A supposal about idols

Exodus 20:22 says this — Then the LORD said to Moses, Speak in this way to the sons of Israel: “You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. You shall not make anything to be with Me — gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.”

The LORD spoke from heaven to give the 10 commandments. This terrified the people who heard it. The LORD then told them by Moses to be impressed with the fact that God has spoken to them, and not to make idols.

My question is “How does the LORD speaking relate to not making idols?”

My supposal (proposed answer) is as follows:

We are to form our understanding about God and his will for our salvation from what he himself has told us in his word. We are not to be inventive when it comes to our theology. We are simply to receive and apply all that God as revealed in his word.

To do otherwise is to make “God” into an idol of our own devising.

The latter part of the text (quoted above) refers to gods of silver and gods or gold. The word “gods” in ancient Hebrew can also be translated “God”. The italicised section “anything to be” is the translator’s guess at how the words that appear in the text might be linked together.

My additional supposal is that the linking words might not be necessary. The LORD probably is saying “You shall not make with Me (out of Me) a God of silver or a God of gold.”

My reason for supposing this can be found in Deuteronomy 4:15-16: “Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb … lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image.”

The LORD was warning people against making the true God into an idol of their own imagination. People will do this when they do not give God’s word its due preeminence in their thinking. In Exodus 32, Aaron did precisely what the LORD had told Israel not to do. He made a gold calf and told people that this is the LORD who took them out of Egypt.

Our God is self-defined. He has given us his written word in the Bible. That alone is our standard. There  we find all that God has revealed about himself and his will for our salvation.

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Of Junia and Andronicus (Romans 16:7)

Romans 16:7 seems to be of great interest to some people for reasons other than the indication it gives that Paul knew and respected them. We are told by Paul that these two people were his relatives, that they were in Christ before him, and that they were esteemed among the apostles.

From things that I’ve read, some people want to believe that Andronicus and Junia (who was most likely a woman) were apostles.  The aim of this belief seems to be that, if Junia were an apostle, then woman ought to be ordained into the teaching ministry of the church.

I think that there are several problems with this sort of inference.

There is the ambiguity of the Greek preposition ‘en’. It can have the force, along with the dative form of a noun, of ‘in’, ‘with’, ‘among’, ‘at’ or even ‘to’.

The word episemos can mean ‘illustrious’ or ‘of note’.

So we have this request from Paul that the church at Rome greet his relatives, Andronicus and Junia ‘who are illustrious (or of note) among the apostles’.

Some believe that Paul means these two were particularly eminent apostles, others say that the apostles thought these two were pretty impressive Christians. The first group thinks Andronicus and Junia were apostles, the other group does not think they were apostles.

Let the fight begin! But I think the effort to sort out the meaning of the preposition etc, though interesting and possibly instructive, would not resolve what I see as the main question.

If Andronicus and Junia were really eminent apostles, don’t you think we would have heard  a little more of them?

The original twelve were prominently identified in the four gospels as particularly chosen by Christ, even though one was a devil. They were called, named, and instructed. They witnessed all that Jesus began to do and teach. They were commissioned to take the good news of salvation to the nations.

After Judas’s death, the choice of Matthias was preceded by a description of the requirements needed before a person could become an apostle of Jesus Christ (Acts 1). Any candidate had to have witnessed the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ (This is why there are no apostles of Jesus Christ today, unless they are 2000 years old). So, after finding two candidates who fulfilled all these requirements, the apostles prayed asking the Lord to indicate which of the two should replace Judas. The lot fell on Matthias.

Paul was called to the apostleship by the direct intervention of the risen Lord Jesus. Paul himself refers to his calling as being one born out of time (1Cor. 15:8). Nevertheless, there are many occasions in the book of Acts where the story of his calling is told.

In short, the apostles of Jesus Christ do not pop out of nowhere. In every case, scriptural evidence is given for the calling — along with details of how, when, and where. This is particularly true of eminent apostles like Peter, James, John and Paul.

For this reason, I do not believe that either Andronicus or Junia were apostles of Jesus Christ.

A few thoughts on Psalm 1

The first Psalm speaks of a happy man. This man is happy because he does no wrong and because he knows God through His word.

Now, if you think about things correctly, you’d realise that this Psalm is not talking about any of us. As Paul say, ‘We all like sheep have gone astray’.

Besides our personal failure to fulfil any of the requirements of happiness as described by this Psalm, there is another difficulty.

The Psalm is only talking about a singular male person. In Psalm 32:2, where it talks of the happiness of the ‘man’ to whom the Lord does not impute sin, the word ‘man’ there is actually the Hebrew word for human beings, irrespective of age or gender.

In Psalm 1, as I said, the word ‘man’ means male, a singular male. The singular male is set in opposition to the many wicked, the many sinners.

In Luke 24:43, Jesus says that the whole Old Testament foretells him. The Psalms are essentially about our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the happy man because he alone fulfilled all the requirements for happiness. He did that for his people. He worked righteousness for them.

Again, when He meditated on the law of the Lord, he saw there his job description. He would live that good life, but as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, he also became the sinless sin-bearer. Jesus willingly received the condemnation that our sins deserve. The Old Testament temple sacrifices pointed to the death of Jesus for his people.

That is why Psalm 1 can talk about the way of the righteous. Jesus is the way (and the truth. and the life). The Lord God acknowledges that way, and for Jesus’ sake He justifies those sinners who trust themselves to the Son of God who died and rose to save his people from there sins.

It is through this happy man, Jesus, that the happiness promised to Abraham comes to the nations. By means of the good news of Jesus, miserable sinners can have life instead of death, and joy instead of bitterness. Jesus is that fruitful, flourishing tree — the tree of life.

Footnotes to previous posts

In previous posts, I wrote about the singing of Psalms and the absence of musical instruments in church worship in the New Testament church. I argued that the Psalms were and are the church’s song book, and that use of instrumental music in worship was and should still be regarded as Judaizing; that is, the introduction of Old Testament ceremonial practices into the New Testament Church.

Since writing those posts, I’ve come across some footnotes that relate to them.

In The Baker History of the Church Vol 1: The birth of the Church (AD 30-312), 2004, Ivor Davidson makes the following observation:

There was also singing of “Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16). The Jewish [sic] Psalter was the primary songbook, and believers found clear images of their Lord, his suffering, and his exaltation in the Psalms … Psalms were read aloud as well as sung, as they were in Jewish worship, and singing in general would almost always have been undertaken without any kind of instrumental accompaniment. Indeed, in later Christian writers there would be a great deal of polemic against musical instruments, which were strongly associated with worldly entertainment (p.118, see also endnote 12, p. 378)

In volume 2 (AD 312-600) of the same series, A Public Faith, 2005, Davidson wrote as follows:

About the actual music of Christian worship we know a lot less then we might wish. So far as we can tell, singing remained unaccompanied virtually everywhere, but the absence of musical instruments did not mean that the aesthetic qualities of worship were treated lightly (p.267).

I’d only add that there is no evidence of the use of musical instruments in the NT itself, and musical instruments were shunned in the early church for that reason, and not only because of pagan usage. The use of instrumental music in worship was regarded as part of the Levitical service that had been abolished in Christ. John Chrysostom, for example explicitly referred to it as being of the ‘child’ phase of the church that Paul mentions in Galatians 3:24-25 when he was speaking against the use of OT practices in the NT church.

The Psalms were and should still be sung because they are God’s word, they speak of Christ (Eg., Luke 24:44 and Hebrews 1-3), and as such they constitute His praise rather than ours.  It is His praise that we are to sing. We should sing the Psalms in our church worship with grace in the heart, unaccompanied by anything but the Holy Spirit who speaks by and with His word.

Have mercy on me, a sinner

Today in church we considered these words from a parable that Jesus told about a Pharisee and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). In the story, these two men were praying in the temple.

Of the two, the tax collector got the idea of the temple. It was the place where God assured his people that He was a God who forgives. He forgives wrong doers on the basis of an acceptable sacrifice — one that God had instituted.

The pharisee thought that he had made the grade. He had done sufficient for God to accept him. He had not come looking for mercy; he had come for congratulations. That is why he prayed to himself about his religious activities. Jesus said that these things did not justify the pharisee before God.

The tax collector, the bad guy, had come to understand that he was a lawless person whose bad deeds had offended his God and creator. His words indicate that he understood the temple’s purpose. He said, “Have mercy on me a sinner!”

This was not a request that God should simply overlook the tax collector’s bad deeds. It was a plea that God would act to take away his guilt by an acceptable sacrifice. Literally, the tax collector says, “Make propitiation for me, a sinner!”

To make propitiation means to do whatever is necessary to remove the cause of offence.

On the day of atonement, in the days of the temple, the blood of a bull was sprinkled by the high priest onto a gold plate that was on top of the ark of the covenant. That plate was called the mercy — the propitiation — seat. Propitiation was made by the death of a substitute.

The tax collector recognised that one must die for him if he were to be rescued from the death and judgement that his sins deserved. He was asking God to make propitiation for him.

Our Lord Jesus, who was telling this story, is the answer to that prayer. In Romans 3:24-25 we are told the Christ Jesus, God the Son, is the propitiation for our sins by his death. This propitiation is received by faith. We simply trust that Christ has done all that is necessary to remove our guilt and to reconcile us to God. This is good news.

 

 

 

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.)

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.