Tested by God

Psalm 139 ends with these words: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; see if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Someone has said that the unexamined life is hardly worth living.  King David, the writer of Psalm 139, would agree.  My dad used to say, “Think about what you’re doing!”

The psalmist is calling for more than just personal reflection or self-examination.  His example challenges us to invite the Lord to give us his evaluation of our lives.  Of course, God already knows even our best-kept secrets, but the prayer in Psalm 139 invites God to share his assessment with each of us.

God shows us our weaknesses by testing us.  Asking God to test us may seem like a crazy idea.  Who wants to be tested by God?  His tests can be awfully intimidating.  Surely it would be better if we asked God for his affirmation and encouragement, right?

It is good to experience God’s encouragement.  But God’s desire is to build us up and enable us to reach our full potential.  And even the most positive ‘coach’ must sometimes point out weaknesses.  Personal shortcomings can be easier to ignore than to address.

The point of this godly exam is to find and remove any “offensive way.”  Is there any action or attitude in my life that is offensive to God?  If so, it will be a stumbling block to me.  My ability to follow God’s lead will be hindered.

The ultimate goal of this testing process is to be led by God on the everlasting way.  The Bible sometimes pictures life in this age as a journey.  If we wish to arrive at the right destination then we must travel the correct route.  The notion that all roads lead home is a deception.

Jesus warns his followers to take the narrow path that leads to life.  There is a wide road that leads to destruction and it is well-travelled.  On the other hand, only a few find the narrow path.  And once on the narrow path, we stray easily.

The everlasting way is considered to be old fashioned and outdated by the godless culture in which we live.  God’s ways are old, indeed, they are ancient.  But they are not obsolete.  God’s ways are eternal, unchanging, and dependable.  They are right.

The ways of this world are considered by many to be progressive, evolving toward a better day for all humanity.  In reality, however, the immorality that is being passed off as progressive is regressive, a death march back to Sodom and Gomorrah.

The everlasting way of God leads us on pathways of truth, holiness, righteousness, love, forgiveness, joy and peace.  God’s way leads to eternal life, to heaven.

With God’s powerful presence in our lives we can overcome anything that tempts us to wander from the everlasting path.  In fact, only God’s power can keep us on the right path.  We cannot make it on our own.

May the God of our salvation always keep our feet on the path of life,

 
Brother Richard Foster

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Digging Deeper Into Heavenly Worship: Singing Songs In The Throne Room of God (Revelation 4-5)

What does worship sound like in heaven? Do they sing hymns or choruses?  Do they use an organ or guitar?  Is it a praise team or a choir?  The Apostle John was blessed to attend a worship service in heaven.  His experience is recorded in Revelation 4-5.  John paints a vivid picture with his words that is quite regal.  Included in his description are five songs.  Each song is distinct.  John uses narrative sections to set the stage for each of these five lyrical expressions of praise.  In doing so he employs various literary devices that add another layer of depth to what is already a theologically rich piece of Scripture.

After reporting his invitation into God’s very presence and his vision of a door standing open in heaven, John writes: “Immediately, I was in the Spirit” (4:2).  His statement uses an aorist tense-form verb, “I was,” ἐγενόμην, which is the normal tense for recording narrative in first-century Greek.  John then proceeds to describe what he sees in the throne room of heaven.  We expect him to do so with a series of sentences which use aorist tense-form verbs.  Instead he gives his report with a barrage of short verb-less phrases: “And look! A throne there in heaven,” “and on the throne One sitting,” “and the One sitting like the appearance of a jasper stone,” “and a rainbow around the throne like the appearance of an emerald,” “and around the throne twenty-four thrones,” and so forth.  Most of these descriptions are prepositional phrases, which would be incomplete sentences in English, so our English Bibles supply words, usually past tense verbs (the NAS shows the additions by placing them in italics).

John’s rapid short phrases create the sense of a breathless observer so overtaken with the sights and sounds of heaven’s throne room that he is blurting out his report without any consideration for literary niceties.  When the text is translated faithfully, the reader is swept away with him, eyes darting back and forth at the magnificent sights in God’s throne room, trying to take it all in.

John’s pattern of prepositional phrases dominates the text until the first song, which is recorded in the last part of v. 8.  Two exceptions are the lightning and thunder proceeding from the throne and the eyes filling the wings of the four living beings.  In each of these cases John uses present tense-form verbs, which bring these particular details forward in the reader’s attention.  The present tense-form verbs give more ‘motion’ to the lightning and thunder, adding a sense of dramatic movement and sound, breaking up the static feel created by the series of prepositional phrases. Extra attention to the eyes on the four living beings makes us consider what an incredible view is available around God’s throne; there is so much to see![1]

John’s series of verb-less phrases is broken by the formal introduction to the first song in Revelation 4-5.  The negated finite verb (present tense-form), “they have,” ἔχουσιν, refers to the lack of rest that the four living beings have from their constant praise. That the four living beings never rest from praise is a matter we expect to be in the foreground of John’s narrative/vision, and it is marked as such by the present-tense form verb. The lyrics to their song of worship are presented as direct discourse:

Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God Almighty,
The One who was, the One who is, the One who is coming.[2]

Notice that Song 1, like much of the text before it, is constructed from verb-less phrases. Many English versions add “is” between “holy” and “the Lord” in order to avoid an incomplete sentence (some without putting the word in italics, thus concealing from the English reader the fact that an editorial addition has been made).  Song 1 is lofty but basic.  God is holy and eternal.  The four living beings do not sing about God’s works as Creator or Redeemer, nor do they list any other attributes, although v. 9 implies that their worship may include more than John records in v. 8.  In fact, we are told in v. 9 that the four living beings’ worship in v. 8 qualifies as giving “glory, honor and thanksgiving.”  Thanksgiving may imply some action on the part of God, unless they are thanking God simply for his holy and eternal being.

Many other wonderful points could be made about vv. 1-8, but for our purposes we notice that the descriptions which set the stage for Song 1 are mostly verb-less clauses, prepositional phrases, and the song itself is without any finite verb (“The One who was,” ὁ ἦν, is expressed by an article and a finite verb, the imperfect tense-form of εἰμί [aspectually vague], but the entire statement is a fixed form which functions like an indeclinable proper noun.  See 1:4 ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος which is in the nominative case even though it occurs after the preposition ἀπό, which takes the genitive.).  So the narrative which sets up Song 1 and the song itself have a definite ‘flavor’ which is created by John’s grammatical choices, i.e., verb-less phrases.

Song 2 is recorded in 4:11.  John’s set-up for the second song is recorded in vv. 9-10.  We immediately see a difference in John’s language in this section.  Instead of verb-less prepositional phrases (as in vv. 2-8) John uses sentences with finite verbs, a text that reads more normally for English speakers.  But the surprise comes when we learn that John employs future tense-form verbs.  If we translate John’s text with future tense English verbs we get the following verbal structure: “And when they will give . . . they will fall . . . they will worship . . . and they will cast” (vv. 9-10). These actions are translated by present-tense verbs in most English versions, the first action usually rendered as “whenever,” reflecting the presence of the temporal indicator “when,” ὅταν. But John’s use of Koine Greek future tense-form verbs expresses expectation, in this case expected actions contingent upon the preceding act of worship (the four living beings giving glory, honor and thanks to God).

Since English versions typically add past-tense finite verbs to John’s verb-less phrases in vv. 2-8 and employ present-tense finite verbs for John’s future-tense form verbs in vv. 9-10, the stark difference between the two sections is somewhat ‘flattened out’ for the English reader.  Nevertheless, the future tense-form verbs in vv. 9-10 present the action before Song 2 in a more contingent mood than the background picture of vv. 2-8.  The verbal structure creates a sense of anticipation, especially with regard to the worship of the 24 elders.  (NAS has future-tense verbs in v. 10, but not v. 9)

Song 1, preceded by a section of verb-less phrases, consisted of verb-less phrases (see the translation above).  Song 2, preceded by a section with finite verbs (future tense-form) includes finite verbs:

You are worthy our Lord and God
to receive the glory and the honor and the power
because you created all things
and by your will they exist and they were created.

The song itself does not use future tense-form verbs, but a present tense form (“you are,”), an aorist (“you created”), an imperfect (“they exist” or “they were existing”), and finally another aorist (“were created”). “You are” and “you exist” are both forms of the aspectually vague “to be,” εἰμί (the first verb is completed by an aorist infinitive: “you are worthy to take,” λαβεῖν).

John’s grammatical choices create a sense of development in his unfolding description of the worship session in heaven’s throne room. The lexical content of chapter 4 also reveals a progression in the worship.  The song of the four living beings (Song 1) praises God’s personal existence.  The worship of the 24 elders (Song 2) moves on to praising God for his work as creator.  The progression continues in chapter 5 with the revelation and worship of the Redeemer (see below).  In addition, the number of worshipers continues to increase until the end of chapter 5, starting in heaven and spreading to all creation.  These progressions would be noticeable from the content of John’s descriptions only (in any good English translation), but they are highlighted and supported by the verbal constructions employed by John to represent them.

Song 3 is recorded in 5:9-10.  The set-up for this song, 5:1-8, finally shifts to a more typical narrative style for Koine Greek: a section built on a series of aorist tense-form verbs with imperfect- and present-tense form verbs used to bring certain matters to the forefront.  The first two verbs are “I saw,” εἶδον, in vv. 1 and 2.  John saw a sealed book in the right hand of the One seated on the throne and he saw an angel asking if anyone was worthy to open the book.  We might expect him to say that he heard the angel since his spoken question is critical to the development of the narrative, but his emphasis in this section is on the sights of the throne room.

At this point in the narrative John begins to bring a vital issue to the forefront.  We read that nobody was able to open the book and look into it, using an imperfect tense-form, ἐδύνατο, “(he) was not able,” thus drawing attention to this critical inability (v. 3).  John’s response to this disappointing state of affairs is also marked, this time in 2 ways.  First, he brings this part of the narrative forward into our view by using the adverbial modifier πολύ, “much,” that is, John was “wept much” (AV).  Second, John uses an imperfect tense-form verb “was crying,” ἔκλαιον (vs. “cried”), which brings his weeping forward into the view of the reader against the background of aorist tense-form verbs.

The next verb is a present tense-form: λέγει, “he says,” which keeps this section front and center in the mind of the reader.  One of the twenty-four elders encourages the weeping John.  The elder’s statement is important: “Don’t cry.  Look! The Lion from the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed to open the book and its seven seals.”  After the encouragement from the elder, John returns to his use of aorist tense-form verbs in order to continue the narrative.  The next verse (5:6) is governed by εἶδον, “I saw.”  What John saw was the promised Lion from the Tribe of Judah, an obvious description of the Risen Lord Jesus (a lamb standing as one slain, etc.).  Next comes another aorist tense-form verb: ἦλθεν, “he came,” that is, the Lamb came.

Now John highlights the Lamb’s action with a perfect tense-form verb, εἴληφεν, “he took,” or “he takes.”  This choice of tense has the effect of bringing the Lamb’s action to the very front of the narrative.[3]  So the action of the Lamb when he takes the book from the hand of the One sitting on the throne receives the highest level of attention and emphasis from the verb tense-forms chosen by John.  This is a critical moment.  We get the sense that all heaven holds its breath in anticipation of this moment.  Every eye is on the Lamb.

The Lamb’s taking of the book from God now receives additional emphasis by becoming the inspiration for the third of the five songs in Revelation 4-5.  But before we get to the actual lyrics of the song, John has a few more details to share, governed again by aorist tense-form verbs.  The first verb, ἔλαβεν, “he took,” (that is, the Lamb took the book), modified by a temporal pointer ὅτε, “when,” advances the narrative.  John tells us that when the Lamb took the book the four living beings and the elders “fell down” (another aorist: ἔπεσαν) before the Lamb.  In addition, we learn that the elders each have a stringed instrument and a bowl of incense.  The incense, we are told, is the prayers of the saints (using a present tense-form verb, but of the aspectually vague εἰσιν, “they are”).

Now John has set the stage for Song 3, but first he needs a formal introduction for the speech (or, in this case, singing).  The introduction is usually rendered, “And they sang a new song” in English (they being the four living beings and the 24 elders).  But the verb for “sing” is brought to the foreground because it is a present tense-form, ᾄδουσιν, “they sing.”  English past tense is a smoother reading for English readers.  But the Greek text highlights the song by using this present tense-form verb to introduce the lyrics.  Now Song 3:

You are worthy to take the book and to open its seals
for you were slain and you purchased for God by your blood
from every tribe and tongue and people and nation
and you made them to our God a kingdom and priests
and they will reign on the earth.

Of the 5 songs in Revelation 4-5, Song 3 is the climax. Several factors verify this conclusion.  The simplest indication is the fact that this song has the longest set of lyrics.  In addition, this song falls in the middle of an odd number of songs, 3 of 5, making it the apogee in a chiastic-like arrangement.  The subject matter of the songs implies a climax at Song 3.  Song 1 focuses on God’s being.  Song 2 focuses on God’s act of creation.  Song 3 praises the Lamb for his work of redemption, surpassing the first creation by the new creation.  Songs 4 and 5 are simpler by comparison (more on them below).

John’s creative use of Koine Greek verb tenses also elevates Song 3 to the place of prominence.  As the analysis above reveals, John precedes each of the first 3 songs with a distinct atmosphere or mood.  First, he rapidly describes in short bursts a variety of sights in the throne room (verb-less phrases).  He then switches to a mood of expectation (Greek future tense).  Before Song 3 he presents a dramatic narrative that brings all eyes to bear on the Lamb.  These sections which serve to introduce songs 1-3 are more elaborate and colorful than the ones he uses to introduce songs 4-5, which also throws the attention on Song 3.

The text immediately preceding Song 4 is driven by two aorist tense-form verbs, “I looked,” εἶδον, and “I heard,” ἤκουσα.  This section is much shorter than the narrative section preceding Song 3.  What John sees and hears is a group of angels without number.  With only the idiomatic participle (λέγοντες) to mark the beginning of the song (also used as part of the formal introductions to all 4 other songs), the lyrics are recorded:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength
   and honor and glory and blessing

We immediately notice that Song 4 is much simpler than Song 3. The lyrics still affirm that the Lamb is worthy and identify the Lamb as the one who was slain.  Beyond this, however, no details are provided about his important work of redemption as in Song 3.  The worship is more formulaic.  The Lamb is ascribed seven attributes, which is a number of perfection or completion in John’s Revelation.  The worship is more impersonal.  Worshipers have shifted to a third-person perspective.  In Song 3 the Lamb is addressed directly, now indirectly.  None of this implies that the song is ‘inferior,’ simply of a different type.

Song 5, the final song in Revelation 4-5, is preceded by a short narrative-style section much like Song 4.  Instead of two aorist tense-form verbs, as with Song 4, the setup to Song 5 is governed by a single aorist tense-form verb, “I heard,” ἤκουσα.  As with Song 4, Song 5 has no formulaic introduction to the actual lyrics of the song (except for the participle which is used before all 5 songs, with the one minor difference in Song 5: it appears in the accusative case, λέγοντας, instead of the nominative).  The lyrics for Song 5 are:

to the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb
the blessing and the honor and the glory and the dominion
into the ages of the ages.

As with Song 4, the final song of Revelation 4-5 is shorter than Song 3. Song 5 includes no finite verb (also true of Song 1).  The song begins by identifying the recipients of worship: the One sitting on the throne (God the Father) and the Lamb (Jesus Christ the Son), both in the dative case.  The attributes ascribed to them are listed without a verb, four items each in the nominative case (in this song they are each articular and they are separated by the common conjunction “and,” καί).  Finally, the song ends with an adverbial phrase, although the verb must be supplied (in English translations “be,” that is: To the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing and the honor,” etc.).  All in all, Song 5 is a more generic worship when compared to Song 3, thus maintaining the emphasis on Song 3.

While it is true that the lyrics of Songs 4 and 5 ‘step down’ from prominence in order to leave the spotlight on Song 3, John’s development of the heavenly scene is complex and carries on after Song 3.  The lyrical content of the 5 songs climaxes in Song 3, but other factors in Revelation 4-5 continue building to the very end of chapter 5.  For instance, the group of worshipers expands with each new song.  Song 1 was performed by the four living beings.  Song 2 is presented by the 24 elders.  Song 3 is sung by a combination of the four living beings and the 24 elders.  Countless angels are added to the “loud voice,” φωνῇ μεγάλῃ, of Song 4.  And finally, in Song 5, every created being in heaven, on earth, under the earth and on the sea joins in the praise.  Heaven’s worship has spilled over into creation!

This dramatic expansion of worshipers in Song 5 actually points to the climactic positon of Song 3. Before Song 3, all the worshipers were members of heaven’s court.  In Song 3 we learn that the Lamb’s blood purchased men for God from all peoples.  After Song 3, we see that worship of the Lamb and of God expands to include every created being.  Song 3 is the proverbial stone that hit the cosmic pool and sent theological ripples out to the very edges.  Song 5 represents a universal response of honor to the Lamb.  Everyone will worship him and worship him as God, which brings us to another development.  Song 5 is climactic in another sense.  Songs 1-2 address attributes of God the Father.  Songs 3-4 switch to the Lamb, God the Son.  Now, in the final song, both Father and Son are worshiped simultaneously.  This is a reflection of John’s high Christology.  Jesus is God and will be worshiped as God by everyone.

The fact that everyone is worshiping Jesus in Song 5 is a significant development in Revelation 4-5.  In John’s vision, he foresees a day when even the unredeemed will acknowledge Jesus’ true identity.  This striking development reflects the truth expressed in Paul’s praise poem to the Philippians, “At the Name of Jesus every knee will bow in the heavens and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father”[4] (Philippians 2:10-11, see also Isaiah 45:23).  This combined worship of the redeemed and the unredeemed may influence the content of Song 5.  So far, attributes ascribed to God include holiness, glory, honor and power in Songs 1 and 2 (and see 4:9 “glory and honor and thanksgiving” mentioned apart from direct speech).  Song 3 has no list of attributes.  Song 4 includes power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and blessing.  Now, in Song 5 the eternally saved and the eternally lost agree to ascribe to the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb the blessing, the honor, the glory and the dominion.

Some English translations render the last attribute in Song 5 “power,” thus concealing from the English reader the fact that a new term has appeared: to kratos, τὸ κράτος.  This is the third Koine Greek term in the 5 songs of Revelation 4-5 that can be legitimately translated by the English word “power.”  Song 2 affirms that the One sitting on the throne is worthy to receive ten dynamin, τὴν δύναμιν. This term is often rendered “power” in the New Testament.  Song 4 affirms that the Lamb is worthy to receive both ten dynamin, τὴν δύναμιν and ten ischyn, τὴν ἰσχὺν.  The second term is also usually rendered by English words like “power,” “might,” or “strength.”  So the new term in Song 5, to kratos, τὸ κράτος, can also be translated into English by using words like “power” and “might.”  But by translating this new term “power,” the English reader is left unaware that a different word has appeared in the last song (see NIV).

Why are the worshipers introducing another term for “power”? Does this new term have a semantic domain that distinguishes it from the 2 words already used for “power” / “strength”?  A quick look at a trusted lexical aid for New Testament Greek, BDAG[5], provides a ready answer.  In addition to “strength” and “mighty deed,” to kratos, τὸ κράτος, includes a strand of meaning that is not present for the other two words: “rule” and “sovereignty.”  So this word carries with it the idea of not just raw power, but power exercised in reigning or ruling over a constituency, power and authority applied to governing a kingdom.  The NAS translation reflects the meaning of this word in this specific context well by rendering it “dominion.”

More than an exercise of simple ability, the One sitting on the throne and the Lamb exercise a legitimate dominion. The foundation for this authority has been noted in the prior songs.  God exercises his dominion by virtue of his holiness (Song 1) and by virtue of the fact that he is the creator of all things (Song 2).  The Lamb exercises dominion granted to him because he is the Redeemer.  This new emphasis on God’s official authority over all created beings is especially appropriate because the worshipers in Song 5 include those who resist bowing the knee to Christ until they are compelled to do so at his unveiling.  And for the first time in the songs of Revelation 4-5, a marker of eternality is used to culminate the praise: literally “into the ages of the ages,” but typically translated “for ever and ever” in English.  The dominion of God the Father and God the Son is both universal and eternal.  No creature escapes their rule, ever.  Even the unredeemed will affirm this great theological reality.

The heavenly worship session concludes after Song 5. This cosmic concert certainly deserves a grand finale.  The first voices in the concert now become the last.  The four living beings voiced Song 1 and now they have the honor of adding the “Amen!”  With that, John tells us that the elders fall down and worship (both actions expressed with aorist tense-forms).

John may not answer our questions about the instrumentation or musical style of the worship in heaven, but he certainly gives us much to consider about the rich tapestry of theological development in the lyrical expressions of praise and in the voices of the various choirs. The song of redemption is front and center in the heavenly throne room (at least in Revelation 4-5).  But it is not alone.  It is surrounded by lyrical expressions of God’s personal characteristics, his occupation as maker of all things, and his office as eternal ruler of all life.  The spotlight is not on musical style, but on lyrical artistry and theological revelation, displaying remarkable creative strokes of literary skill.  No matter what musical style we prefer on earth, the lyrics are in harmony with the choirs of God’s court when the Lamb’s labor of redemption figures prominently in the message.  To him be the blessing and the honor and the glory and the dominion forever and ever, for he is worthy!

 

[1] One other finite verb occurs in this section: “they are,” εἰσιν, referring to the seven-fold Spirit (lit. “seven spirits”) before the throne, but it is a form of “to be,” εἰμί, which is aspectually vague. See Stanley E. Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, in vol. 1 of Studies in Biblical Greek, ed. D. A. Carson (New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2010).

[2] Unless otherwise noted, English translations are produced by the author using UBS3.

[3] I am following Stanley Porter’s aspectual understanding of Greek verb tense-forms (Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament), where aorist is background, present and imperfect are foreground, and perfect and pluperfect are front-ground.

[4] The verbs in Philippians 2:10-11 are subjunctive tense-forms (κάμψῃ and ἐξομολογήσηται), which express potential, or projections.  In this context, the potential includes no doubt about the outcome, so English future-tense verbs accurately express the theological idea.

[5] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker [BDAG] (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000).

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Digging Deeper Into Worship: Jude’s Doxology

Matthew tells us that Jesus had four half-brothers: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. James and Judas each wrote a letter that is included in the New Testament. Apparently our English translators hesitated to use the same name as our Lord’s betrayer, so instead of a Book of Judas, we have the Book of Jude.

Jude writes a short but passionate letter to believers in the mid-first century, urging them to contend for the faith once entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). After a scathing denunciation of the false teachers who were threatening the gospel (vv. 4-16) he exhorts his fellow believers to (1) remember that the scoffers and their attacks against the truth were predicted by the apostles, (2) keep themselves in the love of God, and (3) be merciful, working to save as many as possible.

After completing the body of his fiery letter, Jude suddenly pours out his heart in a marvelous doxology that signals the end of his brief correspondence:

24 To the One able to keep you-all from falling,
and to make you stand before his glory,
blameless, with great rejoicing,
25 to the only God our Savior,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
are glory, majesty, power and authority,
before every age, and now, and into all the ages, Amen!
(Jude 24-25)

Jude’s doxology begins by describing God as the one who is uniquely qualified to meet the needs which Jude has discussed in his short letter. Despite the forces of deception arrayed against these first-century followers of Jesus, God is able to keep them from falling. More than that, God is able to establish them in the very presence of his glory, and to place them in that wonderful place in a state of blamelessness. And even more than all of that, he is able to do so in such a way that they will experience great rejoicing. So Jude begins this wonderful doxology by expressing an ascending trajectory of praise that moves from negative to positive, from not falling to standing in the presence of God’s glory, from standing without blame to standing with great joy. One gets the sense of ascending the hill of the Lord for Temple worship. But Jude will not escort his readers up the mountain of God without accompanying them into the glorious presence of God. Note a small but important switch in v. 25.

Jude’s doxology continues in v. 25 with the second of two extended descriptions of God. First, God is the One able to keep Jude’s readers from falling, etc. (v. 24). Second, God is the only God our Savior, etc. (v. 25). Notice that Jude begins by addressing God in relation to his readers (to the One able to keep you-all) and then he addresses God in relation to both himself and his readers (to the only God our Savior). Having addressed the situation of his readers in v. 24 Jude now turns to their common experience with God, which exists “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is an experience and relationship made possible by Jesus Christ their common Master.

Notice that God is given the title “Savior” and Jesus is called “Lord.” Jesus is usually named Savior in the NT, but Jude’s doxology is not the only place that God is named Savior. Jesus and God are in agreement with regard to our salvation. We should never think that a kind and loving Savior found it necessary to rescue us from a mean and hateful god (no capitalization because such a ‘god’ is myth). God the Father is only an enemy to those who insist on rejecting his overtures of grace. And grace is his initiative. Jesus acted on our behalf at the prompting of God the Father: For God so loved the world that he sent his Son. . . . Father and Son collaborated in the redemption of lost humanity. And let us not miss that vital word “only” in relation to God. The God who is Savior through Jesus Christ is the only God. There is no other God and there is no other salvation but that which is provided through faith in Jesus Christ.

Jude’s phrase “through Jesus Christ our Lord” can be taken one of two ways. Grammatically, it can belong either to the phrase immediately preceding or to the phrase immediately following:

. . . . to the only God (who is) our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, to him are glory, majesty, power and authority. . . .

Or,

. . . to the only God our Savior are glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . .

If the former option is correct, then Jude is affirming that God is our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. If the latter version is right, Jude is including the phrase in question as part of the main thought of his doxology. In other words, glory, majesty, power and authority come to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (see the NIV, which chooses this option by repositioning the phrase in question after the fourfold subject, as in the second example above, even though it occurs before it in the Greek text, as in the first example above).

Both possibilities are theologically fitting. Forced to choose, however, we would prefer the emphasis on God being our Savior through Jesus Christ who is our Lord (the first option above, which seems to be a more natural understanding of the Greek word order). Glory, majesty, power and authority already belonged to God before Jesus became the Savior of God’s people (unless one wishes to bring in the eternal nature of God’s redemptive plans, see 1 Peter 1:20 & Revelation 13:8). Glory, majesty, power and authority belong to God by virtue of the fact that he is God and that he is the Maker of the heavens, the earth, the sea and all that is in them. He created all things and by his will they exist and they have been created (see Revelation 4). The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim his righteousness (Psalm 19). To him is the glory!

Now, having described God twice, once for his readers and a second time for his readers and himself, Jude is ready to complete his thought. What will he say about this great God he has described with such evocative language? Grammatically speaking, the twofold description of God supplies the direct object (each description governed by the dative case along with modifiers). Now Jude provides the grammatical subject of his complex statement. Not surprisingly, the subject of his sentence is more than one word. It is comprised of four constituents: glory, majesty, power and authority (δόξα μεγαλωσύνη κράτος καὶ ἐξουσία). These are attributes regularly ascribed to God (see Ephesians 3:19; Romans 11:36; 16:27; Revelation 4:11; 5:12; 19:1).

The first of the four attributes, “glory,” is the radiance of God’s appearance. He lives in unapproachable light. But remember, he is able to make believers stand blameless and with great joy in his presence. How? He is God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. Without Jesus we would not have any hope of standing blameless and with great rejoicing in the presence of the only God. “Majesty,” the second attribute, refers to the trappings of royalty. God is the greatest King. He sits on a throne with the appearance of jasper and carnelian, a rainbow like an emerald encircling his throne. Twenty-four elders dressed in white and wearing golden crowns are seated on twenty-four thrones surrounding God’s royal station. Before the throne is something like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. And four living creatures surround God’s exalted seat, one with the appearance of a lion, another like an ox, another with a face like a man, and another like an eagle (see Revelation 4 & Isaiah 6). What a throne room! What a King! One bows before kings, especially this one. Only at the king’s pleasure does one stand in his presence. And it is the good pleasure of the only God to make his people stand in his presence.

Jude also ascribes to God both “power” and “authority.” Someone may have the power to act but not have the authority. The reverse may also be true. To possess either one without the other is to be frustrated, to be dependent upon others. To have both is to be able and to be independent. God is not only independent, he is sovereign. He needs nobody’s permission and he needs nobody’s help. He has the power to act and the authority to do so. And God is holy and just. In fact, righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. God is able to do all that he wills and all that he wills to do is right. It is right that he keeps his people from falling and enables them to stand in his glorious presence blameless and with great joy. It is right that he is the only God who is Savior through Jesus Christ the Lord.

So, having stated a direct object, “God,” and a subject, “glory, majesty, power and authority,” Jude finishes his doxology with an adverbial phrase: “before every age and now and into all the ages” (or, “forever”). This phrase answers the question “When?” When should the glory, majesty, power and authority be ascribed to God? Jude’s answer: before every age and now and forever, which is an emphatic always! But this phrase is modifying a verb which is absent in the Greek text. In the translation above, “are” appears in italics because it has been supplied. No main verb occurs in the Greek text of Jude’s doxology. As is often the case with doxologies in the NT, Jude’s written worship is constructed as a noun phrase (vv. 24-25 have no finite verbs; v. 24 includes a participle functioning as a substantive, the One being able, and an infinitive completing the verbal idea in the participle, the One being able to keep). This same type of noun phrase construction occurs in doxologies recorded in Ephesians 3:20-21 and Romans 11:36; 16:27.

Presumably some form of the Greek verb “to be” (εἰμί) must be supplied. English versions of the Bible provide the English word “be” in order to make a complete sentence (based on the rules for good English, not the rules for good first-century Koine Greek). But does that accurately reflect Jude’s thinking? What is the mood of the missing verb? Is it one of potential, wish, command, or reality? If Jude is expressing potential or a wish then the subjunctive mood or optative mood of the verb is implied. Jude would then be saying “May they be,” that is, “May glory, majesty, power and authority be (given) to God.” If Jude is stating a command then he is saying “Give glory, majesty, power and authority to God!” (although he would use a third-person imperative, which English cannot duplicate, so this example is the second-person imperative). Another logical possibility is a future tense. If Jude is expressing hope about the future, then he is saying, “Glory, majesty, power and authority will be God’s!”

One could argue, however, that the mood of the missing verb should be indicative, a statement of fact, which would employ the English verb “are” (instead of “is” since the subject is plural). In this case Jude’s worship is expressing not potential, not a wishful desire, may they be, or a command, make it so, or a statement about the future, they will be, but a triumphant affirmation, they are! In this case he is saying, “Glory, majesty, power and authority are God’s!” They have always been God’s, they are God’s, and they always will be God’s! The translation above reflects this last option: to God are the glory, majesty, power and authority.

Can we find help in determining which meaning Jude intended? The best place to look is the text itself. Recall that Jude includes a phrase to modify the missing verb: “before every age, now, and forever.” Take note of the reference to eternity past: “before every age.” Rarely do we think about the past in potential terms. It is possible. One might say: “I hope he went to the doctor yesterday.” But it is unlikely that Jude is hoping or wishing that God had the glory, majesty, power and authority in eternity past. Instead, he is affirming the eternal unchanging nature of God. The glory, majesty, power and authority have always been attributes of the only God. Jude has no need to wish it or to command it. He is stating a fact (see 1 Peter 4:11: ἵνα ἐν πᾶσιν δοξάζηται ὁ θεὸς διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ᾧ ἐστιν ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν. = so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and the power into the ages of the ages, amen. Surprisingly, major English versions use verbs of potential even though the Gk. has an indicative.). Moreover, Jude is reminding his readers of why they can be confident in their efforts to contend for the faith against the dangerous deception of false teachers. They can be confident because they belong to the eternal Ruler of everything and he will not allow them to fall.

For years I have been deeply moved by the Andrae Crouch song “My Tribute.” The powerful chorus of this great tune includes the repeated words “To God be the glory!” But Jude is telling us that we should learn to sing “To God is the glory!” With firm assurance we can proclaim that God’s rule is already firmly established from eternity past and will never falter. He is no ‘lame duck’ ruler waiting around to see who will take his place. He faces no re-election bid. He is not required to persuade a constituency to vote him into power. His kingdom is not jeopardized by any foe. No weapon formed against him will stand. He cannot be dethroned. His resources are not dependent on any outside sources. His glory is eternal. His majesty is regal. He is sovereign over all. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess to him. To him is the glory! Amen!

Brother Richard Foster

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Kids Ask Why And So Should We

Kids love to ask why. Why is the sky blue? Why does the snow melt? Why do I have to go to bed now? Why can’t we have pizza for breakfast?

We answer these questions to the best of our ability, knowing that their curiosity is good because it stimulates learning. But their questions can test our knowledge and our patience!

Sometimes the only answer we can give to kids’ questions is this: “Because I say so!” In these cases, the answer comes not from evidence but from authority, our authority. . . .

Even as adults, we still need the “Why?” question. It can drive us to discover answers and solutions that would otherwise remain hidden.

One question we should ask is this: Why do we believe that some things are right and others are wrong? In other words, what is the basis for our moral standards?

They tell me that I must stop for a red traffic signal. Why? We organize traffic laws in order to avoid accidents. I want to travel without death or injury and so I obey those laws and I hope others will too. In addition, running red lights can cost me expensive interaction with the legal system (a combination of reasoning and authority).

So some actions, like our driving habits, are defined to be right or wrong not because they are inherently good or evil, but because they are practical. They protect life and property. Other actions, however, are of a different sort. They appeal to a higher standard of good and evil.

What about giving to the poor? We all agree that helping the poor is the right thing to do. We also believe that it is right for the wealthy to contribute more in order to relieve the hardships of poverty.

But why? Why should I give away things that belong to me? It seems impractical. What if my family and I need it? What if I want it? Why should I give it to someone else, someone I don’t even know?

Why should I spend time cooperating with others (government) in order to make wealthy people give away more of what they have (taxes) in order to help the poor (welfare)? Why should I care what others do?

For generations we have answered these questions by appealing to the Bible. God’s word tells us that people are created in God’s image, so every human life is of inestimable value. Therefore, I help others, even though it costs me personally.

The Bible tells us that we are expected to be good stewards of our resources, which includes helping those who cannot help themselves. The Bible condemns selfishness. I must be willing to share.

In addition, the Bible tells us that God commands us to help the poor. So we help the poor, because people are precious and because God tells us to do so. I want to please God, so I obey his commands.

But a new voice in culture is trying to convince us that we can be good without God and his commands. We can still help the poor and hold the rich responsible without any appeal to spiritual truth or special revelation, so they say.

According to these secular voices, we can love our neighbor without a word from God. All we need is a scientific worldview. Nature will show us the way.

But will this pass the “Why?” question? Let’s see: No God means no Creator. No Creator means that we are a fortuitous cosmic accident, a happenstance. As such, we are not accountable to anyone but nature (whoever that is!).

Now the godless ‘natural’ version of reality is clear. In order to grow smarter and stronger we have evolved by ruthlessly taking hold of every possible advantage. The strongest, smartest and fastest get the natural resources they need to survive and thrive and everyone else . . . well, everyone else does not deserve to survive.

The weak and slow ones cannot be favored because they will use resources that should go to the stronger and smarter. The weak and slow should not reproduce because they will impede or even permanently derail the evolution of the race, according to the God-free version of reality.

The stronger and smarter ones survive and propagate the race. Each generation gets a little better because the weak are weeded out, so the ‘natural’ scientific view says.

At this point the secular crowd must interrupt and say that being kind to the poor will somehow make us stronger and better, so it is right to help the poor and weak even if you only appeal to natural forces. They must convince us that a more compassionate humanity is a stronger humanity.

But is that true? Why? How? How does it propagate the race and help humanity to grow stronger if we keep the weak ones alive?

Nature is heartless with the weak. In the animal kingdom the weak are food for others. Now we are told by secularists that people should go against nature and act as if nature is wrong. Why? The Bible has the answer, the only answer. Because the natural world is broken as a result of sin and God made people superior to animals; he made us in his image.

The love ethic that is advanced by the Bible generally and by Christianity especially is built upon the firm foundation of God’s revealed word. The love ethic is not a free-floating ethical notion.

We help the poor because we believe that human lives are valuable and worthy of dignity. We believe this about human lives because the Bible tells us that people are created in the image of God and that God loves his creation; he loves people so we should love people.

We believe that God is the creator and sustainer and that he holds successful people responsible for how they use the wealth which he has enabled them to gain. We expect the rich to give because God says they should do so.

Secular humanists wish to retain this kindness toward the poor and this responsibility for the rich but they want to remove the foundation of trust in God as Maker, Sustainer, Judge and Savior. We can help the poor and exhort the rich without believing in God, we are told. But will this house of love stand on a foundation of natural selection? If God is not Maker, Sustainer, Judge and Savior, then who is?

Darwinian evolution is no foundation for loving our neighbor. God’s word is. More than that, Jesus and his personal sacrifice at Calvary, a sacrifice made for the sins of a world that is hostile to him, this is more than a foundation for an ethic of love. Jesus is the ultimate inspiration for sacrificial love.

Sometimes we discover what is right from an authority, from someone who has the right to tell us, “Because I say so!” Sacrificial love is so out-of-step with the heartless forces of nature that we must either abandon such an ethic or build it on another foundation, a higher authority. That higher authority is the Living God, who sent Jesus to die for our sins so that we can be saved from this broken world.

If we ignore God then we abandon the ethic of love and compassion. Instead of trying to ignore our Maker, we should abandon atheism and embrace Christian love.

Richard Foster

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If God Already Knows Then Why Pray?

Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13). First, he warns them not to use prayer as an opportunity to impress people. Instead, followers of Jesus are to pray to please God.

Jesus tells his disciples not to babble on and on like the pagan unbelievers in the first century. They apparently thought that their many words would guarantee them a hearing.

Now this is not necessarily a warning about long prayers. Some prayers recorded in Scripture are lengthy. Jesus is warning us not to use prayer as a battering ram to break down the doors of heaven.

God has already opened the door to his presence through his grace. Jesus died to pay the price of our admission and he is risen in order to bring us into the presence of God.

We need not coerce or manipulate God in prayer. After all, as Jesus goes on to say, our Father in heaven already knows what we need before we ask!

But if God already knows our needs and he already wants to bless us, then why pray? Instead of answering that question directly, Jesus goes on to give an example, a model prayer, often called the Lord’s Prayer.

He begins by telling us to address God as “our Father who is in heaven.” Consider the tension and balance in this statement. “Father” is a term of familiarity, addressing God as one who is close and personal. “In heaven” is a term of transcendence, a reminder that God is the Maker of heaven and earth and that he is high and exalted. Jesus invites us to draw near and know the majestic King of the cosmos!

“Hallowed be your Name; your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus teaches us to focus our prayers first on God and his agenda.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” After magnifying God’s person and affirming his agenda, we turn to our own need. This brings us back to our earlier question: Why pray and tell God what he already knows?

Our prayers are not intended to inform God about our needs. Instead, our prayers are expressions of acknowledgment that God is the only real source of all that we truly need, not just spiritual needs, but physical needs as well.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus is talking about more than borrowing money. He uses “debt” as a symbol for wrongdoing, sin, transgression. As our body needs bread, our soul needs forgiveness, both forgiveness received and forgiveness given. And God both forgives us and enables us to forgive others.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.” God will test us in order to strengthen us. Satan tempts us in order to destroy us. This part of the model prayer is an acknowledgment that we are incapable of spiritual victory apart from God’s power in our lives.

So, Jesus teaches us to affirm and agree with God’s agenda, to acknowledge God as our provider for physical as well as spiritual needs, and to acknowledge God as our protector, our only hope for triumph against the forces of evil in this world.

Prayer aligns us with God’s agenda and directs us toward his provision and empowering. Any other agenda is doomed to failure. Any other provision is an illusion.

“For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen!”

May God’s Spirit inspire us to speak often with our Lord in prayer,

Brother Richard Foster

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Does Jesus Ask The Impossible?

Jesus promises that he came not to abolish God’s written word, but to fulfill it. This announcement is important because his interpretation of Scripture is strikingly different from what is commonly taught and thought (see Matthew 5:17-48).

People may think that they are good with God if they avoid murder. Jesus says that his followers must not only avoid murder, but avoid getting angry. In fact, we should go out of our way to reconcile with others, even our adversaries, even if it means taking a loss.

People may think that they are good with God if they avoid adultery. Jesus says that his followers must not only avoid adultery, but not even think about it. In fact, if our right eye or right hand causes us to sin, we should gouge it out and cut it off.

People may think that they are good with God if they legally divorce. Jesus says that his followers should consider marriage to be a life-long commitment. In fact, we should think of remarriage as adultery (except when the first spouse was unfaithful).

People may think that they are good with God if they keep their oaths. Jesus says that his followers should forget about swearing oaths. Instead, we should make sure that our words are always truthful. In fact, anything else is from the Devil.

People may think that they are good with God if they are fair when they punish those who do them wrong and if they refuse those who are undeserving. Jesus says that his followers should not seek retaliation or restitution at all. We should turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and give to those who ask.

People may think that they are good with God if they love their family and friends. Jesus says that his followers should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Even sinners love their friends. We should do more.

And then Jesus says something even more astounding: So, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Is he saying that we are not really his followers unless or until we are perfect? No, that is not what he is saying, because Jesus is speaking to those he has already called and he already considers them to be his followers, knowing that they are imperfect.

What is Jesus saying? Jesus’ words are not a legal code but an interpretation of God’s legal code which is recorded in the Old Testament. He is not giving us a new and improved Law, but he is showing us the right way to think about God’s existing Law.

God’s Law does not set a minimum standard that defines the least we must do in order to be right with God. God’s Law is his way, a pathway that leads us toward absolute godliness. When we become followers of Jesus, we begin our journey on this pathway, the narrow path which leads to life.

As we walk along the pathway of God, we begin to go beyond the letter of the Law and to pursue the spirit of the Law. We concern ourselves not merely with what our hands do, but with what our hearts do.

As we follow Jesus on the pathway of God, we turn ourselves not merely toward protecting and nurturing our own, but toward reaching out to the “others.” We do not insist on getting what we deserve, nor do we always insist on punishing others as they deserve. We promote more than justice; we promote mercy and grace.

As we walk the way of God, we grow toward maturity. Yes, sometimes we fall back, but then we move forward again. For those followers of Jesus who heard these words first, it was Jesus’ physical presence that empowered them to progress. For us, it is God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ that empowers us to grow toward perfection.

At no time in this age do we arrive, so we always have this labor of love. But we are not frustrated because our journey is not without end. One day this narrow path will bring us to our destination. And on that day we will be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Let us walk the narrow path that leads to life,

Brother Richard Foster

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Digging Deeper Into God’s Word: Lazarus and the Rich Man

Jesus pulls back the curtain and gives us a glimpse of eternity. He does so by speaking about a certain rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). These two men experience a great reversal after death. The rich man, ostentatious in life, finds himself tormented in hell. Lazarus, pitiful in life, finds himself comforted after dying. More than the images Jesus paints, the words he reports unveil a vital truth.

The ensuing dialogue in this pericope is between the rich man and Abraham, the great patriarch of faith who is alive in eternity. In v. 29, Abraham is responding to the rich man’s request that someone be sent to warn his brothers, who have not yet died. In his eternal anguish, the rich man realizes that his brothers are in jeopardy and he has
compassion on them.

The remarks between the rich man and Abraham are always introduced by an aorist tense verb in the Greek text (εἶπεν in vv. 24, 25, 27, 30, 31) with the one exception of Abraham’s statement in v. 29. Here, Luke chooses to employ a so-called historical present tense (λέγει), which marks Abraham’s response to the rich man as emphatic and therefore critical for understanding the Author’s purpose in this text. Abraham’s grammatically marked statement is the key for properly interpreting Jesus’ teaching in this account.

A literal rendering of v. 29 is as follows: “Now Abraham says (vs. “said”), ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, they must listen to them.’” Moses and the Prophets, of course, is a first-century reference to Scripture. Abraham tells the rich man that nobody need go to his living brothers from the dead in order to warn them about hell because they have the Bible and they should read it and obey it.

The present-tense introduction, “Abraham says,” elevates the status of the patriarch’s statement from a simple response which is bound to the immediate context of the rich man’s request and instead places it on the level of an unchangeable truth (gnomic). They have God’s written word and they must listen and obey. So the idea of obeying God’s written word emerges as the crux of the matter for the rich man and for Jesus’ listeners (and Luke’s readers), and for us.

Abraham is affirming that God’s primary method of revealing himself is his written word. This is not to deny the work of his Spirit (see Joel 2 and Acts 2) or the revelation of his Person through his handiwork in creation (Psalm 19:1-6), or through the testimony of his people (Psalm 9:11). Nevertheless, the revelation of God through creation, sometimes called general revelation, is incomplete without special revelation: God’s written word (see Psalm 19:7-11). In addition, God’s Spirit works through his written word by illuminating the Bible to the human heart (Luke 24:45). Moreover, the spoken word of the prophet/apostle (and the witness of every believer) is empowered by God’s Spirit to reflect the apostolic message with precision, that is, to express accurately in a given historical context the universal truth revealed by Scripture (Matthew 10:19; see also Romans 10:17).

The rich man in Jesus’ teaching erred when he discounted the critical importance of hearing and acting on God’s written word. His hard-hearted response toward the poor man (Lazarus) who was left begging at his gate every day was the visible manifestation of his rejection of God’s word (which repeatedly enjoins God’s people to be gracious toward the poor; see Exodus 23:11 and many more OT examples). The rich man ignored the poor man because he ignored God’s word. The rich man’s indifference toward the poor man was a symptom of his indifference toward Scripture, which reveals an indifference toward God himself. This understanding of the rich man’s error keeps us from missing Jesus’ real point in Luke 16.

Jesus’ presentation strongly implies that the rich man’s cavalier attitude toward the poor man at his gate contributed to his disappointing eternal destination. As a result, some readers of this text might conclude that one’s merciful attention to the poor is the desired end result, therefore, any who care for the poor have no real need for the Bible. After all, they are obeying God’s word on their own impetus. In fact, they might decide that they are morally superior to those who study the Bible because they have no such need for God and the Bible to inspire them to do the right thing, no need to be frightened into acting right by an eternal fiery hell. But this would be a grave mistake as surely as the rich man’s error.

In another place (Matthew 5:14-16), Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of world, so they should let their light shine before people so that people will see their good deeds and glorify their Father in the heavens. Helping the poor is good. Glorifying God is the goal. Helping others without bringing glory to God will ultimately bring glory to the helper instead of the Maker. The Maker of the heavens and the earth who is the Giver of life is also the one who provides us with the resources to help the poor. To take his resources and help others without giving him credit is robbing God of the honor that he rightfully deserves. In other words, helping people without worshiping God is an eternal mistake.

The rich man emphatically denies the necessity of God’s word in his rejoinder to Abraham by beginning with a strengthened form of a Greek negative particle (οὐχί vs. οὐ): “No! Father Abraham, but if . . .” (see Luke 16:30). His personal conviction is that God must do more than merely provide his written word (at least for important people like the rich man; he and his five brothers deserve more from God!). He insists that someone return from the dead and convince his brothers to change their ways. And this is the rich man’s eternal miscalculation, insisting that a miracle is necessary to inspire belief and obedience, insisting that he can demand of God how God must do his business, and dismissing the power of God’s written word (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Hebrews 4:12).

How many people today respond to the Bible by saying “No! God, but if . . .”? They reject the idea that God’s word is sufficient. They imply that their unbelief and disobedience is God’s fault for not doing more, for not giving them the obligatory miraculous sign. If only God would do right, then they would act right, so they imply.

Others assert that they have discovered a way to experience the Living God which circumvents or minimizes Scripture. But anyone who suggests that there is an avenue to God and to his truth which trivializes or ignores the Bible should be corrected quickly and rejected completely if they persist in promoting such a dangerously incorrect notion.

For instance, those who seem to elevate God’s Spirit above God’s word are apparently unaware that the Spirit of God is committed to the word of God. The primary revelation of Christ is the New Testament. Our choice is not between Spirit and word. The choice is between Spirit-word and confusion-ignorance (which leads to eternal disaster).

No doubt the rich man had concluded before he died that his apparent success in life, which came without serious attention to Scripture, meant that God’s written word was of little or no consequence, at least for him and people of his privileged status (or his intellectual superiority). He was assuming an elite position, either not knowing or not considering seriously enough the truth revealed in God’s word that the Lord opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

The rich man exemplifies the proud. Lazarus exemplifies the humble. The rich man, pampered in life, finds himself in hell after death. Lazarus, poor and pathetic in life, finds himself carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom in death (a place of honor at the heavenly feast). Jesus’ teaching in this text shatters the rich man’s deadly illusion that Scripture is somehow insufficient or optional. The Bible is more important than the most impressive miracle: even someone rising from the dead.

The statement about rising from the dead is ironic because Jesus would be resurrected and show himself to eyewitnesses with many proofs of his conquest over the grave. After a cruel and shameful execution on a cross at Calvary, in fulfillment of God’s written word, Jesus was raised alive by God from his tomb, also fulfilling God’s written promise. But despite the magnitude of Jesus’ greatest miracle, his resurrection, some would still refuse to believe (Matthew 28:17). So this teaching about the rich man and Lazarus is prophetic, predicting with accuracy that his own resurrection would be insufficient to inspire faith for some who were eyewitnesses.

Miracles cannot take the place of the Bible. We must accept the reality that God’s word is sufficient for saving faith. And the written words of the Prophet, in this case the Lord Jesus Christ himself, are worthy of our greatest and most careful attention. Eternity demands it.

Brother Richard Foster

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