It is not good for man to be alone

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Below is an excerpt from Rev. Vander Hart’s book “Bible Studies on Genesis 1-11”, p. 65-66:

The King James Version of the Bible in Genesis 2:18,20, speaks of “help meet.” A new word – helpmeet – was coined as a result. But what does it mean? The word helper can have the idea in our language of servant, the assistant who stands in the background, perhaps the slave who has to “go for” this or “go for” that. But, in fact, the word is used many times in reference to God Himself as our heavenly Helper. Reflect on the following passages:

Exodus 18:4: “My father’s God was my helper.”

Deuteronomy 33:7: “Oh, be his help against his foes.”

Psalm 70:5: “You are my help and my deliverer.”

Psalm 121:1,2: “Where comes my help? My help comes from the LORD.”

Psalm 124:8: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Psalm 146:5: “The God of Jacob is our help.”

More passages could be cited, but the general meaning of help and helper begins to become clear. The word is not pejorative, inferring a put-down for the person called a helper. The word has almost the sense of rescuer or deliverer. The helper is the one who does for me what I could not do all by myself. God said that man’s calling as image-bearing ruler of the creation was such that being alone is not a good thing. Adam need help, and none of the animals would provide this help.

The word meet is better translated as suitable to, a counterpart for, one who corresponds to another in a complementary way. Thus the woman will be a helper who meets Adam’s need; she will, with him, help him fulfill mankind’s chief end, namely, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q/A 1).

The text is not saying that she is a helper equal to the man (the original language could have said that, but it does not say this). The study note in the New Geneva Study Bible for Genesis 2:18 reads thus, “the word ‘helper’ entails his inadequacy, not her inferiority; for elsewhere it is used of God.” This is an important point to understand in our times. The woman is not inferior in her being because of the nature of her creation. Animals are not superior because they were made first. Nor is the ground superior because man came from the ground. Male and female constitute mankind, and both are created in the image of God. But within mankind (humanity), there is a relationship, an “economy,” of office-bearing. In their being image-bearers, man and woman are equally before the face of God our Father. In their respective offices, the man is the head of the woman, and “so there is a divinely imposed subordination here” (E.J. Young, In the Beginning, p. 77). At the same time the woman is a gift of a loving God to the man because our Lord knows that we can never make it all alone in fulfilling the divine plan for God’s creation kingdom. 


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Chapter Review: the Interrogative in Preaching

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I will now move on from the indicative and the exclamative in preaching to consider John Carrick’s chapter on the interrogative, or the use of the question in preaching. 

Basic grammar is important for good communication, thus the importance of studying Hebrew and Greek grammar. In the same way, this study of the indicative, the exclamative, and the interrogative are important for understanding how to better communicate the gospel. Carrick understands the interrogative to be an aspect of the indicative. Both consider objective fact, but one states it while the other questions it. It is searching and it brings more of a connotation of dialogue to it. He recognizes three basic types of interrogative: the analytical, the rhetorical, and the searching. The analytical looks for an answer, the rhetorical assumes an answer, and the searching searches and probes the hearts of men.

  • Analytical: “What is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” (Rom. 3:27-28)
  • Rhetorical: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Rom. 10:14-15)
  • Searching: “You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?” (Rom. 2:21b)

He then shares a number of examples from the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, Asahel Nettleton, and Martyn-Lloyd Jones. He writes about Jonathan Edwards: “Edwards individualizes is hearers; indeed, there is a sense in which Edwards thus interrogates his hearers. He reasons with them; he searches them; he almost hounds them.” (p. 73) It is often commented that Martyn Lloyd-Jones did not observe his congregation as passive, but he would seek to engage them with the Word. They were to be involved, not just sitting there as spectators. Here, Carrick emphasizes that this questioning moves the preaching of the Word from explication to application. The encouragement of self-reflection or self-examination in the hearer moves the sermon from being a lecture to a sermon. He concludes this section with this comment referring to a quote from CS Lewis: “There can be no question but that the sins of the pulpit have come home to roost in the pew. It is, therefore, high time for the pulpit to see to it that God is reinstated to the bench and that man is relegated to the dock.” (p. 80) He concludes the chapter in this way: “There can be no doubt that, under God and with God’s blessing, the interrogative is one of the foremost weapons in the preacher’s arsenal in the battle for the souls for men.” (p. 81).

I found that this chapter left me with a lot to reflect on. Again, as with the exclamative, the interrogative should never be contrived.

I have often found myself inclined to the interrogative because it brings about the reasoning aspect of the preacher’s task. Of course, the Holy Spirit must also be at work through the interrogative otherwise people will just enjoy the rhetoric without coming to a fuller realization of the truth of God’s Word. That being said, this is exactly what the Word of God does. It helps me to realize my condition and my need for a Savior. Pointed questions only drive that point home. This is one reason why I love the Book of Romans. As he writes in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul is relentless in driving these questions into the hearts and minds of his readers. It is then with this passion of the Apostle Paul that we also must engage congregations with the Word of God. 

The value of the interrogative is that it doesn’t necessarily assume certain things about people, but it forces them to put themselves under the scrutiny of God’s Word and Spirit. Used rightly, it avoids the dangers of preaching at, and instead focuses on preaching to.

Nathan Zekveld

A prayer of Thanksgiving at Thanksgiving

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Almighty God, we come before you with an overflowing sense of gratitude. We have seen your hand at work over the last year and we are humbled by the mercy that you show to your servants. 

We thank You for the great gift of salvation that is found in Jesus Christ. We see the multiple beams of his glory shining out in the darkness and we are both humbled and amazed. You have displayed Your righteousness in Jesus Christ and we fall to our knees in wonder. You have confronted our self-righteousness and unrighteousness in the display of His perfect righteousness and we say: “What wondrous love is this.” We have seen the radical change that this knowledge and truth brings about in our lives and we say “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.” We consider the depth of Your love towards us in Jesus Christ. And when we reflect on the ingratitude that we have shown, we ask that You would pour out Your Holy Spirit and bring us to a true sense of gratitude at Your grace and mercy.

We thank You for the mercy that You have shown in filling our tables in the last year. We know how often we have worried and yet You have given us food and clothing. We thank You that the harvest continues as farmers get out in the fields and harvest their corn and potatoes. We thank You that the hurricane did not do any more damage. We thank You for all these things.

We thank You for the gift of new life in our church over the last year. We thank You for the little babies born and we thank You for the children that run around in the basement of the Church. We thank You for the little faces streaked with food and for the hands that are raised to praise Your Name. We know that You have established your strength in the mouths of these infants and children because of Your foes to still the enemy and the avenger. We thank You that we can learn a simple trust from them.

We thank You for the trials that we have experienced in the last year. We know that this is hard to do, but we know that You love the one You chasten and we know that all things work together for good. We repent of our ingratitude, and we ask that you would teach us to be grateful in prosperity, patient in adversity, giving thanks in every situation knowing that this is your will in Jesus Christ. 

We thank You for our church community, for the weekly gathering of the saints, for the weekly fellowship in men’s bible study and women’s bible study. We thank You for the hospitality and fellowship that is shown and shared in this communion of believers. What a supreme gift that we have and share in a lonely world. 

We thank You for the challenges that we have to face as a church community, challenges that drive us into Your Word, challenges that teach us to love you more. Thank You for the bumps and bruises, for your gift of repentance. Thank-you for giving us a love for Jesus Christ, that when we see the scars and the wounds in our lives, that we can see the glory of the scars in His hands and His side from the supreme display of love that He showed to us on the cross. 

We thank You for our dinner tables laden with food, we thank You for our marriages, and for a church community. We thank You for the times of raking gravel, and scraping manure. We thank You for the dishes in the sink, for the poopy diapers, for the late nights of work, for our children who sometimes give us a hard time but bless us in so many other ways, for our parents in spite of their weaknesses. We thank You for the rolling hills, for the sandy beaches, for the fall colours. We thank you for the time spent in the milk parlour, in the fields, and in the office. We thank you for young limbs and creaky limbs, we thank You for fresh air, clean water and the coming of winter. 

We thank You for the gift of Jesus Christ and the fact that He helps us to put the things of this world into proper perspective. We thank You that the gospel changes everything and that because of the gospel we can enjoy this world and love the little moments of every day in light of our vision of the city that is yet to come. We pray this all in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


This is a prayer of Thanksgiving that I wrote for the Thanksgiving Day service in the URC in PEI.

Chapter Review: Preaching the Exclamative

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I am now moving from a summary of Carrick’s chapter on the indicative in preaching to his chapter on the exclamative. And yes, Reformed preaching is allowed to contain exclamation marks! Even if it is a Dutch guy on the pulpit.

He begins with the four types of sentences which include: statements, requests, questions, and exclamations. Statements are indicative, requests are imperative, questions are a branch of the indicative except with interrogative, and exclamations imply emotion. Digging deeper into the exclamative itself, it is usually expressed by words like how, what, oh, woe, etc. The purpose is to give a certain truth more emphasis. 

All these indicators of exclamatives are used in Scripture and I will record an example of each below focusing on the examples he gives from the Apostle Paul:

  1. Romans 10:15 “And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'”
  2. 2 Corinthians 7:11 “For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”
  3. Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
  4. Micah 2:1 “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand.”

In each case it is important to bring the emphasis and feeling that are appropriate in context. 

We can find examples of this in the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, Asahel Nettleton, and Martyn-Lloyd Jones. All of these men use and abundance of exclamations in their sermons. Jonathan Edwards, for example, used these exclamations to emphasize the greatness of man’s sin. Harry S. Stout writes that “words or phrases such as ‘Hark!’ ‘Behold!’ ‘Alas!’ and ‘Oh!’ invariably signaled the pathos Whitefield dramatically recreated with his whole body.” Of course, contrary to his naturalistic evaluation, we have to consider how the Spirit was at work through his piety. Martin Lloyd-Jones once wrote that “Preaching a sermon is not to be confused with giving a lecture” and that “a sermon is not an essay”. On the opposite side, JI Packer has critiqued the type of sermon that only expresses “calm and chatty intimacy.” 

But of course, the real meat of the exclamative comes the preacher’s own heart and piety as the Spirit works through the preacher. J.W. Alexander writes: “No rhetorical appliance can make a cold passage truly warm. If, for any cause, an inanimate sermon must needs be uttered, it ought to be delivered with no more emotion than its contents engender in the speaker’s soul. Everything beyond that is pretence; and here is the source of all mock-passion, which is the fixed habit of many speakers.” We must remember that this is not simply rhetoric, but sacred rhetoric. And so Dabney challenges the preacher: “affectation in the preacher, in the orator, the damning sin.” This exclamative, then, is not primarily a rhetorical device, but flows from a heart that is overwhelmed by the goodness and mercy of God. 

Again, I appreciate Carrick’s exhortation to use exclamation marks in preaching as well as his warning against affectation. I have found it worthwhile to reflect on what the preaching does to me before I bring it onto the pulpit. Hebrews 4:12–13 states: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This has always been an incredibly important truth to me as I am preparing for a sermon. No creature is hidden from His sight, that includes the preacher. And so if I am honest with myself, then I realize that this word must act first on my own pride, my own hypocrisy, my own sin! And so preaching must continue to be an overflow of my own faith life and union with Christ. This is why it is so important that true godliness accompany intellectual knowledge.

It’s like the old adage goes: “Theology leads to doxology.”

I will conclude with another quote from Dabney: “Nothing, therefore, is a true oration which is not a life, a spiritual action, transacted in the utterance.” 

 

Chapter Review: Preaching the Indicative

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Over the next couple weeks I will do a series of blog posts on preaching as I read through John Carrick’s book “The Imperative of Preaching: A Theology of Sacred Rhetoric.” Today, I will work through his introduction and his first chapter.

Carrick introduces his book with a discussion as to whether the use of the terminology “sacred rhetoric” is appropriate when speaking of preaching. He comments on how our culture sets rhetoric in antithesis to action. He also comments on the words of the Apostle Paul where Paul contrasts the preaching of himself and his colleagues with human wisdom of the Greeks (I Cor. 2:4). Of course, the abuse of a thing does not invalidate its proper use and so he points out how the Apostle Paul did use rhetoric, just not in the dishonest and manipulative way that it was used by the Greeks. The preacher’s task is one of persuasion. Carrick points out that the four main rhetorical voices that are used in Scripture are these: indicative, exclamative, interrogative, and imperative. He then points out the two sides to preaching: the crucial use of the means (the Scriptures) and the crucial role of the Holy Spirit. These two are necessary for good preaching when we consider the “rhetorical voices” of preaching.

His first chapter turns to the indicative, which as Machen remarks in his classic Christianity & Liberalism is central to the proclamation of the gospel. He writes that “Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative.” This matter is no light matter but comes down to the contrast between Christianity & Liberalism itself: “The liberal preacher offers us exhortation… The Christian evangelist… offers… not exhortation but a gospel.” Carrick points that in much of the preaching of the Apostles and of course the great preaching of history, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ are presented in the indicative. We can see the many indicative statements of triumph throughout the New Testament. Just consider the message of the Apostle Peter in Acts 2. The imperative ‘repent and believe the gospel’ rests on historical fact, what really happened. Preaching is not primarily application, but it is explication of historical facts.

This is also the difference between Augustinianism and Pelagianism. Augustine argued that man is morally dead, whereas Pelagius argued that he is simply morally sick. Augustine then had to begin with the indicative, whereas Pelagius could begin with the imperative. 

Carrick quotes Murray: “The indicative underlies the imperative, and the assurance of the indicative is the urge and incentive to the fulfilment of the imperative.” Or to quote John Stott: “The invitation cannot properly be given before the declaration has been made. Men must grasp the truth before they are asked to respond to it.” Again, Stott writes: “So the true herald of God is careful to make a thorough and thoughtful proclamation of God’s great deed of redemption through Christ’s cross, and then to issue a sincere and earnest appeal to men to repent and believe. Not one without the other, but both.” 

There are fatal consequences to not taking this route. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes about certain ministers: “…they spend the whole time ‘getting at’ their people, and slashing them and exhorting them, calling them to do this and forcing them to do that.’ They start with the imperative rather than the indicative. The indicative and the imperative are inseparable: the indicative must move to the imperative, the imperative needs the indicative. What God has done must move men to respond. 

I appreciate Carrick’s grammatical approach to preaching. It puts into clear language the difference between Arminian preaching and Reformed preaching. It grounds all Biblical exhortation in the gospel and it bases the evangelical call of Christianity in the evangelical truths of Christianity. It is a reminder to preachers to begin with the gospel, the historical fact that Jesus died and rose again. But of course, when Paul was standing before Festus, he pointed out that these facts of the gospel were compelling reason for Festus to bow his knee to Jesus Christ: “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” (Acts 2:26-27).

I trust that this is helpful food for thought. Next week I will reflect on Carrick’s 3rd chapter on the exclamative in preaching. 

Environment and Science

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It is interesting to study the oil and natural gas industry and its environmental impact on Canada. I haven’t studied it from an angle of environmental science, but I did work in the industry for a time.

I worked on drilling sites between Grande Prairie and Northwest Territories, so I can’t really comment on the oil sands. In my experience, I saw that this is one of the most regulated industries in Canada when it comes to safety, emissions, etc. The regulations in Canada are quite intense.

More recently we saw the Ford Government in Ontario scrap the e-test. This required that people with older cars scrap their cars if they could not have them pass an emissions test. This was harder on poor people than on the wealthy. It is a known fact that wealthier people have an easier time buying new cars. That being said, I wager that the e-test lowered pollution in Ontario (albeit on a very minor scale), even if the poor had to take the hit for it.

Many measures have been taken in recent year to reduce emissions.

And of course, the science changes with the environment. Ten years ago, the craze was global warming. Right now the scare is that extreme changes in climate are causing floods, famine, and hurricanes. The debate has shifted from global cooling to global warming to climate change. In light of this, I wonder as much as I really do believe that we are compelled to care for our environment, how much of this is a scam?

A couple years back, I pointed out to a friend that I was more environmentally friendly than most environmental activists since at that time I did not own a car and got everywhere on a bicycle. It was far more cost effective than other modes of travel.

Even so, Christians are called to be aware of how the curse in Genesis 1 has affected our environment and we are called to care for it in light of Genesis 1:27: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” We have been given this creation to care for as stewards in service of the Creator of heaven and earth. As stewards, we must remember that it is a gift from God, and so we should take care of it in service to Him.

In light of this, we should remember that He is in control. He is in control of the weather patterns, of life and death, etc. He cares even for the sparrow and the lillies of the field. As such, no matter what we do, we cannot remove the problem of sin, we cannot stop Him from hurling judgement in the form of a hurricane or a famine. 

When I hear of protests across Canada and the world, I hear people protesting something that they can’t do anything about. They are not coming up with solutions, except to put an end to many forms of industry and to hinder people getting to work. Industries that are already loaded with regulations are being shut down. The protests in Edmonton, Vancouver and Halifax, hindered the search for solutions, it did not help.

The left-wing struggle for the environment already overthrew their source of income for finding a solution when they brought down the oil industry in Canada.

That being said, I also don’t see much of this as being overly scientifically grounded. From a perspective of caring for the environment, I can appreciate initiatives to properly dispose of garbage, rotate crops, replenish nutrients in the soil, take care not to wipe out forests, encourage industries and car manufacturers to regulate emissions. You might call this micro-environmentalism.

But macro-environmentalism changes with the weather. It goes from fear about global cooling to global warming to climate change. And then the cycle starts all over again. And then I wonder if it is more about control and ideology, than about good science and good facts. 

 

Some Reflections Following the #MeToo Era

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A quick Google search shows that even though the media has largely gone quiet on the #MeToo movement, there are still some lingering Tweets and articles on it. It has now been dubbed the #MeToo era and many have been left to scratch their heads over its lingering effects. I do believe that the whole debacle is worth reflecting on briefly.

The explosive nature of its eruption on social media brought on many injustices. As always, when there are “revolutions”, these movements bring on mixed emotions. In one case a woman may have lied, in another case the facts may have gotten skewed after 20 years of emotional turmoil, in yet another case the procedures may have fallen far short of anything judicious.

But lets say that we take a step back and analyze the #MeToo era at arms length. A massive movement like this doesn’t happen out of nowhere. We might critique the excesses of the movement. We might critique the litigious desire of certain women. We might critique the lack of judicial process. But the fact is, the Movement happened. And we would do well to self-reflect on their critique in the after math.

When people joke about the #MeToo movement, and laugh at emotionally vulnerable women, I am left scratching my head. Yeah but… these kind of things don’t happen out of nowhere. I would wager that for as many abuses as were perpetrated by the #MeToo Movement, there are many many more skeletons that we have never seen, because women are too scared of the potential lash-back.

Women tend to receive the short end of the stick in the pro-life movement. I think of how in many of the stories I know of, a pregnant woman gets up on stage by herself to repent for her abortion. But she didn’t get pregnant by herself. Where did the man go? There are actually guys who blur and push boundaries. There are guys who actually manipulate women into having sex with them. There are guys who rape. There actually are drunken parties where bad things happen. I would wager that many members of conservative Christian churches are quicker to minimize these stories than confront them head on in love and mercy and… justice. Why? Because, everybody is a sinner, they say. Not sure when that became a justification…

Yes. Both men and women are sinners. But lets be honest with ourselves. Even conservatives believe the lie of equality when it comes to protecting themselves. Women are the weaker vessel (I Peter 3:7). There is nothing sexist about this statement. It is simply a recognition of basic biology to notice that it was far easier for Joseph to flee the grasp of Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39) than it was for Dina to flee the grasp of Shechem (Gen. 34).

Yes, a man must not give his strength to the women who destroy kings (Prov. 31:3). And that includes not giving his strength to many of the women in the #MeToo Movement. But he is also called to stand up and open his mouths for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute, to open his mouth and judge righteously, to defend the rights of the poor and the needy (Prov. 31:8). He is called to be a humble servant of Jesus Christ.

Habakkuk writes in 1:4: “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” I am sure that many women in the #MeToo era would have identified with this statement. I argue that #MeToo happened, because in many parts of North America, the law is paralyzed and justice is perverted. I would also argue that if the Church doesn’t take responsibility for her role in the situation, this situation will go from bad to worse. Hosea ran into the problem in his day that there were many whores among the women. But what does he say in 4:14? “I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.” Men don’t get a free pass on their lusts after the #MeToo era.

I can imagine many situations which are very appropriate to speak out loud and clear and to take the appropriate avenues for criticism. I would suggest that #MeToo revealed a massive problem that has gone unaddressed for far to long. I am glad that it got people talking and thinking about the issues. It may be good that a lid was put on the excesses. But we should not allow the excesses to become a straw-man for the real issues at stake. We should not allow wicked men to put a lid on any criticism. Remember for all the excesses of the women in the #MeToo movement, the abuses of many men are just as excessive. And more. I would simply say: if there is something wrong, work and pray. Keep fighting and trusting. Love would say something. Love would fight.


Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

Just Societies Need Just Men

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The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:

What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?

What are you doing, son of my vows?

Do not give your strength to women,

your ways to those who destroy kings.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel,

it is not for kings to drink wine,

or for rulers to take strong drink,

lest they drink and forget what has been decreed

and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.

Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,

and wine to those in bitter distress;

let them drink and forget their poverty

and remember their misery no more.

Open your mouth for the mute,

for the rights of all who are destitute.

Open your mouth, judge righteously,

defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:1-9)

When I was in College, my Dean told me that it is really important for young men to read Proverbs. And when they are done it, they should read it again. And again. Seeing as it is addressed to a young man, there’s a point to what he was saying. The fact was, I was always mystified by a lot of the comments that were held in there. Lady wisdom seemed elusive. If we are saved by grace through faith and not of works, why this call to pursue lady wisdom with such passion and yearning? Just consider the passion with which we are called to seek Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 2.

Over the last couple years, I have done some research on the Book of Proverbs. It has always bothered me that this book is so scattered. Is there no rhyme or rhythm? Is it a collection of Proverbs like the book of Psalms is a collection of songs? Or is there some sort of thematic organization of these Proverbs. It is probable that most of them were written by Solomon. It may be that Solomon wrote Proverbs 31 under Lemuel’s name. It may be that Solomon compiled the Proverbs of various men in the power of the Holy Spirit. All we have in the immediate text is that Proverbs 30 was written by Augur and Proverbs 31 was written by Lemuel.

I have pieced them together my research from the meager resources in this way. In Proverbs 1, we see that Solomon is speaking to a young man, a prince in this setting. Seeing as young men are rash and easily go astray, all this wisdom is crucial for his development. Over the course of this “narrative” or “drama,” this young man comes in contact with strange women, with rulers, with bands of fools who want him to join their number. Every young man can identify with all these temptations. Through all these various temptations, the young man is called to pursue lady wisdom, a metaphor for Christ. As he pursues Christ, there are some very practical applications in the way he approaches the table of a ruler, the way he deals with fools and conflict, and the way he responds to women and wine.

The height of this “drama” is when he choses lady wisdom as displayed in the choice of a good wife: the Proverbs 31 woman. He has not chosen the wicked woman, he has chosen lady wisdom. Here, it seems that King Lemuel is relating the words of His mother in the form of a Proverb. He is writing, but he is writing down her words. It seems that there are several layers to this passage: this woman of Proverbs 31 summarizes the themes of Proverbs, she represents wisdom, but she also represents the bride of christ, the Church. I also find it interesting that the Hebrew Bible places Ruth right after Proverbs 31. But we shan’t speculate too much.

Our text:

In Proverbs 31 our primary focus is the man, Prince, or King of Proverbs 31. Sure, Proverbs 31 has become cliché in evangelical culture, but we have to remember that the writer of this passage wrote down the Words of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must realize the powerful imagery and wisdom which is presented in the first 9 verses of this text. King Lemuel’s mother is the voice of wisdom. She knows that her son is a King. But as a lady of wisdom she also knows what is the making or breaking of a man or a king. Seeing as she is the king’s mother, or Queen, she has probably seen a number of kings come to destruction. We’ll turn quickly to her first two admonitions and dwell for longer on the last one, since I believe that this one is in great need of emphasis in our culture. Remember Proverbs 1: 20-23 in this context:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,

in the markets she raises her voice;

at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;

at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?

How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing

and fools hate knowledge?

If you turn at my reproof,

behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;

I will make my words known to you.

There are two things which King Lemuel is called to avoid: women who destroy the ways of kings, and wine. This is directly opposed to the culture’s view of masculinity. In our culture, a strong man gets in bed with as many women as possible and can down more shots of whiskey on a Friday night than the other men around him. He drops the F-bomb, if not often, at least on occasion. Donald Trump is a real man to many men. He is considered strong because he is a bull in a China shop.

We could call these the negative commands in this passage, but the verses post vs. 9 show quite the opposite. The result of obeying these commands is glory. These are very positive commands. There is real strength and glory in being a one-woman man, there is real strength in avoiding the abuse of booze. Proverbs has made abundant use of contrasting the way of death to the way of life. “Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her” Often the things that promise life bring death, but the promises of God in Proverbs are true. There is only life in Proverbs. Wisdom will pour out her spirit on you.

One of the reasons we are called not to be given to strong drink is that when we drink to much, we “drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” The commission of a King is to defend righteousness and to defend the rights of those who are afflicted. This is revealed in the third imperative: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

This is the positive task of the King. Throughout proverbs the true King is called not “to put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great,” for as the following verse says, it is better to be raised up than put down. The focus of a King is not upon money, power, or fame, his focus is on service. He is called to be sensitive to the needs of those suffering in his kingdom. But he is also called to not allow this sensitivity to cripple him. He must stand up. He must open his mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy. This is what it means to have royal authority.

Such is the state of Paul in 2 Corinthians as he sees himself as a servant of the congregation through Jesus Christ. The way of authority in the new testament goes through the cross. And often what you see there are nails, and torn skin, and the Son of God stretched out on a cross, suffering for the sins of the world. For the mute, for the destitute, for the poor and the needy. Christ did it so that we could take up our cross in His strength. He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him.

I find it fascinating that this is his Mom saying this to him. What? Submit myself to a woman? Sure, men are the ones called to have authority in the church. But it is the wisdom of a wise Mother like Lemuel’s Mom which endows authority with wisdom. But listening to a woman!!!! How is this possible? Here, once again is the importance of a King not giving his ways to the ways of women who destroy kings or to the false promises of the bottle. It is the wisdom of a voice like that of his mother which leads him down the path of righteousness. The woman who does not destroy Kings calls him to serve, to stoop down, to defend the needy. Sometimes she has to scream at him from the market square as he goes to his death. So that she might save him from death. This is a very high view of women in the church! They help us to see the need for humility, to see the need for the Kingly task of service.

There is a wisdom that the Lord calls His Princes to, that the world might scoff at, but is the mark of a King: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). This is the way of the cross. But it is also the way of joy, true joy. As seminarians let us rejoice and delight in this path of service that the Lord calls His princes too. “It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Prov. 3:8) “Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.” (Prov. 4: 5-6) “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” (Prov. 4:18)


I wrote this as a chapel message in the first semester of the 2016-2017 school year at CRTS.


How Shall We Then Fight?

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Reformed and Presbyterians, at least of the more conservative brand, are known to be scrappy. J. Gresham Machen, one of the founding pastors of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, wrote in his book Christianity & Liberalism: “In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.” While Machen’s “Warrior Children” took this a little too far when they began to scrap over the type of wood in the pews of the sanctuary, Machen’s point itself is one that should not be easily dismissed.

It is a Biblical point that Machen begins to formulate here in his polemic against liberalism in the church. Jude writes, calling on Christians to contend for the faith (Jude 3). Paul’s letter to Titus and Timothy are both a code of conduct in the battles that they must fight in the church and the world. Especially when it came to really important matters like Jewish people eating with Greek people in the church, the Apostle Paul was willing to stand up and confront his colleague the Apostle Peter (Gal. 2:11-14). I’m sure I could come up with many more examples of a call to conflict. We must contend for the truth.

Of course, I can already hear cheering from the bleachers, but you might realize that it is mainly the church foot ball team and a few farmers. On the other hand, there are a number of people who are wondering if this is tactful and helpful for the church. This group refers to Christ’s blessing on the peacemakers. Or as The Apostle Paul states in his letter to Timothy: “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;” (I Tim. 2:8). This is probably one of the most unpopular verses in Scripture among the anti-effeminacy crowd. Remember, even King David says: “Your gentleness made me great.” (Psalm 18:35)

Calvin’s exposition of the Sermon on the Mount was helpful for me. I recall that he explains that the word ‘peacemaker’ is a compound one. It involves peace, but it also involves an active making of peace. Machen realized that the peace of his time was a false peace. But he was also very careful making distinctions between members and office-bearers. Although Presbyterian, he was careful to recognize his solidarity with other variations of Protestantism and even Roman Catholicism to some degree against liberalism.

So if fight we must, how shall we then fight? Obviously any warfare in the church should engage with the whole counsel of God including Paul’s command to lift holy hands without anger or quarreling. This mean that we should also engage with the whole counsel of God for Christian living. So asking the question “how shall we fight?” brings up other questions “who shall we fight?” “what ideas shall we fight?” “when shall we fight?”. Is direct confrontation always the best mode of attack? Much more could be said about what is a hill to die on and what exactly is worth dividing over.

But there are other important questions. In your fights, is your speech exemplary and are your actions just as exemplary? Is your combat shaped by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (James 3:14), or is it shaped by the wisdom from above which “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere” (James 3:17)? Again, James permits an active “peacemaking” here, but it must have a goal: “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:18)

I am thankful for the battles that Machen fought almost 100 years ago. I am thankful for the battles that leaders in the Christian Reformed Church fought 25 years ago as they worked to form the United Reformed Churches. But in a church of splinters and fragments we should not forget to ask the question “how should we then fight?” Yes, we must fight, but we must also lift holy hands without quarreling and anger, as well as submit to the wisdom that is from above in all our contention for truth. Machen himself wrote at the close of his book on Christianity and Liberalism:

Is there no refuge from the strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus’ name, to forget for the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling over industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? if there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive a weary world.

I have more questions than answers here. But I believe that some of the Biblical principles laid out above are a good start. One thing that I have learned is that if men who love the Holy Bible don’t contend for peace, those who love brawling and error/heresy and sin will win the day. So yes, the word ‘peacemaker’ does indeed involve contention.


 

 

Setting the Bar for Dating: But Everybody Kisses!

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Dating culture has to be one of the more awkward aspects of striving to be a Christian in North America. Even in the Church, different communities have set various expectations and boundaries. Some communities set the bar high and some set the bar low. Others promote various forms of legalism, while others mislabel appropriate boundaries as legalistic. Let us begin this discussion with the assumption that Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord.

Take kissing as an example of a boundary. Everybody loves kissing a person that they are attracted to. This is where confusion begins to happen. My parents made it simple and (wisely) cautioned against all and every form of kissing on the mouth before marriage. And no, they never apologized for this position. I am thankful for that faithful and direct leadership. Not all evangelicals feel the need to apologize for their fight for godliness. In spite of that position, by and large, I would wager that kissing is commonly accepted and even assumed in many United Reformed and Canadian Reformed communities.

Now, someone might ask, what is your problem with kissing? The Bible does not speak much of it. Obviously, the clearest references are to sex outside of marriage. That is why the Apostle Paul encourages men and women to get married (I Cor. 7:2). That’s why sex is limited to the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4). That is why Paul commands Christians to flee sexual immorality (I Cor. 6:18-20). This is why sex before marriage is condemned in Deut. 22:13-19. But what does any of this have to do with kissing? What does this have to do with the 19 year old guy who wants to move to first base on his first date and his girlfriend feels uncomfortable because she has never kissed before? Nathan, you Pharisee! You holy roller! You Bible thumper!

Jesus goes deeper than the legalistic leaders in Israel who add line upon line and measure upon measure (Isaiah 28:13). He challenges the problem of lust in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus not only says that the one who lusts commits adultery (Matt. 5:28). But he also encourages young men to do anything to avoid that lust: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matt. 5:29-30) This teaching of Christ was promoted in Lord’s Day 41 the Heidelberg Catechism in the 1500s: “Therefore he forbids all unchaste acts, gestures, words, thoughts, desires,and whatever may entice us to unchastity.”

I become more and more convinced of the relevance of the Letters to Corinth to the Church in North America. We live in a culture dominated by entertainment, wealth, and laziness. The laissez-faire attitude toward sin in the culture is absorbed by the church. Reformed Christians talk about Christian liberty, and we often use this as a justification for our perversions. As a friend once pointed out to me: right theology does not guarantee right living.

The Apostle Peter warned the church about an abuse of Christian liberty in I Peter 2:16 “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” The Apostle Paul launches an argument back against the self-justifications of the Corinthian church: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” (I Cor. 6:12) This principle was important enough to the Apostle Paul and so necessary for the church in Corinth that he repeats it in reference to serving one another: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (I Cor. 10:23-24)

Since the first cavil against someone who tries to establish boundaries is that they are graceless, I may as well refute this argument asap. Sexual immorality before marriage does not turn you into damaged goods. Jesus dispenses His grace to sexual sinners who believe in His Name. But then His grace confronts old identities: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor. 6:11) The Apostle Paul himself engages with the culture in Thessalonika for a Christian culture: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (I Thess 4:3-5)

So here is my appeal to the 19-year-old guy who is evaluating the wisdom of making out with his girlfriend in the back of his pick-up at 1:00 in the morning. No the Bible does not condemn that in those words. It’s cool though that you care so much about what the Bible exactly says. When did you become a Biblicist? I know she is cute. But lets think this through rationally. Are you free from lust? Is this helpful for your spiritual life? Is this truly beneficial to your girlfriend? Are you controlling your body in holiness and honour? Does this provide strong Christian leadership? Does this show the strength of Spirit-filled self-control? I know, you think you are strong. But you won’t be the first guy to cross home base and make a home run. Why not do that honorably (ie within the bounds of marriage)?

So yes, you may not know of a single girl who has not kissed within the first couple dates. Sure, you may think that it is totally fine to kiss a girl and to kiss as many girls as you date. But maybe, just maybe, the bar is set too low and that is why there is so much sexual immorality in our churches. Maybe we have to think of boundaries less as legalisms and more as that act of tearing out the eye and cutting off the hands so that the whole body will not go to Hell.