does the Bible really say that?

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

This is a good passage out of which this part is shared here (click link) to critique popular theology. Paul’s voice seems so foreign, yet it actually resonates with Jesus’s voice, and that of the rest of the Bible on matters like sexual immorality, idolatry, and simply putting God to the test instead of in faith, trusting and obeying him.

One popular take out of pastoral concern (as a friend pointed out to me) is the point that indeed God doesn’t give us more than we can bear; he actually does, so that we won’t depend on ourselves, but on God to see us through. There’s truth in that when you consider it with the rest of God’s word. But I want to take seriously just what is actually said in these scriptural passages.

We’re told that God won’t let us be tempted or tested more than we can stand. But with that temptation will provide the way out, so that we can endure it. Plain and simple. Maybe not the way we want to hear it. We want somehow a miraculous breakthrough which requires no effort on our part. But as Dallas Willard pointed out, grace is not opposed to human effort. While God’s grace given to us in Jesus is nothing we can merit, earn, or deserve, that does not mean it is received passively by us. That happens, but it seems more often than not, we are active, at least in being attentive if nothing else.

If we think the Christian life isn’t without a struggle, or often against the grain of culture, then we have another thing coming. Or we may end up going, as a few leaders have in recent days, leaving the faith behind. There’s more to it than just this, much more. That is why we need to turn the pages of all of Scripture from beginning to end, and keep doing so. In prayer and with the commitment to a faith which receives and responds. Accepting the warnings of God’s word, even when they may seem to make little sense to us. So that God might do his work of grace in us, a process no less. In and through Jesus.

 

self-control, or self in control

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

It’s important to consider context. What precedes has some significance to this passage, but what follows seems to have more bearing: warnings from Israel’s past in failing: testing God, idolatry, and sexual immorality. We downplay the importance of all of Scripture to our own hurt. Paul certainly makes that clear here, as well as in other places.

Part of being faithful in following Christ is to exert self-discipline even in a ruthless, non-compromising way. Sometimes people who emphasize God’s grace, as all of us Christians should, make much out of how we’re not to do anything, but just rest. Yes, we’re to learn to rest in faith for sure, but grace does not at all exclude effort on our part. We’re even told in Hebrews to make every effort to enter into God’s rest. Paul is certainly talking about effort here.

Sometimes it seems for one reason or another, maybe for many reasons there’s not a thing we can do, that we’re past the end of our rope, and there’s no use even trying. We’re in danger then of crashing, or more likely, gradually drifting before the crash comes. Those are the times when we especially need to take heed and discipline ourselves in the way of the Lord, and to fulfill God’s calling for our life. Our goal must be to make this self-discipline a part of who we are. With the goal in the end of somehow by God’s grace hearing Christ’s affirmation: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But what if we’ve already failed? Of course it all depends on the specifics and to what degree. But take the worse case scenario. Of course consequences will follow. Certainly people have to wrestle through what they otherwise would have avoided. Confession of sin, repentance, where need be- restitution, change of life over a period of time, and reconciliation as much as possible. And all of this within the fellowship and oversight of the church, led by wise leadership.

Unfortunately that seems an exception to the rule. People ordinarily end up on their own, the church doing little or nothing to help them. Surely if such happens after people are ordained into ministry, it’s different, but too often there doesn’t seem to be sufficient means in place for restoration. So people are on their own. This is another subject, and a good reminder of part of why it’s vitally important to avoid all of this in the first place.

At any rate, regardless, this should be our goal: to follow Christ faithfully to the end, a part of that self-control over our bodily passions, so that we might avoid great transgression (Psalm 51), and fulfill the calling God gives us, to be faithful witnesses in word, deed, and especially life of God’s good news in Jesus.

 

get blunt

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Matthew 16:23

Peter had just made the God-received pronouncement that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus had just declared that Peter’s name, rock would be figurative for the rock on which Jesus would build his church, in some ways Peter and the apostles, but directly the message of the gospel of Jesus which they proclaimed. Jesus then tells his disciples just what he as Messiah must do: suffer and die. Peter rebukes the Lord. Then the Lord roundly rebukes Peter. Notice that this is not some outsider whom Jesus is seeking to win. Yet at the same time when I read the gospels you really don’t have to read between the lines much if at all to know what Jesus is getting at. Jesus is characteristically direct and clear, although it’s certainly always in love.

I don’t think we have picked up much of that needed air. Yes, all we do needs to be marked by God’s grace. We’re as much in need of God’s mercy and help as anyone else. So we don’t at all think or if necessary speak from any position of superiority. We’re all on the same level at the cross. We need to be as gentle as possible. And it can depend on the person who we’re trying to help.

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

Jude 1:22-23

We certainly don’t want to alienate others. Of course there are those to whom we can’t appeal at all. They may not be ready to receive it, or they may set themselves up in opposition to God and therefore against themselves. Such blunt language should be reserved only for those who can receive it.

Some would say that this is a case of reading scripture and identifying with Jesus instead of the disciples. It should be and/both. We can’t identify with Jesus all the way, but we should be able to fully do so as those who are seeking to follow him all the way.

In any case I believe the lives of many would have been much better served if pastors and churches, those who are spiritual would have had the wisdom to be blunt when needed. To warn others in no uncertain terms about the path they are on or considering.

Read the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, and Luke especially, along with John, and you’ll find that Jesus didn’t mince words with those who were following him. We are blessed if we can both receive such words into our own lives, and then in grace pass them on to others. But bluntly at the right time, not harshly but gently, but with the force and emphasis needed to help the hearer wake up and change course in their thinking and action. In and through Jesus.

meditation day and night

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

While the point of the Bible is the gospel, we still need every detail written in it, to best understand the whole, including the gospel. And for the interactive relationship with God we need.

Scripture is challenging, but also encouraging, and everything else we need. While helping us look heavenward, it is down to earth where we live.

We have to be in the word day and night, taking it to heart, and letting it change us through and through from the inside out. And we view all of life in this world through its pages.

God meets us as we do so, with all that we need: the promises, blessings, warnings, etc. In and through Jesus.

 

our actions and words matter

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

It was quite the experience the children of Israel of old experienced. Rescued by mighty signs and wonders out of Egypt, saved from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, and then miraculous provision day after day in the wilderness. But their hearts evidently weren’t changed. Surely true of at least many of them. So that we as believers in Christ would write that off as not really applying to us. We have our sins for sure, but our hearts have been and our changed. But Paul in God-breathed (or God-spirited, inspired) scripture didn’t see it that way.

We give ourselves a pass, and others. Instead we need to take these words of scripture as seriously as they are written. Or are they conveniently left behind, instead our focus being on the precious promise? Interestingly one such promise is tucked right into this passage, at the end. We refer to that one quite a lot, but do we know its context? And do we take it seriously?

Well that promise is there to help us avoid the very things destructive to us such as idolatry, sexual immorality, and yes, grumbling. Notice that they had a great spiritual experience according to the text. Yet God wasn’t pleased with most of them. And there were severe consequences as a result.

We don’t want to minimize God’s grace in forgiving us. That’s a needed encouragement, because we all fail along the way, hopefully not in “great transgression,” but even then as we see in scripture, God’s forgiveness is available and offered to us. But we will experience the consequences of such.

God’s call to us here, to me, is to simply take what we do seriously. To not in the name of grace give ourselves a free pass. And to help others both by how we live, and through prayer. And as this passage tells us, God will give us the way out, so that we can endure temptations to do such. In and through Jesus.

James’s warning to rich oppressors

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

James 5:1-6

James is aptly compared to Proverbs and is probably the closest New Testament book in line with the wisdom tradition in the First/”Old” Testament, the Hebrew Bible. But in this passage, James echoes the passion and cry of the prophets against wealthy oppressors. The prophets didn’t hold back their warning of God’s judgment to come against the rich who lived it up at the expense of others, especially those who were poor. Wealth in and of itself is not the problem according to the biblical witness. It’s what people do with that wealth. While God has given humankind all things to enjoy, God wants and expects those with plenty to help those who are in need. And we see a good number of examples of that in scripture, such as the story/parable our Lord told of the good Samaritan, who apparently had at least some wealth.

That is not what James is getting at here. Instead it’s a warning to the rich that judgment day is coming, that they are setting themselves up for disaster, even getting themselves fat for the day of slaughter. Instead of laying up treasures in heaven, they are investing everything into this life for themselves. And with a stingy, Scrooge-like heart, rather than a generous giving heart. Jesus’s words are apt here:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,a]”>[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,b]”>[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:19-24

Notice the links in this passage to the following footnotes:

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 6:22 The Greek for healthy here implies generous.
  2. Matthew 6:23 The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy.

The rich were in service to the god of Money, the love of which, as we read from Paul (1 Timothy 6) being a root of all kinds of evil. God expects people to help others when and as they can, by grace out of a cheerfully willing heart. And God does not look kindly on those who have plenty of wealth even at the expense of others, particularly those who are poor. Judgment Day is coming, and it won’t be pretty. All the evil that has been done will have to be accounted for, when God judges everyone according to their works. In James’s day: unpaid wages, and out and out murder: the innocent or righteous one, and in a sense our Lord himself because of his identification with his people. In our day it could refer to a heartless failure to not love one’s neighbor as one’s self, played out in all kinds of ways in terms of what is done and left undone.

This is not a feel good passage in James. James really wasn’t about giving people a lift, except in helping people to a living faith. This ends up being a word of encouragement to those who were oppressed and suffering, and praying to God for relief. At the same time it could have been a warning that would get not only to the ears, but into the hearts of those who needed to hear it. That they might repent and change their ways, yes, in the fear of God and God’s judgment to come. But James does not refer to any such promise here.

the need for strict, ongoing self-discipline

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9

They say we often eat to feed not really our bodies, but our minds or hearts. That we do so from being troubled. The Christian life contra some of the early church fathers is not meant to be one of harshly treating the body. Not at all! Read Paul’s words in Colossians:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Of course the Christian ascetics did not have such a worldly system in mind in their fasting for the sake of Christ, and for their own spiritual good, so it is different. Yet the sameness might exist in thinking that harsh treatment of the body in itself can do good, as if the body is the enemy of the soul, a neo-Platonic way of thinking which surely infiltrated the church, even probably noticeable in perhaps the greatest of the church fathers, Augustine.

And yet Paul minced no words in the Corinthians passage quoted above. We by grace either discipline ourselves, and specifically our body, or we place ourselves in danger of losing out with reference to all that is ours in Christ. How God rewards in the end, I don’t think we can be sure, though we may have some inklings. But there are certainly some lines we’re not to cross in this life. We must pull out all stops to stop dead in our tracks, and not go past certain lines we might even be rushing headlong to. And we need to work on an agenda in which we are following a different path altogether.

And even if we have failed, that gives us no excuse to excuse ourselves from Paul’s example here. We need to do so all the more. We are weak in ourselves for sure. We need God’s grace to help us through. And we need sheer determination to persevere in that grace and not let up.

They say our brains are one of our most important physical organs. The brain does better with the extra flow of oxygen which comes from good physical exercise. And the mind certainly can affect the body. We surely need to have our hearts and minds set on Christ, and on the things of heaven where Christ is, someday destined to come to earth, and already present now by the Spirit. But we need to take heed of our focus, in order to have the kind of discipline Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians. Paul’s words there should be considered in their context. And interestingly enough, Paul’s warning in Colossians is followed up with the counsel to focus on Christ and might even seem austere by today’s standards. It is referring to a spiritual discipline, but there is no such discipline in which our bodies are not involved. Our bodies are part of our real selves.

And so what we do and don’t do does matter. God has indeed richly given us all things for our enjoyment, so that we’re not to deny ourselves of the good of creation (1 Timothy). But we must avoid counterfeit gods, which can include even our own stomachs (Philippians 3), and sometimes might involve making some major changes. Our goal is to pursue Christ and likeness to him until the very end. May God grant us the grace to do so together in and through him.