Archive for November, 2013

A Respectable Sin?

November 12, 2013

 

Two things are quite remarkable about sins of the tongue: one is the severity with which the Bible speaks of them, and the other is the impunity with which Christians indulge in them.

 

We rightly abhor adultery, theft and murder and such things, but seem to hold that gossip and backbiting are relatively harmless.  Yet what does the Scripture say?

 

Psalm 15:1‑3,  A Psalm of David.

   “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?

    Who may dwell in Your holy hill?

 

    [2] He who walks uprightly,

        And works righteousness,

        And speaks the truth in his heart;

    [3] He who does not backbite with his tongue,

        Nor does evil to his neighbour,

        Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend…

 

Backbiting is included in that terrible list of sins committed by those whom God gives up according to Romans 1:28‑32 which includes these words…

    “…being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil‑mindedness; they are whisperers, [30] backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,..”

 

Gossip is forbidden in both Old and New Testaments.

Leviticus 19:16

 

“You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbour: I am the Lord.”

 

Proverbs 11:13

   “ A talebearer reveals secrets,

    But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.

 

 Even in civil law speaking in a way to damage another person’s character is a serious offence.  In English law libel and slander are both referred to under the general description of ‘defamation’, and a remedy in damages is awarded in civil proceedings.    How much more should Christians avoid it? The ethical basis for laws on defamation is found in the ninth commandment forbidding false witness (Ex. 20:16).  But slander and gossip are condemned in many places in the Bible.

Here is a selection of relevant scriptures.

 

Psalm 101:5

   “ Whoever secretly slanders his neighbour,

    Him I will destroy…”

What a dreadful fate threatened for a ‘respectable sin’!

 

We are told some of the things God hates in  Proverbs 6:16‑19:

    “These six things the Lord hates,

    Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

    [17] A proud look, a lying tongue,

    Hands that shed innocent blood,

    [18] A heart that devises wicked plans,

    Feet that are swift in running to evil,

    [19] A false witness who speaks lies,

    And one who sows discord among brethren.”

 

Have we taken to heart that God hates gossip (v. 19) as much as murder (v. 17)?

 

We all are aware that an atheist is a fool for “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God’”.  But had we realized that God says that the slanderer is a fool also?

Proverbs 10:18

   “ Whoever hides hatred has lying lips,

    And whoever spreads slander is a fool.”

 

No wonder talebearers and slanderers are to be avoided:

Proverbs 20:19

   “ He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets;

    Therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips.”

 

Consider what Proverbs 26:20‑23 means:

   “ Where there is no wood, the fire goes out;

    And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.”

The implication is that talebearers stir up bad feeling among people.

 

Do we take the words of Christ in Matthew 12:34‑37 seriously?

   “ Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. [35] A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. [36] But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. [37] For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

What a solemn pronouncement!

 

 

The New Testament makes clear that the servants of Christ have special responsibilities in this regard.  For example, Titus 3:2 instructs the leader…

“…to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.”

 

We may think we are living a respectable ‘religious’ life, but we could be deceiving ourselves as James makes clear.

James 1:26

   “ If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.”

 

To stay with James for a moment, the following famous passage on the tongue needs to be meditated upon frequently and applied constantly.

James 3:5‑10

   “ Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! [6] And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. [7] For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. [8] But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. [9] With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. [10] Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”

 

James 4:11 tells us that speaking evil of one another has wider implications:

 

    “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”

 

What else are we told about slander in the Bible?  Here are a few points to ponder:

 Slander comes from an evil heart (Luke 6:45).  The wicked are addicted to it (Psa. 50:16, 19, 20) as are hypocrites (Prov. 11:9).  It is a characteristic of the devil (Rev. 12:10), and those who indulge in it are doing the devil’s work for him.  Those who indulge in it are fools (Prov. 10:18).  Ministers’ wives especially should avoid it (I Tim. 3:11). 

The saints should keep their tongues from slander – Psalm 34:13

   “ Keep your tongue from evil,

    And your lips from speaking deceit.”  (Cf. 1 Peter 3:10).

 

I Timothy 5:19 is a special case of this matter.  Ministers are to be protected from malicious gossips.

   “ Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.”

 

There are several points to notice here.  First, this verse speaks of receiving (not believing) an accusation with a view to investigation and verifying the accusation.  It does not mean that the accusation should be believed at first.

Secondly, the word “mouth” indicates a verbal witness, and implies that the accusers must be willing to make the accusation in front of the accused.  If they are unwilling to uphold their accusation before the one they accuse then they are gossips and should be disregarded or even rebuked.

 

William Hendriksen comments on this verse as follows:

 

19. Now this “honor” which is the elder’s due should express itself also in another way: Never entertain an accusation against an elder unless (it is) supported by two or three witnesses.

An accusation against an elder must be upon -that is, must be based upon the oral testimony of – two or three witnesses. Note that though of old any Israelite was safeguarded against indictment and sentencing unless two or three reliable witnesses testified against him (cf. Deut. 17:6; cf. Num. 35:30…), here (I Tim. 5:19) pres­byters are safeguarded even against having to answer a charge (cf. Ex. 23:1 in LXX), unless it be at once supported by two or three witnesses. Lacking such support, the accusation must not even be taken up or entertained. The reputation of the elder must not be unnecessarily damaged, and his work must not suffer unnecessary interruption. (Emphasis added).[i]

 

Douglas J. W. Milne explains the verse in this way:

Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses (verse 19). In God’s cov­enant community of the local church, one member cannot go about slandering another individual, especially if this other mem­ber happens to be a leader of the church. The Mosaic legislation to which Paul appeals here guarded against this possibility by

instituting the law of double evidence. By this law a charge against another member of the community would only be considered if two independent witnesses came forward (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Paul applies the same standard to Christian church life, so as to prevent individuals or groups acting out of prejudice, jealousy or animosity against a church leader who might have acted justly in the discharge of his responsibilities. [ii]

 

 

A redoubtable lady (Hannah More) whose life spanned the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when approached with an item of gossip, serious criticism or slander, would hurry the accuser off to face the accused in order to ascertain the truth of the matter.  We may be sure that when her practice became widely known, few would approach her with gossip or false accusations.  Oh that we Christians would be more strict in dealing with those who do the devil’s work of slander.

 

 Even in civil law an accusation cannot be upheld without giving the accused an opportunity to defend himself or herself.  Yet so often Christians believe what is whispered and “take up a reproach” against another believer without giving that person a chance to deny the accusation.

 

The Scripture is very clear as to how alleged offences are to be dealt with.

Matthew 18:15‑16

    “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. [16] But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’

 

The offence must never be spread or broadcast beyond those it immediately effects unless it becomes a matter of church discipline.  Even then care should be taken not to spread gossip.

 

In any case, if we have falsely accused a brother or sister, or even believed a false accusation, we should apologize and get right with that person before worshipping God.

 

Matthew 5:23‑24

 

    Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, [24] leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

 

How easy it is to fall into this sin!  We all fail from time to time for, as James says, a person who could control his tongue would be a perfect man.  Let us therefore seek to mortify this sin of the flesh.

 

One final word.  A simple test as to whether it is right or not to pass on some titbit (or listen to it) is to pose three questions: First, is it absolutely true? Secondly, is it really necessary?  Thirdly, is it truly kind?  Will this violate the law of love in 1 Corinthians 13?

There must be very few bits of critical or harmful gossip about another person that easily pass those three tests.

S.J.

 

 

Notes.

 


[i]. William Hendriksen, The Epistles to Timothy & Titus, Banner of Truth.

[ii]. Douglas J. W. Milne, 1. 2. Timothy and Titus, Focus on the Bible, Christian Focus.

Misdirection and Misapprehension

November 6, 2013

In my teens I was interested in conjuring.  I used to perform at church concerts and socials.  However, when I was converted at the age of sixteen I gave up conjuring.  I felt it sat uneasily with my new-found faith. Conjuring is all about deception.  One of the main techniques in conjuring is misdirection.  The performer directs attention away from what he is really doing.  He pretends to be doing one thing but is really doing another.  This misdirection is intentional and deliberate.

Whether it is realized by its adherents or not, Covenant Theology involves misdirection.  This is not deliberate and is not intended.  The believers in  Covenant Theology are not engaged in deception, far from it.  They are very sincere.  But they themselves are being deceived by misdirection, and so come to misapprehend what the Bible teaches.  Sometimes, Baptist and  Covenant theologians, influenced by the 1689 Confession, which is largely based upon the Westminster Confession, will use Covenant terminology, such as “the covenant of grace”.  But this is misleading and can lead to misapprehension.

Here are three examples of misdirection:

  1. The misunderstanding of Genesis 3:15.  Covenant theologians refer to this verse as a “covenant promise.”  But this is erroneous and so is misleading.  It is a case of misdirection leading to misapprehension.  Why is this so?  First, because these words are addressed to Satan not Adam.  Second, because the context is curse not covenant.  The word “covenant” is nowhere mentioned in this passage.  Third, this is a threat, or rather a prediction, not a promise.  Certainly, of course, believers recognize in these words to Satan the first hint of the cross, but that is not its main thrust.  Fourth, God does not establish His covenants via Satan; the serpent is not an intermediary between God and man.  Fifth, when God establishes a covenant he always addresses those with whom he is making the covenant, or their representatives.
  2. The misunderstanding of Acts chapter seven and verse 38.  Here, in the AV is a reference to “the church in the wilderness.”  The word translated “church” is ekklesia.”  It expresses the idea of ‘called out ones’, and is properly translated ‘assembly’.  By the translation of this word as “church” in Acts 7:38 it is assumed that the church existed in the wilderness.  But this is another case of misdirection leading to misapprehension.  To see this, note that the same word, “ekklesia” is used of the assembly of citizens in Ephesus in Acts 19:32, 39 and 41.  Should we then call them the church also?  Of course not.  If we translate the word consistently as “assembly, then there is no necessary ecclesiastical connection.  The context then decides which assembly is being referred to.  The church of Jesus Christ, the Christian assembly, was formed at Pentecost.  The Lord Jesus Christ said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) clearly indicating that this was a future activity.
  3. The third misdirection leading to misapprehension concerns the use of the phrase, “covenant of grace.”  This phrase was coined to refer to God’s overarching purpose of redemption, but it has become misleading.  It gives the impression that there is only one covenant, and so it “papers over the cracks” in Covenant Theology.  But “covenant of grace” is not a biblical phrase.  It is found nowhere in the Bible.  Yet people refer to it as though it were an established fact of history, rather than a theological construct.  In fact it misdirects people’s attention away from the biblical teaching that there is a clear distinction between the various covenants.
    1. For example, the covenant with Abraham was about the land, and God promised a multiplicity of descendants.  That is why the sign of circumcision is relevant to that promise.  A small operation on the male organ of reproduction will be a permanent reminder that God has promised many descendants.
    2. The covenant made with Israel at Sinai was not the same one.  Moses expressly declared that the covenant made at Horeb was not made with the “fathers” (Deut. 5:2, 3).  The distinctive sign of this covenant was the Sabbath (Ex. 31:12-18; cf. Ezekiel 20:12, 20).
    3. In Jeremiah’s prophecy God declares that the New Covenant would be “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers” (Jer. 31:31-34).  In the New Testament this New Covenant is ratified by the Lord Jesus at the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  The distinctive sign is the cup representing Christ’s blood.  Hebrews 8:7 implies that the old covenant was faulty, while verse 15 states that it was obsolete, growing old and ready to vanish away.  The New Covenant is not to be identified with the Old Covenant made with Israel (Compare also 2 Cor. 3”7-18; Gal. 4:21-31; Heb. 7:22; 9:15ff.).

Clearly there is a definite distinction between these covenants, and to gather them together and call them aspects of one covenant using a non-biblical phrase to do so, is misleading.  We must beware of theological misdirection that leads to misapprehension.

The Distinction of the Covenants

November 1, 2013

 

Sometimes one will read an author who refers to “the covenant” without explaining which covenant they are referring to.  In fact, many believe that there is only one covenant, variously revealed in different dispensations.

Some preachers and writers refer to “the covenant of grace,” again without explaining which covenant they mean.  Of course, one is fully aware that these people believe that there is only one covenant, revealed in various manifestations in history, as mentioned above.

However, it is important to know that the phrase “covenant of grace” is not a biblical phrase.  It is a phrase used by theologians to describe God’s over-arching purpose in redemption history.  In a sense, all of God’s covenants are gracious covenants.  And there is not just a single covenant.  There are several.

There is the covenant with Noah (Genesis 8 and 9) in which God promised not to flood the world again.  This promise was for all mankind and no conditions were applied.

Then there was the covenant God made with Abraham, in which God promised a multiplicity of descendants and the possession of the land, (Gen. 15 and 17).  The sign of the covenant, appropriate as relating to descendants, was circumcision.  Circumcision was a sign a reminder, not a seal or guarantee.  Ishmael also was circumcised.

Then there was the national covenant God made with Israel at Sinai (Exodus 19, 20).  The condition was obedience to God’s law.

Finally, there is the New Covenant, prophesied through Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34) and brought to fulfilment by Christ (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 20:22; Hebrews 8-10).

Much confusion and doctrinal and ecclesiastical error have been produced by attempting to see these covenants as one.  They were and are distinct.  Of course, they were made by the same God, and often concerned the same recipients.  But they are not one covenant.

In Deuteronomy Moses explicitly said that the covenant made at Sinai was not made with the fathers (Deut. 5:1-3).  In Jeremiah God said to Israel that the new covenant will not be according to the covenant He made with their fathers (Jer. 31:31-34).

This distinction is made plain the New Testament.  When Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper He said that the cup was “the new covenant in my blood” (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23ff).

In Galatians Paul insisted that there are two covenants, one from Mount Sinai and one from “Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:21-31).

In 2 Corinthians chapter three Paul again distinguished between old and new covenants, referring to the former as the ministry of death, and the latter as the ministry of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:4-18).

The Epistle to the Hebrews declares that Jesus is “a surety of a better covenant” (Heb. 7:22), and “Mediator of a better covenant (8:6).  Then, quoting Jeremiah 31, the author implies that the first covenant was faulty because of the failure of the Israelites to keep it (v. 7), and states that the first covenant was obsolete, growing old and ready to vanish away 8:13).  This contrast is further explained in Hebrews chapter nine.  Nothing could be clearer than the fact that there is a difference and a distinction between the old and the new covenants.  Bundling them together and calling them “the covenant” leads to much error, biblical misinterpretation and consequent heresy..

Recommended book: A Blake White, What is New Covenant Theology? An Introduction, (New Covenant Media, Frederick, MD, 2012).