All posts by Dick Lentz

Who are the rightful heirs of the land of Israel?

My response to Stephen Sizer’s article, “Bible Prophecy – Promised Return of Impending Exile”,  regarding the return of the Jews to Israel

A number of years ago I read an article written by Stephen Sizer, a former vicar of the Anglican Church in England, regarding Christian Zionism. Christian Zionists believe that the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 is a direct fulfillment of Bible prophecy and that the tensions we are witnessing that region today can be attributed to this and other end time prophecies regarding Israel. Sizer who is known for his opposition to Christian Zionism believes that what is happening in Israel has little if anything to do with Bible prophecy.

The following are some statements Sizer made regarding this and my response to them. The page numbers refer to an article Sizer wrote regarding Christian Zionism that was published by the Christian Research Journal in 2006. A copy of his article can be found at the link above.

 A growing number of Christians…are left uneasy about the idea that God would bring the Jews back to Palestine while they are in unbelief since that is why they were exiled from it in the first place. (Page 35)

Here are some passages in the Bible that bear on this:

  1. God’s covenant with Abraham, the “Abrahamic covenant”, which included a promise that they would be given the land in and surrounding modern day Israel, was unconditional (Genesis 15). God asked Abraham to split a calf in two and to let its blood run down a channel between the two halves. In those days two parties making a covenant in this fashion would walk through the blood shed by the calf signifying that if either broke the covenant, the other could do to one violating the covenant what had been done to the calf. In Genesis 15:17, God, symbolized by a smoking pot, was the only one who passed between the halves signifying that He alone was responsible for upholding the covenant.
  1. God’s covenant with Abraham was never revoked. Galatians 3:17-18 says, “The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise, but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.”
  1. Another covenant was introduced through Moses. It is referred to as the “Sinaic covenant” as it was at Mount Sinai where it was given and confirmed. The Sinaic covenant was conditional. The Israelites had to obey the laws of God to reap its rewards. It is impossible to obey every aspect of God’s laws however. Jesus did something to remedy this. When He was crucified, the law was symbolically nailed to the Cross negating the power it and the Sinaic covenant, the Old Covenant, had to condemn people of sin (Colossians 2:13-15). The Sinaic covenant was replaced by a new covenant based on faith (Ephesians 2:8).
  1. One effect of the New Covenant is that that the Jews were no longer going to be held accountable collectively for their sin. Confirmation of this can be found in Jeremiah 31:27-37. Once the New Covenant was in effect, judgment for national sin would cease and “instead, everyone will die for his own sin” (vs. 30). When speaking about the effect of Jesus’ sacrificial death, the writer of Hebrews drew from this passage when he said, “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds … Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more (Hebrews 10:16-17 and Jeremiah 31:33-34).”
  1. Zechariah said that the Jews would experience a time when they would no longer be under collective judgment for their sin (Zechariah 3). Speaking for God, Zechariah said, “I will remove the sin of this land in a single day (3:9).” This “single day” seems in context to be referring to the day that Jesus was crucified.
  1. God did not bring the Jews back to the land of Israel for their sake or because they were good. God did it for His sake (Ezekiel 36). Ezekiel 37 describes the return of both Israel and Judah, the names of the northern and southern kingdoms after Israel split into two nations following the death of Solomon, to the land of Israel. In the process the “two sticks” become one once again (37:15-17). In describing this, Ezekiel speaking for God said, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my name which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among them. Then these nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes (36:22-23).” What God does to restore the Israelites to the land of Israel has more to do with Him then with them. He promised He would restore them to the land in spite of their disobedience so that He could be glorified.
  1. Zechariah prophesies that its opposition to the Jews after they’ve returned to Israel that ultimately leads to their collective spiritual redemption. Zechariah 12 describes a day when the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem are surrounded by those who want to destroy them and God miraculously saves them by destroying their enemies. When the Jews see that their victory has come from God, they end up mourning “the one whom they have pierced (12:10).” This may be the event Jesus had in mind when He wept on the Mount of Olives above Jerusalem a few days before His crucifixion and said, “You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (Matthew. 23:37-39).’”

I believe that the Jews as a nation were forgiven when Jesus died on the Cross, perhaps at the moment when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).” Although the suffering they’ve experienced since then could be due to their collective disbelief, I believe that what they’ve experienced is simply an extension of Satan’s continued efforts to undermine the work of God by destroying the ones God has chosen to represent Him. I believe that the Jews’ return to the land of Israel is part of God’s plan to reveal His nature to the world through the way He fulfills His covenant with Abraham. It also may be the beginning of God’s final efforts to redeem the Jews individually and corporately.

The covenant was primarily relational, not material (page 36)

It’s unclear when Sizer makes this claim if he is referring to the Abrahamic covenant or the Sinaic one. The covenant with Moses, the Sinaic one, does have material and relational aspects to it. The Jews had to be obedient to God in order to reap its benefits. But as pointed out earlier, this covenant was revoked when Jesus was crucified and it was symbolically nailed to the Cross (Colossians 2:14). There is no biblical evidence that the Abrahamic covenant was ever revoked. It was unconditional and depended on God’s character alone.

This does not mean that the Abrahamic covenant does not have some relational aspects to. But some of it is clearly material. God promised to give the land of Israel to the Jews as an eternal possession, and God said that if He doesn’t fulfill His promises that He is not God.

God stipulated through blessings and curses that repentance is always a condition of return (page 38)

Leviticus 26 does state that Israel would face exile if they refused to obey God (vs. 27-35). Daniel drew from portions of Leviticus 26:40-45 in a prayer he made on the Jews’s behalf when they were living in exile in Babylon (Daniel 9:1-19). Daniel understood that their  exile was going to last 70 years and near the end of this period asked for God to forgive his people.

God responded by telling Daniel that the Jews’ guilt for their transgressions would be removed but that it would take 490 years (seventy weeks of seven) “to atone for wickedness [and] to bring in everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9:24).” The beginning point of this time frame was “the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (9:25),” an event that occurred in 453 B.C. when Cyrus gave Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem so the city could be rebuilt (Nehemiah 1-2). 490 years after this would be 36 A.D. Most scholars agree that Jesus’ crucifixion occurred sometime between 30 and 36 A.D. It was at this point that both Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 10 indicate that the nation as a whole would no longer be held accountable for its sin. Somewhere in this time frame or shortly afterwards could be the end of the 490-year period Daniel prophesied about.

Also, as noted earlier, the conditions described in Leviticus 26 are part of the Sinaic covenant and this covenant was canceled on the Cross (Colossians 2:13-15). Since the Sinaic covenant is no longer in effect, there is no longer any conditions the Jews have or had to meet in order to return to the land of Israel.

It is no longer appropriate to describe the Jews as God’s “chosen people” (page 39)

 Paul addresses this in Romans 9-11. Here’s a bit of what he said:

  1. Speaking for God he said, “All day long, I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (10:21)
  1. “Did God reject his people? By no means … God did not reject his people.” (11:1,2)
  1. “All Israel will be saved. The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (11:26-27)
  1. “As far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (11:28-29)

One thing that is consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments is God’s unconditional commitment to fulfill the promises He made to Abraham and his descendants. Jeremiah 31:35-36 says this, “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight, declares the Lord, will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.” It’s as if God was saying, “If I don’t do what I’ve said I’m going to do for the children of Abraham, then I’m not God.”

Through the New Covenant, the exalted Christ rules sovereign over the entire world, from the heavenly Jerusalem. (Page 40) 

Sizer suggests that the Jews were never given an unconditional promise of a physical kingdom and that passages describing Christ’s eternal reign over one need to be interpreted figuratively rather than literally. But if references regarding the future Jerusalem and the eternal throne of Christ are figurative rather than literal – if they are only heavenly places and not real ones – then how do we make sense of the following verses?

  1. “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven which said, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever’ (Revelation 11:15).”
  1. “I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it…Then the Lord will go out and fight against these nations…On that day there will be no light, no cold, no frost… On that day, living water will flow out from Jerusalem…[and] The lord will be king over the whole earth (Zechariah 14:1-9).”

There are numerous passages in the Old and New Testaments that connect the coming of a messiah or the return of Jesus with a throne and a reign on earth. Although some of these could be interpreted figuratively, most cannot without significantly changing the context in which these promises were given. In addition, many don’t seem to fit events that have already occurred but seem to be referring to ones that happen in the future.

Jesus’ disciples were looking forward to the day when the kingdom God promised to the Israelites would be restored (Luke 24).  Many followed Jesus hoping that He was the one who would establish that kingdom. Their concept about this kingdom was not wrong. They just didn’t understand its timing. Isaiah prophesied about a time when God would sacrifice a lamb in order to forgive the sins of mankind (Isaiah 53). Jesus was that lamb. He was “the lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus’ disciples didn’t initially understand that this sacrifice must take place first. But their error doesn’t invalidate God’s promise that the Israelites would one day have a physical kingdom overseen by an actual ruler sitting on a real throne.

Why it Matters 

Speaking to Abraham God said, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse (Genesis 12:3).” I believe that this is a declaration by God that it matters how we respond to the promises He made to Abraham and his descendants. Believing that the Jews were given all of the land of Israel should not result in turning a blind eye towards what they’ve done to protect themselves if what they’ve done is unjust. But it should give us a better understanding from a biblical perspective of what’s happening in that region of the world and perhaps more important, why it’s happening.

That is as I see it today.

 

A Christians’ call to action may not be what we think it is

A guest opinion I wrote in response to an editorial by George Saurwein titled, “A Christian call to action,” was published recently in the Longmont Times-Call. In it I show why I disagree with Saurwein’s claim that Christians have a call to take back the moral authority of their culture and support what I believe Christians’ call to action actually is, to be salt and light in the world in which we live so that people will glorify the One who lives within us.

Saurwein’s editorial can be found here: “A Christian call to action.”

My response can be found here: “Christians’ call to action isn’t what writer thinks.”

Here is a text version of my response:

——————————

I am writing in response to George Saurwein’s  guest opinion on August 9 titled, “A Christian call to action.” In my studies of the Bible, I have found no “Christian call to action,” at least as Saurwein describes it, a call for Christians to “take back [their] moral authority” and to “unite as Christians and put the word of God back into the public forum.” Instead of a call for Christians to change their culture and its moral standards, what I have found in the Bible is a call for a change within, one that can happen only by having a personal relationship with Jesus.

I believe that Saurwein errors in this respect by focusing more on actions, on “collective ways of living,” rather than on what’s within our hearts. His quote from Matthew 5:19, “And so if anyone breaks the least commandment, and teaches others to, he shall be least in the Kingdom of Heaven,” ignores both the context and intent of Jesus’ words. The religious leaders at the time, the Pharisees, were telling people that they had to be obedient to the laws of God if they wanted the messiah to come and the kingdom of God to be established. The leaders then came up with an extensive list of rules people had obey if they wanted this to happen. Jesus attacked the Pharisees and their concept of what it meant to be holy by first telling the people that God’s standards of righteousness were so high that they had to exceed the standards of the Pharisees if they wanted to enter God’s kingdom (Matthew 5:20). Jesus then gave several examples of this by saying among others things that God equates anger with murder and lust with adultery (Matthew 5:21-47). Lest they miss the point, Jesus concluded by telling them all they had to do (if they wanted to enter the kingdom of God) was to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)” This of course was impossible. The Apostle Paul understood this and pointed out in Romans 3:11-22, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”

Jesus’ as well as Paul’s purpose in pointing this out wasn’t to establish new rules of behavior that if followed would somehow garner God’s favor. It was to show that a rules-based relationship with God is futile. It was to counter and sometimes attack those who continued to say, “Act this way and you will be right with God.” It was to show people that they couldn’t redeem themselves and to introduce a new concept of salvation based not on what they could or had to do for God but instead was based entirely on what God did for them in order to save them.

That doesn’t mean that following God’s instructions isn’t a good thing to do. We should love others, be committed to our spouses, and avoid entertainment venues that corrupt or harden our hearts. We should use biblical guidelines to help guide our political processes and other decisions we make in life. Paul confirmed this by noting that though ignoring God’s instructions may be permissible, it is not always beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12). And clergy do have a responsibility to clearly articulate this. Jesus and Paul emphasized however that our ability or desire to be obedient to God has very little if anything to do with our standing with Him since none of us can meet God’s standards of righteousness.

Christians do have a “Call to action” in this respect. It isn’t to change the morals of their culture, however. As I see it, the primary call of Christians is to “let their lights shine before men so that [others] can see their good works and glorify their Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)” It is also to communicate boldly and unambiguously that without Jesus and what He accomplished by dying for our sins on a cross (John 3:16), no one would be able enter the kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

The Value of “Small Churches”

In the 1980’s,  I helped re-organize the adult Sunday School department at Fair Oaks Baptist Church in Walnut Creek, California into what we called “Small Churches.” Instead of adults attending classes oriented around a topic or teacher of interest, we asked leaders and members to see each group as a “small church” headed by a pastor-teacher whose goal it was to equip members for the work of a church. This same concept was adopted by Calvary Church in Longmont beginning in 1993. Calvary called these groups “flocks” instead of “small churches” and called the leaders “shepherds” instead of “pastor-teachers.” I became a flock-leader at Calvary in 1994 and still serve in that capacity today.

This paper, written in the late 1980’s as a result of the changes at Fair Oaks, describes both the philosophy and the value of “Small Churches.”

The Value of Small Churches

Lack of moral compass can send us adrift

I wrote this in response to an article published in the Boulder Daily Camera on August 1, 2015 titled, “Founders’ Religious Beliefs.” My published response can be found at this link:

Daily Camera: Lack of moral compass can send us adrift

The article I was responding to can be found at this link:

Spencer Nelson: Founders’ religious beliefs

Spencer Nelson’s guest opinion August 1 titled “Founders’ Religious Beliefs” though well-written seems to be a bit misleading regarding what our founding fathers actually believed about God. Though many of our nation’s founders may have been influenced by Deism, trying to put them all in the same boat regarding their beliefs about God, Jesus or Christianity is a bit disingenuous. George Washington for example seems to have been a devoted member of the Anglican church but was very private with regards to his personal faith. Although he frequently used “Providence” in lieu of “God” when referring to God in his communications, it seems that he did believe in God’s personal involvement in the affairs of man and that humans were not passive actors when it came to discerning and following His will. His infrequent references to the name of Jesus in private correspondence may have more to do with the conventions of his day and the traditions of his faith rather than his personal beliefs about Jesus.

Regarding Thomas Jefferson’s statement that a “wall of separation exists between church and state,” this phrase shows up in a letter Jefferson wrote to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists in 1802. The purpose of this letter was to reassure Baptists that “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions.” The 2nd amendment which says that the government may “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” created according to Jefferson a “wall of separation between church and state” that was meant to keep the government from intruding into religion, matters that lie solely “between a Man and his God.” It wasn’t until the middle of last century that this phrase was reinterpreted as a mandate to keep the church from affecting the state rather than as a promise to protect the church by the state and in some cases, from it.

Nelson credited John Adams with a statement that “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” The origin of this statement does not appear to be from John Adams himself, however, but is found in translations of a treaty between the Barbary Pirates and the United States in 1797 that was originally written in Arabic. The purpose of this statement was not to describe the founding principles of our nation but was to reassure the Muslim state that secular laws and not Christian views would be used to interpret and enforce the treaty. This phrase was controversial even in its day and was dropped in a later version of the treaty between the two parties ratified by Congress in 1805 that superseded and effectively nullified what was written and approved earlier.

Nelson said that the founders of our nation “were resolute that ours be a secular government devoid of religious influence of any kind.” But in his farewell address delivered in 1796, George Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports… Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion … Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”        George Washington recognized the important part religious views play in making moral decisions; that good governments must be moral but that morality cannot exist in the absence of religious principles. It seems to me that religious views serve as a moral compass for a nation, one that if absent can leave a nation rudderless and send it adrift. If this is true, then the question is not should religious views affect our political decisions but rather which ones do we need to take into consideration.

Benjamin Franklin who Nelson says “did not adhere to Christianity at all or [if so] did so only lightly” thought that the moral teachings of Jesus are “the best the world has ever seen.” If this is so, then maybe the teachings of Jesus ought to be play a bigger part in the process we use for making moral decisions today, not less.

 

Gay Marriage: God may grant our wish to be left alone.

Link to the original article published in Times-Call, Longmont, Colorado

I have to be honest. Though I am a Christian and believe that God’s design for marriage is one man and one woman, the recent Supreme Court decision to allow same-sex marriage does not anger me. I believe that people ought to have the right to pursue committed relationships in whatever fashion suits their mindset as long as it doesn’t harm those not involved in the relationship. But all the celebrating that has accompanied this decision does make me sad. I’m sad because accepting that same-sex marriage is the same as the marriage between one man and one woman requires one to reject the authority of the Word of God on this matter and that rejecting God and what He says in His Word about human relationships doesn’t result in the better good for anyone.

God said in Genesis 2:18-25 that He understands the need for intimate human relationships.  He said, “It is not good that man be alone.” He then created a woman, one who He considered to be the perfect companion and help mate for man, and said that these two would now become one flesh. God created a bond between a man and a woman at this point that was to serve as the foundation for all family relationships. The fact that a number of people mentioned in the Bible did not follow this standard does not negate its validity. Jesus confirmed that marriage is to be between one man and one woman in Matthew 19:4-6 when He said in effect, “Don’t you know that from the beginning that this is how God designed these relationships to occur?”

When we say that same-sex marriage ought to be the same as the marriage between one man and one woman, it is tantamount to saying that God was wrong regarding this matter. It’s a rejection of God’s foundation for human relationships, at least the one established in the book of Genesis and confirmed by Jesus, and saying that our ideas about this are somehow superior to His. It’s saying that we don’t need God to tell us how to live our lives and that we can figure it out for ourselves. It’s in effect telling God and those who support His view on marriage to shut up about this matter and to quit reminding us that our ideas about how to develop fulfilling human relationships are somehow flawed.

I have a fear that accompanies this sadness. It’s a fear that God will listen to these demands for silence and back away from us entirely.  We have the freedom to choose to have a relationship with God that redeems us from ourselves or to follow a path paved with self-developed solutions for the issues we face in life. We have the freedom to say “No” to God and to tell Him to leave us alone so that we can go  our own way. We have the freedom to accept or reject the yardstick given in the Bible that shows the error of our ways and describes our path to redemption. The freedom to reject God and His standards comes with consequences, however. At some point, if we push God away too many times, He may throw up His arms and say, “Ok, if that’s that way you want it, then I will leave you alone.” I fear that this day is fast approaching and dread what will come if God decides to grant this wish to be left alone.

I don’t believe that God defines the foundation for marriage as one man and one woman in order to restrain us. I believe He does so in order to protect us.  I believe that He wants to save us from ourselves and the thought that we know better than Him about how to make our lives better.  And I believe that when we reject God’s foundation for human relationships and build one of our own making that we do so at our own peril.

What makes me sad is that so many believe that God’s way is no longer relevant or best and that their way, a way defined by flawed and imperfect men, is somehow better.

One Upright Man Among A Thousand, But No Upright Woman? – Ecclesiastes 7:28

“While I was still searching but not finding — I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them (Ecclesiastes 7:28, NIV).”

I’ve got to admit that the above verse may be one of the most perplexing in the entire Bible. On the surface it appears that Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, was comparing men with women and that though he could find at least one upright or righteous man among a thousand men, he could not find even one upright woman among that same number of women. I’ve even heard a number of sermons over the years that were consistent with this understanding of the passage;  that men are somehow more upright than women, perhaps because it was Eve who was first tempted by Satan in the Garden of Eden.

I believe this understanding of the passage is flawed, that it results from a misunderstanding of the context in which it was written, and that taking into consideration Solomon’s background may give us a better understanding of what this verse means.

Solomon’s Thousand Wives

The first thing to note is that Solomon seems to have had at least one woman in his life who he deeply loved and respected. The Song of Songs, probably written by Solomon early in his life, is a vivid and wonderful expression of the longing he felt for this one woman.  Although we don’t know who this woman was, she could have been the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1). What is apparent is that Solomon had a very high opinion this woman and was totally enamored by her beauty and her charms.

The problem that Solomon may have had with regards to women is that he was not satisfied with having just one in his life. He eventually had a harem that totaled one thousand. 1 Kings 11:1-6 gives some details regarding this and what happened because of it:

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women beside Pharaoh’s daughter — Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. 

1 Kings 11:11 describes God’s response:

So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.” 

Who then was Solomon referring to then when he said, “I found one upright man among a thousand?” I believe he was referring to himself. I don’t think he was saying, “I found one upright man, me, among a thousand men,” however.  I think he was saying, “I found one upright man, me, among a thousand women.” If this is so, then the women he was referring to were most likely the thousand he’d gathered into his harem. And it appears according to I Kings 11 that none of them, including the daughter of Pharaoh, worshipped God.

An Upright Man who Lost His Focus

What then does upright mean in this context? The mistake I believe many make at this point is bringing a New Testament understanding of uprightness into the passage and equating upright with being righteous. This can lead to concluding that the passage is talking about a righteous man who was unable to find a righteous woman. But I think that in the context of Ecclesiastes that being upright has more to do with where a  person decides to look for wisdom regarding how best to live life “under the sun (Eccl. 1:3),” and not the result of that decision.  Solomon was an upright man in the sense that he looked upwards to God for wisdom and guidance, at least early in his life. The same could not be said to be true regarding the thousand women he gathered into his harem. It seems that none of them was upright in their spiritual lives, not in the same sense that Solomon was or should have been. All of them worshipped other gods.

1 Kings 11:4 notes the influence that Solomon’s thousand wives had on his own spiritual focus:

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 

Solomon may have been sharing his feelings about this in Ecclesiastes 7:25-26:

So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly. I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.

If this verse is referring to how Solomon felt about his decision to have so many women in his harem, then he found the results to be more bitter than death, used words like stupid, madness, and folly to characterize his choice, and acknowledged that these women  became snares, traps, and chains

Solomon may have been an upright man at one point in his life. But because of his decision to have so many wives, he lost his upward focus and his heart turned to other gods.

Solomon concluded this portion of Ecclesiastes with these words:

This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes (Eccl. 7:29). 

If Solomon is referring to himself in this verse, what he’s noting is that his life was characterized at one time by an upward or upright focus but that eventually he quit relying on God’s advice and instead followed his own schemes, a decision he came to regret.

A Better Choice

What would Solomon have done differently if he had an opportunity for a do-over in this area of his life?  I think he would have stopped at one. A clue to this is may be found in the advice he gave in Ecclesiastes 9:9:

Enjoy life with your wife, whom you live, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun.

He also advised this is Proverbs 5:18-19:

May your fountain be blessed and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, and a graceful deer — may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. 

The focus of Ecclesiastes 9:9 is what do to when you feel that life is meaningless. The focus of Proverbs 5:18-19 is what to do if you are attracted to the charms of a person other than your own spouse. Both have the same message. They are urging men and women who are married to be satisfied with the spouse they have and to quit looking elsewhere for fulfillment in this area of their lives.

As we grow older and our lives, bodies, and circumstances change, we need to adapt to those changes and reject the notion that “changing models” or “adding to the harem” is somehow better than living in a committed and meaningful way with the spouse we already have.

That’s my understanding of this passage and its implications, at least as I see it today.

Don’t Presume to be a Teacher – James 3:1

Don’t Presume to be a Teacher – James 3:1

While attending a small group Bible study a number of years ago, I became concerned when one of the participants started defending an interpretation of a passage that I knew was very different than the writer’s original intent. I don’t recall what the specific verse was or what he was saying about it at the time. But I noted that several in the group seemed to be persuaded by his arguments even though the content of what he was sharing may have been biblically weak, perhaps because of the skill in which he articulated his viewpoint. After the study I cautioned my friend that he needed to be careful about what he shared as others could be influenced by what he said. I then quoted this verse to support my advice to him:

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1, NIV).”

My friend responded by saying that since this verse is addressing only those who are in an official position of a pastor or teacher and that he was neither, it didn’t apply to him. Our pastor seemed to support my friend’s conclusion regarding this passage when his sermon some time later focused on this same passage and the pastor said, “Since most of you aren’t teachers, I guess this verse has little to do with you.”

This may be too limiting.

I think that my friend’s understanding of this verse as well as my pastor’s, that it applies only to those who feel called to teach or are in an official position of a pastor or teacher, is too limiting. I believe that this verse is actually addressing anyone who presumes to teach in any fashion, and it seems that there are a lot of situations where we do this without being in the actual position of a teacher.

One of those situations is in parenting. Consider for example these verses:

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road when you lie down and when you get up (Deut. 11:18,19).”

In this passage, God is commanding parents to make the spiritual nurturing of their children a full-time profession. Parents do this first by embracing God’s Word in their own hearts and minds and then by teaching it through their lives and their words. Parents may not feel called to be teachers in this context but God says that they are.

Parents are not the only ones called to teach. Jesus said that all Christians are supposed to be teachers. An example of this is  found in the instructions Jesus gave His disciples prior to His ascension to heaven:

”All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matt. 28:18-20).”

This command is part of what some call, “The Great Commission.” God is asking all those who have made a commitment to Jesus to teach others the importance of obeying Him. Being a teacher in this respect is not an option. It’s an obligation.

A similar sentiment is found in this verse:

“Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food (Hebrews 5:12).”

I believe that the writer of Hebrews was voicing in this verse his disappointment that some Christians had not matured enough spiritually to become the teachers God wanted them to be. The implication of this verse is that all Christians are called to teach what God says is true. The Christians the writer was addressing were apparently faltering in this role, perhaps because they themselves didn’t understand what is true from God’s perspective.

It ignores the context of the passage.

Pointing out areas where we are all called to be teachers doesn’t explain the full implications of James 3:1, however. The stumbling block in understanding this verse may be the phrase, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers.” Expanding the application of this verse to include situations where we are commanded to teach doesn’t address circumstances where we aren’t commanded to teach but are presuming to do so anyway. It also ignores the content of the next eleven verses which have little to do with teaching in general but instead are noting the effect of our words. Here are those verses:

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

The focus of James 3:2-12 is on the danger of not weighing our words carefully and how harmful what we say can be to ourselves as well as to others. It’s warning about the damage that can be caused by a tongue that is out of control.

The effects of an uncontrolled tongue include the following:

  • It can reveal an area of life the speaker is stumbling in themselves, a part of their lives they are not able to keep under control.
  • Just like a rudder on a ship, it can affect the direction a person takes, whether that be for better or for worse.
  • Just like a forest fire that is started by small spark, it (an uncontrolled tongue) , though being very small, can cause great damage.
  • It reveals what is in one’s heart, and some of what is found there is not good.

It seems to me that all of James 3:1-12 including the first verse is addressing those who don’t weigh their words carefully and who tend to say what they want and to speak their minds without considering the consequences. It’s warning those who think they are off the hook because they aren’t in the official role of a pastor or teacher that they won’t get a “Get out of jail free” card if they speak rashly and what they say harms others or leads someone astray.

Be careful about every word you utter.

I believe that we presume to be a teacher anytime we share an opinion and that opinion has the potential of influencing someone else’s thinking or to affect their actions. And I cannot think of very many times when what we say cannot have an effect on someone else  Nothing we say can truly be considered trivial or inconsequential. Nearly all our words can affect what people think, can alter how others act, and can change what people feel about themselves, about others, and about God.

It seems to me that this verse is saying that we need to be careful about every word we utter and that we won’t get off the hook or get a free pass simply because we’re not in the official role of a teacher or a pastor.

That’s my understanding of this passage, at least as I see it today.