Category Archives: Culture

What is right, what is wrong?

Ten Commandments

One of the great weaknesses I observe in today’s North American church is the failure to recognize the authority of Scripture. Certainly, branches of all stripes within the Christ’s church acknowledge the importance of the Bible. However, on more than one occasion as of late I have observed churches, pastors, and individual members shape the Bible to their own convictions rather than have their convictions shaped by the word of God. 

The European protestant reformation of the 16thcentury re-established the principle of Sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone as our guide and authority. Man’s opinion, whether he is pope or not, should never be placed on par with the Bible. However, there is a quiet pragmatism creeping into North American churches which measures the rightness of an action by man’s assessment of whether or not it works. Actions are justified or condemned based on the perceived benefit they accomplish. These benefits can be made to sound very spiritual, but in the end they are subjective, dependent on the approval or disapproval of man. Herein is the problem.

The Christian individual is not the gauge of whether an action should or should not be done. Instead, the approval of any human action comes from the Lord. God, who knows all things, describes for his people how they should live. The traditional reformed theology about discerning what should be done, or not done is summarized as follows: 

The descriptions of right behavior are given in the Moral Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments. Doing what the law forbids, and not doing what the law commands are both considered sin. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines sin as: “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” (WSC #14). Therefore, no matter what man’s assessment of any given situation might be, if the proposed action at any point causes you to do what the law forbids (transgression), or not do what the law commands (want, or lack of conformity), that action should not be done. One quick example:

A man attends his local team’s National Football League game on Sunday. As he sits in the stands, he takes advantage of the concessions. He goes to the game with the intention of having gospel conversations with the people in attendance. He justifies his choice because he was able to have a meaningful conversation about the Lord with several people.

Although the action may sound noble, using the authority of God’s word the football fan cannot justify his being at the game because he is sinning against the 4thcommandment. This commandment forbids all work on the Lord’s Day, unless it is of necessity, mercy, or piety. That is not to say God cannot use his sin. His motives could even be appreciated and his evangelistic zeal admired. However, the final answer must be that because his attendance is against God’s law and therefore this choice should have been ruled out. To answer otherwise would be to introduce a pragmatic element that would give man the opportunity to justify any action. 

There are countless other ways in which the positive elements of the fan’s plan could have been achieved without sin against God’s law. For example, the man could have stood outside the stadium and preached the gospel, handed out tracts, or tried to engage in gospel conversations there. In this way, the man would not break God’s commandments. The right choice is always to remain within the boundaries of God’s word. When the Christian obeys God’s commandments he demonstrates love for God (John 14:15). But when the Christian disobeys God’s commandments in order to achieve a goal of his own choosing, no matter how noble he might make it sound, he has chosen to love himself rather than his Savior.

Worship at Work

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The contemporary use of the word “worship” often refers exclusively to the time of singing during the corporate gathering of the church. The emotions that the words and music provoke cause the person participating to feel like they have worshiped. However, the question is whether that is really worship as defined in Scripture. Worship is properly considered not primarily from man’s perspective but from God’s. Our opinions about what we have done are far less significant than God’s. The question for the validity of worship should be approached around whether God would recognize what we are doing as worship.

Worship, rather than a feeling we get through music, is a humble serving of God in all of life. In worship, a person defers to the Lord and ascribes glory to him. This deference is seen in Abraham going to Mt. Mariah with Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice at the Lord’s command. Worship is an external expression by the creature of the glory, majesty, and rightful dominion of the Creator. It is a joyful rehearsal of his covenant promise of redemption. It is a recognition of the insignificance of our desires and a training ground in which we are conformed by the Spirit to the image of Christ. And it is not only reserved for the hour of corporate worship at your church. Worship is for all of life: work, home and church.

So how is worship expressed at work? In Romans 12:1-2 the apostle Paul commands the brothers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, which is their spiritual act of worship. This act of worship involves a lack of conformity to the world, and a transformation of the mind to know the will of God.

In its simplest paraphrase, Romans 12:1-2 commands the surrender of all we do to God by discerning and implementing his will through Spirit renewed minds. In other words, to worship at work is to live according to the first commandment. There are to be no other gods before the Lord in the Christian’s workplace. What the Christian does at work is what God, in his providence, called him to do. Behavior at work should be determined by the extent to which it honors God. According to God’s Moral Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments, workplace behavior should include:

  • Honoring authorities and treating subordinates with respect and fairness.
  • Refraining from sinful anger and hostility toward anyone at work.
  • Promoting proper propriety between those of the opposite sex.
  • Dealing with complete honesty with clients, employees, bosses, or suppliers.
  • Speaking the truth about our products, services and actions we have taken.
  • Being content with what God has provided and rejoice at the blessings given to others.

God says these things honor him. So if they are carried out in a spirit of love toward God and gratitude over the salvation he has purchased, then these will truly show the love of the Christ and be seen by God as a spiritual act of worship.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

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“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because  God is love.” – 1 John 4:8

Love is one of the great mysteries of this life. Songs and poems have been penned to try to explain its powerful sway. Plays, movies and books have been written around its theme. Philosophers and religious leaders have struggled to define it. Yet according to the apostle John, love is the Christian obligation. So we better understand what love is if we are obligated to practice it. The pope and his ilk are traversing the globe defining love as social justice, environmentalism, and other such things. But is that the biblical understanding of love? Let us take a moment to examine whether that is true.

Before we get to define what love is, we must first understand how we can get it. 1 John 4:7 tells us that love comes from God and that our love is an evidence of being born from God. That is an important boundary marker. It means that those who are not born of God cannot actually truly love, in the biblical sense of the word anyway. The apostle is saying that love is a uniquely Christian behavior. This opens up a host of rabbit-trails for us to potentially chase, but let us stay focussed on the task of understanding what love is.

The Apple Dictionary on my computer defines love as “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Certainly this definition contains part of the truth. Love is a feeling, but it is not only a feeling. Love is a feeling that requires expression. That is one of the reasons we buy presents and perform acts of kindness for each other. We must express our affections for one another in action, otherwise love is of no use. And yet there must be some overriding principle that helps us understand what action should govern our feelings of affection. Again the apostle John helps us: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 5:3a). So what the Bible is teaching us is that love is a three-fold thing: first, it is a fond affection; second, it requires expression; third, this expression is governed by the commandments of God.

Think of love as it finds its expression in God’s work of redemption. The Father loves the world. But he does not love it as an exercise of feeling. He expresses this love in the sending of his Son to accomplish this redemption for us. Then the Son and the Father together send the Holy Spirit to strengthen and sustain his people as they wait for the final consummation of the kingdom of God. God does that sacrificially and for the good of his people. When God expresses love to the world he does so according to the following definition:

Love is an expression our feelings of affection according to God’s law with the other’s best interest at heart. 

So when John says that love is from God, he is not kidding. Love is from God and it ought not surprise us to find its perfect expression in his work of redemption. Next installment we will consider man’s expression of love following the definition above.

Cultivating My Covetous Heart

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“A man is given to covetousness when he overloads himself with worldly business…(H)e has scarce time to eat his meat, but no time to pray.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, 176)

Ouch! Thomas Watson sure knows how to make it hurt! But just because it hurts doesn’t mean it is not worth considering. Watson’s statement is one that could be applied to all of us on some days. We are all covetous by nature. Like book-ends in God’s Moral Law, both the 1st and 10th commandments confront us with our motivations and loves. Because of their nature, these two commandments summarize our disobedience to the other eight. When we take the name of the Lord in vain we elevate our own desires over the Lord’s thereby setting other gods before him. Or when we steal, the seed form has already long been growing within us: covetousness. We covet when we want something we do not have. So, are you covetous? Are you leading your children toward covetousness?

In this article we will deal with our hearts. In the quote above, Watson makes a distinction between a man’s valuation of his appetites versus his fellowship with God in prayer. It is a sobering assessment, to be sure. I am not seeking to quibble about the kinds of work does and their corresponding demands. I think the Christian street sweeper is as engaged in glorifying God as a pastor and I know this work can be demanding. My questions are designed instead to help us see if we are drifting into sin in our pursuit of our worldly work. We are prone to covet the world’s power, wealth, popularity and success. Certain decisions will reveal our heart’s desire to have taken on a sinful, covetous turn.

The first and tenth commandments remind us we may worship no other gods and should be content with what God has given. So when we find ourselves neglecting God in prayer, we have forgotten these commandments. I cannot give definitive answer on the “when” and “how much” of our private worship, but I can definitively say we should. If only we would apply the same level of intensity to our pursuit of God as we apply to our attempts to win a promotion or raise at work. This very issue is on Watson’s mind when he describes the man who does not consider any amount of hours spent satisfying his appetites to be enough, but does not even begin praying. This inconsistency shows there is a war of loves being waged in our hearts and the good side is losing. We direct our most intense efforts toward that which means the most to us. What will we love more? The flesh or our Lord?

Overloading ourselves with worldly business can also be recognized when we miss corporate worship to take care of our regular employment. God commands one day in seven be given him for the activities relating to his worship. Absenting ourselves from corporate worship should flash a huge red flag in our minds. This decision indicates we want the world’s recognition so badly, we are willing to take from God’s time and apply it to our businesses or jobs so we might gain it. When we begin to make these kinds of choices we are demonstrating a priority: we want the things God has not given us and will pursue them at all costs.

Certainly we must repent of our own covetousness, but we also should guard ourselves against teaching our children to do the same. More on that next time.

Our Problem with Princes

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The purpose of this post is not to define the biblical doctrine of marriage. My assumption is that the biblical view of marriage between one man and woman is correct, pure, righteous and not to be changed. Instead, I want to make some observations about how we, as Christians, can respond to the June 26, 2015 decision from the Supreme Court of the United States changing the definition of marriage.

First, we can revisit our understanding of the doctrine of God’s providence and sovereignty. The civil magistrate is an appointed agent from God for the purpose of protecting good and punishing evil (Rom. 13:1-4). This agent has rejected God’s word in favor of the clamoring of culture. That, however, does not mean that God is caught flat-footed. Proverbs 21:1 tells us: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” The Supreme Court’s decision is not outside of God’s providential governing of the world. The Westminster Confession of Faith tells us God governs even over the sins of men, ordering and governing them to his own holy end (See WCF 5.4). God is not in heaven wringing his hands over these disorderly justices. He turns their hearts whichever way he wills. We do not know the final destination of this chapter of history, but we know God is in control of it.

Second, we should be humble, not self-righteous. Biblically, it is sinful to pervert the God-ordained institution of marriage. But the church has to guard herself against the self-righteousness of the Pharisee: “I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:9-14). The only difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Unless a person is changed by the Holy Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. All people, by nature, are deserving of God’s wrath and judgment. The most loving and humble expression toward our fellow man is to tell them of the salvation offered in Christ. They, like you at one time, are in need to hear that sin leads to death, but that death has been swallowed up in victory for those who have placed their faith in Christ and his perfect work of atonement.

Third, we should be convicted of our prayerlessness. In prayer we express our complete dependence on God. Whether Arminian or Calvinistic, in prayer we recognize that our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth (Psalm 124:8). The church has not been fervent in seeking God’s face in protecting the institution of marriage. We have not wrestled as Jacob did. We have not said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26). Let today be the day we start fervently to pray to the Lord again.

In these days, turn to the Lord for security and do not look with confidence to the princes of our land. The solution to our nation’s sin problem is not found in the right politician. As the hymn “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah, O My Soul” reminds us, they will die, to dust returning, and their purposes shall end. Instead, the cry of Scripture is: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and his will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).