Calling down curses: a New Testament perspective

INTRODUCTION. This post considers the topic of imprecation of enemies, asking the question whether imprecation is a spiritual tool of the New Testament disciple of Jesus.

Back in March-April of 2022, I had written a six-part series of posts considering the topic of the so-called “imprecatory psalms.” In the Bible, “imprecation” is when a believer calls on God to curse or destroy his enemies. So, in the “imprecatory psalms,” the psalmist (often David) is in distress and his life is being threatened by enemies, and in response, the psalmist cries out to the Lord to give him relief by cursing or punishing or judging the psalmist’s enemies. The question that we sought to answer in our six-part study was, “After the first advent of the Lord Jesus, is the believer still allowed to imprecate (call down curses on) his enemies, or has that forever changed with the coming of Jesus?” At the end of the sixth post (#514, April 7, 2022), I wrote this conclusion:

“And so we conclude our study of the imprecatory psalms. We have seen that these psalms which called down curses on the enemies of the righteous are no longer useful to the disciple of Jesus. Jesus Himself commands His people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, which renders an imprecatory psalm obsolete. But also, since we are to be wise ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), we realize that imprecating others is a poor strategy for sowing the gospel.”

If you would care to read through all six posts, they are Posts #500, 503, 502, 505, 509, and 514 back in March and April of this year. The key word “imprecatory” should get you to them.

IMPRECATION REVISITED

This week, my wife began a study of the book of Habakkuk with a group of ladies and, because of the content of the first chapter of this book, the subject of imprecation of enemies was discussed with vigor in their Bible study. Afterward, my wife and I talked about imprecation and I decided to revisit this topic and see if my views had changed. The rest of this post is a record of today’s musings about imprecation. (NOTE: Because of time constraints, I have not reviewed these thoughts and placed them in order.)

Observation: I do not believe there are any New Testament examples of imprecation.

THEORY: Imprecation of enemies was apparently allowed in the Old Testament, but the teaching of the New Testament has replaced imprecation with prayer for enemies, forgiveness of enemies, and endurance of the persecution and suffering by the saints.

When persecution and affliction for the name of Jesus come upon the disciple, the disciple simply adds perseverance and endurance to his other daily spiritual duties and disciplines and continues to press toward the prize.

For those being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10-12), it is okay to flee (Matthew 10:23), but it is not okay to fight. You are allowed to run, but you are not allowed to retaliate.

When Stephen is being stoned to death in Acts 7, he offers no imprecation of those who are killing him. Instead, he asks the Lord not to hold the sin of his murder against his murderers (Acts 7:60).

The church in Thessalonica was experiencing persecution when Paul wrote his two letters to them, but there is no hint of any imprecation against their persecutors in the letters. In 1 Thess. 2:14-16, the Thessalonians “endured the same sufferings” as other churches, and in 3:3-8, Paul reminds them that “no one would be disturbed by these afflictions (because) we have been destined for this (3). For we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction (4).” Paul told them they would suffer affliction and commended them for standing firm (8), but it is evident that he never told them how to defend themselves or retaliate. Why? Because the disciple of Jesus is called to stand firm, but not to retaliate.

In 2 Thess. 1:4-10, when the church is experiencing withering persecution, Paul reminds them that the Lord Jesus Himself will repay their persecutors on the last day when He returns in blazing fire. Again we see that the New Testament believer is to endure affliction now and entrust judgment entirely to the righteous Judge, the Lord Jesus.

In the New Testament, the disciples of Jesus accept persecution for Jesus’ sake as part of the cost of being His follower (1 Thess. 3:3-8). They may flee (Matt. 10:23; Acts 13:50-51; 14:5-7; 17:10, 14), but they do not organize themselves into an armed force. In fact, they even do very little to defend themselves. Disciples of Jesus do this because they are relying entirely upon the Lord to defend them. He is the one who will deliver them from their distresses and afflictions and so they wait for Him. Ultimately, Jesus’ disciples persevere in tribulation (Rom. 12:11) because they are waiting for Him to rescue them on the last day when He descends from heaven with a shout. The point is that Jesus is my Defender and I will trust Him to lead me through any circumstances and any affliction such that “with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20).

Philippians 3:10 – “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERINGS.” Paul desired to know “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.” But how can this stated desire be fulfilled if, every time the Lord brings affliction and persecution into Paul’s life, he immediately prays for God to bring judgment on his persecutors and to bring relief from his affliction? Obviously, Paul did not do this. Rather, the apostle “rejoiced in his sufferings” so that he was “filling up what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24). Here there is no suggestion of any imprecation of persecutors, but instead there is an acceptance of the fact that suffering for the name of Christ is part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The book of Revelation has several passages that give light to this question of imprecation of enemies. In Revelation 6:9-11 we see the souls of the martyrs underneath the altar crying out to the Lord, “How long, O Lord, holy and true?” These have been “slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne,” and they want to know when God is going to avenge their deaths. They were told to rest for a little while longer until the rest of the martyrs would join them. Again, no imprecation against their murderers is suggested, and more martyrs will join them, for the Lord has ordained that the full number of martyrs will be killed.

In Revelation 11:7, we are given a scene where “the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with the saints and overcome them and kill them.” Once again, we see that suffering persecution is an expected part of being a follower of Christ, even to the end of the age. The picture here is not one of brave saints fighting against the beast and being outmatched, but of defenseless sheep being slaughtered by the beast because of their bold witness for Christ (see Romans 8:35, where “we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered”). This exact scene is also presented in Rev. 13:7, where “it was given to the beast to make war with the saints and to overcome them.” In this destruction by the beast, the Scripture gives no hint of imprecation.

Although the context of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 is not persecution, Paul’s attitude toward suffering and affliction in this passage is instructive. Paul is given “a thorn in the flesh” and three times asks the Lord to remove the thorn. The Lord replies that His grace will provide him (and thus, will supply any believer) with all he needs to endure the trial. “My grace is sufficient for you.” “Most gladly, therefore,” Paul will boast about his weaknesses (12:9). Indeed, he is “well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties” (12:10) for Christ’s sake. Note that Paul does not complain or whimper about his affliction, which might be the equivalent of imprecation in persecution, but is well content and boasts of his weaknesses. In the same way, then, in persecution we remain well content in the Lord and we most gladly endure, rejoicing that we are considered worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts 5:41).

CONCLUSION

There is certainly more that could be said, but I think the summary is this: In the New Testament, it seems that, at every possible opportunity to meet affliction and persecution with imprecation of the persecutors, the people refuse to do so and, instead, resolve to persevere and to endure through the affliction and, in many cases, pray for the very ones who are persecuting them.

Thus, the sanctioned New Testament response to persecution and affliction appears to preclude any retaliation, revenge, or imprecation of enemies. We would thus conclude that the disciple of Jesus is allowed to lament the suffering and to groan underneath it, and to long for the day when God will judge the wicked and set all injustice right but is not to imprecate his enemies. Rather, he is to trust the Lord with the administration of all justice and is to endure the suffering in the strength that Christ supplies.

SDG                 rmb                 8/27/2022                   #563

Imprecatory psalms – A definition, then a look at Psalm 69

INTRODUCTION. In post #500 on March 8, I had begun a series of articles discussing the so-called “imprecatory psalms” in the Bible. There are a number of these passages in the psalms, and their purpose seems to be to ask the Lord to destroy the psalmist’s enemies. This post will consider specific imprecatory psalms and think about how the believer is to apply these passages.

In the last post about this topic, we had taken time to get the proper mindset for these imprecatory passages. While the Bible does give us these psalms as a means of calling upon the Lord for justice, the calling down of God’s curses and God’s vengeance upon someone is an exceptional act. This is done rarely in cases of unusual cruelty or when the injustice is blatant and heinous. A believer is usually to endure the evil in the world and to persevere through the evil using the ordinary means given to us in the Scriptures. So, the believer is not to call down heaven’s curses and woes on every personal enemy at the first sign of conflict but is rather to bear with the conflict and the difficulty while pressing on in obedience. There comes a time, however, when the injustice is too evil merely to be endured. The time has come for God to stop the evil and to stop the evildoer. “Rise up, O Judge of the earth. Render recompense to the proud” (Psalm 94:2). This is when the believer calls upon the Lord and imprecates the wicked.

DEFINITION

We need to establish a definition for what we mean by “imprecatory.” The Webster’s Dictionary definition for “imprecate” is “to call down evil upon” or “to curse.” When we are referring to imprecatory psalms (verses, really) in the Bible, we mean “when the believer calls upon God to render punishment on perpetrators of evil, cruelty, or destruction.” The evildoer’s crimes and cruelty can no longer go unpunished, but the one committing these heinous, sinful acts is too powerful to be restrained by human means. Therefore, the believer cries out to the Lord, the One who is all-powerful, to observe the shocking injustice and to stop or to destroy or to punish the wicked one.

THE IMPRECATORY PASSAGES

We have talked about these imprecatory passages long enough, and now it is time to take a look at some of them. As we look at these, I want to consider the context of the verses; that is, what prompts the psalmist’s cry to the Lord, as well as the content of the cry.

Two passages stand out as the most obvious of imprecatory psalms, Psalm 69 and 109.

Psalm 69:22-28

22 May their table before them become a snare;
And when they are in peace, may it become a trap.
23 May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see,
And make their loins shake continually.
24 Pour out Your indignation on them,
And may Your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be desolate;
May none dwell in their tents.
26 For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten,
And they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded.
27 Add iniquity to their iniquity,
And may they not come into Your righteousness.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
And may they not be recorded with the righteous.

CONTEXT. In this psalm of David, the author is lamenting his oppression by his enemies. The literal context, then, is one of distress from attack and affliction by David’s enemies, and David is pouring out his complaint before the Lord and asking for His intercession.

But this psalm is much deeper than that. This is an overtly Messianic psalm and is about the suffering of the Lord Jesus during His passion in Gethsemane and then His agony on the cross. The foreshadows of Calvary are obvious, for in this psalm we can hear the groans of our Savior as He prepared to bear the wrath of God on our behalf. The psalmist prophetically laments the greatest injustice in human history as by Jesus’ wounds we are healed.  

But there is even more than that because this psalm is also about the persecuted church that, as the body of Christ, suffers the world’s hatred as the witnesses of Christ on the earth. Faithful believers are “hated without cause” (69:4; John 15:25). They are reproached for Jesus’ sake (“reproach” – 69:7, 9, 10, 19, 20). Dishonor, pain, shame, distress, and affliction (“afflicted”) are the words of the psalmist, again picturing the suffering church as they endure the reviling of the world. So, the context of the psalm is suffering, and the lamentations of Christ and then of His church as they fill up His sufferings (Colossians 1:24).

Although these sufferings are God-ordained, they are, nevertheless, evil and deserve to be punished by God. These are wicked acts of injustice, and they demand a just recompense. Therefore, the psalmist calls on the LORD to act and to punish the wicked NOW.

CONTENT. David calls on the LORD to bring specific curses on these wicked men. First, he asks for physical punishment. Let their food be poison and let all peace be taken from them (22). Cause them to go blind and make their legs lose their strength and shake (23). “God, pour out Your indignation and anger upon them for their evil (24).” Let there be strife in their house and may they have no children (25). In the midst of the imprecation, the psalmist speaks explicitly of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (~300 years before Isaiah wrote his prophecy) and reminds the LORD of the crimes of the wicked (26). The curses conclude with spiritual, condemnatory judgments upon these evil men. May their iniquities be multiplied and never forgiven (27) and may they be blotted out of the book of life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 20:15) so that they will never be recorded as righteous. The effect of David’s imprecation is to ask the LORD to condemn these evil men to eternal punishment.

APPLICATION. The psalms are given to us as poetic theology and describe for the believer how they can speak to and pray to their God. How, then, is the believer to apply this psalm? It seems to me that the nature of Psalm 69 limits its application to those situations where the believer, as a member of the body of Christ, is suffering or enduring affliction because they are a follower of Jesus. In other words, the injustice being experienced comes only because a person identifies with Jesus. (See Matt. 5:10-12; 10:16-22; 24:9; John 15:18-21; 1 Pet. 4:12-14, 16, 19.) So, the believer would turn to this psalm when they are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Then the believer would cry out with the psalmist for justice from the Lord. Persecution of the righteous is still wrong, and it is still appropriate to cry out to the Lord that He would bring justice to His people and recompence to the evildoer.

But also, the suffering believer would pray through this psalm for perseverance through the suffering, that he would endure as his Savior endured His hour of suffering. The believer would remember that the Lord has ordained all things and that his attitude should be, “Not my will, but Your will be done,” whatever that will is.

Psalm 69 would encourage the believer that part of the calling to Jesus is a call to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41; Phil. 1:29-30). The psalm, then, reminds the believer of the privilege it is to suffer for Jesus’ name and, therefore, to suffer well, to suffer as a Christian should suffer.

ONE QUESTION. One of the issues with these imprecatory psalms, these passages that invoke cursing upon the evildoer, is that they seem to conflict with specific teaching in the New Testament about how the believer is to view their enemies. This is the topic that I want to address in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 3/14/2022                   #502

The Discipline of the Lord – Part 5 (Hebrews 12:5-11)

THE PASSAGE – HEBREWS 12:5-11

INTRODUCTION. Hebrews 12:5-11 is the classic passage in the Bible about “the discipline of the Lord.” This is the fifth and final post in a series of studies covering this section of Scripture, and this article will draw the series to a conclusion. In the last two posts in this series (February 21 and 23), we had worked to discover the exact nature of this “discipline of the Lord.” Now we are going to apply what we have learned and understand how we are to respond when the Lord brings His discipline into the life of the child He loves.

WHAT IS THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD?

What did we discover in our previous posts about the nature of the discipline of the Lord? Although the author of Hebrews does not speak in this passage of suffering, I think the best way for the believer to understand the Lord’s discipline is to see that the Lord is bringing the perfect amount of affliction and yes, even suffering into the disciple’s life for the purpose of bringing about the disciple’s greater holiness. We experience this as suffering and pain and affliction, for these are the human labels we attach to this anguish, but from the Lord’s perspective He is bringing His sanctifying discipline onto the child He loves. The Lord is demonstrating His love to the disciple of Jesus through the means of His purifying affliction.

EXTRAORDINARY MEANS OF SANCTIFICATION

Why does the Lord choose to use suffering to produce sanctification? He does this because of His immense grace to us. The Lord has given to His children many means for growing in holiness. He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit who allows us to understand His Word. He has given us the Bible so that we can be renewed in the spirit of our minds and can know what it is to hunger and thirst for righteousness. He has given us communion with Him through prayer. He has given us His church, where we can worship Him with other believers and disciple one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds. These ordinary means of grace allow the believer to steadily grow in practical holiness and to increase in usefulness to the Master.

But the Lord is so personal with His children that, when He perceives an obstacle to His child’s holiness that is resistant to the ordinary means of sanctification, He crafts extraordinary means which the stubborn obstacle cannot resist. This is “the discipline of the Lord.” This discipline often feels like suffering and affliction, but it is the Lord’s appointed means of purifying us with hyssop so that the stubborn, entrenched unholiness can be cut out of our life.

AMAZING GRACE

Consider the grace of this discipline of the Lord. First, the Lord is so concerned about His child’s greater holiness that He is attentive to when there is a stubborn unholiness that must be addressed. The Lord then crafts the perfect discipline for this specific unholiness. He custom designs the discipline so that it is painful enough to purge away the unwanted unholiness but is not so painful that it crushes the disciple’s spirit. The Lord Himself then brings the discipline into the life of the believer so that the believer can share His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

THE HUMAN RESPONSE AND RESPONSIBILITY

How should we respond to the discipline of the Lord? We have already found much instruction in our study about how we are to respond, but before we review those responses, I wanted to make an observation from my own life. We have said that the Lord brings His discipline into our life to address an obstacle to holiness that He perceives. So, He knows the reason He is bringing His discipline, and what the intended result of the discipline is. But the disciple who is experiencing the affliction of the discipline of the Lord usually does not. When I have experienced the discipline of the Lord, I only perceived that the Lord was bringing suffering into my life, but I did not know the purpose of His discipline. By faith, I believed that the suffering I was experiencing was from the Lord as His discipline and was sent from heaven for the purpose of my greater holiness. This is the typical experience of the disciple, that they are aware of the suffering but do not know the specific reasons why or the details of the intended result. Even when the affliction is over, and the suffering has past, rarely does the disciple know the “whys” of the discipline of the Lord. But the Lord does. The disciple is called to trust the Lord and persevere through the affliction until the Lord determines that His intended greater holiness has been achieved.

We can review Hebrews 12:5-11 to remind ourselves of how we are to respond to His discipline. When we perceive that the Lord is bringing His discipline into our life, we are not to faint (12:5). We saw in post #493 (2/23/2022) what this meant: “We resolve to endure. Endurance and perseverance mark out our course because it is the enduring of the discipline that brings greater holiness and the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10, 11). To reinforce this point, we see that Hebrews 12:7 calls us to endure: “It is for discipline that you endure.” By faith, we are also to patiently “be subject to the Father of spirits” (12:9) and allow His extraordinary work to have its intended result. Finally, we are to be trained by His discipline (12:11) so that we will “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

SUMMARY OF THE STUDY

This study of Hebrews 12:5-11 and “the discipline of the Lord” has yielded a solid understanding of the nature of the discipline of the Lord and of how the disciple of Jesus can respond when they perceive that the Lord is bring His extraordinary means of sanctification into the disciple’s life.

SDG                 rmb                 3/3/2022                     #496

The Discipline of the Lord – Part 4 (Hebrews 12:5-11)

THE PASSAGE – HEBREWS 12:5-11

INTRODUCTION. Hebrews 12:5-11 is the classic passage in the Bible about “the discipline of the Lord.” This is the fourth post in a series of studies covering this section of Scripture. We have been seeking to understand concretely what this discipline of the Lord is, but I wanted to take a brief aside to explore two ways we can incorrectly respond to the discipline of the Lord. We will be looking at Hebrews 12:5-6.

and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

TWO WARNINGS

The Lord brings His discipline to His children so that the children can share His holiness (12:10) and so that they can yield the fruit of righteousness (12:11). Therefore, the discipline of the Lord is a display of the Lord’s grace toward those who have placed their faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus. But because of the distorting effects of the fall and because of incomplete sanctification in the disciple, the child of God can misunderstand and misinterpret the Lord’s discipline. For this reason, the author of Hebrews issues two warnings about wrong responses.

Warning #1: “Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord.”

What does it mean to “regard lightly”? This means to respond in a way that ignores or despises the magnitude of the gesture. In this case, the Lord of the universe, by His providence, has ordained that His sanctifying, loving discipline is to be applied to one of His children at this specific time in human history. Imagine the immensity of this gesture! Imagine the condescension of the One bringing the discipline! The Lord has perceived in this specific disciple something that is hindering the disciple’s holiness. There is an obstacle to sanctification that the Lord not only sees, but that also moves the Lord to action. Now the Lord is going to bring the perfect discipline to bear on this disciple’s life so that the disciple will bear more of the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Such a spectacular gesture deserves a spectacular response. But to respond requires that the disciple perceive that the Lord is bringing His discipline. For this reason, every disciple should be alert for the presence of the discipline of the Lord in their life (ACTION ITEM). Then, once the disciple senses that the Lord is bringing His discipline to bear on his life, he needs to “lean into” the discipline so that it will have its full effect (ACTION ITEM). Give thanks to the Lord for His gracious care for you in sending His “scourging” discipline (ACTION ITEM). The opposite of “regard lightly” would be “make much of,” so the disciple should recognize this form of the Lord’s grace and praise Him loudly for His good instruction (ACTION ITEM). Taking these actions will help you avoid “regarding lightly” the discipline of the Lord.

Warning #2:Nor faint when you are reproved by Him.”

The first warning cautioned the disciple not to regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, but this second warning tells us not to make too much of the Lord’s reproof. What I mean is this, that the Lord’s discipline is a perfect discipline. Like He sends His word to accomplish all that He intends and desires (see Isaiah 55:11), so the Lord brings His precise discipline to accomplish His precise ends. We know that His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3), and we can be assured that His discipline is likewise not onerous. The purpose of the Lord’s discipline is, by applying heat and affliction, to burn off the dross of remaining ungodliness and leave the disciple more conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). As Job said when he was undergoing the Lord’s severe discipline, “He (the LORD) knows the way I take, and when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

Again, the Lord’s discipline is sent at the exact time needed to affect the change He desires. Although Paul was speaking of the persecution he faced because he faithfully proclaimed the gospel, the idea is similar with the Lord’s discipline: “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing” (2 Cor. 4:8). The Lord brings enough affliction to affect change and to spur greater holiness, but not so much that it crushes the spirit and brings despair.

The discipline of the Lord comes with heat and affliction, and there can be a response of “shrinking back” (Hebrews 10:38-39) and a temptation to faint under the stress. This warning #2 comes as an urgent exhortation to those who do not expect the Lord to test them and who therefore can feel the temptation to quit or to surrender to relieve the stress of the Lord’s discipline.

What is the right response when we are experiencing the affliction and the heat of the Lord’s discipline? Rather than faint, we resolve to endure (ACTION ITEM). Endurance and perseverance mark out our course because it is the enduring of the discipline that brings greater holiness and the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10, 11). This is key: It is the enduring of the discipline and the persevering through the pain that brings the spiritual fruit. The Lord sends His perfect discipline, but if the disciple faints or takes shortcuts, then even the perfect discipline of the Lord will not have its intended results.

SUMMARY. When the Lord chooses to bring His discipline into the life of the believer, the believer is not to regard lightly this discipline, but is to receive it as a gift from his perfect heavenly Father and is to allow the discipline to work its full work. Even when the discipline of the Lord feels withering, the believer is not to faint, but is to continue with an attitude of endurance and perseverance.

SDG                 rmb                 2/23/2022                   #493

The Discipline of the Lord – Part 2 (Hebrews 12:5-11)

THE PASSAGE – HEBREWS 12:5-11

Hebrews 12:5-11 is the classic passage in the Bible about “the discipline of the Lord.” This is the second post in a series of studies covering this section of Scripture. The last post established a basic interpretation of the passage, but also revealed that there is still work to do to see how this interpretation works itself out in life. What I mean is that we understand what the discipline of the Lord does, but we have not yet made clear what the discipline of the Lord is. This part of our study will dig deeper into the meaning of the passage.

and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. – Hebrews 12:5-11

WHAT IS THIS “DISCIPLINE”?

What is the “discipline” in the discipline of the Lord? This is a crucial question for understanding this teaching, and so we will take some time to consider the meaning and the definition of this “discipline.” Here is our approach:

  1. What can we learn about “discipline” from the passage itself?
  2. Find dictionary definitions for the Greek and English words.
  3. How is “discipline” been understood by other Christians?

WHAT DOES THE PASSAGE ITSELF TEACH US ABOUT “DISCIPLINE”?

By carefully reading these verses, we can learn a lot about what “discipline” is and what it is not.

  • The Lord loves those whom He disciplines (12:6). We can therefore conclude that the Lord does not discipline in anger and that the Lord’s discipline is not intended to punish. (See 1 John 4:18.)
  • All believers will receive the discipline of the Lord as evidence that they are His children (12:6, 7, 8). But if all the Lord’s children receive His discipline, then the discipline of the Lord is not sent to correct or punish specific occurrences of sin or misbehavior in particular believers. Instead, the Lord’s discipline is sent, at the Lord’s discretion and providence, upon all believers universally to bring about the same result in all; namely, that they would share the Lord’s holiness (12:10) and would produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness (12:11).
  • Discipline is “sorrowful” (12:11). The disciple must “endure” the discipline of the Lord (12:7). The quote from Proverbs tells us “not to faint” and declares that the Lord “scourges” (The Greek word is understood figuratively, but literally means “beat with a whip.”) every son He receives. Thus, we conclude that the discipline of the Lord involves pain and affliction and suffering.
  • The discipline of the Lord has a purpose. The Lord “disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness” (12:10). This discipline is for training in holiness and has no retributive component.

FROM THE PASSAGE ITSELF

Just by studying the passage carefully we have gained a good understanding of what this discipline of the Lord is. The Lord disciplines in love all believers so that they will be trained to walk in greater holiness and to produce the fruit of righteousness. Nevertheless, this discipline of the Lord requires endurance (or “perseverance”) because it is administered by the Lord through suffering and pain and affliction.

FIND DICTIONARY DEFINITIONS FOR GREEK AND ENGLISH WORDS

Now that we have grasped the meaning of “discipline” from the context of the passage, our next task will be to learn what we can from dictionary definitions for the Greek and English words. That will be tomorrow’s post.

SDG                 rmb                 2/17/2022                   #489

Some more thoughts for beginning a new year

Since it is only the fourth day of the new year, I decided it was not too late to offer one more idea that can hopefully help you persevere in your journey with the Lord in 2022.

INTRODUCTION: As I have said before, I anticipate that the future is going to be increasingly difficult for followers of Jesus. Paul told Timothy, “But realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come” (2 Tim. 3:1). Judging by the signs we see in our world, there is reason to believe that our days are those days. So, I think 2022 will be more challenging than 2021 and that things in 2022 will continue to deteriorate. And while we, as followers of Christ, may be emotionally affected by the decline of our world and may be saddened by personal losses, we will not fear, for God is for us. Fear is to be foreign to us. In light of this, I propose two plans.

THE BASIC PLAN

The basic plan is a sort of meeting minimum requirements plan. The objective of this plan is very simple. The plan involves constructing a biblical defense against anxiety and fear such that we obey the repeated command in the Bible, “Do not fear.” As background, as you read through the Bible, you will discover that, for the one who knows the LORD, there is never an excuse for fear. In the midst of the bleakest and most desperate of circumstances, the believer is expected to trust the Lord and to fear not. And so we, as those who follow Jesus, are to imitate their examples. So, in 2022, since it seems likely to me that our circumstances will become more threatening and more frightening, make it a priority to develop your Basic Plan for eliminating fear and replacing it with trust. A good place to begin is Psalm 46:1-3. Then go on to Isaiah 43:1-5 or so. But there are many other places. One clue is to look for every occurrence in your Bible of “Fear not,” or something like it. In virtually every such occurrence, there will be a reason given for why the person should not fear. Make a list of those reasons and record those verses and create your Basic Plan. Remember, the Basic Plan is to get us to the place where we will not fear.

THE PREMIUM PLAN

Then there is what I call the Premium Plan. This is the plan for the one who is living in fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11) and is trusting fully in the Lord. This is the believer who has decided to persevere in 2022, because they have resolved to live with conscious joy and hope, regardless of the visible circumstances.

These trust the Lord at all times, regardless of all else. The Lord is trustworthy and has proven Himself faithful in the Bible and in each believer’s life. So, the one with the Premium Plan trusts the Lord always and in every instance.

The disciple who will live with joy in 2022 focuses their mind on the goodness and strength of the Lord, not on the world’s noise. There always have been and always will be noises from the world sent out to cause us to fear and intended to distract us from devotion to the Lord, but the one whose eyes are fixed on Jesus will run with perseverance the race set before him (Hebrews 12:1-2) and the one who has the Lord for his light and salvation will not fear (Psalm 27:1).

The one who will persevere in the 2022 Premium Plan will meditate on all the Lord has done for him. The more often we meditate on the Lord, the deeper we go in appreciating all that the Lord has done for us in Christ. Twice in Ephesians Paul prays that the disciples in Ephesus would grasp the amazing riches of their salvation in Christ (Ephesians 1:17-20; 3:17-19). In the same way we, as we meditate on all the Lord has done in salvation, will walk in perseverance in 2022.

Not only should we comprehend all that the Lord has done for us in Christ and in His salvation, but we should spend time praising the Lord for those things. It is fitting to give praise to the Lord for all He has done. Praising the Lord is part of the Premium Plan.

Finally, the Premium Plan includes heavy doses of thanksgiving leading to a settled contentment. The more we consider the goodness of the Lord, the more reasons we have to give Him thanks. And the more we genuinely thank the Lord, the more content we are with our circumstances, no matter what they are. The way to reach contentment is not to improve your circumstances, but it is to lower your contentment threshold by being more thankful.

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you live a “premium” 2022, no matter what the Lord chooses to bring into your life.

SDG                 rmb                 1/4/2022                     #479

Persevere in the New Year

For many people, including yours truly, 2021 has been a year of ongoing disappointments as earthly sources of pleasure and comfort and contentment have been systematically compromised or eliminated. As a follower of Jesus and, therefore, as a person with a God-centered worldview, I believe that the Lord is taking away the temporal comforts of this world and is withdrawing His common grace from the earth so that His people will long for their heavenly, eternal dwellings which will come when the Lord Jesus Christ returns on the clouds in power and glory. Yes, God is allowing the world to experience the ugliness of its sin so that God’s people will more eagerly await the coming of our King. And I think that this pattern will continue and actually intensify in 2022.

In light of this, how is a Christian to respond? How will we as Christians respond to the deteriorating moral climate and to the ongoing flood of disappointments?

I suggest that we respond with perseverance. In fact, I suggest that the key word for 2022 will be “PERSEVERE.” I am establishing the mindset that I will persevere in this new year. That is, that I will continue steadfastly along the path that God has given me to walk.

Can we be more specific in carrying out this goal of perseverance? That is, can we put a little more “shoe leather” on this objective? Here is my proposal:

Persevere in faithfulness, in hope, in fruitful labor, and in joy no matter the earthly, visible circumstances.

FAITHFULNESS: Continue to fulfill your roles and your responsibilities and your commitments. If you are an employee, continue to do your work heartily as to the Lord and not to men (Colossians 3:23). Be a light in your workplace (Matt. 5:16). Are you married? Then, love your wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25) or submit to your husband as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:24) and let your marriage be a picture of Jesus Christ and His church to the watching world (Ephesians 5:31-32). Are you single? Use your freedom as an unmarried person to serve Christ with undistracted devotion (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). In all things, act with integrity, honesty, and purity. Each day is another day to live for Christ and to shine your light for Christ, so be faithful with your days. Be a good steward of your money and especially of your time by spending both wisely. When spending your money, be sure that you could tell Jesus about that expenditure with a clear conscience. Time cannot be saved but only spent, so be careful how you spend your time. Walk intentionally through your days, fixing your eyes on the end goal of glorifying Jesus. In other words, persevere in faithfulness!

HOPE: There is a reward promised to the follower of Jesus. God has made promises to His children that He will certainly fulfill. It is these promises that have been cast together as our hope, “an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19). Our hope is that no matter the trials of this earthly life, God will certainly be faithful to His promises. God’s children await the certain fulfillment of God’s promises. So, when there is grief or sorrow or sadness, we remember that we have been promised a resurrection when we will receive a glorified body, and we persevere with hope. When confronted with disappointment or pain, we remember that these are temporary, but our home in heaven will last forever, so we persevere in hope. As we walk through “the sufferings of this present time,” our mind is fixed on the hope of the “glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Persevering in hope means casting our minds out into the future when we will forever be with Christ in glory so that our anticipation of God’s promises overwhelms our concerns about today’s trials. So, in 2022, we will persevere in hope.

FRUITFUL LABOR: This term is taken from Philippians 1:22 when, after saying, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21), Paul declares that, even though he would prefer to depart and be with Christ (in other words, he would prefer to die), he remain because he has “fruitful labor” to do. It is evident that Paul is referring to kingdom work, to direct gospel ministry. Paul chose to persevere in fruitful ministry with its trials and pains rather than departing for his deserved heavenly reward. And so should we. So, during 2022, I urge you to find your place of “fruitful labor,” to discover your role in gospel ministry, and to persevere and “to spend and be expended” (2 Cor. 12:15) in that role for the glory of Christ.

JOY: This is that characteristic that most dramatically distinguishes the believer from the rest of the world. The follower of Jesus is not just happy when all his circumstances are favorable, and all his paths are clear. Rather, the believer has a persistent internal joy that beams out regardless of circumstances. Let 2022 be the year that we amp up our joy and persevere in obvious Christ-filled and Christ-honoring joy in all twelve months. Think of all that the Lord has done for us and all that awaits us in heaven when we are with the Lord forever, and let the joy pour out of you until the corners of your face start to break. “The joy of the LORD is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

SUMMARY:

I anticipate that the future is going to be difficult for followers of Jesus. Paul told Timothy, “But realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come” (2 Tim. 3:1). Judging by the signs we see in our world, there is reason to believe that our days are those days. But the follower of Jesus has no reason to be discouraged. The mission given to us by the Lord Jesus Himself goes on (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8), and we continue to proclaim the gospel. We accept whatever persecution may come, considering it an honor to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41) and knowing that those who are persecuted are blessed (Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Peter 4:14). In a word, we PERSEVERE until our Lord calls us home or until He catches us up with Himself in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). The word for 2022 is persevere.

SDG                 rmb                 1/1/2022                     #478

Those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12)

The Scripture is very clear that persecution should be expected by the follower of Christ. This is stated in numerous places in the Bible, but perhaps the clearest is 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

WHO ARE THESE WHO DESIRE TO LIVE FOR CHRIST?

Who are these men and women “who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus”? The following is not an exhaustive list, but it does present some of the prominent characteristics.

Their lives proclaim that they live for Christ. These people are “tall blades.” By that I mean that they faith is not a private affair hidden under a rock. Rather, their faith is evident in everything about them. If you are looking for a Christian, these are not hard to find.

The light of Christ shines out of them (Matthew 5:16). This is related to the trait above. They let their light shine before men.

They bear much fruit (John 15:5), meaning that their life is rich in good works (Ephesians 2:10). These people are intentional in focusing their energies and their resources in channels that are going to commend Christ and the gospel and that will do good to others.

It is evident that they love the body of Christ. Their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ is almost tangible.

These men and women spend time in prayer and in reading God’s word.

In summary, these men and women are born-again followers of Jesus.

EXPECT PERSECUTION

Because these are born-again followers of Jesus, these men and women joyfully accept persecution as an expected part of following Christ. Jesus Himself promised His disciples, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Our Lord also told of the blessing that comes to those who are persecuted.

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12

Jesus left us an example to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). He accepted the cross and uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to God the Father, who judges righteously.

Jesus’ apostles clearly told us to expect heat and hatred from the world. Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). And so we as followers of Jesus accept persecution as a stamp of authenticity. As J C Ryle wrote,

“Persecution, in short, is like the goldsmith’s stamp on real silver and gold. It is one of the marks of a converted man.”

THE HEAT IS INCREASING

And so, as we see those who hate Christ rising to places of power, and as we watch out religious freedom being systematically demolished and our ability to worship our God specifically attacked, we must be sure our resolve to persevere to the end is firmly established. Only a very few years ago the idea of severe persecution or martyrdom in America would have been absurd, but no more. With only a little bit of imagination, we can see that what used to be a prayer for far away people has become a real possibility here.

As I was considering my own possible martyrdom and wrestling with an encroaching fear, I went to the Scriptures to again find God’s assurance and peace. Again, 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

We will all be persecuted, but we will not all be persecuted in the same way.

Some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be martyred as they persevere to the end. They will experience the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6) and will be among the dead in Christ who will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was unto death.

And some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will die before the Resurrection but will not die as martyrs. They persevered to the end, but they were not killed for their faith. They will experience the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6) and will be among the dead in Christ who will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was not unto death.

And some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be alive and remain until the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17). They will persevere to the end and, in the Resurrection, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. Instead, they will be changed (i.e., glorified; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was not unto death.

Those are the three possible outcomes for the true believer, and they all three end in heaven. If we persevere to the end, our eternity will be glorious.

SDG                 rmb                 9/4/2021                     #431

Bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20) – Part 1

The nature of a purchase transaction has not changed substantially in two millennia. The way we purchase things today is pretty much the same as the way that they purchased things in Corinth in the first century. This is helpful when we take a long look at what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers in 1 Corinthians 6:20.

For you have been bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.

In this post, I want to take a few minutes to examine this verse carefully with an eye to its doctrinal teaching.

PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS OR “ONCE BOUGHT, ALWAYS BOUGHT”

The first doctrine we want to consider is what is called “the perseverance of the saints,” that is perhaps better known as the believer’s “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.” This is the idea that, once a person is genuinely converted (or “saved”), they will continue in obedience to Christ and will persevere in their faith to the end of their life (Revelation 2:10; Matthew 10:22). Those who persevere to the end will be saved and will go to heaven. Those who do not, will perish with the unrighteous.

What does this verse, then, have to teach us about perseverance?

We will begin by looking at the commercial transaction which Paul mentions in this verse. In this transaction, who was the buyer? Certainly, the buyer was Christ. What was the price used for Christ’s purchase? The price was Christ’s own blood (or His death). (Isaiah 53:5-6; Mark 10:45) Lastly, who was purchased? The Corinthian believers were bought with the price of Christ’s own blood. Notice the nature of this transaction: Christ bought them. “You have been bought.” Thus, the Corinthian believers did not “get a vote” in this transaction. They were passive in the transaction. What was the return policy? All sales FINAL!

When I was thinking about marrying Lisa, the wonderful woman who is now my wife, I went to a jewelry store and selected the diamonds that I wanted in her engagement ring. Then, a week later I went back to the store and picked up the finished ring. Then I paid for it. Gulp! And right at the bottom of the paper receipt it said in all caps: ALL SALES FINAL. Now, while that was a daunting idea that I could not return the ring, it was not a problem for me, because I had no intention of returning the ring. I had bought that ring with a price and I intended to use it to win myself a wife. And now, almost sixteen years later, that ring still sits on my wife’s left hand.

Here is the point: When Christ bought His people with the price of His own blood, there was a no return policy, because Christ has no intention of returning those He has purchased. Those He bought, He bought for eternity. Once you have been bought with a price by Christ, you are forever purchased. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, then Christ has bought you. And so, you will always be with Christ. You are eternally secure.  

In the next post, we will see how this verse also contains implications for the doctrine of particular redemption, which is also known as “limited atonement,” the doctrine that Christ died only for those who will be saved; that is, only for the elect.

SDG                 rmb                 3/31/2021

Do we seek suffering? – Part 1 (Phil. 3:10)

            It seems that the statement is made at some point in most conversations about suffering, especially among American Christians. It is usually well intended and sounds like an appropriate thing to say in response to suffering for the name of Jesus. “Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek suffering. . .” But the more I think about that statement, the more uncomfortable I become. Is that true? Are we not to seek suffering? And if that is the case, then why do so many of my heroes in the Bible and in history suffer for their faith? Why does the Bible have so much to say about suffering if my experience of the Christian life can safely avoid it? Is it normal to be a serious Christian and not suffer? And what do I do if God is calling me to a course that will almost certainly result in my suffering to some degree?

            Because of these questions and because of the importance of the topic of suffering, I am going to spend the next several posts exploring what I see to be problems with this statement. The goal is to arrive at a solid perspective on suffering that makes me more useful to Jesus.

“Well, of course, the Christian is not called to seek out suffering . . .”

PROBLEM #1

“Can you support that statement with Scripture?”

The first reaction to this statement may be to agree with it and let the conversation move on, but as discerning followers of Jesus, we must respond to these types of statements with at least a small challenge.

“That’s an interesting idea. Can you support that statement with Scripture?” Scripture is the place where all disciples of Jesus find a common foundation. Does a given theological position, or a faith practice find solid support in the word of God?

When I think about the fact that Jesus Christ was acutely aware of His appointed suffering on the cross from the beginning of His ministry and had, in fact, been sent to earth for the express purpose of suffering and dying on the cross, I seriously wonder if I can support the statement above. My entire salvation depends upon Jesus seeking suffering. Jesus’ mission could only be accomplished if He suffered and died on the cross. Where does the Lord Jesus tell His disciples that they are not to seek out suffering? Chapter and verse, please.

What about Paul? Paul intentionally did things that provoked persecution and inevitably resulted in his suffering. In Philippi he cast out a demon that ended the merchants’ revenue with the slave girl. He must have known that this was going to result in his being punished and his suffering.

Paul continued his way to Jerusalem knowing that conflict awaited him there (Acts 20-21). His own people pleaded with him to turn back and to change his plans, but Paul steadfastly refused even though he knew that he would suffer. Would Paul agree with the statement that the Christian does not seek out suffering?

And then there is Peter. Peter was warned repeatedly that, if he continued with his preaching about Jesus in Jerusalem, he was going to be severely punished (Acts 4-5), and yet he never even slowed down. If the Jewish or Roman authorities needed to punish someone for preaching about Jesus, Peter was not hard to find. Also, his first epistle has as its central theme the perseverance of the believer in the face of suffering for Christ. Would Peter say that the believer does not seek suffering?

            In the Old Testament, evil kings and false prophets warned the true prophets that, if they did not silence their prophecy or change their message, they would be punished, and the true prophets remained true to the message the LORD had given them to proclaim. For example, more than once, Jeremiah suffered for the message that he preached, but he would rather be punished with the stripes of men than fail to obey the LORD and deliver His message.

            So, while these heroes from Scripture may not have sought suffering, the prospect of suffering was not a factor in their decision-making. They sought to be obedient to the LORD, regardless. That is the view that the Scripture supports.

SDG rmb 1/5/2021

But let’s take a step back for a minute. Maybe the problem with the statement is the statement itself. That is, maybe we are saying what we mean in a clumsy way. My next post will explore that possibility in PROBLEM #2. rmb