Category Archives: Bible

The Purpose of the Sabbath

Bible Open

In our consideration of the Sabbath seen that the fourth commandment is part of the moral law given by God. These laws reflect the very character of God and turning against them is to turn against God. This moral law is summarized in the Ten Commandments (Cf. Deut. 4:13). Since the Sabbath is part of the Decalogue, this commandment is also binding for today. For the sake of time, I am assuming the arguments for the transfer of the Old Testament Sabbath from the seventh day to the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, on the first day of the week. I do that so we can take time to understand the purpose for God giving the fourth commandment instead.

There are three main reasons why God gives us the Sabbath:

First, Exodus 20:8-11 teaches us that God gives us the Sabbath so we might imitate his rest after he had finished his creative work. Each week again, we remember God’s rest and imitate him. Our rest draws us back to the six days of creation when God made all things. He is the creator of all things and therefore is Lord of all things. Nothing in this world falls outside the realm of God’s sovereign power. Considering this truth helps us to remember our obligation to him.

Second, Deuteronomy 5:12-15 teaches us to remember something else: the Exodus. There Moses says Israel is to obey the Sabbath because God led them out of Egypt. In the New Testament economy we have a similar exodus experience. It does not involve sand, tents and Jericho, yet the exodus is just as significant. By God’s grace, we are led out of our bondage to sin to the blessed hope of eternal redemption. We are led out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Cf. Col. 1:13). On the Sabbath we are called to remember our redemption.

Third, because of our propensity to be satisfied with hollow, outward obedience, God also directs our motives for the day. In Isaiah 58:13-14, we are told we ought not delight in our own pleasure but instead delight in the Lord. The function of Sabbath is, in fact, to help us turn from our normal orientation toward the Lord. We know from Romans 12:1-2 that all of life is worship to God, but in a special way, God sets aside the Sabbath for the purpose of worship: a special day for delighting in the Lord.

The Sabbath, then, functions as that weekly reminder of our eternal obligation to the Lord because we are his creatures, his gracious redemption of our souls from Satan’s kingdom and the worship we should give him on this special holy day. So what happens when we neglect the Sabbath? We eliminate the God-given reminder of who we are to live for. Instead of that weekly, central reminder that God is the author of all time, God becomes one of the choices we may make when it comes to using our time. We will work when we want, play when we want, travel when we want, sing when we want, and worship when we want, if at all. Skeptical? Just look around and ask yourself whether the church has flourished or faltered since she turned her back on the Sabbath.

The Sabbath in ALL of History

Sun Breaking Through Clouds

Last post we looked at the Sabbath as one of the three creation ordinances God established to give structure to our relationships with him, his world, and our fellow man. These ordinances are simply ways in which man is to imitate God. Work, marriage and rest are all done by God and as his image-bearers, we should do them as well.

These ordinances were established prior to the fall into sin, and form a perpetual order for mankind. They make up part of the core of man’s obligations to God. There are other obligations God places on his creation as well as part of his relationship with the world. These relationships between God and man in their different forms are called God’s covenants in Scripture. Prior to sin, God’s covenant with man was defined along the lines of his obedience. Man was to live before the Lord in perfect obedience, and in response God would graciously give life (Cf. Gen. 2:17). The initial relationship between God and man is typically called the Covenant of Works, or Life. However, after the fall in Gen. 3:8 man dies both physically and spiritually. His thoughts, motivations and desires are all corrupted by sin.

Man can no longer meet the righteous requirements of the obligations that go along with God’s covenant. However, God in his grace inaugurates another covenant: the Covenant of Grace. In this covenant, though man is unable to fulfill and obey, God sends the seed of the woman to be the mediator between God and man. This mediator is the Christ who lives in perfect obedience to God on our behalf. He came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Mt. 5:17). His perfect righteousness is imputed to us that we would have life. If Christ had disobeyed he would not have been able to mediate between God and man. So Christ’s obedience does matter. God’s obligations for man never change, because they reflect his unchangeable character. These obligations make up God’s moral law.

God’s moral law is distinct from his other laws. When God summarizes the obligations of the covenant he gives to Israel, he summarizes them in the Ten Commandments (Cf. Deut. 4:13). We have already seen that God’s obligations do not change between covenants administrations. That means in all ages, the Ten Commandments are binding. We can easily see this distinction if we try and apply the Decalogue to pre-fall Eden.

If Adam, in Eden, would have decided to make an idol, he would have sinned. If Adam, in Eden, would have murdered or would have stolen, he would have sinned. However, if Adam failed to set up cities of refuge in Eden, he would not have sinned. The moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, was binding for him. The other laws are specific applications of this moral law to the people of Israel, or to the world as a whole now stained with sin.

Now here comes the point of this whole exercise. Since the Sabbath Day is part of the Ten Commandments it is part of God’s perpetual obligations for man and therefore is applicable for us as well. Exactly how that plays itself out in today’s world I leave for the next article.

What Is the Sabbath?

Ten Commandments

“And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’ (Mark 2:27)

Thus the debate begins. Is Sabbath an abiding principle, or is it something just for the nation of Israel? Are there Ten Commandments or nine? Does the New Testament church still need to honor the Sabbath? These are questions over which many sincere believers disagree. But what does the Bible teach us? Before we answer that question let us make time to understand our cultural context.

Until fairly recently North American culture respected the idea of Sabbath. This idea was implemented by the settlers of the New World and can be traced back as early as 1620. More than 300 years later, in 1961 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of laws prohibiting commerce on Sunday. In Canada, the Lord’s Day Act was finally struck down in 1985 to allow stores to be open on Sunday. Those prohibitions have long been cast aside and the idea of a national day of rest is laughable to most. Others, on the other extreme, turn Sunday into a day of list keeping. Therefore we have two extremes. One says the Sabbath is to be ignored, the other turns it into a checklist of things to and not to do.

To understand Sabbath we have to start at the beginning. To what point in history can our foundations for the Sabbath be traced? We can turn right to the beginning of time: creation. As God creates the world he institutes foundational ordinances to shape man’s relationship with the world he is to steward as well as with the God who gave him this responsibility. We will look briefly at the first two before settling in on a more detailed study on the Sabbath:

  1. Work. In Gen. 2:15, God places Adam in Eden to work there. Work is not a result of the fall, but precedes the fall and will continue into heaven. Work is what God does (see John 5:17). Man, as his image bearer, should reflect him.
  2. Marriage. In Gen. 2:24, bringing Adam and Eve together is the foundation for the institution of marriage. It is because God brought the first people together that marriage continues today. In Hosea, God himself is described as the faithful husband to an unfaithful bride, Israel. Marriage is designed by God and practiced faithfully by him. Man, as his image bearer should reflect him.
  3. Sabbath Rest. In Gen. 2:1-3 God sets apart one day in seven for rest. This rest is made up of the enjoyment of God’s blessing and the recognition of the special purpose assigned to the seventh day when God makes it holy (v. 3). Blessing in the Bible is the opposite of cursing. When God curses Adam after the fall he banishes him from his presence (Gen. 3:24). This curse is replaced in heaven with blessing when God promises to dwell among his people (Rev. 21:3). In addition, God makes the Sabbath holy. When God makes something holy he sets it apart for a special use. The seventh day is set apart to enjoy the blessing, or presence, of God. God rests on the seventh day, not from all his work, but from the work of creation. God rests on the seventh day. Man, as his image bearer should reflect him.

Sabbath. It is established at creation as one of the three foundational creation ordinances. Whatever we conclude in the weeks ahead, we cannot say Sabbath is cancelled with Moses’ other ceremonial laws, because it predates the law given at Sinai. Our task in the weeks ahead will be to discern the significance of this creation ordinance in the life of Israel, but then also in the life of the church.

Vices and Virtues

Chess

One important task carried out in Christian homes is family worship. Leading our families in the worship of God and study of his word is one of the main ways the Lord shapes for himself the next generation of his church. However, there are some ways we, as parents, can become unbalanced in our family worship. One way would be to constantly be setting the prohibitions of Scripture before our children. In this kind of family worship our children only know what they should not do. The accompanying confusion should neither surprise or please us. Another way we become unbalanced is to teach our children only one part of our redemption: justification. The grace of the gospel is a far greater blessing than simply God’s declaration of our righteousness. But if justification by faith alone through grace alone is all our children hear, they may fail to recognize the duties God requires of us as his children. There is a very simple way to avoid this mistake: teach your children the Bible’s vices and virtues.

When we teach our children about the vices of Scripture, we teach them of man’s sinful nature and depravity. For example, in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14, we can teach our children the vice of self-righteousness in the Pharisee. Then we help them see it in our own family. We confess our self-righteousness and show them theirs so they would recognize who they are: sinners in need of deliverance both from the guilt and dominion of sin. We should teach our children how they ought not to live. We should tell them: “Christians should not do these things because it displeases the Lord who bought us with a price.” However, to leave our teaching there may unnecessarily discourage our children because they see nothing of the grace of God. We must also teach them the virtues.

When we teach our children about the virtues of Scripture, we teach them of God’s grace. Going back again to the above-mentioned parable, we would hold out the humility of the tax collector as commendable. God is gracious not only to free us from the guilt of our sin, but also to free us from its dominion. We are no longer slaves to the pride of our own lives. He has given us hearts that are able to will and act according to his good pleasure (Cf. Phil. 2:13). The virtues of Scripture remind us that we have been set free: free to do all that which gives glory to God.

In our times of family worship, we should make sure our children recognize they are not okay as they are. We should help them see the depths of their sin. Then we can also help them to see the grace of God which equips them to change and live for the glory of God.

Take Time to Find Yourself…It’s Not What You Think

Bible Open

At the beginning of his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin begins by identifying true wisdom as consisting primarily of our knowledge of God and man. Specifically he states that “Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter 1.1). We could spend a long time investigating that statement, but let us briefly consider its significance.

In the first pages of Scripture God’s greatness is established. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” However creative we may think ourselves, none of us can speak and bring worlds into existence. But not only does God create, but throughout Genesis the patriarchs are led, protected, corrected, and preserved by the Lord. He made the world, brought the flood, called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, promising to bless all the families of the earth through him. It is only God’s greatness and goodness that establish these things.

Scripture, on the other hand, does not present man in the same light. Eight verses after God finishes expelling man from the Garden of Eden the Bible records its first murder. A few verses later, we are introduced to Lamech, the first polygamist and boastful murderer. The patriarchs don’t fare much better. Noah is a drunk, Abraham is twice willing to give his wife to another to save his own skin; Isaac copies his father’s survival technique. Jacob does his best to live up to his name, which means deceiver. Ten of his  sons dabble in a host of wicked behaviors, all in the first book of the Bible. So how does all this help us?

To understand both God’s holiness and man’s depravity means we understand the greatness of our salvation. It is good for us to meditate on both those truths. Especially for those of us who have had the blessing of learning our faith on our parents’ laps, we can begin to grow numb to the message of Scripture. It is in seeing the discrepancy between God’s holiness and man’s depravity that we realize the greatness of our love. Let me illustrate in a limited way by looking at human relationships. We can think of the times when we have been most deserving of our spouse’s, siblings’ or friends’ anger. Yet it is when they return our unkindness with kindness that we realize how much they love us. If Scripture only taught us of our wickedness we would despair. If the Bible only taught us about God’s goodness, we would lose our awe of him. It is in knowing both God’s goodness and our depravity that we see the greatness of God’s gift of redemption. And understanding the greatness of this gift will lead to a daily rejoicing in our salvation, expressed in a commitment to taking every thought, word and deed captive in the service in Christ’s kingdom.

Leading Like a Man

Wedding Rings

Writing an article on the role of husbands should always make the writer feel a twinge of hypocrisy. I know you know this, but there is no such thing as a perfect husband. An article like this one make the writer painfully aware of his own short-comings as a husband. I think we, as husbands, often think of ourselves as better than we really are. A quick look at our standard should be enough to bring us back down to earth. Christ is the standard of the proper treatment of our wives. Even the most proud-hearted husband would have to admit he has not loved his wife as Christ loved the church. That does not mean we should give up. Instead we should repent, and to make a start below are two of the most basic sins we husbands commit and some humble suggestions of solutions:

  1. Selfish Love. So often we love our wives so as to bring maximum comfort to ourselves. How many of us, when getting a snack on our romantic evening together, do a quick size calculation before giving our wives their “half?” Even our best attempts at love have twinges of selfishness. The solution is not a greater affection for our wives, but rather a greater affection for the Lord. It is in our proper understanding of the work of Christ and the greatness of his forgiveness for us that our expression will change. Only when we love our Savior more will we, as husbands, show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel (1 Pet. 3:7). The solution to selfish love is selfless love, the kind of love that shows you love your wife as Christ loved the church.
  2. Spiritual Abdication. Most of us understand the need to provide materially for our wives. Scripture gives a very different emphasis. Instead of material provisions the Bible speaks of spiritual provision. We are to be used by the Holy Spirit as sanctifying agents in our marriage. We are to cleanse our wives with “the washing of water with the word,” (Eph. 5:26) in order that they would grow spiritually. To perform this task something greater than our words is needed. We need to set God’s word before our wives. We may fail to read Scripture to our wives because they ask difficult questions, or because we would rather watch the latest episode of our favorite TV show. The Bible calls us back again: Husbands, wash your wives with the word of God. Make that commitment to read just a little more of God’s word. It does not need to be profound. You just need to read. If she asks a question you cannot answer, beg for time and find the answer.

If, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we might grow in our spiritual earnestness how much better our marriages might be. We may even be convinced of the selfishness of our love.

Why Does the Bible Matter?

the Bible

Even those who do not believe in what the Bible says recognize it as tremendously influential. However Scripture, contained in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is not just influential. It is the center-point for the thought and practice of the Christian. During the protestant reformation of the 16th century, the Bible was given an important place. In fact, it is included among the distinct principles, or the “solas” of the reformation. Sola Scriptura, means Scripture alone is our authority for doctrine and practice. This elevated status flows from a proper understanding of what the Bible is.

The Bible makes claims about itself. One of the best-known is found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Within these verses we find the proper perspective toward our approach to the Bible.

In 2 Timothy, Paul speaks of the Bible’s inspiration. That means that when we read the pages of Scripture we read God’s words. In other words, when we read our Bibles we read the very thoughts of the only omniscient, or all-knowing, being. Since God is all-knowing, he is only one who can reveal with certainty the proper order of things. Man’s appeals for certainty outside of God fall on shifting foundations. Without total knowledge you can always discover you were wrong. Inspiration makes the Bible’s words certainly true. In the Bible, therefore, we have the only immovable foundation: the thoughts of the omniscient God.

Many implications for our approach to the Bible flow from the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. For example, the Bible is authoritative, along the lines of Sola Scriptura. Or the Bible is sufficient, meaning that it contains in its pages all that we need for faith and practice. Bart Ehrman notwithstanding, we must also believe that what God inspired he is also able to preserve. The church today can confidently state it is reading God’s word when it opens the Bible.

We are confident not only of the implications that flow from the Bible’s inspiration, but also in its clarity, or perspecuity. To be sure, there are parts of God’s word that are difficult to understand. For example, volumes have be written to reconcile the genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. We may never get a definitive answer on those passages. However, the Bible makes clear how we are to glorify God, be reconciled to him through Christ, and express our love to him for that salvation in good works.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that hearing and doing his words makes for a foundation built on the rock. To turn away from the Bible is to turn away from certainty, which means your foundation will be shifting. No doubt about it.

My Mouth Says Yes, My Body Says No

burden

If I were to ask you what my favorite snack is, would you know? Of course not. But there is a way to find out. The solution is to get me in a room full snacks and see which bowl I head toward first. If I claim to love banana cream pie but instead spend all my time at the Doritos bowl you will disregard my previous claim. My actions confirm the trustworthiness of my words. What we do clarifies, and sometimes re-defines, what we say.

Family. Much of our instruction as parents is validated, or invalidated, by the decisions we make around our children. For example, most Christian parents have good intentions to teach their children to love God. But what value are we communicating to our children’s hearts when we neglect corporate worship to attend an event of our own choosing like a music recital, sports event or hunting trip. Our instruction may be, “Love God, no matter what,” but our actions say, “Love God if you don’t have a better offer.”

Marriage. No matter how often we tell our wives we love them, our actions can undo all those words. If you do not believe me, test the hypothesis: try making your wedding anniversary the same as every other day. Do not mention the special nature of the day, no flowers or chocolates, no special date. Instead encourage her to wash your car and fold that special shirt you wear when you go golfing with the guys. Your wife’s response would be both predictable and justified. You may be saying “I love you,” with your words, but by your actions you are saying, “I do not care anything about you whatsoever.”

Church. In the Presbyterian Church in America, membership vows include a promise to support the church in its worship and work. As a pastor, I’ve never met anyone who would take umbrage with this part of their vows. Yet why are churches’ evening services so poorly attended? Our words may say, “I’m committed,” but our actions say, “I’ll come 50% of the time.”

God. Perhaps the primary relationship that sits over all the previously mentioned ones is our relationship with God. As Christians, we profess faith in Christ’s work alone as the securing action of our redemption. Flowing from this redemption is God’s charge to “be holy, for I am holy.” (Cf. 1 Pet. 1:16). God in his word defines what it means to be set apart, dedicated in love to the Lord. The problem, of course, is our sin. Sin says, “I love myself more than I love God.” No matter the transgression, our action confirms love for self. Our only solution is to cry out to the Lord for deliverance. And having been delivered we must begin again learning to match our actions to our words through the power of the God at work it us (Phil. 2:12-13).

Healthy Family Worship Habits

prayer

Family worship is typically a source of much guilt for us. Not so much because of the content of what may be discussed, but rather in our neglect of it. We may read books about family worship, we may know what we are supposed to do in family worship, but we may still neglect the practice. Below are some ways family worship can become a habit in your family.

  1. Meditate often on the promises of Scripture. Family worship will be a painful chore if it does not flow from a deep love for God. A deep love for God flows from his deep love for us, summarized in his promises. So meditate on them so you would have joy in the Christian discipline of family worship.
  2. Have a plan. Without some kind of direction and purpose to your family worship, you will lack a clear message. This, in turn, will distract your children and cause you to be discouraged. And when you are discouraged…you will quit.
  3. Keep it simple. Sometimes we fathers are paralyzed by our desire to be profound. We want our family worship lesson to sound like our favorite celebrity pastor. There is a reason these men are well-known: they are uniquely gifted communicators. More significant than your infrequent profundity is your faithful daily reading of Scripture to your family. Stay within your range of gifts, and lead your family in the study of God’s pure words.
  4. Make it a routine. We live in a time when “routine” is a bad word. However, routine is very helpful in establishing habits. Choose a time when you will gather as a family to worship. In our family it has typically been around one of the family meals. Depending on our schedule for the semester, we will come together for family worship either around the breakfast or supper table. By choosing a regular time, you and your children will learn to expect the event, and miss it when it does not happen.
  5. Keep your material close at hand. If you have to rummage around your house to find your Bibles you have introduced a potential excuse. Keep all those things in a cupboard or drawer nearby. Do not tempt your own laziness by having your family worship materials in the next county.
  6. Be faithful in private worship. The strength of your family worship will only be as strong as your own commitment to the pursuit of God’s word. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 is the passage that is most often cited when it comes to our duty of family worship. That passage lays out a specific order. First the parent is to love God and his word. Then he is to pass it on to his children.

The word of God feeds our souls. For that reason we should be diligent to set it before our children daily. Make it a priority in your family starting today.

Rules, Rules, Rules…

do-not-enter

“The prophet’s scorn for what is false is a generous thing because it springs from a profound love of what is true.”
(J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent)

We live in a society that is learning to hate rules. “Judge not, that you be not judged” is now one of the most popular verses in all the Bible. We hate prohibitions. We love freedom. We hate the “nos” but love the “yesses”. Biblically speaking, however, both prohibitions and prescriptions are present. Take the Ten Commandments. Eight of the commandments are prohibitions, things we ought not to do. Therefore negative commands, or commands which forbid behavior, are not a problem. Biblical prohibitions are only problematic when they are void of a godly love of biblical prescriptions. What I mean is that our reasons for not doing evil are based on our love for doing good. We do not do certain things because they are wicked, while we do other things because they are righteous. And our God loves righteous deeds (Psalm 11:7).

When it comes to our children, we are God’s agents to help them learn how to serve and fear him. For that reason, the rules of our home should be structured around prohibiting wickedness and promoting righteousness. We teach our children not to hit others, but to be gentle. The former is wicked while the latter is righteous. We teach them not to steal, but to be generous and willing to share. The former is a prohibition, while the latter is a prescription. We teach these rules because of our deep love for the God who saved us. He has charged us to raise up or children in the instruction of his name (Eph. 6:4). His prohibitions and prescriptions give shape to wickedness and righteousness for our children. In our daily worship to God in our parenting, we should not be like the husband who buys power-tools for his wife, or the wife who buys a subscription to Southern Living magazine for her husband. People who do that are offering gifts to themselves. Rather, the spiritual worship we offer to God should honor him and do so in the way he has described in his word. Just to confirm, his word both prohibits and prescribes.

If we concentrate only on what we should not do, we lose sight of the love of virtue. If we neglect what we should do, we lose sight of the hatred of wickedness. In both cases we are loosing sight of the gospel. In sending the Son to be our substitute on the cross, the Father does not only set us free from the guilt of our sin, but also frees us from the dominion of sin. When live apart from sin’s mastery, we learn to say no to wickedness in obeying God’s prohibitions and say yes to righteousness by following his prescriptions.