Matthew 16.24-28 – Servants of Christ
Posted: 15 November 2010 in Matthew

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

The Bible is full of hard truths, and here is another one. If we would be Christ’s servants, we must lose our lives, in the sense of handing them wholly over to him, so that he can do with them as he wishes. We will have to go wherever he leads, and the service of God will not be something we do whenever we have a spare five minutes. Truly being Christ’s servants will mean we are no more free to pursue our own desires or ambitions than were medieval slaves.

How many of us today are prepared to have our lives as wholly owned by God as was Paul’s after his conversion?

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Proverbs 21.30
Posted: 2 November 2010 in Proverbs, Scripture

There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD

The thing which struck me about that verse is how freely it is ignored today. You might expect that atheists would sit as light to it as they do any other part of the Bible, but all over the web you can find professing Christians doing the same thing. If there is some part of God’s self revelation they don’t like, at best they might ignore it, and at worst they will feel free to lecture God about his misdemeanours, and how this is no fitting way for a well behaved deity to conduct himself.

A typical example involves telling God that he can’t consign anybody to eternal punishment, because they don’t think he should. As laudable as the sentiment behind that may be, the Bible says what it says, and if somebody is really serious about embracing it as the word of God, they must accept what it says – whether they like it or not.

The more sophisticated amongst them might try to give the Greek word κόλασις a creative reinterpretation, but any lexicon, which is not being made to say what they want it to say, will soon reveal “punishment” to be an accurate translation.

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Malachi 1.1-4 & Romans 9.9-13 – Election and the Love of God
Posted: 25 September 2010 in Malachi, Romans

The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever.

For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

Elsewhere on the internet today, somebody posted a question about whether God loves everybody, with especial reference to the Jacob/Esau motif. The answer to the question is yes he does, because the Creator must almost by definition love his own creation. Rembrandt did not complete the Mona Lisa, and then immediately say, “What an awful painting – it’s absolutely terrible!” On the other hand it is clear that God does not love everybody equally – he has his elect.

One response to the post I have just mentioned was that God might hate somebody when they are sinning, but love them after they repent. That is clearly not what the Jacob/Esau motif is all about. In the Genesis story, as well as in the Malachi passage above, it is obviously the election of Israel which is being talked about. Then, in the New Testament, Paul uses the same motif in connection with the election of individuals.

Throughout the Bible God is portrayed as a God who elects individuals and nations, according to his own good pleasure, and for no reason which obviously inheres in those so chosen. This concept of sovereign election was almost as scandalous in Paul’s time as it is today. But whilst I am usually to be found insisting that the Bible is not a biology or physics text book, it does have one thing in common with them – namely that they are all in the business of reporting objective facts. It is no more open to us to reject what the Bible has to say about election, and decide for ourselves what we would like God to look like, than it is for us to reject the contents of a scientific text book, and decide for ourselves what we would like the laws of nature to look like.

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Ezekiel 28.1-10 – Self idolatry and who is truly blessed
Posted: 24 September 2010 in Ezekiel

The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying, Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyrus, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas; yet thou art a man, and not God, though thou set thine heart as the heart of God: Behold, thou art wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that they can hide from thee: With thy wisdom and with thine understanding thou hast gotten thee riches, and hast gotten gold and silver into thy treasures: By thy great wisdom and by thy traffick hast thou increased thy riches, and thine heart is lifted up because of thy riches: Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thou hast set thine heart as the heart of God; Behold, therefore I will bring strangers upon thee, the terrible of the nations: and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of thy wisdom, and they shall defile thy brightness. They shall bring thee down to the pit, and thou shalt die the deaths of them that are slain in the midst of the seas. Wilt thou yet say before him that slayeth thee, I am God? but thou shalt be a man, and no God, in the hand of him that slayeth thee. Thou shalt die the deaths of the uncircumcised by the hand of strangers: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD.

Here again human pride is being condemned; perhaps in especially forceful terms because, with his absolute power, an absolute monarch is particularly tempted to set himself on a par with God. The prince of Tyrus apparently succumbed to that temptation. God is Lord of all creation, and we all are his servants – including those amongst us who, like the prince of Tyrus, may dislike that fact intensely. Paradoxically, people whose self will is frustrated at almost every turn, and whom God allows little worldly success, are actually being blessed by God. Without any reason to think of themselves as masters of the universe, they are much better placed to allow God his rightful role in their lives, and, like Abraham before them, much better placed to become his friends.

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Genesis 15.7-16 – The God who is less than fluffy.
Posted: 22 September 2010 in Genesis

And he said unto him [Abram], I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, LORD God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away. And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

The God of the Bible is clearly not the God of so much liberal theology. The God of the Bible is the one who promises Abraham that his descendants will spend four hundred years as slaves in Egypt. This is the same Abraham, be it remembered, who is elsewhere described as God’s friend. The God of liberal theology, on the other hand, is the God whose sole concern is to make our lives as trouble free as possible. The God of liberal theology is likewise the one who is exclusively the God of love, never the God of wrath, and who promises universal salvation. The God of the Bible, on the other hand, is the one who tells his disciples that few will find salvation:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matt 7.13.14).

Belief in such a God leads straight into the “problem of theodicy”. The attraction of believing in a God whose concerns and motivations are exactly our concerns and motivations, is obvious enough. The problem with it is that it has little enough scriptural warrant. It is difficult to see how a theology, which ignores what the Bible has to say for itself whenever what it says for itself is found to be unpalatable, can reasonably be described as legitimate. It might be thought that the reintroduction of some objectivity into theology is long overdue.

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