A time to coax and a time to cudgel (pt. 1)

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. {Proverbs 22:15, ESV}

I take it as a truism that a generation (or two?) ago the Christian consensus on Prov 22:15 understood “the rod of discipline” to mean corporal punishment (i.e. spanking). I don’t know whether we could point to a Christian consensus today but I do know that, for various reasons, spanking is not as prevalent as it once was. My father use to tell us how my grandmother would send him outside to requisition the switch she would then use for his painful correction, and can I still remember a paddle hanging on my (maternal) grandparents’ wall in Maryland with a rhyme that went something like: Appeal to the intellect, Appeal to the Pride, When all else fails, Apply to the hide.

But times change and the spirit of the age incessantly seeks to shape the Christian mind. The serious Christian knows he must respond to verses like Prov 22:15 if he is to abandon the prudence of physical discipline with any legitimacy. The only recourse for such a conscientious objector is to demonstrate that phrases like “the rod of discipline” are misinterpreted by advocates of corporal punishment which brings us to the point of this post.

A young mom who, along with her husband I’m sure, is “not considering doing away with the belt” has questions about how to defend the position that spanking is biblical. The counter-argument that she’s encountered runs something like: (a) “the rod” in Prov 22:15 refers to a shepherd’s staff or stick (b) the rod/staff was used to pull/direct/coax sheep back into position but not to inflict painful punishment and/or (c) the rod/staff was used to strike and fend off predators but never to strike the sheep themselves.

Coax or cudgel–which is biblical? I’ll try to address this on multiple fronts (in multiple posts) but let me conclude here by observing that even if we limit ourselves to Proverbs, the Bible has more to say concerning discipline than just what we find in 22:15. How might these additional proverbs shape our understanding of the intended meaning of 22:15?

13:24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

19:18 Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.

23:13-14 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.

29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

A day in the life: from meth addiction to Christ’s impeccability (pt. 1)

“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged… “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up…”
{Deuteronomy 6:1-2, 4-7}

A few observations followed by a real-life illustration:

1) Fear of the Lord & love of God is nurtured through biblical instruction. The ultimate goal of God’s instruction is to move His people to love Him with heart/soul/might.

2) The best parental instruction is an outworking of God’s words on the parent’s heart.

3) An all-consuming love for God is what Christian parents are called to reproduce in their children through instructing them in His word.

Not every day is like last Saturday. In the car running some errands my oldest saw a billboard advertising the dangers of meth. After the obligatory “What is meth?” followed questions on the production of said drug and it’s abuse. The knee-jerk, superficial answers aren’t always so difficult–drugs are bad, drugs can harm or even kill, don’t use drugs. But superficial instruction falls short of the biblical job description for a Christian father.

Later that evening our 2nd oldest was watching a movie in which a young girl confessed a theft she didn’t commit simply because she saw no other way around the protracted stand-off between herself & the accusing authority figure. That scenario prompted the following query: “Did Jesus never sin because he couldn’t or because he didn’t want to?”

How will a Christian parent answer these “childish” questions? What chapter & verse addresses drug addiction or the ability/inability of Jesus to sin? And should I find relevant Scripture will my explanation(s) stimulate a love for law, theological trivia, or God?

Picking and choosing from Jesus’ commands (pt. 2)

[see the Jan 27 post for pt 1]

If I were a betting man I’d wager that BL is more concerned with the inconsistent application of Mat 5:27-28 than he is with inconsistent interpretation . However, interpretation will always have a bearing on one’s application so something should be said about the way we go about making sense of Jesus’ teaching in Mat 5 especially since BL astutely observed that none of us are hacking off limbs in obedience to Jesus’ teaching on lust, theft, etc. What follows is the 2nd half of my response–again, w/ a few edits–to his questions/comments:

4) Jesus’ teaching on divorce seems to be an open & shut case when compared w/ the rest of Scripture. By tht I mean there just doesn’t seem to be any other passages that would add qualifications to what Jesus teaches. [The one exception would be what Paul says in 1Cor 7:15 but on that point Paul refers to “mixed” marriages whereas Jesus is speaking to covenant community.] Other passages that directly speak of marriage end up as a “yes…and” complement to Mat 5:31-32 whereas passages like Rom 13:1-4 create something of a “yes…but” contrast to the “don’t resist the one who is evil” of Mat 5:39. Consequently, Jesus’ divorce/remarriage command seems to have a greater across-the-board clarity than does His resisting evil command.

5) Biblical instruction can mix literal & figurative statements without forcing us to pit a literal interpretation against a figurative interpretation. Human language works that way all the time: “If you smart off to me or your mom you are breaking a house rule. It’s better to zip your lips than to have your rear end beat black & blue.” [even in that statement the “figurative” discipline (beat black & blue) refers to literal discipline (spanking)]

6) The over-the-top “tear out your eye” has to be considered w/ the rest of Jesus’ teaching on sin, righteousness, judgment. Would Jesus have us believe that physical maiming was a real way to escape sin & judgment? A radical approach to sin eradication is what Jesus means to address, but even gouging an eye out isn’t radical enough.

Picking & choosing from Jesus’ commands

The following is a portion of an e-mail exchange I had with a long time friend. Let’s call him B Lamb…actually Benjy L…better yet we’ll just call him BL to protect his identity. Anyway, BL’s questions surround a church’s seemingly arbitrary application of Jesus’ teaching in Mat 5:27-45 (take a quick read for yourself if you’re not familiar w/ the passage). BL’s questions/comments lead off (italicized) w/ the first half of my response (w/ minor editing) following. The 2nd half of my response will follow in a subsequent post.

Why do we take the words about divorce so literally when we do not take anything else taught in that passage literally? No one cuts out their eye or cuts off their hands. We make promises all the time instead of just letting our yes be yes. We fight back against those that hurt us. And we kill our enemies instead of praying for them and doing good to them. But we have strict guidelines about who we allow to get married in our church based on this verse!?! So the only logical conclusion that I come to based on how we practice these verses is that everything Jesus taught in this passage was metaphorical except His teaching about divorce – that is literal.

1) Sadly, it’s easier to hold a literal interpretation on a teaching that doesn’t affect you personally. Many (most?) of us don’t think they have to worry about divorce so it’s easier to take a hard line there than on persecution, swearing, etc. where we’re more likely to be confronted w/ Jesus’ teaching in real life.

2) Christian obedience will always be a progressive work. To a certain extent I shouldn’t find it shocking to find inconsistency in our application of Scripture. Our objective is to commend Spirit-led obedience where it’s found and to challenge ourselves in those areas where we lack. The church’s fidelity to Christ’s teaching on marriage/divorce can be used as a platform to promote greater fidelity to swearing & persecution teaching. (see, for example, Jesus simultaneously commending & convicting churches in Rev 2-3). As we commend & challenge we serve the church well to pray for a greater work of the Spirit to get our eyes wide open.

3) Cultural setting can affect how we interpret & implement certain commands. “Pray for those who persecute you” has a radically different meaning for a constitutionally protected American Christian when compared to an Afghan Christian. It can be difficult to chart a path for living out Christ’s commands when society affords me additional privileges and protections—especially when those protections are God ordained. In certain instances even Paul took advantage of civil law rather than take a beating or suffer a miscarriage of justice (Acts 16:37; 22:25; 25:11).

Rational fools who worship an ass?

Beware the deception that we can win the world if only we’re nice enough or smart enough or relevant enough or more scientific or more inviting. To most of the world we’ll never be more than fools who worship an ass.

To say that the world will always consider us to be fools no matter what we say or do is not the same as saying it doesn’t matter what we say or do. No honest reading of 1Cor 1:18-31 can lead us to any other conclusion than that the world will consider us to be fools preaching foolishness but to acknowledge this fate is a far cry from suggesting that the mind is irrelevant in our witness. Our message may be ridiculed but that’s no excuse for abandoning the field of reason and persuasion.

The gospel is the power of salvation but God imparts the saving knowledge of that gospel through various means and methods. We need only look to Paul’s example in Acts to see that a self-identified “fool” will still reason from Scripture (Acts 17:2; 18:19) and attempt to persuade by argument (18:4; 28:23-24).

Fools need not be irrational fools.

Only fools worship an ass

1 Corinthians 1:18, 23a For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…we preach Christ crucified…

Some think the earliest representation of worship involving a crucifix is contained in graffiti discovered in a guardroom near the Circus Maximus in Rome. Known as the Alexamenos Graffito and variously dated anywhere from the 1st to 3rd century, the graffiti is a crudely drawn picture with an inscription. The picture portrays a man standing at the foot of a cross with his hand raised in worship to the man hanging there. The man on the cross is drawn with the head of an ass and the inscription reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.”

Beware the deception that we can win the world if only we’re nice enough or smart enough or relevant enough or more scientific or more inviting. To most of the world we’ll never be more than fools who worship an ass.

Jesus in 2D

In the course of a casual conversation a friend mentioned a book he was reading that had him rethinking his picture of Jesus [I haven’t read the book]. I don’t know how much my friend had read but at this particular point the projected image of Jesus was that of “playful”.

Certainly the author had read the Bible enough to know that no such description is applied to Jesus which is why, through a bit of spiritual extrapolation, he discovered “playful” Jesus by observing that Jesus spent most of His time with 12 other guys {exercise your sanctified imagination}. Along this line of thinking I would surmise other “proofs” could be found in Jesus’ love of children, his ability to tell a good story, and his use of sarcasm.

Now I don’t doubt for a moment that Jesus smiled and laughed or that he was anything but a dour personality. However, I must admit a significant level of discomfort when I hear someone promoting a novel description of Jesus:

1. These new pictures of Jesus are akin to what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”. That is, it gives the impression that previous generations of Christians were oblivious to some espoused truth that only now has come to light. Maybe there’s a reason why 1000s of years church teaching never saw fit to describe Jesus as “playful”. [just as an aside, it’s interesting to note how often reviews and blurbs of these novelty books invite the reader to “discover” this new truth which apparently had been hidden in previous generations]

2. New pictures frequently lack an appreciation for the distinction between the humiliated Son and the glorified Son. Consider that during the days of Jesus’ earthly humiliation John laid his head on Jesus’ chest (Jn 13:23) but when he saw the glorified Jesus John fell to the ground in fear (Rev 1:17).

3. New pictures–especially those that emphasize Jesus’ humanity–are colored almost exclusively by the Gospels rather than a broad reading of Scripture. At the very least this risks an imbalance in which Jesus’ humanity overshadows his divinity [I don’t think this is the normative impression one gets from reading the Gospels]. A full reading of the NT just doesn’t seem to lead one to the impression that Jesus is primarily a comfortable friend.

4. New pictures often speak where Scripture is silent. Closely related to #3, this practice usually comes by a narrow or selective reading of the Gospels. As narrative literature, the Gospels are rarely explicit on subjective details like facial expressions, tone of voice, inner motivation, etc. Consequently, readers often feel a certain freedom in applying his/her own spin on the unmentioned details.

Purveyors of these novel depictions of Jesus promise to deepen our love and respect for Him but I suspect that in the long run such pictures will diminish Him. Rather than marvel at His majesty we settle for sentimentality that is more flat than full.

what am I to think of a gracious greeting to a disgraceful church?

Our adult Sunday school classes just started an 8-month study through 1Corinthians. No doubt the ensuing study & discussion will generate numerous posts of which today’s entry is the first.

If it’s possible for a church to live in infamy the Corinthian church would have to be exhibit A. Compile a list of the issues Paul was forced to correct in the letter you’ll find the Corinthians guilty of abrasive individualism, divisiveness, (one count of) incest, a disregard for corporate holiness, spiritual pride, shameful lawsuits against fellow church members, abusing Christian liberty, drunkenness at communion, disorderly worship services, a lack of love, the misuse/abuse of spiritual gifts, and a denial (by some) of the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Now it’s one thing to recognize one or two of these sins in any given church, it’s quite another to find all of these failures in one church at one time!

What then are we to make of Paul’s absurd greeting to this misfit church in 1Cor 1:1-9 where he speaks of these people as saints and thanks God for the display of His grace(!?!) in their lives? I don’t have time to elaborate on the following “takeaways” but most should be self-explanatory.

When I read 1Corinthians and then re-read Paul’s greeting I…

…recall that apart from Christ there is none righteous, not even one.

…marvel that a holy God justifies the ungodly and declares me to be sanctified, a “holy one” in His sight.

…claim the title of “saint” on the basis of Christ’s finished cross-work yet I strive to live in light of my new name.

…feel ashamed to see how insensitive I am to sin’s corruption, how slow I am to repent, and how little zeal I have for God’s righteousness.

…remember that even God’s grace (whether in pardon or power for living) can be abused and perverted by pride.

…rejoice to think that God’s grace for today will be overtaken by a greater grace in a day to come.

…rest in the knowledge that God is faithful to fulfill all of His promises and that He is certain to finish the work He began.