Thursday, April 13, 2006

An Unlawful Law

“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” (1 Tim.1:8)

The law is good—holy, as a matter of fact. Paul says so in Romans 7:12. But in his first letter to the young preacher, Timothy, he places a qualifier on this premise. Using a valid form of argument: If A, then B; not A; therefore, not B. In other words, if used lawfully, the law is good; if not used lawfully, the law is not good. This is a sobering thought. I am always amazed when I read in the Bible how our omnipotent God chooses to grant powers of limitation to us mortals. As A.W. Tozer has rightfully observed, I think, only a truly sovereign God would be secure enough to do such a thing. Whether we choose to limit this verse to the Law, as given to Moses, or the entire canon of Scripture, as given to us by God through the “holy men of old,” the principle remains the same. Men and women are capable of doing bad things with good implements. And it is possible to handle the Word of God “deceitfully” (2Cor.4:2) and “wrest” (twist) the Scriptures to our own or others’ “destruction” (2Pet.3:16).

As though God were reminding me that we need not wonder how to rightfully use the Bible (and the verse does say “use”), my Old Testament reading today included Psalm nineteen, where David talks about the Law and some of its many uses. For instance, it is capable of generating conversion and making us wise (v.7); it can give us joyful hearts and spiritually enlightened eyes (v.8); and it provides warning when needed, with promised reward, if heeded (v.11). So we may safely say that using the Bible to these ends is to use it lawfully. To use it for other purposes, no matter how lofty, however, is to run the risk of trying to make it say what we want it to say, in order to get favorable results. The Bible is not a means to an end, except for God’s. It cannot be plugged into our personal goals. It is a living, breathing “organism,” meant to change us, not our circumstances.

The law of the Lord is perfect (Psl.19:1); but we are not. The more we try to make it “relevant” (one of my least favorite words), the more we are in danger of using it unlawfully. It is up the Spirit of God to personalize it. Only the inattentive, unaware, or unenlightened fail to grasp its significance. We need to use it, and use it lawfully. And one of the best ways to do that is to use it on ourselves more than others.

Take the Word of God as it is, and it will meet you where you are.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Blind Faith

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5)

He was eighty-seven years old, one of the WW II veterans who are quickly passing off the scene. For that reason, our American History professor thought it would be both interesting and informative for our class to hear and see him. We have been studying that time in our nation’s history—the time Tom Brokaw refers to in his book, The Greatest Generation. John Pershing Glick, our honored guest, flew C-47 aircraft in many missions over Germany and France, carrying troops, fuel, food, ammunition, etc., to forces under the command of men like George Patton. I was glad to be able to hear him and to have the opportunity to personally thank him for his service.

One thing he emphasized, and that he felt saved his life more than once, was his thorough training to always fly according to the navigation instruments, not his own instinct. In fact, during part of his flight training, he was made to fly with a curtain over the windows. He made the observation that John Kennedy Jr., whose plane went down over Martha’s Vineyard several years ago, made this fatal mistake. If he had followed the instrument panel and not his own instinct, that young man (and his wife) might be alive today.

My mind immediately went to this verse in Proverbs, and I was reminded that, for all our good intentions, and no matter how seasoned a Christian we may be, when we start trusting our instincts instead of the “Instruction Book,” we’re headed for disaster. For some reason, there is an independent streak in all of us that has a strong suspicion that no one—not even God—knows what is best for us. Whether it’s our intelligence or our much-praised common sense (which may only be common to us!), it all boils down to leaning toward our own understanding. You see, instinct, an innate impulse or natural tendency, is vulnerable to our senses, always a dangerous gauge for anything; whereas, the Word of God that says “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt not steal,” does not change when we feel we need to bend the truth to cover ourselves, or “fall in love” and sleep with someone outside the bonds of marriage, or rationalize keeping for ourselves what belongs to another. The readings from the instrument panel of the Bible remain constant. And to rely on anything else, especially our own understanding or instincts, is to risk a spiritual crash.

This may seem like blind faith, but what could be blinder than faulty, fickle feelings? The lights in the control tower are there, whether I see them or not, and if I’m willing to disregard my own instincts, I’ll see them again (“…in thy light shall we see light” Psl.36:9).

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

As Sound as...What?

“This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Tit.1:13) “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:” (Tit.2:1) “Sound speech that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” (Tit.2:8)

“As sound as a dollar,” was how the saying went, but you don’t hear it much anymore, for obvious reasons. You may hear some enterprise advertising itself as being a sound investment, and I suppose they still begin wills with the phrase, “So–and-so, being of sound mind, etc.” It’s a good word, all the same, and as you know, I’m fond of words. “Sound” is one of those words that to me seems to say far more than its synonyms. For instance, somehow a sound body seems sturdier than a healthy one, and sound reasoning even more convincing than logical thinking. No doubt, the fact that the godly men who translated the old King James felt it expressed exactly the spirit of the text, in so many cases, is one reason that I feel so comfortable with it myself.

Paul used this adjective three times in Titus two alone. The word has several definitions for different uses, and these three passages reflect this, I think. For instance, one definition for the word is “deep and undisturbed (as in a sound sleep),” which is exactly what I see “sound in the faith” as being. It is belief in God that withstands unbiblical reasoning, unfair treatment, and unanswered questions, when the perplexities of life would threaten to overcome us. It is deep, undisturbed, sound faith the makes us understand that the God who framed the world (Heb.11:3) has framed our lives as well (Jer.29:11).

“Sound doctrine” brings to mind the definition, “based on valid reasoning; free from logical flaws” In Paul’s admonition to speak about things that rest on a foundation of sound doctrine, he seems to be warning us against wild speculation or flights of fancy that may draw a crowd, but seldom edify one saint. As I reflect now on some of the so-called “Bible teaching” I have heard over these many years, I realize that some of it was just that—wild speculation that had no real Bible basis. And I have to wonder if it was not a substitute for willingness to apply oneself to the hard work of mastering the depths of the great doctrines of the Church, as found in the Word of God. Make no mistake; the reality of God, though accepted by faith, is highly logical. And the truths about Him and His world, as found in the Bible, rest upon solid reasoning, since they originated in the mind of God. Anything else runs the risk of being less than sound.

But it would be a shame to have doctrine condemned, not because it is unsound, but because it is presented in an unsound manner. I don’t think Paul is insisting upon a spectacular vocabulary when he praises sound speech, in verse eight, only one that is adequate and appropriate. After all, a fifty dollar word is not worth a nickel if it’s used at the wrong time or with the wrong motive. The idea expressed by the verse is clothing sound, Biblical doctrine in the most becoming attire you own. In other words, our most precise, straight forward, and convincing speech should be used to assert the claims of Jesus Christ. And it should be done in such a way, says Paul, that when those who disagree with us say something harsh against us, they are inwardly ashamed of themselves, knowing nothing we have said could honestly be condemned. There is a worthy goal for all of us!

If the primary synonym given for sound is "healthy," then the Christian who exhibits all three of these—sound doctrine, sound faith, and sound speech—could be said to have a healthy spiritual life; and, indeed, the Apostle John told his friend, Gaius, that his wish for him was that both his body and his soul would be healthy and prosperous (3 Jno.2). It’s possible to have a healthy body with a shriveled soul. We should make sure our doctrine is sturdy, our faith is resilient, and our speech is impeccable.

By the way, I know what my own standard for soundness is, therefore, my ending to the old saying would be, “As sound as the integrity of God”.