Moody Bible Literacy (1 Peter 1:13–17)

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The Bible is moody, in a perfect way, and you need to know what sets off the mood swing. Sentences have moods. In the original language 1 Peter 1:3–12 is a single elephantine sentence. Some sentences really should run on. Clarity, brevity, and simplicity are virtues, but sometimes the subject is too grand to distill. Sometimes the matter really is that complex, deep, and wondrous. When we enter into salvation in all it’s fullness, I believe such run-on sentences of praise will be commonplace.

This whopping sentence is in the indicative mood. It indicates. It simply states the facts. But this is no stoic, “just the facts, ma’am.” This is good news. This is the gospel.

Following this hefty sentence are three lightweight ones in vv. 13–17. These sentences are in the imperative mood. They command. But the mood of this mood is still joyful.

When the Bible changes moods, you shouldn’t. For this to happen, it is essential that you see how the imperative and the indicative relate. A “therefore” lies between them. One mood produces the other, and it should always be the indicative first. The imperatives follow the indicative.

This is always the case for God’s people. Covenant, promise, and redemption came before Sinai. When God gave the law he prefaced it saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Here you have the same two kinds of sentences and the same “therefore” is implicitly understood to lie between them.

As the commands of God are planted in the soil of God’s grace, they are a tree of life. Try to plant them somewhere else, and you’ll only get poison apples.

Sinner, if your life has been nothing but one long stuttering incomplete imperative sentence, hear this gospel exclamation. What you cannot do, Christ did. He kept the law and bore the wrath of God for sinners so that all who trust in Him might have their sins removed and His righteousness imputed to them. If the Spirit takes that sentence deep into your soul and causes you to be born again, then you’ll find that your mood has changed, a mood that loves all the moods of the Scriptures.

The Exegetical Systematician: Doctrine is for Doing

Some of the greatest pronouncements of Scripture respecting God and his work of redeeming grace are introduced in order to enforce practical exhortation. Paul, for example, is urging the necessity of unselfish consideration for others, that each one should not look on his own things but every one also on the things of others. It is to enforce this duty that he says: ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men’ (Phil. 2:5–7). Again, when urging upon the church at Corinth the grace of Christian liberality, he says: ‘For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich’ (2 Cor. 8:9). It was not the practice of the apostle only; the same feature appears in the teaching of the Saviour himself. It is when he urged upon his disciples the grand virtue of humility and of readiness to serve rather than be served that he gave utterance to one of his most significant pronouncements: ‘For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). So it is in our text. When John says, ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us’, he makes appeal to God’s greatest work in giving his own Son in order to drive home the practical virtue: ‘Beloved, let us love one another’ (I John 4:7).

This characteristic of Scripture reminds us that the profoundest truths respecting God and his work of redeeming grace bear directly upon the most elementary duties of the Christian vocation. Doctrine is indeed high. But Christian life is also; it is the life of a high and holy and heavenly calling. —John Murray, God’s Love and Our Life

Reading the Characters in God Story (Psalm 15)

“ …in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord…” —Psalm 15:4 (ESV)

Nowadays there is fresh emphasis on Jesus as a friend of sinners. This is a welcome reprieve from the kind of legalism and fundamentalism that withdrew into a “holy huddle” refusing even a brother who enjoyed a beer in moderation. But just as fundamentalism could go to one extreme, there are many sinner-friendly folk veering off the other shoulder.

There is a problem if your theology is reactionary. We shouldn’t determine truth by seeing the consequences of folly on the other side. Republicans who set their policies based upon Democrat stupidities are only prepping to be a different kind of ninny head. Trying to stay far away from the extreme left means veering towards the alt-right. We should not react, but be principled people who act upon the truth of God. If we’re only reacting, someone else is determining the agenda; we’re not driving, we’re being driven.

I’m afraid that when many say “Jesus was a friend of sinners,” they’re looking for a Biblical text to support their reaction, rather than having digested Biblical truth and then acting upon it. The evidence in support of this is that often only one thing is being said.

Our relationships to people should reflect God’s relationships people. God both hates sinners and graciously determines to save sinners. God’s wrath abides on man and yet he is long suffering and benevolent to humanity. You should both love your neighbor as yourself and despise the vile person. This isn’t easy. The Spirit must give wisdom based on Biblical principles.

If we start with how to relate to some extremes I think it’ll help make sense of the middle. We honor the apostle Paul, missionary Adoniram Judson, and orphanage founder George Muller. We despise Nero, Hitler, and Kim Jong-un. We do this knowing that Paul was once detestable and hoping that all whom we despise might be so transformed. In Genesis 14 Abraham receives a blessing from Melchizedek but refuses rights to the spoils from the King of Sodom. This is the kind of discretion that is called for in this world. In-between is where most people are and in-between is how we need to relate to most people.

Now, back to a general dichotomy. Douglas Wilson offers a helpful paradigm. We must learn to distinguish apostles of the world and refugees of the world. The Israelite spies treat Rahab differently than Phinehas deals with the Midianite woman. Elisha speaks to Naaman one way; Moses speaks to Pharaoh another. While Paul was preaching the gospel to Sergius Paulus he turned to Elymas the magician and called him a son of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, and full of deceit and villainy. Likewise, we should speak one way to the woman broken after an abortion and another concerning Cecil Richards and Kermit Gosnell. When the forbidden woman of Proverbs tries to entice us, we flee, and when the prostitute wishes to fall prostrate at Jesus’ feet washing them with her tears, we welcome her.

This kind of wisdom comes from the Word. Marinate in Proverbs for some time and you’ll find yourself honoring the wise, faithful, diligent, righteous and just while despising the fool, liar, slothful, wicked, and evil. You will value an excellent wife over an alluring adulteress. Spurgeon said Bunyan’s blood was bibline. Prick him and he’d bleed Bible. This is why Bunyan could write honorable characters like Hopeful, Faithful, and Old Honest and despicable ones like Hypocrisy, Talkative, and Formalist.

If we soak in the Psalms, we’ll not only think and talk this way, we will sing this way. If you are fearful this will curb a gracious spirit, can you think of many figures more merciful and magnanimous than David? David forgave as big as he fought and fought as big as he forgave. Ingest the Bible and you’ll learn to read the characters of this world and you’ll read them hoping that God will rewrite them just as He has you.

Who’s the Fool? (Psalm 14)

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.” —Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

A renown Cambridge mathematician is placed beside a Cajun swamp boat operator; which is wiser? A smart answer would be to ask “Where are they?” What is the setting? What is the test? If it is an academic setting, I’d wager the Cambridge professor; if the bayou, the Cajun. If it is the supermarket, we don’t have enough information.

What the fool fails to take into consideration is his setting. The fool fails to recognize ultimate reality. Where are we? In God’s creation. The fool says there is no God. The fool goes wrong at the foundational level.

“Fool” then is not so much an intellectual category as a moral one. It doesn’t take in less than the mind, but more. The fool says this in his heart. The heart here embraces more than the emotions. Biblically the heart is the core of man involving his intellect, emotions, and volition. This means that to determine if someone is a fool, you cannot just ask if they believe in God. You must analyze their life. What a person really says with their heart will be betrayed by their hands.

Professing atheists may be rare, but practical atheist are not an endangered species. It matters not if one says there is a god. If a person knows his addiction is unhealthy but persists in it he is foolish. Those who profess a god but live as though he were not are more foolish than those who try to delude themselves that God is not.

Some may consistently live as though a god were, but not the God. False religion, however sincere, is folly. Fools will find themselves to have been studying for the wrong test under the wrong instructor. They have wasted time studying Klingon for a Latin exam. They study Buddah, but Jesus is the answer. Folly is living in reference to an imaginary god. Wisdom is living unto the true God.

Perhaps it might be the Cajun who is the wise man and the professor who is the fool. Such are often the ways of God (1 Corinthians 1:26–31). This is true even when it comes to math. The simpleton who uses basic addition and subtraction to steward his money well for the kingdom of God is better with numbers than the professor who uses differential calculus for his own glory.

Work in the Theology You Work out (Philemon 17–25)

A Biblical scholar has written, “Few ideas in New Testament studies produce higher levels of agreement than the notion that Paul’s letter to Philemon has little or no theological substance.” All that statement says is that a lot of smart people are really quite dumb.

This book may not tease out the doctrine of redemption, but I dare you to find another one that works it in so well. Only if your Christianity is all brain and no heart or limb can you say such a thing. Only if you approach the Bible with an academic processor and not an ardent heart, could you be so blind.

Theology here is worked out further than many care to go. It is worked pass the brain, into the heart, and out the hands. This is theology well digested and carried through the body. This is what it looks like when the blood of Jesus gets into our bloodstream. Here you see the doctrines of union with Christ, adoption in Christ, the family of God, redemption, and forgiveness as they take root in the heart of man and produce the fruit of the Spirit. Philemon is applied theology.

Just as the aforementioned doctrines are light in a dark world, so too, the life they produce in man is contrary to this culture. The gospel is foolishness to this world all the way down and all the way out. Thus, Philemon just might have been the most shocking little letter in the ancient world. If we too so ingrain the truth of Christ and his redemption, it is still surely so today.

Plumbing Matters (Colossians 3:5–11)

“5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” —Colossians 3:5–11 (ESV)

Religiously, man doesn’t care much about the plumbing; he just wants a shiny faucet. Shame may be felt once the faucet is turned on and the water spits, sputters, and leaks, but that’s tolerable compared to the idea of having a plain old faucet. Man’s religion is a shiny body covering an engine ready to blow. It’s a stunning mansion built on a defective and doomed foundation.

Many scholars have likened Paul’s vice and virtue lists to those of the Greek Philosophers. It seems likely that the false teachers threatening the Colossians had the very same list, it’s just that their asceticism was of “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23).” Paul’s list is different not in what it consists in, but in what surrounds it and grounds it. Sin is to be killed because we have died with Christ.

This isn’t contradictory, but rather, it’s the only rational basis upon which to wage war against sin. It is only the free former slave who can really fight against his slave behavior. Those locked in the dungeon cannot fight in the battle. The Prince of the Puritans, John Owen, wrote, “Men must be gold and silver in the bottom, or else all refining will do them no good. Mortification is a refiner’s fire. Iron cannot be refined into gold. It must be miraculously transformed. Only then can the refining work be done.