple and the community of their respective biblical duties and rights; and (4) the magistrate, holding “God’s temporal power of the sword,” registers the parties, ensures the legality of their union, and protects them in their conjoined persons and properties. This involvement of parents, witnesses, ministers, and magistrates in the formation of marriage was not an idle or dispensable ceremony. These four parties represented different dimensions of God’s involvement in the marriage covenant, and they were thus essential to the legitimacy of the marriage itself. To omit any of the four parties in the formation of the marriage, Calvin taught, was to omit God from the marriage covenant. For Calvin marriage was both a religious union as well as legal union (Herman J. Selderhuis, ed., The Calvin Handbook, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 455-465).

Calvin’s influence on theology, law and ethics cannot be denied upon the New World. Marriage licenses began being required in Massachusetts in 1639 and gradually expanded across colonial America. By the 19th century marriage licenses were available in most every state for couples to obtain. (Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, (Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006), 87-103).

Having briefly examined historically Jewish and Christian marriage traditions in regard to the intertwining of the civil and religious, it has been seen that cultures have through the centuries sanctioned events, contracts, covenants, declarations and licenses that affirm that a man and woman are married. Historically speaking, marriage has not been just a private and personal covenant, but has always been at least a three-prong covenant between God, the couple and the community. As has been seen, there is clearly a communal aspect to genuine marriage. While a marriage is foremost a vow before God, He has used these various public actions as a binding declaration or document made between a man and a woman that a new relationship has begun and is an integral part of community of life. One could surmise from Jewish and Christian traditions that marriage is necessarily both a spiritual and societal declaration, and in some way be affirmed by both for the marriage to be considered “legal.”

Having examined the historical aspect of marriage, a look at the practical needs to be considered.

Practical
While marriage is ordained by God and is a covenant between a man and a woman before God who unites the couple, the Bible teaches that governmental authorities are also ordained by God (Romans 13:1-2), and Christians should respect and be submissive in matters of the state, unless it violates the teaching of Scripture.

It is contended there are practical reasons for a Christian couple to obtain a state issued marriage license. Like the Jewish ketubah, a marriage license ensures protection for the couple and the assurance of benefits that are not available to those who are not “legally” married in the eyes of the state. Some of the practical benefits and protections are: Joint parental rights of children, Joint adoption, Status as “next of kin” for hospital and medical decisions, Right to make decisions about the disposal of loved one’s remains, Immigration and residence for partners from other countries, Crime victims recovery benefits, Domestic violence protection orders, Judicial protections and immunity, Automatic inheritance in the absence of a will, Public safety officers death benefits, Spousal veteran’s benefits, Social Security, Medicare, Joint filing of tax returns, Wrongful death benefits for surviving partner and children, Bereavement or sick leave to care for partner and children, Child support, Joint insurance plans, Tax credits including child tax credit, Deferred compensation for pensions and IRA’s, Estate and gift tax benefits, Welfare and public assistance, Joint housing for the elderly, Credit protection, Medical care for survivors and dependents of certain veterans, and there are many more such benefits and protections afforded to those married.

A couple who foregoes obtaining a marriage license may not “feel” any less married than someone who has a marriage license, but it will not meet governmental legal requirements as a state affirmed  marriage union. Some would consider such a decision to forego obtaining a license as without adequate rationale.

Rationally examining such a decision is not without merit.

Rational
Questions deserving honest answers are:
As long as the state does not blatantly violate God’s Scriptural tenants, is there good rationale for not obtaining a marriage license?
Can one be a good witness to the lost if one’s marriage union does not meet the legal requirements of the state?
Can one meet the standard of “living above reproach” if one neglects the legal requirements as to what constitutes a legal marriage?
If one doesn’t obtain a marriage license because one may be penalized financially, is that not showing a lack of trust in God to provide for one’s needs?
If one decides to live together without meeting the legal requirements of the land, will the world scoff at one being hypocritical?
If one decides to live without benefit of a marriage license, is that the kind of decision one would like their children to someday make?
If one foregoes obtaining a marriage license, will that make it easier for one of the parties to walk away when tough times come (and they will), since they are not “legally married? There is no doubt many marriages which have been saved as the “marriage license” held the couple together as they worked through the tough situation.
Is there good reason to not obtain a marriage license when the state has not taken specific measures to violate the law of God in regard to the union between a man and a woman?

These are just a few questions that those contemplating forgoing a marriage license should rationally and honestly think through.

However, there is a possible exception that needs to be very prayerfully considered before taking action. What if because of circumstances like the current pandemic, state offices are closed making it impossible to obtain a marriage license? There are two options: (1) The couple can wait until offices open again, whereby they can obtain one. For this writer that would be the preferred option. (2) The couple must prayerfully decide with a preacher who agrees to perform the ceremony, to go ahead and vow before a holy God their covenant of love, with the promise to obtain a marriage license as soon as possible, thereby in a celebratory ceremony affirming the final step in the three-prong covenant: the couple, God, and community (state). This is not the ideal option, and all avenues to obtain a license should be exhausted before proceeding. As well, not all pastors would agree to officiate a service without a license.  But this option is permissible under the law of liberty as Paul discusses in Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8 & 10.

Conclusion
Having looked at marriage from a theological, historical, practical, and rational perspective, is there an answer to our original question: Seeing that marriage in essence is a covenant between the couple and God, is it important or even necessary for a Christian couple to obtain a marriage license to have their marriage affirmed by the state?

On the strictest level, obtaining a state approved marriage license doesn’t mean a man and a woman who have sincerely vowed before God to covenant together in marriage, are any less married in the eyes of God because they didn’t obtain a “sheet of paper.” While there is no verse in the Bible that says one is not married in God’s eyes unless they have a license from governmental authorities; however, it has been seen theologically and historically that marriage is more than a private and personal covenant, but is clearly communal in nature and is an integral part of societal and community life. Marriage is not a purely private affair. Marriage has always been at least a three-prong covenant between God, the couple, and the community. The marriage license doesn’t determine whether the marriage is “legal” or not in the sight of God, but it affirms the marriage in the eyes of society.

Yes, marriage was/is ordained by God, and was the first institution established, but government entities have also been ordained by God. While it is admitted that our governmental laws are always in flux and the marriage relationship has been expanded by law to include relationships other than that which is between a man and a woman, unless our governmental laws specifically violate God’s laws in regard to the union of a man and a woman and it becomes impossible to no longer comply, a couple would not be wrong in obtaining a state affirming  license. For a couple to be “legally” married in the eyes of the state carries with it benefits and protections of the marriage covenant. Other than the possible exception stated above, unless the laws of the land specifically lead a couple to violate their obedience to the Word of God, believers should be encouraged to marry in accordance with the regulations and requirements of governmental authorities.

While technically a couple’s vows don’t need approval from the state to be married in God’s eyes, affirmation by the state is both encouraged in order to be a good witness for Christ and is advantageous for the protection of the marriage. It behooves Christian couples not to isolate themselves, but be before society the communal example which reflects the loving relationship of Jesus Christ for His Bride, the Church.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan.