Posted in Abortion, Doctrine, Nature of Man

The God of Human Governance

The Bible offers plenty of passages that bespeak the sovereignty of God and his complete management of human affairs. After all, why would God make man in his image and then leave him unattended? I think, however, that the attention divinely given to our affairs on earth is far, far more extensive and encompassing than many of us Bible students have in the past realized. God is not simply an occasional visitor or infrequent penetrator into man’s affairs. It is only by constant involvement that God could control the history that is recorded in Scripture. And it is only by constant involvement that God today moves history to his glory and to the good of his family. If the prayers of the righteous avail much, then God is very, very involved in our lives and what affects them. Divine intervention in the past at times entailed the miraculous; today it entails the supernatural non-miraculous. But divine intervention is an essential feature of our situation on this earth.

Scripture assures us that God calls the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), and he calls the things that are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17). He never lies (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2), and yet in the ultimate sense of control, God claims to be the One who deceives the deceived prophet (Ezek. 14:9). He arranged the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh in order that God’s name “might be published abroad in the earth” (Rom. 9: 17). No one can come close to the management of life’s affairs! And we must remember that man is not the center of reality. God is! “The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Prov. 16:4). How God can mix his determinate counsel and foreknowledge with man’s free will only he knows. But he does know, and he does do that very thing, including his use of evil men (Acts 2:23; Amos 3:6; Isa. 45:7). Let us briefly notice a short summation of his governance in the affairs of any given man.

God governs the WOMB. This is indeed a most fascinating thought. According to Scripture God is the One who decides who is conceived. Those that are conceived, God knows beforehand (Isa. 49:1, 5; Jer. 1:5). God controls barrenness. You might recall that on one interesting occasion God “had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech” (Gen. 20:18). Sarah’s barrenness was of divine design in order that in time she would become the mother to a child of promise in her older years (Rom. 4:19; Heb. 11:11). In fact, Paul says that while Ishmael was born “after the flesh,” Isaac was born “through the promise” (Gal. 4:23). And the definite article “the” is there in the Greek text. And Hannah became the mother of Samuel although earlier “the Lord had shut up her womb” (1 Sam. 1:5, 20).

The degree of the divine control of the womb comes down to a consideration of a single question: Does natural law determine conception in the sense that when natural law is in effect it “triggers” or necessitates human conception, or is it the case that God’s supernatural law governs natural law in procreation? In other words, is God’s power limited by human free will, or is human free will limited by divine power? Which is always the superior force: natural law or supernatural law? According to Hebrews 12:9, God is the father of our spirits. No human being is conceived unless God sends Holy Spirit to join human flesh! God controls natural law; he is not controlled by it. This is ultimately why abortion upon demand is wrong. Such would be the malicious taking of a life that God produced. God could have prevented the conception by simply not sending Holy Spirit. Human spirit comes from Holy Spirit (Mal. 2:14-15). And if God doesn’t send it to the womb, no child is conceived. Divine governance is extreme. If God knows when a sparrow falls and how many hairs are on each man’s head (Matt. 10:29-30), he certainly knows when and why he sends Spirit to flesh to form a human and when and why he does not do so.

God governs the ROOM. And just here by “room” I mean the space or the area or the atmosphere in which human lives operate. This is the place where we make our decisions as pilgrims and sojourners on the earth. Our choices are somehow attached to our will, and our will is a part of our rational and emotional makeup. Jesus once declared that salvation was determined by a man’s will (John 7:17). Salvation is not simply a matter of intellectual elevation. Rather, it is a matter of character and whether or not someone wants to do right and be right. And no one can ultimately want to do the right thing while having a heart that would reject the truth that demands the right thing (2 Thess. 2:10). There is a degree of trust that I must essentially have in myself as a truth searcher (Acts 17:26-28). But I know that my human capacity is inferior to God’s divine capacity when I personally come to the realization of his existence, and so when I find him, I trust him. The writer of Proverbs wrote, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). Here there is a definite line drawn between finally trusting in myself or in trusting God. But why should any man acknowledge God with regard to all of that man’s ways?

It is so because any man can see only so much. And it is not very much at all. That is why Jeremiah told us long ago, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23). It is in man to search for God and to find him (Acts 17:27), and it is in man that when he finds him he begins to lean on him. And when we lean on him, we are declaring the recognition of our need. We do need help in large amounts and all the time in all places! And the writer of Proverbs says that God will direct the paths of his people. Here our prayers and his paths intersect. The Proverbs writer also says, “Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?” (Prov. 20:24). There is altogether too much for one man to comprehend regarding his own situation: (1) why he was allowed to be conceived in the first place, (2) why his conception entailed the two people who became his father and mother, (3) how that genetic mix contributed to the personality that he could and would in time have, (4) why he has a specific ethnicity, sex, and inherent capacity that he has, (5) how he arrived at the current point and place in his life—his present situation, and (6) how it is that he is currently making a personal contribution to the accomplishing of the Lord’s will either on the good side or on the evil one. This is TOO MUCH for any of us to know. It is one reason why we always should say with Christ, “Let thy will be done.” God controls the room!

God governs the TOMB. James warns us about depending on tomorrow. So far, every tomorrow that we thought was coming has, in fact, come. But the next one may not. And the arrival of the previous ones was not because it was guaranteed. We simply have no divine promise of more time on earth (Jas. 4:13-17). James reminds us that we do not know what will happen tomorrow even if it does come. We are completely dependent on God for the preservation of our earthly lives. In verse 15 James says, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall both live, and do this or that.” Did you notice that James by inspiration declared that our continuation in life or the termination of our earthly life is a matter of divine will. There is no way to get around the fact that if a man is still alive on the earth, it is because God has allowed his life to continue. And when, for reasons some of which are known only to God, a given man dies, we have to conclude that there is a sense in which God was willing for that man to die. Not all death cases are the same, but there is an identical truth respecting all of them. Given all relevant factors involved in God’s will for human living and dying, God did not choose to allow that life to continue. Each life reaches its final earthly appointment (Heb. 9:27). According to James, we live by permission. According to the writer of Hebrews, we die by appointment. I am glad that regarding my forthcoming death, I do not know when, where, or how it will come. But I do know, unless the Lord comes first (1 Thess. 4:13-18), I am fast approaching it.

Posted in Christianity and Culture, Church and State, Evangelism

Turning the World Upside Down

On Paul’s second evangelistic tour, he and Silas came to Thessalonica, and for three Sabbath days he reasoned with certain Jews in their synagogue. Some Jews were persuaded, and some were not. Later, those who were not persuaded stirred up trouble because of their jealousy. A crowd gathered, an uproar ensued, and the attempt was made to find Paul and Silas, but it failed. However, Jason and some other brethren were dragged before the rulers of Thessalonica, and the accusation was made: “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).

Years and years ago we were taught that the church ought to “turn the world upside down.” The idea at the time seemed good, and the expression could be found in Scripture. And it was an expression that could certainly motivate evangelism. After all, part of the New Testament pattern involved evangelism, didn’t it? So, it seemed to me as a young preacher that our people ought to be doing what the first century saints were doing in turning the world upside down! Many years have passed now since I first heard the “encouraging words” that in confronting the world, we ought to turn it upside down.

It is clearer now, however. The expression is certainly found in Scripture, but it is no part of the pattern of New Testament evangelism. The expression was taken out of its context and unfortunately misapplied to the church. We did ourselves no service in this interpretive mistake.

Think about it: the statement comes from the enemies of the gospel. Sometimes wicked men did tell the truth, however, that was recorded (cf. John 9:3; cf. Prov. 28:9; Mark 7:37). But sometimes they expressed error (John 9:34). So, how can we tell whether the expression is accurate or not here in Acts 17? Were Paul and Silas attempting to turn the world upside down? No. They were trying to spread the gospel for sure, and Paul had a particular assignment to do that very thing (Acts 9:15-16; 1 Cor. 9:15-18). But the assignment did not and could not entail the planned and purposed cause of social disruption. Never!

Remember that any inevitable but sinful fallout of doing good is not the fault (much less the credit) of someone’s obeying God. Was it Jesus’ fault that some Jews fell over him (Isaiah 8:14; Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:6-8)? No. Is Jesus to be blamed for their sin? No. Is he to be credited with their sin? Of course not.

Jesus encouraged his disciples to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). He himself in his ministry, while attempting to make his message known, did so without trying to stir up trouble or to evoke hostility (Matt. 12:19-20). If we would follow in his steps regarding preaching and teaching, we would also—while trying to circulate the message—try hard not to cause social disruption and invite hostility, resentment, and rejection. We need to be “as wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 5:16). And we are never to impose ourselves on others (Matt. 7:6). Whatever happened to “the golden rule” as applied to evangelism (Matt.7:12)? Is this an area where the rule doesn’t apply? Of course not.

Paul did not encourage the riot scene in Ephesus (Acts 19). We can’t blame him for it, either. Jesus had once told his apostles on the “limited commission” to the Jews to shake the dust from their feet when it became apparent that a city did not want the truth preached there (Matt. 10:14). Paul himself practiced this (Acts 13:51). And for public abuse, humiliation, and persecution, Paul did desire an apology from those who abused him (Acts 16:37). But, even in this, he did not attempt to create a scene. On one occasion, after being beaten to or near death, he returned to the city out of which he was taken, but Luke does not tell us why (Acts 14:19-20). Later, Paul was arrested (Acts 21), and before governor Felix denied the charge that he was an insurrectionist or stirring up a crowd (Acts 24:5-13). This was not his mission. It is not ours either. We all really know this, I think, but we sometimes face the fact that our practice is not the same as the principle we preach (like continually telling ourselves that we need to turn the world upside down). We either need to change our practice (and try to cause trouble) or change our principle (that is an encouragement to the causing of trouble)!

Sometimes we preachers have created false impressions because our own impressions were based on ignorance rather than truth. It is a confession I make. All honest preachers are in the same situation I am in, too. At times we have fostered a kind of obligation based on our faulty “understanding” of that alleged and supposed obligation. Trying to encourage brethren to turn the world upside down was one of those.

The picture in the New Testament of the life of any faithful Christian—including preachers—is a life of quietness and peace (1 Tim. 2:1-4)! According to Paul, it is social peace that is conducive to the spread of truth—not riot or turbulence or agitated resistance. So, why would we ever think that the intentional effort to stir up trouble (turn the world upside down) would be Scriptural? Even in the days when the “great commission” was in effect and being carried out, our brethren were still being taught by inspired men to be ambitious to be quiet, to take care of their own business, and to do their own work so as to produce the best effect in community (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Such an obligation was never intended to be an impediment to preaching and teaching the gospel, however (1 Thess. 1:7-8). These two passages from 1 Thessalonians show us that the brethren in the first century were involved in the spreading of the gospel without attempting to cause upheaval in the community and the world. Should error be exposed with truth? Of course (1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 4:11). Should sin be identified and condemned? Yes (Eph. 5:7-12). However, as the local church supports the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), we at the very same time do so while trying to be at peace with all men as much as possible (Rom. 12:17-18). We are not under obligation to make men angry. If they get mad at us, let it never be a fact that we tried to provoke such.

Honorable controversy (public debate) is, in my judgment, one way of helping people to understand more truth, but I do not ever plan on being a part of a mere fuss or wrangle, and certainly not a violent dispute. In our public services of the church, we still support the truth in our communities. It is not our fault when others do not come because they do not want truth. Men still know how to find the grocery store, the post office, and the hospital. They can find us, too. But, in TV programs, information sent out through the mail, newspaper articles, etc., we can still try to keep truth before a public, interested or not, without imposing ourselves on them. And in other cultures, we can do even more because of their interest in the gospel which is so new to them. Some efforts at evangelism will work in some cultures that will not work in others. But regardless of culture, it is never right to try to cause trouble. We can contend for the faith (Jude 3), and we need always to be ready to give articulated defense of our hope (1 Pet. 3:15), but we do all in love (1 Cor. 16:14). And even when the method for the moment must be sharper (1 Cor. 4:21), the motivation is still to be one of love, and never to be the willed desire that a scene is stirred up.

Finally, remember, it is God who ultimately controls evangelism. He is the only one who can open and close the doors (Rev. 3:7). Only God knows when and where and how the gospel is best spread (Acts 16:6-10).

Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, Expository, New Testament, Salvation

Baptism In One Spirit Per 1 Corinthians 12:13

Last Sunday, I listened to a faithful gospel preacher as he misinterpreted this passage. Sadly, I misinterpreted this passage most of my preaching life. It was all because I failed to understand that Holy Spirit baptism entailed no miracle whatever! As you, I was taught that there are three measures of the Spirit among men (while there actually are none—John 3:34), and that baptism in Spirit was a miracle. But this was all wrong, so sadly wrong, and these mistakes affected all of our biblical interpretation of passages that mentioned the Spirit and his relationship to us.

Think about the words in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were made to drink of one Spirit.” Please go immediately to Galatians 3:26-29 for the language of Paul there. And please return to John 7:37-39 immediately for the language there. Do you see concept and language connection?

But, because (1) we all knew there was only one baptism, and because (2) we all knew that water was for the remission of sins, we concluded that we must “interpret” 1 Corinthians 12:13 to mean that we were baptized “by” the Holy Spirit (usually taken to mean by the teaching of the Holy Spirit). How many times have you heard this “interpretation”? We were told that we were baptized in water in harmony with the teaching of the Holy Spirit. My, my! This was an honest but ignorant and unintentional interpretive mistake that we made. But most of us made it. Think! Is there any other passage in the New Testament that supports the claim that the Spirit is an AGENT who baptizes anyone? No! However, we do have passages that claim that JESUS HIMSELF would be the agent who baptized in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).

Interestingly, Luke in describing the difference between John’s baptism and the Lord’s baptism, says that John baptized “with” water, using the dative case of the word “water.” However, he used the preposition “in” (Gr. en) when he said that Jesus would baptize “in” Holy Spirit. Now, we do not reject water as the element in the first baptism on the basis that the proper translation is “with water” rather than “in water.” Do we? No, we do not. Secondly, John said that Jesus would baptize not “with” the Holy Spirit but “in” the Holy Spirit! So, we allow “with” to mean “in” but in 1 Corinthians 12:13 we force “in” to mean “by,” and the only reason we did this was because we took baptism “in” Spirit to mean a miraculous baptism! We were trying, in our ignorance, to be logically consistent.

Too, in Matthew’s rendering of the account, in both references to water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism, he uses the same preposition, “in” (Gr. en). Whatever John was doing with water, Jesus would do with Spirit. If John immersed people “in” water, then Jesus would immerse people “in” Spirit. There is no getting around this. John in his preaching used both water and Spirit as elements. John and Jesus were both agents! We must be fair with the text. Ephesians 5:26 is no help in trying to get around what Matthew says that John did. Paul in Ephesians 5:26 says that Jesus cleansed us by “the washing of the water with the word.” But “the word” is applied to cleansing, and not to regeneration. And they are not the same. So, the passage does not support the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 that the Holy Spirit “baptizes” us through his teaching in his word!

Also, if Jesus in John 3:3-5 said that a person must be born of both water and Spirit, and if to be born of water means to be baptized in water, then just so does to be born of Spirit mean to be baptized in Spirit.

My good friend, Glenn Jobe taught me several years ago that Acts 1:8 proves that there is no miracle in Holy Spirit baptism. The verb “is come” is an aorist participle which indicates action antecedent to that of the main verb, “shall receive.” That is, the power which would enable the apostles to be the Lord’s “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” came after their reception of their baptism in the Holy Spirit. The power did not come before nor at the same time as but AFTER the baptism! The KJV is helpful in its translation: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” We have correctly taught that salvation follows baptism in water as Mark 16:16 teaches. The passage says that the one believing and being baptized shall be saved. Both “believing” and “being baptized” are aorist participles which indicate action prior to that of the main verb, “shall be saved.” It is an aorist participle in Acts 1:8!

Furthermore, while water baptism in the book of Acts is always connected to remission of sins, baptism in Holy Spirit is not. It follows forgiveness rather than to provide it. It is the regeneration of which Paul speaks in Titus 3:5-6. Only a forgiven man can then be given spiritual life! But, think about it: when we were baptized in water, we had to come up out of and leave the water. Water is not the church! When we came up from the water, we were already in the Holy Spirit, and remained in him! Jesus had immersed us in Spirit while we were being immersed in water. This is how and why it can correctly be said that we arise to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4) because life was given us while we were under the water following forgiveness! But we remained in Spirit after we left the water. Following our immersion in water, we came up from it while remaining in Spirit! We are, Paul says, “in Spirit” (Romans 8:9). Being in Spirit is being in the non-personal but spiritual body of Christ (Romans 8:1; Colossians1:18). And just as with regard to any physical human birth, our spiritual birth entails two elements (John 3:3-5). And remember, before Paul mentioned our baptism in Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13, he had already reminded the brethren at Corinth that the Jews had been baptized unto Moses by being baptized in two elements (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

Posted in General

What Two Great Men Saw

In commenting on the prophets of olden times, the Lord once declared that they along with other righteous men desired to see things that the Lord’s contemporaries saw and heard, but they were never granted that privilege (Matt. 13:17). Peter informs us that the prophets made diligent search in their studies trying to find out the “when” of their prophecies regarding the Lord’s sufferings and the glories that would follow them (1 Pet. 1:10-12). Peter had earlier said that all the prophets from Samuel and those who came later prophesied with regard to the days when the Lord would be here on earth (Acts 3:22-26). All prophets spoke (Acts 3:24), and some prophets wrote (John 6:45), and some men, at least by their understanding of things revealed to them, saw remarkable things to come.

First, in John 8 we find the Lord in intense discussion with Jewish opponents who desired his death (John 8:37). They claimed to be the children of Abraham, and yet Jesus confronted them with the sad truth that they did not act like his children. In fact, they acted like their real father, the devil (v. 39-45). Jesus pointed out that if they were the genuine children of God, they would hear the words of God that Jesus spoke (v. 46-47). Just here in the dispute, as is so often the case in human history, when men are exposed for their error and they cannot justify their positions, they turn on their opponent and begin to attack him. And so, these Jews now claim that Jesus is a demon-possessed Samaritan. My! Doesn’t that just settle the dispute? They were in no position to falsify his words, and so they turned on him.

Of course, Jesus denied the charge and continued his discourse, and in his remarks he affirmed that if a man would keep the Lord’s word, that man would never see death (v. 51). The Jews thought they had him now, and were more confident in their claim that he had a demon because, after all, Abraham had died, and the other prophets had died, and Jesus’ words seemed to be at odds with history (v. 52-53). Jesus pointed out that though these Jews claimed to know God, they didn’t. It was God who was glorifying Christ whom they were rejecting. In their claim to know God, they were lying. And if he were to deny knowing God, he would be like them—a liar (v. 54-55). And then the Lord said, in one sense, an astonishing thing: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad” (v. 56). He admitted their physical relationship to Abraham (which he had never denied in the first place), but he now claimed a relationship between Abraham and himself that must have puzzled them.

In response, the Jews said, in effect, that such was impossible since Abraham had been long gone from the earth and Jesus was not yet fifty years old (v. 57). And then, more astonishingly, Jesus declared, “Verily, verily I say unto you, Before Abraham was born, I am” (v. 58). This was too much! And not having anything to rightly say to overcome the words of him who spoke like none other (John 7:46), they began to pick up stones to throw at him, but Jesus miraculously escaped (v. 59). But isn’t it interesting, that Abraham received gladness of heart over what he saw regarding the Lord’s day.

Second, in John 12 we find tension rising as Jewish religious leaders see their influence on the masses waning (v.19). Jesus knows that he is getting nearer to the cross (v. 23-24). He was wrestling with himself over the divine necessity of his death and normal human desire for the preservation of his own life (v. 27), but he resigns himself to the Father’s will, saying, “Father, glorify thy name” (v. 27-28). All of a sudden a voice comes out of heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (v. 28). In response to the sound, the multitude thought it had thundered, and some said it was the voice of an angel that spoke to Jesus (v. 29). Jesus said that the voice sounded not for his benefit but for the benefit of the people (v. 30). Jesus then declared that the judgment of the world was come and that the prince of this world would be cast out, and that by his crucifixion he would draw all men to himself (v. 31-33). Some hearing these words were unknowing and confused in their ignorance, and Jesus encourages them to believe on him (who is the light) that they might become sons of light (v. 34-36a).

Not trusting himself to these people, Jesus was hidden from them (v. 36b). And then the writer, John, informs us that even though Jesus had already performed so many signs before them, “yet believed they not on him” (v. 37). And John then connects their unbelief to something that the prophet, Isaiah, had centuries before said: “Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? For this cause they could not believe, for that Isaiah said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and he hardened their heart; Lest they should see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, And should turn, And I should heal them” (v. 38-40). This affirmation from John is based on the truth that Jesus had earlier declared that “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Since the Old Testament said it, it was true, and if the Old Testament predicted it, it predicted it because God knew that it would, in fact, occur. It was not that God was forcing the wills of men to act in opposition to what men would otherwise do, but it was a prediction of what would humanly and freely occur as a part of and in response to God’s providential will (cf. God and Pharaoh [Exodus 10:1, 20, 27 with 8:32], and cf. what Jesus said about Judas [John 6:64; 13:18]). Peter summarized the complex entanglement of divine will and human will in his statement regarding the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:23).

But then in John 12:41 the writer, John, says, “These things said Isaiah, because he saw his glory; and he spake of him,” and he contrasts the glory of Christ that Isaiah saw with the glory that so many of the Jewish rulers preferred. “Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God” (v. 42-43). And just as Abraham was allowed to see the Lord’s day, Isaiah was allowed to see the Lord’s glory.

Posted in Expository, General

The World

It is insightful to realize that the word “world” in our English translations does not refer to the same thing all the time. There are several different meanings that surface as one contemplates the contexts in which the word is found. Let us consider this important English word in varying uses.

One, there is the “world” as universe. This is the world of “the heaven and the earth” of which Moses wrote. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Years later Paul in Athens would assert that our Maker was “The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth…” (Acts 17:24). Our universe is most remarkable in its makeup and in its design. It is indeed a marvel. The psalmist would affirm, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psa. 19:1-4a). The world and its components testify clearly to the existence of our God (Acts 14:17). The evidence is so obvious that a man who in his own heart denies God is a fool (Psa. 14:1; 53:1).

Two, there is the “world” of sin. The apostle John wrote, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:15-17). Here the world of sin is described. It is the description of evil and how it comes about in the lives of men. The three categories or vehicles for the expression of sin in humans have always been limited to the three classes John gives. Moses had written long ago before John, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh, MD), and that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes, MD), and a tree to be desired to make one wise (pride of life, MD), she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6). All of the sin of all of the people from Adam on down has come via these three routes. This is the world of sin.

Three, there is the “world” of sinners. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God did not send his son to die for the universe. And God doesn’t love sin. But he does love sinners in whose behalf he sent his son. But the sinners in whose behalf his son died were human sinners—not angelic ones (Heb. 2:16). I would offer the suggestion that the reason why Jesus did not die for sinful angels (2 Pet. 2:4), but did die for sinful men has to do with the nature of their sins. The free will of man was poised at the point of connection between flesh and spirit (Gal. 5:17). The free will of angels was not. And since there is an inherent weakness in flesh (Matt. 26:41), Adam’s sin was one of weakness while angelic sin has always been one of rebellion (cf. 1 Tim. 3:6). Jesus died for sinful men and in John 3:16 we are told that believers “should not perish” (not “shall not perish). The verb is in the subjunctive mood rather than the indicative. It is no promise that believers will be saved, but it is the affirmation that Jesus died so that believers could be saved, and that God wanted them to be saved.

Four, there is the “world” that is a period of time. When Paul affirmed that God made the world (Acts 17:24), he used a word that derives from “cosmos.” When John described the world of evil (1 John 2:15-17), he used the same word. The world that God loved (John 3:16) is identified by the same word. But when we come to Matthew 18:20 we find another word that is translated “world.” It is a Greek word that derives from aiown, which refers to a period of time or an era. When the Lord promised the apostles that he would be with them “even unto the end of the world” he was not telling them that he would be with them until he came again at the destruction of the universe (2 Pet. 3). What good would a promise like that be to them? By that time they would all have been long dead. In fact, right now they have already been long dead. The promise that he was making to them was that he would be with them to the completion of their work in carrying the gospel to the world. He said, “Go ye into all the world (cosmos), and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). The promise of Matthew 28:20 to be with them to the end of the “world” was a promise to be with them to the end of the “age.” The transition from Gentile-ism and Judaism to Christianity which began with the work of John the baptizer (Luke 16:16) would be completed only when the apostles finished carrying the gospel to every creature. Then that era of transition would be over. Jesus told his apostles that he would be with them until that work was completed. Notice Mark’s ending: “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen” (Mark 16:20).

Five, there is the “world” of mankind’s natural attachment to his physical environment. Consider carefully in the book of Ecclesiastes where Solomon points this profound truth out to us three times. Most of us are familiar with Ecclesiastes 3:1 where Solomon writes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” but we aren’t as familiar with what follows in verse 11. “He (God, MD) hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” Isn’t that something? God has so deliberately arranged our human situation so that there will always be things we cannot find out! Actually, the original word for “world” in Ecclesiastes 3:11 entails the concept of “time.” Man is by nature a finite creature who is limited by time. The reader likely remembers Deuteronomy 29:29 which tells us that “secret” things belong to God. So, God has withheld things from our knowledge by not revealing them either in the revelation of his word or in the revelation of his world. But Solomon in Ecclesiastes says that the impossibility of our knowing certain things is at least partially attributable to the fact that we are connected to the material or natural world by our creation. In it we fit. To it we are attached. And by it we are limited. God has set the world in our hearts.

Our divine limitation by time and boundaries is designed to lead us to search for God (Acts 17:26-27), but even after finding him, because of our attachment to the material world, there are things that we will never be able to comprehend about God’s activities. Later Solomon put it this way: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him” (Eccl. 7:14). The exact “why” and the “when” of things in an individual’s life are open to interpretation. We cannot know for sure in many situations what God is exactly doing, though we can learn what our duty in regard to our experiences in those situations should be.

Solomon also wrote, “Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it” (Eccl. 8:17). The Bible clearly teaches all Christians to trust a loving and caring Father who can only wisely operate in the affairs of men. And though we cannot tell what God is doing and intending by the detailed events that become a part of our human experience, we do have his precious promises to us regarding his will for us and what awaits us (cf. Rom. 8:28). May God be praised that it is so!

Posted in Apologetics, Doctrine, Logic/Philosophy, Nature of Man

God’s Fairness and Man’s Free Will

Historically, controversy has raged with regard to the nature of man and his relationship to God. In Christian Apologetics, one would have to find a way to defend both God and man as to (1) God’s justice or fairness in making man in the first place (2) with a human will put to a purpose that would evoke divine justice in the form of punishment in the second place. This short piece cannot survey the total scene of all relevant aspects of the complete picture (even if we were capable of such a survey). However, we can identify and explore briefly some elements involved in this complex matter.

First, God knowingly and lovingly made man in His image, having in mind an eternal purpose to save him from sin, even before the first sin by Adam had been committed (Gen. 1:26-27; 1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Eph. 3:10-11). God desired to bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10). Giving man existence and giving him nature in the image of God made heaven a possible destiny.

Second, man was free from the beginning to choose obedience or disobedience. This is the significance of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). This provided man an opportunity for definite pure positive law choice in the expression of his free will. The punishment for the violation of the prohibition regarding the tree shows us that God considered man responsible enough to understand the prohibition and accountable for the violation of it. The initial punishment for the man and the woman (Gen. 3:16-19) enacted for the violation was based on the fact that the violation of the prohibition entailed a will that was (1) independent, (2) free to exert itself, and (3) accountable before God for the consequences that would follow.

Third, there was nothing wrong or imperfect about the nature of man as God made him. He was innocent and mature from the beginning. Solomon tells us, “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). Adam and Eve when made were certainly inexperienced, but they were not imperfect creatures. It is something essential to the creation of man. Of necessity a created man could have no past (experience). But he had to be mature by nature in order to be responsible from his initial moments of existence, and he had to come without experience if he was to come at all. While Adam was not deceived into sin, Eve was (1 Tim. 2:13-14), but neither one of them could sin without a good will that was his/hers to be expressed in the selection made.

Fourth, after sin entered the human domain, several things changed, one of which was that the human heart in every human being born (remember, Adam and Eve were not born) would be a heart that would choose evil early on in its personal history. This is what we learn in Genesis 9:21. After the flood, God said to Himself that He would never again curse the earth (cf. 3:17 and 4:12) or kill almost everything off as He had just done, because “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” The exception, historically speaking, consisted of Adam and Eve who never had a youth. But beginning with Cain and Abel, this truth that God later has Moses record in Genesis 9 represented the things that were in place regarding all who came after Adam and Eve. The flood became necessary because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The “evil from youth” fact was cultivated by Noah’s contemporaries to the degree that they were no longer fit to live.

Now, while many people have over the years opted for the view that man is evil from his conception or birth, the Scriptures never declare that. They do say, however, that sin enters the heart of any given person during his youth. This was my experience and yours, too.

Fifth, this means that the universality of human sin following Adam was inevitable. Even now, none of us is waiting for an individual to arise who will never commit sin. One of the ways in which Jesus was and is so different from the rest of us is that by His divinity He kept His humanity under complete control. His sinlessness is a characteristic that proves His deity. When Paul wrote Romans around 57 or 58 A.D., the fact was then as it stands now: “for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Furthermore, he later affirmed that after Adam “all sinned” (5:12).

Sixth, given the point just discussed, there must be an inherent “weakness” involved when Holy Spirit is joined to flesh so as to produce a mere human being. God is the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9), so there is nothing inherently weak about our human spirit. Our spirit comes from Holy Spirit (Mal. 2:14-15). After all, we are in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). However, when combined with flesh, there is essentially a weakness that obtains because of the connection now initiated because spirit is now made vulnerable. The lust of the flesh is the spirit’s expressing desire via the flesh. So, the weakness of the flesh is because of the power of the flesh to weaken spirit. This sets up our freedom of will (Gal. 5:17). Consider: God cannot be tempted, but Jesus could be (Jas. 1:13; Heb. 4:15). We are not born in sin. But we are born with a nature that is now weak! This helps us to understand the “why” of Romans 3:23. Remember the Lord’s admonition to three apostles that they needed to watch and pray to avoid temptation, for “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Every person born from Cain and Abel forward has been born with this weakness. That’s how it could be truthfully declared that Jesus tasted death for every one of us (Heb. 2:9).

Seventh, since God knew that all men would sin, there had to be a plan whereby all could be saved. That is, the solution had to be as large as the problem. In fact, in the language of Scripture, the solution was much larger than the problem, and so we read of such things as grace abounding “more exceedingly” than sin did (Rom. 5:20-21) or of “the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). There has always been an “over supply” of divine blessing to deal with the sin of mankind.

Eighth, in Scripture we read of many sinners lost in sin and some who found salvation. The two categories rest on the free will of the men involved. Since God was always prepared to save any man from his sin, the finally lost condition of any individual bespoke what that man had decided in life to be on his own, and the salvation of any man bespoke the fact that he had decided to become what God would bless him to be. Man has never been finally lost because of his weakness; he has been finally lost because he has chosen weakness over strength. In other words, he chose flesh over spirit! And the spiritual law of kinds informs us that our crop can be no better than our seed (Gal. 6:7-8).

Ninth, this means that when Jesus spoke of the impossibility of people coming to Him unless the Father drew them to Him (John 6:44-45), He was referring to the two categories of people whom Paul later identified as (1) “vessels of honor” or “vessels of mercy” and (2) “vessels of dishonor” or “vessels of wrath” (Rom. 9:21-23). Furthermore, when Jesus referred to people who could not believe Him because they “were not of his sheep” and because of such could not hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:16-29), He was referring to those whom John would later identify as people who were characterized by the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:5-6). That is, the two classifications of people (regarding salvation and damnation) are: (1) those who are of the world, and (2) those who are of God. Christians and all those bound to become such today are in Scripture language “of God” (cf. 1 John 4:4; 5:19). They have an “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15). Notice the possibilities and impossibilities just here:

T F 1. One can have an honest and good heart.
T F 2. One can have an honest and non-good heart.
T F 3. One can have a dishonest and good heart.
T F 4. One can have a dishonest and non-good heart.

The first statement is TRUE. In fact, this is the only class that can be saved or ever could be saved! The second statement might at first be considered “true” if picturing a man before he is willing to come to repentance and would seem to show the possibility of a man squarely facing sad facts about himself but yet unwilling to do the right thing about his sin (cf. Luke 15:17; 2 Cor. 7:10). But, on the other hand, if he is unwilling to do the “right” thing about his sin, he is not being honest about his sin. So, it would appear that this statement is itself FALSE. The third statement is FALSE. No one can be both dishonest and good at the same time. The fourth statement is TRUE. A person can have a non-good heart (evil heart) partly composed of his dishonesty.

Now regarding the third statement in the above list of True-False statements, consider again what Jesus said in John 6:44-45. No one can come to Jesus unless drawn by the Father, and he cannot be drawn by the Father unless he has an honest and good heart (Luke 8:15). Verse 45 shows that the “drawing” is done by Scripture. And those who are “drawn” are those who are taught of God, have heard from the Father, and have learned. These are the only ones that can come and do come to Jesus! The Father draws and the Father teaches, but all these students who are taught, who hear, who learn, are the ones who then come to Jesus.

So, all whom the Father draws to Jesus are those who are taught, who hear, who learn and who come. They all come! There is no class of those who learn, in this context, but who still do not come. My father used to refer to the word “learned” in verse 45 as a learning “in the sense of this passage.” What John said in 1 John 4:6 helps us with some clarification here. “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” Those who are “of God,” those characterized by “the spirit of truth,” those characterized by “an honest and good heart” upon hearing the truth are drawn by the truth. And they are the only ones drawn by it!

Tenth, if God wants all men to be saved, and He does (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), then whatever are the full complexities of features that contribute to a man’s damnation, they all rest on the rock bottom foundation of a man’s own free will which (1) was given as a blessing and which (2) turned out to be a curse because (3) the man himself failed to use it as it was designed to be used (Acts 17:27; Eccl. 12:13-14). He used his own will against himself! Jesus once said it like this: “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (John 7:17). So, God can never be rightly criticized for the damnation of anyone or of everyone who is lost, but He can be and should be praised for the salvation that He has made possible (1 Tim. 4:10). And it is a wonderful thing that God is able and willing to use the evil purposed free will of men to His own glory and to the ultimate salvation of all those who love truth (Acts 2:23; 2 Thess. 2:10-12).

Posted in Church History, Doctrine, New Testament

We Have Overlooked the Transition Era

It is unfortunate and somewhat strange that we have as a people, generally speaking, overlooked the transition period that began with John (Luke 16:16) and ended when the gospel was made available to the whole world (Colossians 1:6, 23). We have studied the book of Acts as though the events were transpiring today.

When we look at the world today, we see sinners. And we see sinners that are amenable to the gospel of Christ. But we study the book of Acts as though the world of the first century was like our world today. And this is a colossal interpretive blunder that our brotherhood has made for years.

The world of the first century entailed four classes of people: righteous Jews, unrighteous Jews, righteous Gentiles, and unrighteous Gentiles none of whom were amenable to the gospel of Christ before Pentecost of Acts 2. When I was growing up, brethren usually believed that all Jews became amenable to the gospel on Pentecost and that all Gentiles became amenable to the gospel in Acts 10. This was another almost unbelievable error! It is certainly true that some Jews became amenable to the gospel on Pentecost. It is even true that some Jews became amenable to John’s baptism prior to Pentecost (Luke 16:16; Mark 1:4; Matthew 3:1-12). It is not true that all Gentiles became amenable to the gospel in Acts 10, even though it certainly is true that some of them did when Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius, his household, and his friends who lived near him.

God had a way for Jews and Gentiles to be saved prior to Acts 2! What we usually called “Patriarchy” (Gentile-ism) and Judaism were God’s divine arrangements for both classes of men whereby they could be saved prior to divine amenability change (Romans 2:14-15). That means that the book of Acts covers history when the gospel, for the first time, goes to Jews and Gentiles. Some of the Jews were good people, and some were not. Some of the Gentiles were good people, and some were not. If the good Jews and good Gentiles had died in the first century prior to the gospel’s being made available to them, they would have gone to paradise.

This explains Luke’s language in Acts. As the apostles took the gospel to the whole world, they found plenty of sinners for sure. In fact, more of the cases of kingdom entry recorded in Acts were of sinners. However, some cases of kingdom entry entail non-convert cases. That is, these cases were Jews and Gentiles already in a saved condition but who were required to become responsible to the gospel as it reached them. As the gospel reached each man, he was under divine obligation to submit to the truth and enter the kingdom, and every case of kingdom entry in Acts is in complete harmony with the Lord’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:3-5.

It took thirty years of preaching and teaching for all men to become amenable to the gospel of Christ, and no man became amenable to it without God’s making the gospel accessible to him! And that changing amenability required inspiration (1 Corinthians 2:12-13), miraculous signs (Mark 16:19-20), and miraculous providence (Acts 16:6-10; 21:10-14). The work of changing amenability began and continued for years prior to the first written New Testament book which appeared in the early 50’s. For about twenty years, the gospel was preached, congregations established, and these congregations were stabilized by miraculous gifts in the early church (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). The first century world was not like ours when it comes to amenability. The Jews and Gentiles were, as classes of people, amenable to a divinely arranged system of salvation prior to the preaching of the gospel. That is not true today since the gospel once and for all changed human amenability as it was preached to all the world in the first century.

Posted in Expository, Old Testament

My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts

It is so very easy to repeat what we have heard without ever looking into what we have heard for ourselves. And a lot of the time, it really doesn’t matter all that much. But sometimes it might.

How many times have passages been quoted and then given a meaning that was readily accepted and never challenged. Of course, at the time the passage is quoted in our hearing, if we don’t look it up ourselves and read the context in which it appears, we likely tend to accept whatever meaning was assigned to it by the one we heard quote it.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 Isaiah long ago wrote, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I’m quite sure that most of us recognize that passage and likely grew up hearing it quoted over and over again. And those of us who became preachers have quoted it often as suggestive of the idea that we can’t always know what the Lord wants or wills, and some things are beyond our comprehension because the Lord thinks on a higher plane than do we. In fact, it is a comforting thought to think that the Lord knows what is right and best even if in difficult circumstances wherein we find it impossible to know why something has occurred.

To be sure, there are passages that inform us of the truth that we do not always and cannot always know certain things because God has not revealed everything that is reveal-able (Deut. 29:29). He has only chosen to reveal certain things in His word and to make certain knowledge possible by means of his creation or world. God, in His word has revealed His expressed will. In providence, according to Scripture, is where God’s unexpressed will is located. We pray constantly for God’s unexpressed will in our lives to be done.

Romans 11:33-36 is a fascinating passage that, in its context, shows that in the historical development of the scheme of redemption, and His marvelous use of both Jew and Gentile, God demonstrated “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!” Furthermore, He evidenced “how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!” Indeed, we do have passages that teach us the extraordinary elevation of the thoughts and ways of God in His providence.

But, what is being discussed in Isaiah 55 is that the lofty thoughts and ways of God were the very thoughts and ways that God’s people were supposed to have themselves! Isaiah in this passage is not discussing the fact of God’s thoughts and ways being so far above mankind that mankind just cannot understand the thoughts and ways of God. In this passage that is NOT what is being affirmed.

Look at the verse just before: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (v. 7). God’s people had become wicked and unrighteous. They had refused to make God’s thoughts their own thoughts, and they had replaced God’s ways with their own ways! They had a revealed law from God, but they had neglected it. They had prophets sent from God, but these they rejected. Instead of allowing God’s ways and thoughts to continue to be their own, they had substituted their own thoughts and ways for His, and now they were bound for captivity.

Obviously, not a lot of harm is done in misconstruing the meaning of Isaiah 55:8-9 because the usual but errant interpretation of it is a truth found elsewhere. But the text would, in its context, be of greater value in making the point divinely intended if we would allow the context to speak for itself. And as people who now are under the last will and testament of Jesus Christ, we had best be those people who make God’s thoughts our thoughts and God’s ways our ways.

Posted in Epistemology, Logic/Philosophy

The Truth Is

All serious Bible students of the New Testament know that the concept of “truth” is of extremely high priority. Even in the Old Testament, Solomon once expressed that thought when he compared truth to something material that could be bought. He said, “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” (Prov. 23:23). It remains something we all must have and must never discard. But in the history of mankind, many strange things have been uttered in conscious or unconscious attacks on the very idea of truth. In its defense, let us offer a few thoughts descriptive of truth as it is.

First, the truth is that truth is something thought or declared as a declaration. We can think in images or pictures. I can think of a flower. There are truths about flowers thought and/or stated, but flowers do not partake of truth. If there is an eternal Mind, however, then truth has always existed. Some things we cannot know but not because they have not been revealed, but because we cannot comprehend them (Psa. 139:6). God’s thoughts are precious and many (Psa. 139:17).

Second, the truth is that if truth exists, then no category of information is exempt from it as a characterization. If science or history or geometry or religion or philosophy, etc. are actual legitimate categories of inquiry, then any real findings in each one must be described, if at all, by truth. We cannot make mental progress and cultural progress unless such is so. When Adam and Eve were told to have dominion, the implications were multitudinous (Gen. 1:28). The world was flung wide open for exploration of truth.

Third, the truth is that truth can be distinguished from fact. Fact has to do with existing conditions, circumstances, states of affairs, etc. We observe facts such as a tree that is falling. It is a fact that it is falling. It is a truth stated when I, observing the fact, declare the truth of the fact, “The tree is falling.” Truth is sometimes told of past facts, present facts, and future facts. God’s word is salvation truth in proposition form (John 17:17). Jesus was the personification of that salvation truth in human form (John 14:6).

Fourth, the truth is that truth is, as a concept, ontologically prior to falsity. A false statement cannot at all be made unless it is in conflict with an already existent truth. To say that I am not human cannot be false unless it is true to say that I am human. This is a very fundamental feature of reality of tremendous implication in the discussion of the existence of God and human ethics. The idea of “good” is ontologically prior to the idea of “evil.” There can be no objective evil unless already there is an objective Good. This means that the existence of God cannot be attacked on moral grounds (using the so-called “problem of evil”) without invoking the very existence of God in the first place! The so-called “problem of evil” is a little late in arriving for the discussion!

Fifth, the truth is that truth is in conflict with falsity. John said that “no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). This is a matter of definition. The “law of identity” would dictate in this regard that if something is true, then by definition, it cannot be false. If something is false, then by definition it cannot be true. At times because people do not know or do not want to bow to truth, they begin to play concept games with truth in an attempt to show that truth is not “fixed” as a characteristic of declarations. But it is!

Sixth, the truth is that truth fits facts as facts are. As non-facts become facts, the declaration of truth regarding those facts accurately depicts those facts. If I was not sick yesterday, then if someone says that I was sick yesterday, then he would be declaring a falsehood. However, if today I become sick, then the truth (if thought or spoken of my current condition) would state that I am sick. The facts “changed” in the sense that what was once not a fact now is one. Truth in describing the situation does not change. The facts may change, but truth correctly describing facts as facts remains the same. Truth is a constant whereas the facts are variables. Truth is consistently and permanently in harmony with the facts. Given the illustration, I can truthfully say that I was not sick yesterday. I can also truthfully say that I am sick today. The two statements could both be affirmed as truth because of the change in my condition. This is why I can say that while I was not sick yesterday, I am sick today without being at odds with myself. This would be a truthful declaration of a changed condition or circumstance. But it is not an admission that truth changed.

Seventh, the truth is that truth cannot be simply invented or imagined or “made up” so as now to exist. Truth must correspond to reality. If it does not, it attacks itself in concept because truth to be truth must be accurate. To be accurate is for it to have a relationship with what it attempts to represent. If I say that God exists, and if God exists, then my affirmation is true, but not because I invent the truth. The truth accurately or correctly represents the fact of God’s existence. Truth is the same for everyone. It is impossible for humans to have different “kinds” of truth that are in conflict with one another. If something is true, it is true for all humans. To say that something is true for every one is not a view that has always been popular, but when anyone attempts to defend the view of “partial” application of truth to humans, he is bound to go down in self-defeat since he must attempt to bolster his “partial” theory with a universal principle. In other words, when someone says that such and such may be “true” for you, but certainly is not “true” for me, the only way he can attempt to rationally justify his conclusion is to reach for a universal principle that what he just declared is true for ALL of us!

Eighth, the truth is that truth is information. This is so simple. It is so fundamental, and yet at times men fall over this truth. If God’s word is truth, then it is so because the information that God provides is correct. It is correct or accurate information, but it is information. Some brethren need to give further thought to this tremendous point. It is interesting that in 1 Corinthians 13, when Paul discussed the coming departure of the miraculous and the permanent arrival of “that which is perfect,” each of the three illustrations that he gave in verse 8 of the departing miraculous element had to do with information. God’s book is information (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Ninth, the truth is susceptible to knowledge. Jesus declared that it is possible for us to know the truth (John 8:31-32). This is so because of the very nature of truth and because of the very nature of knowledge. Knowledge is not something floating around in the atmosphere. Knowledge exists, if it exists at all, in a mind.

Tenth, the truth is then that to deny truth as existent or as susceptible to knowledge is to engage in self-contradiction. The “law of contradiction” would govern this mistake. For someone to declare, “Truth does not exist,” is unintentionally affirming what he is seeking to deny. In effect, he is saying, “It is the truth that truth does not exist.” So, he is affirming explicitly that truth does not exist while implicitly affirming that it does. This is not rational behavior.

Eleventh, the truth is that truth is not abolished or eliminated by imprecise statements. Years ago brother Thomas Warren told of an experience he had once had in being invited to speak at a college. He was discussing “the laws of thought,” and particularly the “law of excluded middle.” He affirmed “Every precisely stated proposition is either true or false.” A professor objected, saying that such was not true. Brother Warren suggested that the professor give a proposition for consideration. The professor said that it would be easy to provide the illustration. He said, “What if I say that it is raining, when it is only sprinkling?” Brother Warren answered, “If it is raining when it is only sprinkling, your proposition is true. If it is not raining when it is only sprinkling, your proposition is false.” It is a matter of definition. The definition of “raining” would govern whether the statement was true or false. This is how extraordinarily fundamental the matter of “definition” is. This account also shows the absolute necessity of our being precise in our declarations. It is possible for a person to say, “It is raining,” when it is only sprinkling WITHOUT knowing how far the definition of “raining” extends. This is why we need to work on being precise in our own statements. The “law of excluded middle” as applied to propositions applies to “precisely stated” propositions and to none other!

Twelfth, the truth is that if anything exists, ultimately there is truth about that condition because for anything to exist, God must exist, and God is eternal Mind. And a mind thinks thoughts.

Thirteenth, the truth is that truth as obligation may be limited in time as to its application, but time itself cannot alter truth. This is why God can change his pure positive laws as contrasted in the Old and New Testaments. What some men were once obligated to do that we are not to do today shows the truth of what is here being affirmed. The fact that men today must do some things not earlier required of men again illustrates while (1) truth as accuracy does not change, (2) truth as obligation can and has. God doesn’t change (Mal. 3:6; Jas. 1:17). This is why moral law as such cannot change and remains constant throughout Scripture, but God’s pure positive law has changed (Col. 2:14; Heb. 10:9).

Fourteenth, the truth is that truth as statement of fact corresponds to fact (in accuracy), and if facts cease being facts, the statement declaring new facts is truth governing or applied to those new facts, but that statement declaring new facts is not falsification of the truth in its relationship to former facts. For instance, if a man told me yesterday that he lives at 222 Wildwood Street, and he tells me sometime later that he lives at 555 Brownwood Street, if he told me the truth both times, it was because, as earlier explained, the facts changed. The truth that he later declared regarding his new address does not attack or cancel or falsify what he earlier told me. Truth is incapable of attacking itself. Truth cannot be correctly used against itself. Truth is coherent in all its parts. No tension exists between any two truths—ever!

Posted in Christian Living

When All Is Said And Done

The title of this piece is familiar to the reader. He and I have heard it, used it, and perhaps reflected on it from time to time. Let us surgically see what we can find within that expression. Perhaps there is something to learn from an expression so briefly declared and so popularly received.

When all is said and done, there is usually more said than done. We have all heard this as well, and within the scope of our own personal experiences, it seems to have wide application. Much of the time as plans are made, plans are formed and stated, but the execution of plans is not always accomplished. Talk is cheap. Ahab was a rotten individual, and yet on one occasion he said something brilliant. When threatened by Benhadad, he responded, “Let not him that girdeth on armor, boast himself as he that putteth it off” (2 Sam. 20:11). At least once he stated something that was pure gold!

When all is said and done, all is rarely said. We do not know all, and so we cannot say all. And we do not have time to say all even if the interest of others allowed us to do so. It is interesting to observe that in court, when one promises to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, by selective questions, he is disallowed to say anything other than what is asked. The attorney at the moment does not necessarily want all known to be presently said! We recall that in Scripture the queen of Sheba had received a glowing report of Solomon’s court. She did not believe it. But after seeing Solomon’s situation for herself, she said “the half was not told me” (1 Kings 10:7; cf. Matt. 12:42).

When all is said and done, all is rarely done. There is not enough time and energy to get everything done that we might like to see finished. Furthermore, we would not be happy if we did not have something to do. We humans need something significant to occupy our time on this earth. Solomon long ago pointed out the human need for expended effort in work and also in doing good (Eccl. 2:24; 3:12, 13; 5:12).

When all is said and done, some things are done without much being said. At times there is not much talk that precedes the doing of deeds. There is a time for action. It should not be without thought, but it can be without talk. When the sinking Peter cried for help, Jesus immediately grabbed him, and words followed (Matt. 14:31). There are many times in life when immediate action is required. There is a time to think, there is a time to speak, and there is a time to act.

When all is said and done, some things that are said shouldn’t be. We can all identify, and we likely all regret several things said in the past. It is a sad fact that at times we have simply spoken without much preceding thought, and the words selected were not well chosen. It is also the case, that we at times have spoken, and we did think beforehand, but our thinking was in error. Job was like that. He once said, “…I have uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.”

When all is said and done, some things that are done shouldn’t be. Of course, this includes all sin. John said that he was writing so that his readers would not sin (1 John 2:1). It also includes many mistakes in judgment carried out in practice. We all regret bad decisions carried into effect.

When all is said and done, regarding Christianity, saying is not enough. John also wrote, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). Jesus said that the Pharisees, as a group, were those who said and did not (Matt. 23:3). He had earlier affirmed that unless a person’s righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees, he could not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20).

When all is said and done, in some situations saying is an urgent matter. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus warned his fellow Jews to settle difficulties among themselves immediately. The failure to do this could lead to the escalation of tension and to increased complications. “Agree with thine adversary quickly,” he said (Matt. 5:25).

When all is said and done, in God’s case, there are two levels of things said. Sacred history records the fact that on some occasions God says things that are intended to evoke human response. He has used questions (Gen. 3:9, 11, 13). He has used declarations (Num. 14:11-20). The declaration made to Moses was a threat intended to be carried out only if there was a failure on Moses’ part to plead for the people. So, we can say that on this level, God declared something he would do, if the desired response was not effected, while knowing that the desired response would, in fact, come. So, on the first level, we could describe some of God’s sayings not as settled sayings or unconditioned statements, but as temporary causes to produce permanent effects. On the other hand, the second level of God’s speech involves his definite, settled declarations without the divine intention of simply effecting a response (Psalm 19:7; Heb. 6:17; Titus 1:2; Isa. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:25). These are unconditioned statements, and they are set.

When all is said and done, God does what he wants to do. Whatever he does is perfect (Eccl. 3:14). And what he wants to do is carried out in heaven and on earth (Psalm 135:6). What others do may not always please him, but what he does pleases himself fully. God is never dissatisfied with himself or his actions.

When all is said and done, Jesus both said and did. In beginning his second book, Luke reminds Theophilus that in his first book he had written “concerning all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). John the baptizer spoke, but performed no miracles (Mark 1:4; John 10:41), but Jesus spoke and performed miracles as well. After witnessing a miracle that the Lord performed, some said, “He hath done all things well; he maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak” (Mark 7:37). Peter would later in Caesarea say that Jesus went about doing good (Acts 10:38).

When all is said and done, we will be judged on what we say and what we do. Jesus said, “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by they words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:37). He had already stated that a person’s words indicate the condition of his heart (v. 34). And regarding resurrection and judgment, he declared that all the resurrected would be judged based on whether they had done good or had done evil (John 5:28-29).