The August Theologian: Growing up by the Scriptures into the Scriptures

“I therefore decided to give attention to the holy scriptures and to find out what they were like. And this is what met me: something neither open to the proud nor laid bare to mere children; a text lowly to the beginner but, on further reading, of mountainous difficulty and enveloped in mysteries. I was not in any state to be able to enter into that, or to bow my head to climb its steps. What I am now saying did not then enter my mind when I gave my attention to the scripture. It seemed to me unworthy in comparison with the dignity of Cicero. My inflated conceit shunned the Bible’s restraint, and my gaze never penetrated to its inwardness. Yet the Bible was composed m such a way that as beginners mature, its meaning grows with them. I disdained to be a little beginner. Puffed up with pride, I considered myself a mature adult.” —Augustine, Confessions

The Rod of God (Psalm 6)

This past June there was a small bit of heat over a blog post at The Gospel Coalition that argued that we should discipline, not punish our children. Some were quick to quote Hebrews 12:6; “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” What the ESV has as “chastises” the HCSB and NIV have as “punishes.” Chastise and punish are synonyms. Yes, but what does the Greek mean? Well the NASB, KJV, and NKJV get at it pretty well with “scourgeth.”

Am I advocating for scourging? Do the Scriptures? I don’t believe so. When we try to read a sentence’s meaning out of a word, rather than a word’s out of a sentence we’ve got things backwards. I believe there is something to the distinction the author was trying to make, but the problem, the reason I believe the post created more heat than light, was because the distinction was forced into words when it lies within metaphor. Both judges and fathers punish, but they punish differently. Ultimately, judges condemn whereas fathers correct.

In the sixth psalm, David appears fearful that the lines might be blurred between judge and father. David doesn’t plead against discipline, for this would be unwise and mark him as a bastard (Hebrews 12:8). David pleads not to be disciplined in wrath.

The psalm transitions from lament to faith in verse 8 as David warns his enemies that his prayer has been heard. We’re aware of no change of circumstances or prophetic revelation that came to David to assure him of this. What made the transition? The answer isn’t in something outside his prayer, but within it. David pleas with God on the basis of covenant, repeatedly using God’s covenant name, “Yahweh,” as indicated by all caps “LORD” in our English translations. God’s “steadfast love” (v. 4) is His covenant love (cf. Exodus 34:5–7, Deuteronomy 7:9). David knows that because of God’s covenant, wrath is not His lot. Earthly fathers may mix sinful and destructive wrath and anger with their punishment, but not God. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But, for those who are sons in the Son, there is correction. David here how God as Father breaks to heal. The same God who shatters the nations with a rod of iron, breaks and heals his children with the rod of discipline.

The Apologist: Church Discipline is Amoebatization Prevention

The New Testament stresses such purity, for the church is not to be like an amoeba so that no one can tell the difference between the church and the world . There is to be a sharp edge. There is to be a distinction between one side and the other—between the world and the church, and between those who are in that church and those who are not. —Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century

Water, Chop, Plant (1 Timothy 5:17–25)

Timothy is a tree farmer. The species “elder,” calls for special notice, so Paul instructs Timothy to water the good, chop the bad, and test the saplings. So simple, but, alas, this arboreal wisdom doesn’t translate to ecclesiological wisdom, or, in other words, we’re naturally better tree farmers than elder farmers.

Here is a good tree, what are we to do with it? Many Christians think, “Leave it be. Don’t want to mess it up.” There are two plants, one is thriving, and one is dying. So they put all their efforts into the bad tree, a tree that any unbiased arborist could see was beyond hope. What happens? Now they have two dead trees. Water the good tree and you get more good fruit. Water the bad tree and you get more rottenness. It is true that if there is no water, there will be no fruit, but it isn’t true that if you just keep watering, then there will be fruit. When a tree is bad, more water won’t make it good. Therefore, following “no water, no fruit,” the second lesson of spiritual dendrology is “no fruit, no water.”

If the tree is bad, chop it down. Of course, first you check to see if  pruning and fertilizing might suffice. But if an elder persists in sin after you’ve lovingly sought his repentance, he is to be publicly rebuked. The reverse is regrettably frequent. Satan loves to redirect the water that the good is worthy of, channeling it to the bad. The honor good elders deserve is directed to the bad; the rebuke the bad deserve, he heaps on the good. Petty accusations weigh down the good, while the sinful elder is not only overlooked, but honored as if here were no mere elder, but an apostle. The church was founded on the apostles, grand redwoods of grace and revelation, he isn’t one, by a long shot, but they treat him as though he were. This isn’t without reason. The only way such a poser’s ministry could carry any clout is if his word was regarded as the Word, because they bear no resemblance otherwise. He has to play an apostle because he is so far from them. Such a tree makes for putrid fruit, but excellent fire wood (Matthew 7:15–20).

Finally, there are saplings that potentially could be either good or bad. Saplings are to be slowly and thoroughly tested, so as to ensure that good trees are planted, because, honestly, chopping is painful and hard work. Whereas chopping is an occasional work, planting is to be a continual work. No one wants to chop. We should want to plant. Unfortunately, many don’t value planting because they don’t value trees. They don’t value trees because they’ve invested too much in bad trees and are sick of rotten fruit. Score have only experienced a dark forest of spiritual leadership bearing fruit that leaves you in your deadly slumber. Further, say you wanted to plant some good saplings, sadly, many Christians have never seen one, so how are they to recognize them? Aha! Paul has given Timothy the identifying markers. The arborist’s check list is in 1 Timothy 3:1–7. There Paul tells Timothy what a good tree looks like. He looks like Jesus.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

—Psalm 1

Appreciating One Sunset and Cultivating Another One (1 Timothy 5:1–16)

First Timothy, like all the Bible, is a two edged sword. The instructions written to Timothy are also written for the church. If we could translate the last sentence of the book into Texan this would be clear, “Grace be with y’all.” This means when Paul tells Timothy to let no one despise his youth, but to set them an example, that the church isn’t to despise Timothy’s youth if he sets them an example. Maturity in the faith, not in years, is the better instrumentation to observe and keep from crashing.

But just because a church is to value maturity over age doesn’t mean that the church is to disregard age altogether. Again, Timothy is instructed on how to relate to those older than him, notably when he has to confront them due to some sin. But, in so doing, Timothy is setting the Ephesians, and us, an example of how the church should relate to those older and younger.

Timothy is to treat those older as a father or mother. Paul was Timothy’s father in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2). In between all the lines of 1 Timothy you can read Timothy’s love for Paul. Imagine that Timothy saw a sin in Paul, a sin Paul was blind to, can you hear Timothy’s respectful, humble tone? Timothy also had a model of faith in his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5). How Timothy would approach his mother, to whom he was so indebted, is how he ought to treat older women in the church?

We live in an age that idolizes youth and has forgotten the dignity of age. Proverbs 16:31 tells us that “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Here is the general principle, when you see a seasoned gray head, it often got there by being less a fool than other heads, and gained wisdom in the process. We’re fools for treating glory as faded goods to be discarded. The elderly are treated as dead weight or a detriment, when, they are really a blazing sunset that we should pause and appreciate, for the blaze will soon be gone and the world will be a darker place for the setting.

The old are to be looked up to, but the young are not to be looked down on. Concerning those younger than him, Timothy is to see them as peers. God is our Father. We are all sinners saved by grace, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. When you see someone younger in sin, don’t give them a scolding, but speak with them as one who knows the discipline of the Father as a good thing.

Here is a good principle for us all, for this sword is two edged eternally, look up to those older than you, across to those younger than you, and down upon none.