The public square

In pluralist democracies, ought Christians use their vote and whatever power of persuasion that they might possess to influence the character of society and its laws? This is an important matter to think about. Some people seem to argue that Christians who really trust Jesus  should let civil society go to (or stay with) the Devil and simply tell our neighbours, friends and enemies about Jesus in private conversation. To do otherwise, we are assured, is to use the force of law to oppress non-Christians.

It seems to me that Christians may engage politically as Christians to influence the direction of secular societies. The word ‘secular’, by the way, has nothing inherently atheistic about it. It simply refers to time and space – the here and now. Of course, the word’s extended use now includes the atheistic connotation, but there was a time when the church recognised ‘secular’ clergy – priests who were not monks attached to a religious order such as the Augustinians. Their job was to influence society rather than to hide from it. Whatever your view of priests and monks might be, our Lord Jesus urged his people to be in the world but not of it. I take this to mean that Christians must be engaged – as fully as our circumstances allow — in all the human activities of this world, and to do so as Christians. This includes attempting to influence public morality for the real good of people.

I suggest that the examples of Paul and Barnabas in Lystra support this view. These missionaries arrived at Lystra and presented the Gospel of Jesus to them. During this presentation, a lame man was healed. The people of Lystra utterly mistook the clear teachings of the apostles and intended to worship them as pagan gods (Acts 14: 11-18). The apostles were quite willing publicly to oppose the pagan worldview and to urge the people of Lystra to change their civic behaviour —  civil and religious behaviour was greatly intertwined in pagan society.

In fact the apostles made great and earnest arguments to prevent the people of Lystra from following their own ideas of worship and the good life. Paul told them directly that their religious behaviour was futile and wrong. He and Barnabas had come to turn them from “vain things”. Paul said that ‘in bygone generations [God] allowed all nations to walk in their own ways’ but now the gospel of Jesus has come. As he said in Acts 17 (after saying similar things about bygone generations), God now calls all people everywhere to repent (to change their thinking) as a day of judgement is coming.

It seems to me that Paul saw both belief and behaviour as things to be earnestly addressed in the public square and he made every effort to turn (by argument) people from the poor choices that they have made. Paganism was very accepting of multiple beliefs. You could believe whatever you wanted as long as you agreed that everyone else should believe whatever they wanted. Christianity cut across that worldview. Christianity asserts truth. Paul’s only weapons were arguments and truth statements about who Jesus is, what he has done, and what that means for us here and now and for the future.

Life in the secular ends with life in eternity. Eternal life will either be very good or very bad. If the Church does not make a clear public statement about human sin and does not identify what sin is in all its forms, then how will anyone see their need of the saviour which the Church is to proclaim? Our Lord Jesus made the sinful behaviour of church people clear as he spoke in synagogues, Paul made the sinful behaviour of pagans clear as he spoke in the streets of Greek cities. They both did this so that the offer of good news in Jesus would make sense. Jesus is the only remedy for our moral and spiritual failures.

(BTW, Paul did not have the vote, but he did have Roman citizenship, the force of which he was quite prepared to use on a number of occasions.)

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1 John 2:1-2

“My little Children”

John addresses the church as his children. It is, perhaps, a reference to the fact that John was instrumental in bringing the good news of Jesus to these people, and they in believed that message. As Paul said to the Corinthians, he had ‘birthed’ (eteke) them in the faith.

John is acting in the manner of a father to them. He is not behaving like a sergeant major whose aim is to whip them into military shape. He has real concern for their spiritual welfare, and he wants them always to be reminded of the good news and the reality of Christ’s saving work. And this saving work has real, observable effects on the attitudes and behaviours of those who are saved.

“I write these things to you so that you might not sin.”

What is sin? In the Hebrew language, the word for sin literally translates as “missing the target”. The tribe of Benjamin had, at one stage in Israel’s history, 700 slingers who could each aim a stone at a single strand of hair and not “sin”, meaning that they did not miss that target. They were very good shots.

The target that we all have as God’s creatures is obedience to God’s moral law. Later in this letter, John tells us that sin is lawlessness. Whenever we act or have desires contrary to God’s law, we sin. We are very bad shots.

But, because of God’s mercy to us in Jesus Christ, we are to aim at giving up our sin. We are to put sin to death, just as Paul says. The gospel is not a reason to become relaxed about our sinful behaviours. God’s free and full mercy to us in Christ is in fact the biggest argument against having a relaxed attitude toward our bad behaviour.

If our Lord Jesus Christ so humbled himself to …

  • take on humanity by being conceived and born a human baby,
  • live a completely good, law-abiding life despite the opposition of sinners and the temptations of the evil one, and
  • take responsibility for the sins of his enemies and to be condemned and executed in their place

… so that he might rescue bad people like us from that condemnation, how can anyone who has received such mercy be content to go on living a lawless, God defying life?

“And, if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous.”

Here John recognises that Christians will fail in spite of their best efforts to live lives free of sin. In fact, the Bible does not anticipate perfect sinlessness in believers here and now.

Jesus Christ has made us saints while we were still sinners, and he keeps us saints even though we are still sinners.

John explicitly recognises this in those to whom he writes and he recognises this in himself.

He says that, if anyone sins (and each one of us will – 1 John 1:8 & 9), We have an advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1)

Note that when the apostle says “if anyone sins”,  he means “if any Christian” sins. We know this because of what he says next. If any Christian sins, We Christians have (present tense) an advocate with the Father. John saw himself as a sinful Christian who always needed an advocate.

An advocate, in this sense, is a legal representative. The word itself simply means one who is at your side. In an other context, Jesus called the Holy Spirit by this term. In the passage of John’s gospel, the term is usually translated as “comforter”. The Holy Spirit brings reassurance to believers that they have not been abandoned by God. The Holy Spirit reminds God’s people of Christ and his word and what he has done for them.

In this letter, Jesus is spoken of as a legal representative at our side, on our side. He speaks for us before God the Father. He is there for our defence.

In his role as advocate, Jesus does not justify or minimise our sin, but he interposed his own righteousness and his death as fully satisfying God’s justice on our sinful behaviour.

This is because John not only identifies the Lord Jesus as our advocate, but he also reminds us that he himself is the propitiation for our sins.

The word “propitiation” means the removal of all offence. If we wrong a friend, and our friend is rightly offended, we try to restore that friendship in some way that removes the offence. Again, if one nation threatens war against another, often there is some attempt  to appease the one who is threatening and thus avoid war.

The propitiation that Jesus achieved for us is that of his good life and his death in our place.

By his good life he provides human righteous for his people who have no righteousness of their own. Our Lord Jesus always kept the Law of God perfectly. He never missed the target, and he did this as a human being for us. It is his righteousness that is legally attributed to those who trust him.

In his death, Jesus took responsibility for our sins. God legally attributed our sins to his sinless Son, and his son was condemned and executed in our place. The only sinless man bore the sins of his people on a Roman cross and died because of those sins.

By his death Jesus completed the condemnation of our sins. By his good life he provides us with real human righteousness. He has removed our offence before God.

All who trust Jesus Christ as he is offered in the Bible can know that the offence of their sins has been removed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

“And not only for ours but also for the whole world.”

John is not teaching that everyone without distinction is propitiated by Jesus. It is not true that every human being, despite their attitude to Jesus Christ, will finally be saved.

What he is saying is that anyone, anywhere in the world, who trusts Jesus Christ shall be saved from their sins.

There are some implications from this statement:

  • it identifies all people from all nations and cultures as sinners. No one is excluded.
  • it identifies Jesus Christ as the only hope for any person in this world
  • it reminds us of our obligation to contribute to the work of taking this message to the whole world.

No condemnation for those in Christ Jesus

The title of this short post comes from Romans Chapter 8, which follows Paul’s discussion of the struggles that Christians have with remaining sin. In chapter 7, Christians acknowledge that the Law of God (summarised in the 10 Commandments) is good, holy, just and spiritual, but Christians see that they are still not living consistently with this good law. They do not do what they now want to do, but do the things that they now do not want to do. After describing this tension, Paul (at the end of Chapter 7) points Christians again to Jesus Christ, who alone is their hope. Chapter 8 continues with an explanation.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was unable to do, in that it was weak on account of the flesh, God did. He sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and concerning sin condemned sin in the flesh so that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh regard the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. In fact, the mind of the flesh is enmity toward God. For it does not submit to the law of God, for it is not able. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

This is Paul’s (and the Spirit’s) reassurance that Christians — those who are born again (live by the Spirit) — are not condemned even though they have remaining sin in their lives They are sinner-saints. To walk (live) according to the Spirit is to be a saved person. They certainly have new attitudes and behaviours, but the main point is that they trust Christ as the one who has, on our behalf, met the righteous requirements of the law. To walk according to the flesh is to remain a non-Christian and to retain that position of rebellion and enmity toward God and Christ. For the Christian, remaining sinfulness is to be fought against, but it cannot condemn or separate the Christian from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 91

This Psalm is about God’s favour and protection toward a particular individual. The Psalm is addressed to a solitary male person. This favour and protection comes to that person in a confessedly dangerous world. All sorts of things threaten this individual’s life – disease, secret enemies, open war.

The Most High, the God of heaven and earth, pledges his safety, and the human being described here trusts God in the midst of great danger and risk. This person will pass through it all safely.

This is not a Psalm by a crazy person who has no grip on reality. This Psalm tells it like it is. It is our job to think carefully about the promises made here and to understand them in the light of all that the Bible tells us.

The key to this Psalm is the first verse. The Psalmist says this:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, will abide in under the shadow of the Almighty.

The word ‘secret place’ or ‘shelter’ suggests a hiding place, and safe haven, one that is not known or understood by the enemy.  Again, the word ‘shadow’ implies protection. If the Almighty is covering you, you are safe.

Looking at the situation in another way, one may say that the safety experienced by this person is a cause of wonder and confusion to his enemies.

  • How can this person be calm in such situations?
  • How can this person remain alive in such situations?

Let me say up front that the only way a person can be safe like this is if that person is in a good relationship with God. To be in a good relationship with God, one must be completely free of sin.

Our God, we are told, loves the righteous but hates the wicked (Ps 11:5 and 7).

That would seem to place people like us in a very uncomfortable place. We are not good people. We have broken God’s law. We have sinned.

So, is God making fun of us in this Psalm?

No. The one that this Psalm refers to, that particular individual, is our Lord Jesus Christ.

He is the good man who is under the special protection of the Almighty, and He is the hope of sinners. This Psalm is pointing us to Christ. And because it points us to Christ, it makes clear that this Psalm is not promising a trouble-free life here and now.

Some well-meaning but mistaken Christians will tell you that for the Christian, faith will remove all our problems in this present world. No money problems, no health issues, no family break down, no worries. They might also tell you that, if you suffer any of these things, there is something wrong with your faith.

But, if I am correct in saying that Jesus is the person referred to in this Psalm, then this idea — that the truly faithful person is trouble-free in this life — must be regarded as non-sense.

Verse 2 says (and it is ultimately our Lord Jesus speaking)

I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust!’

Jesus Christ perfectly trusted his father. He perfectly obeyed as man. This was one of the reasons why Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became a human being. So he could live a truly good life to replace our bad lives. But he came to do more.

Jesus, the perfectly good and faithful Son of God, suffered in this life more than any other human being. He was betrayed; he was beaten, he was deprived of justice, he was nailed to a Roman cross and he died. All this happened to the good and faithful Jesus.

If anyone were to receive the absolute protection promised in this Psalm, it would have been Jesus.

The point of the Psalm is that Jesus really did receive that absolute protection.  But is was hidden from the sight of his enemies. They thought that God had abandoned Jesus. They thought that all the things that Jesus suffered proved that God did not love him.

But they were wrong. Let’s look at v. 3-4

For He (the LORD) delivers you from the trap of the trapper, and from the deadly pestilence (disease). He will cover you with His feathers, and you will trust under His wings. His truth is a shield and buckler.

Jesus was betrayed, he suffered and died, but God raised Jesus from the dead because Jesus really was good. Ultimately, none of the things that Jesus suffered changed his relationship with his father. Through all that suffering Jesus knew that God was with him.

How did Jesus know this? Because none of the things he suffered was a surprise to him (Isaiah 53 and Ps 16). Jesus came to suffer and die and rise again for the salvation of his people according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15).

Now Jesus is alive and free of suffering forever.

But what about the feathers? Remember the secret place. There was in the old testament system, a very secret place in the temple. In this secret place was a gold covered box, and at each end of that box were statues of two angels. The wings of these angels overshadowed a plate on the top of the box, and the plate was called the mercy-seat.

On a special day, once a year, the high priest would take the blood of a bull that had been killed and sprinkle that blood over the mercy-seat under the wings. This was to symbolise the fact that God forgives sins by means of the death of a substitute. The bull was regarded as dying in the place of people who deserved to die.

This was done in secret. None but the high priest could go into the secret place, and he could only go there once a year and he had to go with the blood of the substitute or he would die.

The people of God knew about this symbolic act only because of the description of it in the writings of Moses. It was the word of God that told them of their defence – the sacrifice for sin that set them free from the death that they deserved.

The temple act foretold of the work of Jesus Christ.

The innocent bull that was killed pointed to the innocent Jesus who would die for his people. The mercy-seat indicated the propitiation of the sins of God’s people — that the death of Jesus did all that was necessary to deal with sin and its just punishment. It indicated that peace with God is restored, and righteousness imputed to the sinner.

The mercy-seat, under the wings of the angels, was that safe, secret place. Just as the work of Jesus assures those who trust him, that their sins are forgiven and they are regarded by God to be good people.

Those who trust Jesus are under his absolute protection. Nothing that happens to a Christian in this life, whether it is sickness, poverty, war, famine, the attack of secret enemies, can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8).

Christians suffer all the common ills that come from living in a world blighted by sin. But we have a sure and perfect protection in Christ. He will keep his children until they meet him in heaven. When Christians die, they die in the knowledge that Jesus will raise them to life on the day of Judgment and declare them not guilty.

This hidden, unseen protection is for those who trust Jesus, vs. 5-8:

You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; of the pestilence that walks in the darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right-hand; but it will not approach you. You will look on with your eyes, and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because Christ has saved forever those who come to him by faith, Christians can meet and endure the troubles of this life with confidence. We might lose everything here and now and know that we are kept by Jesus for a good eternity. Paul says that the sufferings of this present age cannot compare to the good that God has in store for his people (Rom. 8:18).

But this safety only comes to a person on God’s terms.

Christ will protect his people, but He will also see the recompense – the judgment  — of his enemies. Those who do not trust Christ will fall on the day of Judgment. To face God without the righteousness of Christ is to be condemned for sin and to receive recompense, that is, the punishment that sinners deserve for their sin – eternal separation from God’s favourable presence.

But, if you trust the Lord Jesus Christ there is certain hope, v.10:

For you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, you dwelling place, no evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent.

Because of Christ, those who trust him may regard these promises as coming to themselves.

This is perfectly reasonable because Jesus is both God and man. As God he is the LORD, and as man he became the propitiation for our sins. As God and man he is the saviour of his people.

As we trust Jesus we enter the secret place of the most High, and come under the shadow of the Almighty.

If anyone trusts Jesus Christ, that person is regarded by God as a righteous person simply because of Christ. Christ has established for them a new relationship with God.

Jesus Christ is the secret place of safety for Christians.

Just so that we will remember it, the Psalmist repeats the reason for the Christian’s hope in versus 11-13:

For He (the LORD) will give his angels charge concerning you, to keep you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike you foot against a stone.You will tread upon the lion and snake, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

These verses do not mean that the Christian becomes a super hero. They refer to the work of Christ for the Christian.

You might recall that the Devil, in his tempting of the Lord Jesus, quoted part of this Psalm. He tried to make Jesus to do something foolish. That attempt failed, but what Jesus came to do did not fail. He came to deal with a snake and a lion.

In Genesis 3:15, after Adam had disobeyed and brought sin and death upon himself and the world, God promised a saviour who would crush the head of the Devil (who had taken the form of a snake) yet he would wound his own heel in the possess.

The idea is that when Jesus came to live and die and rise for the salvation of his people, at the same time he destroyed the work of the evil one. When Jesus died on the cross, and rose again, he crushed the head of Satan. He defeated both Satan and death.

Peter refers to the Devil as a Lion, prowling and seeking whom he might eat. For the Christian, the Devil is a beaten enemy. Satan cannot break the relationship that Jesus has established between himself and the Christian. Because Jesus died and rose, every Christian is eternally safe.

This is confirmed in the last few verses:

Because he (Jesus) has loved me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known my name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him, and let him behold my salvation.

Only Jesus has lived the perfectly good life, and he alone faithfully and fully relied upon his Heavenly Father. He deserved to be honoured by the Father, and, after he suffered for the sins of his people, he deserved to be raised from the dead. He has, as man, un-losable eternal life.

The Lord Jesus did all that he did, and suffered all that he suffered, to bring sinners like us back to  God. As a person trusts Jesus Christ, the secret safety — the presently unseen safety — belongs to that person.

To be in Christ is to be in the secret place of the Most High, and to be under the protection of the Almighty.

Are you afraid of life? Are you afraid of death?

Coming to Jesus won’t make your life trouble-free here and now.

As a Christian you might suffer more than the common troubles of life, but Christ has promised that there is plenty of space in his father’s house. He has prepared a place for any who will come to him. If it were not so, he would have told us.

If you trust yourself to Christ you might suffer the loss of all sorts of things, but you will never be separated from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. With him is eternal life.

“Judaizing” in the church

Paul warned the Galatian church against judaizing (Gal. 2:14), that is, the adopting of Old Testament Jewish practices, whether willingly or by force. This was not a racist warning, as Paul himself was an Israelite. The truth of the Gospel was at stake. Those Old Testament practices were suitable for the time before the coming of Christ. They acted as a tutor to a church under age (Gal. 3:24), and they pointed to the Saviour to come. But, when Christ finished his work of redemption, these practices were abolished. The issue with the Galatians was primarily circumcision. Paul said that if they adopted circumcision, they were bound to keep the whole ceremonial law (Gal. 5:3). Paul said, ‘Don’t do it!’  Christ has come and fulfilled those shadows.

Well, you might say, we don’t do circumcision as a religious thing in our Christian Churches. That’s fine, but how does this sound? For its first 18 centuries, the western church – with one significant exception – had seen the use of musical instruments in public worship as judaizing.

This is the Biblical picture. God established the use of musical instruments in temple worship in King David’s day (1 Chron. 16:4-5, 23:5, 25:1-7). The Levites alone were appointed to do this temple work (2 Chron. 8:14-15, 29:25, 30:21 & 35:15). After the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the temple worship was abolished. The letter to the Hebrews explains why the Levitical service had to end (Hebrews 7:12-16). There is now no valid use for a Levitical priesthood or its services in the Christian Church. When the Levitical priesthood was abolished, so was the use of musical instruments in public worship.

This is why there is no evidence for the use of musical instruments in the New Testament church. Read the apostles’ letters to the churches. There is no mention of instrumental music in association with church gatherings. The singing of Psalms is to be accompanied by melody made in the heart (Eph. 5:19). The only mention of musical accompaniment to worship is in the Book of Revelation (5:8), but its apocalyptic language and its temple imagery are no safe guides to New Testament church practice. The absence of any mention of musicians in respect of church worship – while administrators as well as pastors and teachers are spoken of (1 Cor. 12:28) – strongly suggests that musicians had no role in New Testament worship.

A further thing to consider is that western church history gives no instance of musical instruments in public worship until about AD 800 (a singular case), and the wide use of them is only attested from about AD 1300 (1). Before the 14th century, the western church had consistently regarded the use of musical instruments in public worship as judaizing. Furthermore, it appears that Greek Orthodox Church never has used musical instruments in worship (2).

Clement of Alexandria (3rd century) wrote that ‘the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord’ and ‘we no longer use the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel and flute’ (3). Basil (4th century) had no time for musical instruments. Commenting on Ps 33:2, Basil interpreted the lyre as the Christian’s body, by which the Lord is to be praised, and the ten-stringed harp as representing the Ten Commandments, which Christians are to obey in the newness of the Spirit (4). Again, writing on Isaiah 5:12, Basil referred disparagingly of musical instruments, and noted that the end of such things is destruction (5). Chrysostom (4th century) commented on Ps. 149 and 143, saying that ‘musical instruments were only permitted to the Jews’, like the sacrifices, but ‘now, instead of organs, Christians must use the body [e.g. their good deeds] to praise God.’ He explicitly said that musical instruments were suitable only for the ‘child’ phase of the church (6). Augustine (4th century) also said that the instruments had only symbolic meaning for the Christian church. The church was not to use a literal ten-stringed harp as if it were a theatre, but was rather to show its love for the Saviour by keeping the Ten Commandments (7).

Thomas Aquinas (13th century) wrote that ‘the church does not use musical instruments to praise God, lest she should seem to judaize’ (8). In the early 16th century, Erasmus wrote of the babble of musical instruments that intruded upon the church services in his day, making the church look and sound like a theatre (9). At the reformation, musical instruments were removed from the reformed churches for biblical reasons. John Calvin regarded the use of musical instruments as wholly an Old Testament thing. It would, he argued, ‘bury the light of the Gospel, should we introduce the shadows of a departed dispensation’. (10). Even the Church of England, during the 16th century, ceased to employ musical instruments in worship and published a homily to explain why this was a blessing (11). John Willison, a Scottish Presbyterian, wrote in 1744 that the church was committed — among other things — to resisting the ‘Popish’ practice of using musical instruments in the public worship of God (12).

I offer this historical meander simply to show that the biblical teaching — that using instrumental music in public worship is judaizing — is not merely the result of post-reformation protestant prejudice.  Clement, Basil, Chrysostom, Augustine and Aquinas all wrote before the Reformation, and Erasmus was certainly not a rabid reformer.

The biblical teaching had been recognised in the west for about 18 centuries. The change that occurred in protestantism during the 19th century was not the result of faithful Bible teaching. It came at a time when the church’s confidence in the Scriptures was in decline. After the introduction of musical instruments, generations of Christians have grown up with the practice, and now even people with real confidence in the Bible accept this practice without question.

Paul said that the Christian church is not to judaize. The church to which I belong says plainly in its Confession of Faith that nothing is to be introduced into the worship of God except that which God has prescribed in the Bible (WCF 21:1). We most certainly are not to do what God forbids. The use of instrumental music was a Levitical and thus temporary feature of temple worship. It is now abolished along with circumcision and animal sacrifices. To continue to use these Old Testament shadows is to cloud the fact that Christ has come to bring salvation. That was part of Paul’s burden when he wrote to the Galatians urging them not to judaize (Gal. 2:14 and Gal. 3:23-25). Christ has come, and we have no further use for a school-master. I suggest, therefore, that the modern Church needs to reconsider its ways.

Notes:

  1. http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/when-did-churches-start-using-instrumental-music.html (accessed 1 June 2016)
  2. https://oca.org/questions/parishlife/musical-instruments (accessed 3 June 2016)
  3. Clement https://archive.org/details/writingsofclemen01clem p. 216.
  4. Basil, https://archive.org/details/p1operaomniaquae01basiuoft, pp. 285-287.
  5. Basil, https://archive.org/details/operaselecta01basi pp. 534 & 536.
  6. Chrysostom, https://archive.org/details/operaomniaquaeex05johnuoft pp. 601, 604 & 560.
  7. Augustine, https://archive.org/details/expositionsonboo01auguuoft pp. 311-313.
  8. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, [II-II, Q. 91, Art. 2]. See Objection 4 and Reply. https://ia600200.us.archive.org/34/items/summatheologicap18755gut/18755.txt
  9. Erasmus, Opus Omnia Tom V. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=VwnU9rhV3sMC&pg=PR58&lpg=PR58&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false pp. 731-732.
  10. See Calvin on Psalm 92:3, The Ages Digital Library Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 2, p. 179.
  11. Homilies (Oxford, 1802), pp. 293-294. https://archive.org/stream/sermonsorhomilie0a0chur#page/292/mode/2up
  12. John Wilison, https://archive.org/details/fairimpartialtes00will p.189.

1 Timothy chapter 1

The first letter to Timothy gives the Apostle Paul’s instructions to a young pastor. Timothy’s job was to teach people the gospel and urge people to trust Jesus Christ and live thankful lives in obedience to the one who rescued them from sin and death.

In reminding Timothy of his responsibilities, Paul first deals with false ideas that must be corrected.

These false ideas embolden people to abandon the good news (and so becoming ‘shipwrecked’), and instead to trust in their pedigree or their keeping of God’s law. This is why Paul refers to the vanity of genealogies (my mum/dad was so-and-so, and so I’m fine) and the unlawful use of the law (I did such-and-such, and so I’m fine).

Paul indicates that the law is not for good people, because the only person whose whole life may be called ‘good’ is our Lord Jesus Christ. The law is for bad people like us.

Paul then gives a list of bad behaviour of which the law is intended to convict us. We need to know our ‘bad’ before we can see the ‘good’ in the gospel.

In this list, Paul identifies bad attitudes and actions: disrespect for God, lack of submission to him, slanderous talk, murder of parents (the extreme end of ‘not honouring’), sexual sins, kidnapping, lying and the rest.

Paul says that church people who are indulging any of these sorts of sins are acting against pure teaching. That is, either they do not really believe that the law applies to them, or that they think God’s free mercy in Christ is a licence to do any wicked thing that they might wish.

In opposition to this, Paul says that God’s mercy to bad people like him (Paul called himself the ‘chief of sinners’) creates real changes in the attitudes and behaviours of those who are in Christ. While we are still sinners, we become saints by the new birth. We should be people who keep confessing and turning from our sins, not people who glory in our sins.

If the Lord Jesus Christ, who became a man to live a truly good life to replace our bad lives, to die in order to take responsibility for our sin, and to rise to give us righteousness so that we are pleasing to God — if Christ did all that for us, and we know it — then our lives ought to be conformed more and more to his pattern. He saves bad people that they might do good in this world for his glory.

As Paul writes elsewhere, there is no room for Christian boasting, except boasting of Christ and his doing, dying and rising for us. Timothy’s job was to remind church people of these things.

Finding the day for Easter?

It is reported that the disagreement between the eastern and western traditions of the Christian Church (regarding the right way of finding the true day upon which to celebrate Easter) is soon to be settled.

When I read this I was immediately reminded of a comment of an old Free Church (Presbyterian) theologian, who, having explained the grounds for the dispute over the day, finished the matter with the following comment:

“the truth all the while being, as we are firmly persuaded, that [the apostles] John and Peter and Paul did not keep Easter on any day, any more than we do.” (William Cunningham, Theological Lectures, p.488)

Meaning that the old school Presbyterians held firmly to the Biblical principle of observing in the worship of God only those things explicitly required in the Scripture. To do otherwise was to surrender the authority of Scripture to human tradition.