The Eighth Commandment: H.C. Question 110 (Part 2)

What does God forbid in the eighth commandment? 
 
Psalm 15:5 – who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.  Whoever does these things will never be shaken.
 
Proverbs 11:1 – The Lord detests dishonest scales,  but accurate weights find favor with him.
 
Proverbs 12:22 – The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.
 
Ezekiel 45:9-12 – “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. You are to use accurate scales, an accurate ephah, and an accurate bath. The ephah and the bath are to be the same size, the bath containing a tenth of a homer and the ephah a tenth of a homer; the homer is to be the standard measure for both. The shekel is to consist of twenty gerahs. Twenty shekels plus twenty-five shekels plus fifteen shekels equal one mina.
 
Luke 6:35 – But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
 
Luke 12:15 – Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
 
Ephesians 5:5 – For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
 
Proverbs 21:20 – The wise store up choice food and olive oil,  but fools gulp theirs down.
 
Proverbs 23:20-21 – Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

Luke 16:10-13 – “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?  “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”



The Second Commandment: H.C. Question 96

What is God’s will for us in the second commandment? 

Deuteronomy 4:15-19 – You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.

Isaiah 40:18-25 – With whom, then, will you compare God?  To what image will you liken him?  As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.  A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood since the earth was founded?  He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.  He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.  No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.  “To whom will you compare me?  Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

Acts 17:29 – “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.

Romans 1:22-23 – Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Leviticus 10:1-7  Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

“‘Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’”  Aaron remained silent.

Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.” So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.

Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the Lord has destroyed by fire. Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the Lord’s anointing oil is on you.” So they did as Moses said.

1 Samuel 15:22-23 – But Samuel replied:  “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.  Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”



Jesus Christ: H.C. Question 18

Then who is this mediator—true God and at the same time a true and righteous human?

Matthew 1:21-23 – She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Luke 2:11 – Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,

1 Corinthians 1:30 – It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.



James 3 – Deadly Tongues

Read James 3

In Matthew 15, Jesus talks very specifically about the power of the tongue and what comes out of us.  He shows a contrast between the teachings of the Pharisees, who talk about unclean food as being that which makes us dirty and defiled and that which comes out of our mouth.  The things we say, Jesus points out, are the things that come from our heart and it is what which is in our heart that causes us to sin.

James picks up on this teaching as he continues to lay out a practical theology of living out our faith through what we do.  The tongue, he says, is one of the most powerful elements of our bodies and it can be what steers us into trouble or our of it as well.  He also points out the dichotomy (a contrast between two things that are completely opposite) in having a tongue that both speaks the praises of God and also curses the things around him or her.  These things shouldn’t exist together, but far too often they do.

Language is the very essence of civilization.  Nothing that humankind has already achieved would be possible without it.  How we speak, though, is not often taken into account when we talk about the direction of cultures and people.  Yet James points out that something as seemingly simple as this could change the course of a much greater group.  The ship is steered by the rutter, the forest burns because of one small spark.

Could it be that culture, ideology, even governments could change because of an intentional change in how we speak to each other?  The negative impacts of speech are certainly evident in our culture today, especially in this current election cycle.  I wonder what the world would be like if we chose not to engage in hateful, divisive rhetoric (true of all political parties and their adherents).  I wonder how our relationships with those that don’t think, feel, look, or believe like we do would change if we chose our words and actions carefully?



1 Corinthians 8 – Puffed Up

Read 1 Corinthians 8

Reading the middle section of 1 Corinthians, Paul seems to meander through issues in a scatterbrained sort of way.  He’s here and there and back again without any seemingly logical progression.  However, if we take a step back and look at the whole of this section, the same theme continues throughout: “Don’t let the way you act diminish the message of the Gospel.”  Sometimes he talks about this in reference to “outsiders,” here it is in reference to conduct with other believers.

Sacrificing food to idols is archaic practice if ever there was one.  I think this is why Paul frames this in terms of knowledge, not the act itself.  The reality is, in every Christian community, there are those that understand and embrace the freedom that Christ offers and those that are still working that out.  Those that have “knowledge,” meaning they understand the freedom they have, must temper how the act on it so as not to hurt others.  In this instance, some people may know that food sacrificed to a false god that doesn’t exist is fine to eat.  Yet younger Christians who may still be working that out could find it offensive… or perhaps even a temptation to fall back into their former sinful life.

Perhaps a more contemporary example would be the idea that drinking alcohol is not a sinful act.  However, expressing our freedom by drinking alcohol in front of a recovering alcoholic causing him/her to fall back into that addiction is wrong, the very opposite of Christ’s call to love.

Christian freedom is always express in love and concern for others.  Knowledge is always expressed through the wisdom of God that is in Christ Jesus.  Therefore let us use our knowledge to build others up… not to boast and be puffed up.



1 Corinthians 4 – Scum of the Earth

Read 1 Corinthians 4

Paul continues to talk about earthly wisdom vs. the wisdom of God.  As he talks, though, his tone almost takes on that of sarcasm.  He has been talking to them about who they are following and what they should be listening for, but he implies that maybe they have it sorted.

They don’t actually “have it all together,” otherwise Paul wouldn’t be writing this.  However, when they look to human achievement and human strengths as the foundation for their faith, they indeed *do* have what they want.  Obviously, though, this will only lead to failure.

Interestingly, though, these words have a lot to do with us in the contemporary church.  So often, we come to worship and live our lives like we already have everything we need.  We put on a good face when we come to church on Sunday and always make sure our houses are clean when guests come over.  A house that appears messy is a source of considerable anxiety to us because it may reflect a life that is also messy… we wouldn’t want people to think that.

But irony behind this is that church is precisely for those who don’t have their lives all put together and it is, in fact, made up of those who don’t either.  We participate in this “stain glass masquerade,” as the casting crowns song so eloquently puts it, and all it succeeds in doing is creating a false image of the church keeping out those whom God loves and wants to hear of love and grace.

Paul’s claim to be the “scum of the earth,” is not a self-deprecating move to create some sort of “false humility,” it is a realization of who he is and how desperately he, of all people, needs the grace of God.



1 Corinthians 1 – True Wisdom

Read 1 Corinthians 1

From the very beginning of this letter, Paul touches on the theme that will be repeated many times throughout his correspondence with the church in Corinth.  Ultimately Paul’s appeal to the Christians there is that they would have the same mind as Christ, who is the wisdom of God.  This wisdom transcends all worldly and human wisdom.  That, however, makes little sense to those who do not understand the nature of the Gospel.

God’s wisdom does not take the strongest, most eloquent, or the most powerful of humankind to further His message and love.  In fact, as is seen with Christ, God often chooses the weak, the seemingly foolish things by worldly standards to show His strength and love.

Paul takes this theme and applies it immediately to the divisions plaguing the church in Corinth.  There had been many disagreements about issues related to theology and the practice of faith, but it also seems that there was an issue of who people felt was best to follow as a leader of the church.  Each of the men listed were champions of the early church.  Paul, a theological giant, Peter, the Rock and Jesus “right-hand man,” and Apollos, an eloquent and passionate speaker.  All were solid choices for leadership.

Yet Paul cuts through it all, getting right to the point: Jesus is the head of His Church.  God’s strength and salvation will not be found in the following of one good leader or in the strength of theological knowledge or eloquent speaking.

It isn’t, however, that God doesn’t use these things, though.  Paul’s emphasis is on their place of importance in our lives.  When we look to these things rather than the cross, we empty it of its power, essentially saying, Jesus’ work is not good enough for us.



Day 344: Colossians 1-4; The Preeminence of Christ

Interestingly, this letter, which holds its main point as being the sovereignty of God and the preeminence of Christ as its main theme, is one of the letters of which the author is thought the be pseudonymous (written anonymously).  Over the course of the last couple centuries, people have become a lot more interested in textual criticism of the Scriptures and the authorship of the books as well.  This has led scholars and historians to comb through the original text to look for differences in writing styles, grammatical usages, and the like to show that the writers of these books are not necessarily who they say that are.  The book of Colossians is considered by a majority of historians to be not written by the apostle Paul.  The real question in this argument though is whether or not that actually matters.  Most Theologians would say no and here’s why.  In these times, and to a lesser extent in our contemporary context, writing a letter under a pseudonymous name was quite common.  Likely the person that wrote this letter was a student or contemporary of Paul that wrote after Paul’s death or imprisonment.  Writing in Paul’s name would have given the letter a great deal more clout and impact on the community that likely needed to hear what was in this letter.  Moreover, as the process of canonization took place, that process in which certain books and writings were deemed to be part of the Scriptures while others weren’t, we believe that the Holy Spirit was intimately involved in that process and in the process of writing these letters, books, etc.  Therefore, even though the person that is said to be writing this is likely not actually Paul, the nature of the truth that the letter communicates is not at all in question, harmonizing with the whole of the Biblical Scriptures and therefore authoritative and true for us today.

It is a bit ironic that this letter, of all the letters, would be the one that garners a discussion like this as the writer himself is pointing first and foremost to the preeminence of Christ and the truth that comes through Him above all else.  While discussions about historical things are important, the pseudonymous Pauline writer is pointing beyond that discussion to show us that really where we should be looking to is Christ, not grammatical issues or textual criticism.

One of the main purposes of the letter to the Colossian church was to combat and issue that was cropping up in the church.  A couple of days ago I mentioned the word Gnosticism, which was something that the Apostle John expressly writes against in all of his writing.  He, however, wasn’t the only person to encounter that issue as the writer of Colossians is making clear.  There were (and are) people that had taken the Christian teaching and intermixed it with some of their own teaching.  This led to what we could call “Gnostic Christianity” (which really is a misnomer because it is impossible).  These people taught that, while Christ came into the world, we really need a special knowledge to know God and it was this knowledge that saved us.

Right at the beginning, this position is challenged by the simple truth of Jesus Christ:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

The Pauline writer is laying out very simply the story of Jesus Christ and the truth of both His deity and the Gospel that we find in Him.  There is no special knowledge here; the writer is not somehow uniquely enlightened apart from the work of the Holy Spirit which is also at work within us.  Indeed this idea of Gnosticism is just another way that Satan is trying to twist the Good News of Jesus Christ so that we turn from it rather than cling to it.

Now, you may be thinking that this is something not worth talking about because of the fact that it is history and the Gnostic Teachings do not exist anymore.  Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Agnosticism is a “religious” affiliation that has become a major player in the last 50-100 years or so.  Agnostics believe that there is a God out there but that He is ultimately unknowable.  This leads to a sad resignation that there is no way to save one’s self accept through trying to be the best we can be and hoping that somehow God sees that.  Sadly, I think that a lot of agnostics are actually people that are leaving the Church today.  Too often they are leaving because we aren’t preaching the truth of the Gospel and we certainly aren’t living it out.  The ideas of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, that God is out there somewhere but is not intimately involved in our lives so we just need to be good and try harder and God will help us from time to time, are running rampant in the Church and they are leading believers astray.  It is simply NOT TRUE.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.  In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.



Day 331: 1 Corinthians 1-4; Intro to 1 Corinthians

Unlike our journey through the Old Testament, the transition between the books of the Bible is going be a lot quicker as we jump from letter to letter for the remainder of the year.  1 Corinthians is the first of two recorded letters that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth.  However, it is one of possibly four total letters, of which we can assume also that there were correspondences back from the church there as well.  Paul’s writing in this letter, which is quite possibly the second letter that he actually wrote to the church in Corinth, was written to address a variety of issues that were apparently going on in the church at that time.

The city of Corinth was one of the major cities of the Roman Empire in that region, located on an isthmus, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, and that also separated the Aegean Sea from the Gulf of Corinth.  Those wanting to do trade with anything west of Greece would have had to sail around the rest of Greece, bringing them into the greater Mediterranean Sea.  To this end, they would be risking storms, piracy, and any number of other dangers not to mention adding a great deal of time to their journey.  For many, it was simply easier to dock in Corinth, offload their goods and transport them on land to the other side of the isthmus and have them loaded on to another ship to continue their journey.  Naturally, this made the City of Corinth both important and very busy.  With all the hustle and bustle, with many people coming and going, this was also a hotbed for an large amount of idol worship, mostly centered around the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods.  This would have included many temples, most notably he temple of Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love.  The worship that took place in that temple would have likely involved cult prostitutes and sacrifices to idols, as well as other things that the church in Corinth would have to deal with.

Paul begins his letter to the church by immediately getting down to business.  There are divisions that are forming within the church that his very first appeal is that all agree together and be united.  One of the very first issues that the church is dealing with is a crisis of leadership.  Disagreements have arisen about who is the leader of the church and likely whose teachings are better than others.  Immediately though, Paul takes this argument and turns it on its head.  “Is Christ divided?” No one in the Church is baptized into any name except that of Christ Jesus.  Interestingly I think that this is an argument that we can take to heart in the Church today as well.  In the age of denominationalism, where it seems as though the Church itself is divided on so many things, fighting within itself about who is more correct in their doctrines, perhaps we need to be asking ourselves whether Christ is divided or not.  We are all baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and members of one body.  Perhaps it is time that we embrace each other as brothers, accept the diversity of the Church, and understand that we are in agreement about the main things, letting peripheral issues remain just that and serving as ways for us to learn from each other rather than fight against each other.  Paul will circle back to this in chapter three as well.

Another important argument is also made here in today’s reading.  Paul’s exposition on the wisdom of Christ and the preaching of the Gospel also has a great deal to say to us.  He talks about not bringing any sort of human wisdom when he preached among them in Corinth.  Instead of laying out such a lofty logical argument, as some might have done, he instead sticks to the message of Christ Crucified.  This, he says, is wisdom to those who believe and foolishness to those who are perishing.  Sometimes I think that the Church uses this as an excuse… we don’t need scholars or educated folks, we just need to preach Christ Crucified and we’ll be fine.  I think Paul would disagree.

Let’s contrast this with Paul’s address to the men of Athens, in the Aeropagus, recorded in Acts 17.  Here Paul takes on the Greek philosophers by using the message of Christ and Greek philosophy.  Paul is wise in doing so as those who were there would not have otherwise listened to him.  In fact, it is entirely possible, at least in the beginning, that the church in Corinth was composed of very poor, uneducated people, and therefore Paul’s message had to be both understandable and applicable to them.  This may be one of Paul’s way of saying that as Christians, we need to know our audience and be able to engage with whomever they are.

There is more here too though, Paul also talks about how his message was a demonstration of the Spirit “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”  Paul makes the point of discerning that, had he given the same wisdom filled speech that he did at the Areopagus, the people may have not seen the power of the Spirit, but simply Paul’s wisdom.  This would likely have been a stumbling block for a bunch of peasants who didn’t know any better.

It has probably always been something present in the church, but it seems that in the last two decades there has been a sharp increase in the “mega-churches” and those that follow only certain pastors because of their abilities to speak.  These leaders have done incredible good in the world and brought many to Christ, there is no doubt of this, but the burden they and all pastors must remember and carry is the need to keep the main thing the main thing.  Paul’s message here is not to simply preach Christ Crucified while ignoring the issues of the world in which the church lives and operates.  However, it is important that we keep Christ at the center of it all.  The Cross of Christ, the grace, salvation, and reconciliation which He offers us through His blood is to be at the center of the message of the Church.  All else, though important, pales in comparison.  Pastors, leaders, and all brothers and sisters in Christ, do not forget our center.  Do not forget from where our help, our love, and our salvation comes from.  Even as we engage the myriad of issues surrounding the Church today, let us approach them from our center in Jesus Christ.



Day 293: Mark 10-13; Jesus' Ministry in Jerusalem

Unlike the Gospel of Matthew, there is a great deal of action that happens all at the same time as Jesus enters Jerusalem.  Much of this we have read in Matthew’s account, but Mark covers a whole lot in a very short amount of time, as is normal for his writing.  Quite often, when we talk about Jesus being in Jerusalem, we tend to mention the Triumphal entry, the cleansing of the Temple, and the Last Supper before Jesus’ death.  What we often tend to skip over is all of the interactions that Jesus has with people while He is in the city during this last week of His life.  Of particular notice, I think, is Jesus’ interactions with the religion leaders and how He continually subverts what they have set up as being their belief system.

The way the religious leaders approach Jesus often reminds me of the way that we as “church-goers” approach new people in our churches.  When the Pharisees or the Sadducees approached Jesus with a question about faith, theology, or doctrine, it wasn’t really because they had a question, it was because they wanted to test Jesus and find out whether He believed the same way that they believed.  They were also looking for a way to trap Jesus and get Him to say something wrong so that they could prove that He wasn’t a good teacher or someone that the people should listen to of follow.  This isn’t that much different from how we often treat new comers to our churches.  We do our best to make it seem as though we are a warm community that welcomes all into our fellowship.  We have people posted to greet everyone at the door, and time after the worship service in which we provide refreshments and enjoyable fellowship and conversations.  We even have people “sign in” so that we can send them a nice note thanking them for joining us for worship.  Yet, there are those that also take the role of the religious leaders of Jesus day too.

These are the people that go up to new families and guests that are visiting with a great and wonderful smile, asking them about their kids and about what they do, all the while analyzing every word that they are saying looking for something that might hint that their true “difference” from the community that they are trying to join.  If small talk doesn’t reveal anything, we might turn to politics or even religious matters, all in the name of “getting to know” our new “friend.”  What are we looking for?  Something that would make them different than us.  Maybe they have a differing political view.  Perhaps its a questionable job.  It might even be (and heaven forbid it if it is) that they don’t believe quite the same way that we do, or maybe they have questions about their faith.  Things like this send us into red-alert and we start talking to others about “the new family.”

There are many things that spur us to act like this.  Many if not all of them were probably similar reasons that the religious leaders questioned Jesus as well.  Fear is probably the greatest motivator here; fear of change or that the community will be disrupted because of new thoughts or questions.  We don’t want the boat to be rocked, we just want to be comfortable.  The Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t want change either.  They had things working pretty well in their favor and the pressure that Jesus was placing on them was palpable.  So they plotted and schemed in their dark corners.  I’m sure their conversations sounded similar to what ours do today; “did you hear about Carol-Anne?  We should pray for her and her family… I heard that she… [insert gossip].”  We try so hard to make ourselves look pious and upright, but in the end, we too are just trying to nail them up on a cross for sins that we made up for them… that they likely didn’t commit… that were none of our business… and that they have already been forgiven for.