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Friday, November 30, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  11:33 AM  /  ,   /  No comments
Little time today to write, but one thing I've been wrestling heavily with is the theme of holding "every thought captive to obey Christ." (2 Cor. 10:5). This is very powerful and convicting language. The Greek means literally "to lead away." Paul says that ALL thoughts--not some--must be led away from disobedience and towards obedience and subjugation to Christ. All thoughts? Seriously? How is that even possible? It would almost seem easier to just not think at all or put oneself in a self-induced coma. I seriously don't know how I can do this. Every day I have hundreds of thoughts both big and small, both profound and insignificant--thoughts about my friends, thoughts about my co-workers, thoughts about my lunch, thoughts about the carpet color, and so on and so forth. Do we really have to hold every thought captive? The more my mind meditates on this, the more insurmountable it seems, but then I think on passages like Deuteronomy 6:5 and 1 Corinthians 10:31 and know what Paul really means. God doesn't demand just a little bit of my will, He demands all of it. I fall miserably short of this.

The cost to follow Christ in this way is truly great. The stark contrast between the expectations of culture and the expectations of God are so radically opposed. On one corner God desires that my affections be wholly devoted to Him, while culture stands on the other corner with its grand display of distractions. Material possessions can all be deliciously desired, if only I give up my thoughts and affections in pursuit of them. But then my heart is brought low when I read, "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit," (Rom. 8:5) and then I realize that the things of culture are puny and pathetic. God have mercy on me and on His people. How desperately we need His grace for our tiny hearts. But we must not be discouraged, we must press on.

I end with this inspiring quote from J.C. Ryle,

"Think, if you want stirring motives for serving God, what it cost to provide a salvation for your soul. Think how the Son of God left heaven and became Man, suffered on the cross, and lay in the grave, to pay your debt to God, and work out for you a complete redemption. Think of all this and learn that it is no light matter to possess an immortal soul. It is worth while to take some trouble about one’s soul.

Ah, lazy man or woman, is it really come to this, that you will miss heaven for lack of trouble? Are you really determined to make shipwreck for ever, from mere dislike to exertion? Away with the cowardly, unworthy thought. Arise and play the man. Say to yourself, 'Whatever it may cost, I will, at any rate, strive to enter in at the strait gate.' Look at the cross of Christ, and take fresh courage. Look forward to death, judgment, and eternity, and be in earnest. It may cost much to be a Christian, but you may be sure it pays.'

Sidenote: I have heard some interpret 1 Cor. 10:5 as referring to Paul's holding the thoughts of others captive that accuse them. Whether it refers to his thoughts or to others, it means the same, especially in light of other passages like Romans 12:2, for example.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  10:39 AM  /  , ,   /  No comments
I wanted to share a quote I found very encouraging from J.C. Ryle's book Holiness (free here) on the cost of following Christ:

In the last place, it will cost a man the favour of the world. He must be content to be thought ill of by man if he pleases God. He must count it no strange thing to be mocked, ridiculed, slandered, persecuted, and even hated. He must not be surprised to find his opinions and practices in religion despised and held up to scorn. He must submit to be thought by many a fool, an enthusiast, and a fanatic—to have his words perverted and his actions misrepresented. In fact, he must not marvel if some call him mad. The Master says—“Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20.)

I dare say this also sounds hard. We naturally dislike unjust dealing and false charges, and think it very hard to be accused without cause. We should not be flesh and blood if we did not wish to have the good opinion of our neighbours. It is always unpleasant to be spoken against, and forsaken, and lied about, and to stand alone. But there is no help for it. The cup which our Master drank must be drunk by His disciples. They must be “despised and rejected of men.” (Isa. 53:3) Let us set down that item last in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man the favour of the world. Source

 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  10:22 AM  /  ,   /  No comments
In my last post, I briefly discussed how the aloneness of Adam signified an intentionally incomplete aspect of God's creation. God purposefully made Adam alone with a goal in mind. In this post I want to begin the discussion about how God met that goal with the creation of Eve by addressing the meaning of "suitable helper" in Genesis 2:18.

Genesis 2:18: In the second half of the verse, God makes the statement, "I will make a helper fit for him," which has been heavily debated during modern times. However, throughout history the passage has been orthodoxly interpreted as Eve being Adam's perfect counterpart but not inferior to Adam in any sense. I think when we look behind the language and at the context of the verse, this is easy to see. Let's take a look.

What is meant by "suitable"


In Hebrew this is the word neged. In this context, it means "comparable to" or "corresponding to." So one possible translation would read, "I will make a helper comparable to him." This is in fact exactly how the NKJV translators rendered the verse. There's nothing in the Hebrew that suggests the woman is in any way inferior to the man. If anything, the language suggests the high esteem and value of the woman. Before Eve, nothing in creation compared to Adam. Nothing corresponded to him. Nothing met the standards needed to fix his aloneness. The trees and flowers in all their beauty did not compare, nor did any of the marvelous and wonderful animals. Only the woman, created in her perfect and beautiful feminine form, could compare to Adam. The animals were not suitable to Adam. They were inferior to him, but Eve was not. She was his match, his perfect counterpart, and she suited him perfectly and exactly.

It's also worth noting that God did not create another man as Adam's suitable helper. Presumably this was in the realm of possibility but was not part of God's design and intention, which was that Adam and Eve would physically become "one flesh" and multiply on the earth. By this context one can understand the complementary reproductive functions of the man and woman, as well as the physical characteristics by which men and woman are attracted to each other by the design of God.

What is meant by "helper"


In the Hebrew this is the uncommon noun ezer, which simply means "one who helps." There is no use of this word in the context of the helper being inferior to the one being helped. David in fact uses this word repeatedly in reference to God as our helper. (cf. Psalm 33:30, 70:5, 115:9, etc.). This truth is further supported by the man and woman becoming one flesh. Can something be inferior to itself? No. The man and woman are the same. They are one. They are assigned different roles, but they are equal in person and value. The one leads and protects the other as his own body, the other helps in this cause.

Putting it together


Paul reveals some of the hidden meaning concerning the "one flesh" doctrine in Ephesians 5 when he says,
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:28-33 ESV)

Notice that the husband is to love his wife as his own body. This critical truth must be stressed, because it crushes any notion of verbal or physical abuse, as well as overbearing or dominating leadership. As husbands do we look to take care of ourselves? Do we seek food, proper rest, sources of encouragement, and ways to nurture ourselves for our own development? Absolutely. Then as husbands we must do the same for our wives. As husbands do we speak kindly to ourselves? As husbands of proper mental health do we love ourselves with positive thoughts and actions? As husbands are we patient with ourselves and prone to overlook our faults? Absolutely. Then as husbands we must do the same for our wives. As husbands we are over our wives, but only as they have been put in our charge to be protected, cherished, and loved. It's such a beautiful relationship that our sin too often hinders. May God help us as husbands and wives to be caught up in this wonderful and mysterious sacrificial and role-specific love.

In my next post I want to address some of the more specific and wonderful ways in which a woman perfectly fits as the man's suitable helper.

Recommended Reading: John Bunyan's Family Duty

Monday, November 26, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  10:30 AM  /  ,   /  No comments
With the next few posts I want to discuss some aspects about God's creation of mankind and explore the significance of relationships and marriage from a creation-oriented perspective. In other words, I want to see what can be learned about relationships and marriage from the creation account and then apply. To start, I want to look at Adam's aloneness in Genesis 2:18.

Genesis 2:18: God says man's aloneness is not good, which means that He was not satisfied with that aspect of creation. Where it says "alone," we can think in terms of "separated," since that is the underlying Hebrew meaning (cf. Gen 21:28, Gen 30:40). But who was Adam separated from? How could Adam be separated from someone when no other human existed? Can a tree be alone if there is only one tree, or if we say, "That rock or that bird is alone," does our statement not assume that other rocks and birds exist? More to the point, if we say, "So-and-so seems awfully lonely," do we not imply that so-and-so has needs only met by the addition of another human soul? I think we do. But why is this? The answer to this question is answered in the creation account. God explains that we are designed by nature to be together with each other. When we are separated from one another, we are alone. This is not good, says God. It is not good to be alone. It is bad to be alone. It is unnatural to be alone. God created us to be together, not apart.

Furthermore, if Adam was labeled by God as separated before Eve was ever created, we must assume that God intended to create Eve from the beginning. When we think about aloneness as separation, this makes sense. Could God have created a self-sufficient human? Certainly. But we know that He did not, because after creating Adam, he was not satisfied. Adam was not self-sufficient because after he was created, the fact that he was alone was not good according to God. Adam's isolated existence was unnatural to creation, therefore the human component of creation at that point was not good, it was bad. But it must be noted that the badness of Adam's aloneness does not mean that Adam himself was bad. Rather, Adam's aloneness was the unsatisfactory component of creation. Adam himself was created perfect, but his aloneness left something to be desired. It was unfinished. God would complete Adam's aloneness in Eve. Since the aloneness of a perfect Adam resulted naturally from his creation, God therefore must have created Adam with Eve in mind. God intentionally created Adam in aloneness, and intended on resolving his aloneness from the beginning. So God created Adam knowing that he would be alone, and God had a perfect solution to Adam's aloneness in mind, which was Eve, the suitable counterpart to Adam, which I will discuss in my next post.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  6:27 AM  /  ,   /  No comments
Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way. (Proverbs 19:2 ESV)

This Proverb really struck me today, firstly because its meaning isn't as obvious as other Proverbs (it isn't for me, anyway). In other translations the Hebrew word for "desire" is instead rendered "soul." After looking more closely, I noticed that the Hebrew word is actually nephesh, which is one of the most basic words in the Hebrew vocabulary and often used to define the total summation of an individual's will, desires, appetites--everything within them that drives and leads a person to be who he is and make the decisions that he makes. To give a little context, this is the same word used in Genesis where the creation of man is described: "then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." (Genesis 2:7 ESV) The word "creature" here is also translated from nephesh. Interestingly, the KJV version translates nephesh as "soul." English translations seem to differ in their conclusions about whether nephesh should translate to "soul" or "creature," depending on the context. Either way, nephesh is clearly used to describe the will and desires that motivate living things to do the things they do. So if you asked me, what is my nephesh, I would describe to you my beliefs, hopes, dreams, appetites, preferences, and desires. Then after hearing my description, you would be able to predict, at least in part, the kinds of things I might do. Perhaps no better illustration of this truth is the famous verse in Deuteronomy 6:5,
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV)

I highlight "soul" here because that is the same Hebrew word nephesh which is also used in the Proverbs and Genesis verses. But the Deuteronomy passage is even more emphatic because there is a common prepositional phrase there (b-col) which is translated "in (or with) all." "Heart" means "innermost being" and "might" means "abundantly and exceedingly." So the literal translation of this verse is "... love the LORD your God with absolutely everything in your innermost being and absolutely everything that defines who you are, your will, and your desires, and do this exceedingly, abundantly, and mightily." Understanding the verse this way is deeply convicting to me. It is very unfortunate that this verse has lost so much of its force in English due to the cheapening definitions of "heart" and "soul" in our language today. But to the Hebrews, this passage would have been unquestionably clear to them that God desired the complete and total submission to Him of every thought, word, and deed.

So in linking nephesh back to the verse in Proverbs, I think the author is saying that if one's nephesh is not influenced and shaped by knowledge, then in his haste to accomplish his goal, he will fail. It's like someone who has strong ambitions to be a surgeon but doesn't want to learn the knowledge required to be successful in that role, then as a result causes harm to his patients. Or it's like a child who has a strong desire to ride a bicycle but stubbornly refuses the knowledge and instruction of his parents, then promptly proceeds to crash into the wall. Or maybe it's like when I was about eight or nine years old, after being amazed by Olympic gymnasts on television, I promptly attempted a back handspring and nearly broke my neck. Hastily exercised desire without knowledge was certainly a painful experience for me on that day, and for the rest of the week!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  12:04 PM  /  ,   /  No comments
One thing the Lord has really been working on in my own heart is the issue of careful speech. American Christians in particular face extra challenges due to living in a culture that encourages self-expression and individuality. One of the products of this culture I believe is the explosion of blogging, Facebook, and other forms of social media, which are intentionally designed as tools for sharing anything and potentially everything about our lives. As a result, the Christian Church faces some new challenges with helping local church bodies to remain pure and blameless as ambassadors of Christ.  Since Christians are imperfect and prone to make mistakes too, the ability to instantly communicate our thoughts to the entire world may require extra caution and self-control, especially if we become frustrated or angry at times with the communication of others.

Fortunately God has already spoken to this issue of speech control in many places throughout Scripture. I've been particularly convicted by several relevant verses in Proverbs, which I quote and review below,

"The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly." (Proverbs 15:2 ESV)

"If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame."  (Proverbs 18:13 ESV)

"A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." (Proverbs 18:2 ESV)

 

Speak as one who finds knowledge beautiful


If we look a little deeper into the words of Proverbs 15:2, the author explains that evidence of wisdom is marked by a nature inclined to gain knowledge but disinclined to speak one's opinion. "Commend knowledge" could also be interpreted from the Hebrew as "a love of knowledge" or "to find knowledge beautiful." It is the sense in which a person searches out a matter deeply before he feels confident to express his opinion. In contrast, the fool is prone to "pour out folly." The Hebrew word literally means "to pour out" or "to gush." In fact the word is translated as a "flowing brook" in Proverbs 18:4. So it's the idea that fools are quick to freely gush or spout their opinion while lacking the substance to really support their statements.

 

Wait to give an answer


This same theme is further supported in Proverbs 18:13, where the author focuses specifically on the moment at which it is proper to answer. The fool answers confidently before he has searched out the matter on all sides. The wise man, however, hears out the matter fully before giving a confident answer. "Hearing" in this sense means the "listening to and applying of knowledge." It's used often throughout the Old Testament in the hearing and obeying of the law. So it's more than merely receiving information, but rather a thoughtful consideration based on being well informed. We see this same theme in Proverbs 18:17 which says, "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." It's the idea that the wise consider all sides of an issue and are reluctant to speak confidently at length about a matter, if at all, until they have studied all sides of the issue at hand.

 

Don't babble like a fool


To help us further understand, the author states in Proverbs 18:2 that a fool in fact "takes no pleasure" in knowledge. He does not delight in it or care for it as the Hebrew connotes, and despite his lack thereof, he would rather continue "expressing his opinion," in which he delights greatly. The wise man however greatly values knowledge and takes no delight in babbling on and on about his opinions.

 

Conclusion


These Proverbs have definitely caused me to pause and reflect on past mistakes made using social media, and by the grace of God I hope to continue improving the speech of my lips so that my words are winsome and seasoned with grace. Facebook and other social media give us the opportunity to share the abundance of our hearts instantly, whether we are currently controlled by the Spirit or by our flesh. I personally find that when I am led by an impulsive, defensive, or retaliatory spirit, my heart is almost always not being led by the Spirit of God. In seeking to prevent these pitfalls, I hope to use these Proverbs and other similar Scriptures to search my heart carefully and think about what I write, dying to the sinful desire to speak carelessly and submit to Christ, asking myself if I am honoring God, if I am acting wisely, if I am communicating thoughtfully, if my words are seasoned with grace, and if I have searched out all sides of the matter, or if I am babbling on about my own opinion. May God give us grace in these things.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  10:41 AM  /  ,   /  No comments
In continuing the series discussing the holiness that produces Christian zeal, I want to take a look at following passage from Paul to the church in Corinth.
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God,and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6:16-18. 2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV)

I struggled for many years with the question of how the Christian can promote a true spiritual zeal, the kind of zeal that is marked by an overwhelming sense of passion and affection for the Lord--the kind of zeal that engulfs one's heart and mind with desire for spiritual food while finding everything else to be like unseasoned tofu. And the whole time during my struggle, verses like these stared me right in the face. Here is God telling us exactly what we must do to be close to Him, and even beyond these prerequisite actions, more importantly this closeness occurs in a very real supernatural sense. You see, those that profess to know Him are much more than followers of a religion. Christians are much more than adherents to a philosophical or religious worldview. Christianity is much more than an occupation or a set of beliefs that guide our lives, but in fact we are temples of a living God Who is mighty and has redeemed us and bought us and is spiritually transforming us into the image of his Son, and He means to dwell in the tent of our hearts, enlarging and drawing and holding our consciences close to Him, using us for every good work that He has prepared before the very foundation of the world. We are a temple--a temple of holiness and purity. God cannot dwell in a filthy defiled temple, and if we would have God dwell closely in our hearts and fill us with the Spirit, we must not touch unclean things. If we want to be passionate and zealous for God and abound in our love for Him, we must prepare a place for Him to dwell. We must pursue holiness with all of our heart and all of our minds. Every defilement of body and spirit must be cut off. If anything holds and entangles our consciences in bondage, we must cut it off. It must die. If we desire to be perfected in the Spirit, we must pursue holiness. We must set ourselves apart so that the Lord might make his dwelling within us. Do we want zeal? Do we want to be close to God? Then let us pursue holiness with all our might, and let us not think about doing it, but let us DO it and never turn back. When we are discouraged about our lack of passion but are still beset by lingering sins, we should not wonder about our state and feelings of separation from God. Then let us cast aside our sin at all costs, refuse to be controlled by it, and flee to Christ. Prepare your temple for the LORD and He will dwell closely with you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  10:38 AM  /  ,   /  No comments

Haven't had time to write today, but wanted to share this challenging and convicting quote by J.C. Ryle from his great book Holiness which I'm currently reading:


You may say, “It was never meant that all Christians should be holy, and that holiness, such as I have described, is only for great saints, and people of uncommon gifts.” I answer, “I cannot see that in Scripture. I read that every man who hath hope in Christ purifieth himself.” (1 John 3:3)—“Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

You may say, “It is impossible to be so holy and to do our duty in this life at the same time: the thing cannot be done.” I answer, “You are mistaken. It can be done. With Christ on your side nothing is impossible. It has been done by many. David, and Obadiah, and Daniel, and the servants of Nero’s household, are all examples that go to prove it.”


You may say, “If I were so holy I would be unlike other people.” I answer, “I know it well. It is just what you ought to be. Christ’s true servants always were unlike the world around them—a separate nation, a peculiar people;—and you must be so too, if you would be saved!”


You may say, “At this rate very few will be saved.” I answer, “I know it. It is precisely what we are told in the Sermon on the Mount.” The Lord Jesus said so 1,900 years ago. “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14.) Few will be saved, because few will take the trouble to seek salvation. Men will not deny themselves the pleasures of sin and their own way for a little season. They turn their backs on an “inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” “Ye will not come unto Me,” says Jesus, “that ye might have life.” (John 5:40.)


You may say, “These are hard sayings: the way is very narrow.” I answer, “I know it. So says the Sermon on the Mount.” The Lord Jesus said so 1,900 years ago. He always said that men must take up the cross daily, and that they must be ready to cut off hand or foot, if they would be His disciples. It is in religion as it is in other things, “there are no gains without pains.” That which costs nothing is worth nothing.


Whatever we may think fit to say, we must be holy, if we would see the Lord. Where is our Christianity if we are not? We must not merely have a Christian name, and Christian knowledge, we must have a Christian character also. We must be saints on earth, if ever we mean to be saints in heaven. God has said it, and He will not go back: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  9:10 AM  /  ,   /  No comments
Did you know that Christians are commanded to be zealous for the Lord? It's not just a recommendation or a goal. Christians (and not just full-time ministers) are expected to be fervent in spirit. I find this incredibly self-convicting, and I hope to convict you as well. Let me explain.

Paul said to the church at Rome, "Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord." (Romans 12:11 ESV) The Greek word for "fervent" is "zeó," which was commonly used by famous Greek author Homer to describe boiling water. Authors like Plato and Plutarch also used this word metaphorically to describe the boiling over of emotions such as anger and love, or a strong desire to do good or evil. The technical Greek meaning is literally to bubble over in boiling and also figuratively boiling with interest or desire.

Do we understand what this means? It means all Christians are expected to be boiling hot for Christ. Why? Because God is glorified when we give Him our whole hearts. He wants all of us. He wants our entire wills. He wants our heart, soul, and mind. He wants us to say with Paul that we count all things as loss compared to the priceless privilege of knowing Christ. Read what Paul says similarly to the church at Corinth.

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them.
(2 Corinthians 9:1-2 ESV)

Paul says that the Corinthian church as a whole was boiling hot for Christ, and many were "stirred" as a result. He makes no distinction of rank in the church, but addresses the church as a collective whole. He praises the whole church for her boiling hot affections for Christ, which erupted in service toward the church in Macedonia. In fact this same expectation is illustrated in Revelation when the church in Laodicea is addressed, as quoted in the passage below.

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
(Revelation 3:15-19 ESV)

The Laodicean church was rebuked for their lack of boiling hot affection for God. They were lukewarm. They were neither cold nor hot. God wanted them to be boiling hot. Lukewarm was not good enough. They forgot that they were "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." They were satisfied with the work of their hands. They thought they needed nothing; their hearts for God were cold and dim. They were to repent of their pride, humble themselves before God, and burn in their hearts with flaming hot affection for Christ, or they would be reproved and disciplined by God.

So we must ask ourselves, are we doing all that we can to be boiling hot for Christ? If not, why? If our hearts are not burning hot for Christ, then we need to ask God to help us figure out the cause. We need to determine what is holding our affections captive. Once we do that, we must repent (stop) . We must cut off any affections that divert our hearts away from God, stop quenching the Spirit, and be "fervent (boiling hot) in spirit, serving the LORD."

How do we do this? I will write more on this in the next post, but it can be summarized in one word: holiness.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  7:13 AM  /    /  No comments
Lately I have been thinking and praying a lot about taking on more active responsibility as a Christian. I'm asking God to help me with the fears of the unknown--you know, those intimidating "what if's" concerning matters we have little or no experience with? According to Scripture, there is nothing we should ultimately fear except God, and when we are called to take brave steps, we should answer that call. When God called Paul He said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you...” (Acts 18:9-10 ESV). David also wrote, "The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (Psalm 118:6 ESV).

There is however a sense in which we do fear men. The familiar biblical phrase "fear and trembling" is used a number of times by Paul, and in one of those instances it refers to the servant-master relationship. Let's look at the text below:
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. (Ephesians 6:5-9 ESV)

If viewed independently, the phrase "obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling" could be applied in a strictly horizontal relationship. By "horizontal" I mean the relationship pertains only to servant and master. No other parties are involved. God is absent. But Paul clarifies his statement by explaining the present and more important vertical relationship. Don't fear your master as a "people-pleaser," says Paul, but fear your master as a bondservant to Christ. Christ is the ultimate focal point for the servant in the servant-master relationship. Servants do not fear their masters to impress "by way of eye service"; servants fear their masters to impress and glorify Christ. We only fear men in authority over us "as unto the Lord." We do not fear men in and of themselves. We recognize men's authority, but we only respect and submit to that authority as much as that authority is subject to and inferior to the authority of God's Word and His glory.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  12:02 PM  /    /  No comments


When our zeal for Christ is glowing hot, spiritual disciplines are never a duty. Why? Because increasing our zeal is the equivalent to increasing our appetite for food. When we focus on dying to ourselves, putting away our sin, thirsting for righteousness, our appetite for spiritual food increases. By pursuing holiness, we are inevitably drawn toward talking with God and meditating on His Word. We naturally want to feed more on the food that our appetites are suited for. I firmly believe that this is why the New Testament does not focus on rigorous spiritual duty. In fact Paul warns against actions without love (1 Corinthians 13). Christ talks about meaningless prayers with false motives (Matthew 6).

What the Scriptures emphasize is holiness, which in the Greek means sanctification of heart and life. God wants us to set ourselves apart within our hearts and minds and dedicate our entire will to Him. When we do this, our desire for spiritual communion with God happens naturally (Galatians 5:16). Our natural desires for the world become supernatural desires for God. This is why the author of Hebrews said,

Strive for [...] the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14 ESV).

If we find ourselves struggling to desire prayer and His Word, it is less likely a matter of discipline and more likely a lack of pursuing holiness and consecration of our hearts for the LORD.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  12:29 PM  /    /  1 comment

A few days ago my four-year old asked my wife why Sunday was called "Sunday." My wife went on to explain about how some pagan peoples named days of the week after pagan gods, and that some of those pagan peoples worshiped the sun as a deity. My daughter thought it was strange to worship the sun, and further curiosity led to discussion about God being the only one deserving our worship. It was a challenging but important conversation.


Being the father of four children age four and under, I consider it one of my highest callings to raise my children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Obeying this command requires an enormous sacrifice of time, mental energy, and physical stamina so that we, as imperfect parents, are equipped to answer these tough questions.

But in our efforts to obey this command, can we fall into idolatry? Recently I have heard an increasing number of Christians make comments about how easy it is to worship our children. In this post I want to address this issue by looking at what idolatry actually is and how idolatry might look when it comes to parenting.

The short answer is, "yes," we can absolutely idolize our children. In fact we can idolize anything--sports, video games, self-appearance, sex, money, food, etc.. Our sinful tendencies to elevate creation above the Creator are boundless. Before we look specifically at what idolatry of children might look like, let's review the basic definition of idolatry.


What Is Idolatry?


Let's define idolatry first by looking at two good biblical examples. First, in Deuteronomy 4,
Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. (Deuteronomy 4:15-19 ESV)

Here God tells the people of Israel, "Don't be drawn away from me by anything that I have made. Don't serve anyone or anything other than your God. Don't bow down to anything in creation other than the Creator."

Sound familiar? That's because similar language is used in Romans 1,
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
(Romans 1:24-25 ESV)

So in simplest terms, idolatry is worshiping and serving anything in creation other than the Creator, who is God.

What does "worship" mean in this context? The Greek word is defined as "to fear" or "show reverence and awe." Interestingly, the root word for "worship" in this verse is the same word used for the title of the Roman emperor, Augustus (e.g., Acts 25:21, 25:25, 27:1).

What does "serve" mean in this context? The Greek word is defined as "to serve for hire" and more often as "to render religious service or homage." We can think in terms of "servant" or "slave."

So any time we replace God as the object of our reverence and awe, any time we replace God as the object of our service, we commit idolatry. Paul says in Colossians 3:5 that covetousness is idolatry. In the Greek, to covet means to have greedy desire for something else. Idolatry is to replace one's desire for the Creator with a greedy desire for the created.

The idea of greedy desire is an important distinction, because it helps us determine the difference between good and bad desire. It also helps us determine if our desires are God-given, or if they are rooted in sin. How do we know if our desires are idolatrous? Can we desire things within creation without committing idolatry?

I think the answer is in the passage from Romans quoted earlier. Do you see how Paul ties idolatry to lust? God gave these people up "in the lusts of their heart." Why? Because in doing so they "worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator." They committed idolatry because they greedily desired, served, and craved earthly things rather than the Creator.

This is how we know whether or not our God-given natural desires for things like sex, food, love, and rest are idolatrous. If we desire any of these things in the sense that we are consumed by them, our mind is bent on them, our focus on God is replaced by them, and we seek our fulfillment of happiness through them, THEN we are committing idolatry.

So let's say I am sitting at work and suddenly I fill hungry for my wife's spaghetti. I start thinking about that perfect combination of spaghetti noodles and pasta sauce with mildly spicy sausage meatballs and the aroma of oregano. My mouth begins to water. Am I committing idolatry?

If my desire for spaghetti begins to consume me and control me in such a way that I am enslaved to that desire, if that desire becomes my master and overtakes me with a craving and a lusting so that my will is controlled by the thought of attaining that spaghetti, then I am committing idolatry.

However, if my desire prompts me to call up my wife and say, "Honey, you make great spaghetti, could we have some tonight?," and I then proceed to look forward to that spaghetti and anticipate that spaghetti while being thankful to God for the delicious food I am about to receive, then I am not committing idolatry.

So in short, idolatry is a greedy, will-controlling, mind-enslaving lust for something other than God.


Application To Parenting


How do we apply the Bible's teaching about idolatry to parenting?

Well, most parents aren't bowing down and worshiping their children in a literal sense so this can be difficult to spot. Unlike cars or sports, we have a God-given duty to our children--to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). To the dismay of some, God does not require any attention to cars or sports.

Like many sins, idolatry of children probably looks different with different parents, depending on a parent's own personal weaknesses. For example, someone who struggles with craving affection from others might become enslaved with idolatrous desire for the affection of their children. Additionally, this would probably result in the parent subjecting themselves to the desires and wishes of their child, rather than subjecting their child to training in Godliness.

Another possibility is the parent who seeks their own happiness through the happiness of their child. Instead of the parent living for God and the happiness that comes from knowing Him, they live for the happiness of their child. When their child is happy, they are happy. When their child is sad, they are sad. Their identity is found not in God, but in their child. I think this would also be idolatry.

So idolatry of children might be summarized in (but not limited to) the following points:

  • Parents sinfully crave their child's favor.

  • Parents are enslaved to their child's desires and wishes.

  • Parents depend on the happiness of their child for their own happiness.

  • Parents live vicariously through the lives of their children.



Conclusion


Raising a child up in the admonition of the Lord takes a tremendous amount of work by dedicated parents who will make a lot of mistakes along the way. Christian parents are responsible, by command of the LORD, to train their children into Godliness.

As a side-note,  it is profound that this is one of the only commands given to Christian parents. In contrast, parents are not commanded to "box out" time for themselves away from their children. Parents are not commanded to have date nights. Parents are not commanded to ensure time for daily devotions.

Unchecked desire for these things I believe can also lead to idolatry of self.

We should be on guard in our hearts for resistance against God's command. Are we constantly longing for a break from the often hectic life of parenting? Are we using devotion time as a secret excuse to get away from our children? There's nothing inherently wrong with breaks or devotion time. We need them often. In fact Proverbs 4:26 says, "Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure." Careful thinking  and meditation are difficult to do in the midst of chaos. And frankly, sometimes we just need a break for our own sanity, but as parents we need to constantly evaluate the true intent of our hearts. We must continually ask ourselves, are we submitting to God's command to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the LORD? Or, are we committing idolatry by seeking happiness in being away from them or through them? May we all as parents seek wisdom in these things.

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