Category Archives: Christian apologetics

What prayers offered in faith will always be effective – James 5:15

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16)

I have had some concerns about the meaning of the above verses for years. It seems that they saying that if you are physically ill and are not getting better that you will get healed if you call in the elders to pray for you and they anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer must be offered in faith of course which means praying without doubting that God will answer those prayers. And those who are doing the praying must be righteous, for it is seems that it is only the prayer of the righteous that is powerful and effective.

Although I do like the sentiment that if I pray hard enough or have enough faith or have achieved just the right amount of righteousness that my prayers for physical healing will be answered, I do have some questions about this understanding of the passage. For example, how fervently do I need to pray? How much faith is required? How righteous do I or the others praying need to be? And if my prayers for physical healing aren’t answered, does that mean that I wasn’t praying hard enough or that my faith was not strong enough or that I wasn’t righteous enough?

What I’ve also noted over the years is that some who pray for physical healing are healed even though they have doubts that they will or aren’t as righteous as God desires; that some who are godly and who have bucket loads of faith aren’t healed even though they pray with full confidence that their request will be honored by God; and some who are ungodly or who don’t pray at all are often healed of their ailments anyway. It seems to me that getting healed physically frequently has little to do with our faith or lack thereof, to our personal righteousness or the absence of it, to how fervently we pray, or to whether or not we ask others to pray for us or to anoint us with oil.

And so what exactly are these verses promising when they say that a prayer offered in faith will make a sick person well? Are they promising that if we pray with an appropriate amount of faith or righteousness that we will be healed from whatever ails us physically? Or are they promising a different kind of healing from a different type of ailment?

Clue #1 – What Follows “Therefore”

 One clue to what these verses are promising is found in the portion that follows the word “therefore”:

Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (vs. 16)

Note that the promise of being healed in this verse is conditional. What is required is mutual confession of sin and praying for one another. This suggests that the sickness the person is experiencing has something to do with their personal sin. This could mean that what ails them physically is a direct result of sin in their life and that they won’t be physically healed until their spiritual problem – their sin issue – has been addressed. But it could be that James was not talking about physical healing at all but instead was addressing how to get healed from what ails someone spiritually.

One thing to note in this respect is that James never mentions physical healing specifically in these verses. He simply mentions healing in general without indicating what type of healing he was addressing. Although James could have been talking about how to get healed from a physical ailment, it could just as well be that he was addressing how to get healed from a spiritual one.

Clue #2 – What the Trouble Is

Another clue in identifying what type of sickness James was addressing and what type of healing is being promised is to note what precedes the verses that talk about “a prayer of faith” and “the prayer of a righteous man”. Here’s what comes before these verses:

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. (vs. 13)

Although “any one of you in trouble” could be interpreted as “anyone suffering from a physical ailment” or “anyone happy” could be understood as “anyone glad they are not”, it seems to me that James was referring to a different kind of trouble and a different source of happiness. If “trouble” in verse 13 is meant to be linked to what follows the word “therefore” in verse 16, then this person’s trouble may have something to do their spiritual condition. If that condition is healthy, they should praise the Lord for it. If not, then they need to pray to be healed from what is causing them to be sick spiritually. And if their prayers for spiritual healing are ineffective, then:

He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. (vs. 14)

And then follow this instruction:

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other. (vs. 16)

Connecting “trouble” in verse 13 with “confess your sins” in verse 16 provides a significant clue about the type of sickness James was addressing. What follows verses 13-16 must also be taken into consideration however if one wants to have a better understanding of what kind of sickness James was talking about and what type of healing is being promised.

Clue #3 – Elijah’s Prayer

James followed verses 13-16 with an example of a prayer offered by a righteous man and what it accomplished. That man was the prophet Elijah. Here’s is what James said about him:

Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (James 5:17-18)

It may seem at first glance that Elijah was praying about the weather and by noting this James was simply reinforcing that if you are righteous and have faith that your prayers, like those of Elijah, will most assuredly be answered. But there is much more to this incident than what James noted. The entire chronology is recorded in 1 Kings 16:29 thru 1 Kings 18:46. Here are some highlights of this:

  • Ahab, the king of Israel, provoked the anger of the Lord by serving Baal, setting up an altar for Baal in the temple, and doing “more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. (16:29-33)”
  • In response to this evil, Elijah said, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither rain in the next few years except at my word. (17:1)”
  • The drought continued for three and a half years. At the end of this period God told Elijah to present himself to Ahab (18:1). Elijah did so.
  • Elijah then told Ahab that it was his disobedience of God that was the cause of the troubles Israel was experiencing. He also told Ahab and the Israelites that they needed to make a choice on whom they were going to worship; they had to choose either God or Baal (18:18-21).
  • The people did not respond; they remained silent (vs. 18:21).­
  • Elijah then set up a contest on Mount Carmel between the priests of Baal and himself to prove whose god was strongest – whose god was real. Elijah showed through what took place that Baal was powerless – that he didn’t exist at all –  and that the Lord God is in only God (18:22-38).
  • Upon seeing what happened on the mountain, the people “fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord — he is God! The Lord — he is God! (18:39).”
  • Following this act of contrition and repentance, Elijah said that the rains would return. And they did (18:41-45).

Note that the troubles the Israelites experienced were a direct result of sin and it wasn’t until they repented that their troubles ceased. Could it be that this is the type of trouble James was referring do when he asked, “Is any one of you in trouble?” Could it be that how the Israelites responded to their troubles – by contrition and repentance – is the action James was instructing believers to take when they are experiencing similar troubles – that they need to “confess their sins to each other and pray for one another”? 

Clue #4 – James’ Conclusion

Here’s how James concluded:

My brothers, if one of should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20) 

These verses describe a situation where a sinner who has wandered from the truth is turned back from the error of his way by a brother and as a result is saved from death and a multitude of other sins. Could this be further clarification of the type of trouble James mentioned in verse 13 and what to do about it? Could the troubles the Israelites experienced due to their sin and what it took to remedy this be an illustration of this in verses 17-18? Could the one who restores the brother in verse 19 be one of the elders the troubled person asks to pray for him in verse 14 or one of those this person confesses his sins to in verse 16?

Clue #5 – The Whole Context of James

One last thing worthy of note is the entire tone and context of the book of James. James was writing to believers who didn’t seem to understand that their faith needed to be evidenced by works. James then described what some of those works ought to be. When James did this, he didn’t say, “You need to have more faith,” or, “You need a better relationship with God.” What James did say is that how we speak and act provides evidence of what we believe. And if our faith doesn’t result in what ought to characterize a healthy relationship with God, then something is wrong with it; it is useless and ineffective; it is dead (James 2:26). It seems to me that the entire book of James is about what one needs to do to avoid being spiritually ineffective. And if our ineffectiveness is the result of being spiritually sick, maybe it’s time to call in someone who can be of help in turning us away from the error of our ways so that we don’t continue to wander away from the truth and fall into additional sin.

What prayers offered in faith will always be effective

And so, what prayers offered in faith will always be effective? I believe it is prayers for spiritual healing. If we are spiritually sick and have a sincere desire to be brought back into a healthy and fruitful relationship with God, and if we then do what James instructs us to do – if confess our sins to one another and ask others to pray for us – God promises that He will forgive ours sins and heal us from what ails us spiritually.

That’s my understanding of these verses, at least as I see it today.

Is My Old Self Really Gone? – 2 Corinthians 5:17

One of the verses that has troubled me for a long time is this one: 

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has    come (2 Corinthians 5:17)!”

Although I like the sentiment of this verse – that having a relationship with Christ can be so transforming that we no longer have a desire to do what displeases God – that our old sinful self is truly dead and gone – in reality I continue to struggle to do what is right in God’s eyes. And that troubles me. I identify more with Paul in this respect when he wrote,

“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death. (Romans 7:21-24)” 

In sharp contrast to what he said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, it seems that Paul was saying in Romans 7:21-24 that his sinful self wasn’t gone at all and that his desire to do what God says is right was constantly at war with something inside him that desired to do what is sinful.

Some attempt to reconcile Paul’s statement in Romans 7:21-24 with what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 by concluding that what he was describing in Romans 7 was his struggle with sin prior to making a commitment to follow Jesus. But there is no indication in Romans that what Paul was talking about in Romans 7:21-24 was his life before becoming a Christian. In context, it seems to me that he was describing something he was experiencing at the time he was writing to the believers in Rome.  If this is so, then Paul was saying that he continued to struggle to do what is right in God’s eyes even after putting his trust in Jesus.

But if Christians today struggle to do the same – if they struggle as well to do what is right in God’s eyes even though they’ve made a commitment to follow Jesus – then how do we make sense of the statement Paul made in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that the old is gone – that it has passed away?

What It Is There For 

One help in unlocking the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:17 is noting that Paul began the verse with “therefore” and then asking what it is “there for”. What it seems to indicate is that this verse is tied intrinsically with what precedes it and that the verse can’t be properly understood without taking into consideration what comes before it.

Here’s a bit of what comes before:

 “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ this way, we do so no longer. (2 Corinthians 5:14-16)” 

What Paul seemed to be describing in these verses are some things that ought to be different as a result of our relationship with Jesus. One thing that ought to be different is whom or what we are living for. Because Christ died for us, we should no longer be living for ourselves but instead should be living for Him. Another thing that should be different is how we view others as well as ourselves. Paul said, “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view (vs. 16).”

And so what should be different in how we view others? To answer that we need to take a look at what comes after 2 Corinthians 5:17.

What Follows Is Important

Noting what follows 2 Corinthian 5:17 is just as important as noting what precedes it if we want to fully understand what Paul was trying to tell us in this verse.  Here is a bit of what comes after it:

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (vs. 18-21)” 

Note that the word “reconciliation” or a form of it is used five times in these verses. I have underlined them. This indicates that the central theme of 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 probably has something to do with reconciliation. In context, the issue seems to be what reconciles us to God and what the effect of that should be.

Paul said that because of Christ’s death, God no longer counts our sins against us (vs. 19). This does not mean that God actually remove our sin nature from us. But by making Him who had no sin become sin for us (vs. 21), God removed the issue of sin so that we are no longer separated from Him because of it.

Paul explained what we should do in response to this. First, we need to “be reconciled to God” (vs. 20). One way we can do this is by coming into His presence with confidence that in spite of our sin God accepts us just as we are – just as if were new creatures where the old is gone. Second, Paul said that we are to be ambassadors who are committed to sharing God’s message of reconciliation with others, perhaps by telling those who are lost or who don’t understand the extent of God’s grace that Jesus did what was required to forgive them for all their sins so they can have a personal relationship with Him.

Based on what becomes before and after 2 Corinthians 5:17, I believe it is describing what ought to be different in how we view those who have made a decision to trust their lives and their salvation to Jesus, including how we view ourselves. Although a person who follows Christ may sin or may continue to have a desire to do so, the fact that they do should not cloud how we view them. Paul was saying that we should see those who follow Christ in the same way that God sees them by not counting their sins against them – by seeing them as new creatures where the old has passed away.

There No Condemnation For Those Who Are in Christ

After describing his personal struggles with sin in Romans 7:21-24, Paul said this:

”Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)” 

This  is similar to the point I believe Paul was making in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. Although Paul found himself frequently desiring to do what displeased God, because Jesus died for his sins, he knew that he was no longer under condemnation for them. And because God no longer held his sins against him, he was inclined to offer the same hand of reconciliation to others that God had extended to him by not counting others’ sins against them, just as if their old sinful ways were gone.

That’s my understanding of 2 Corinthians 5:17, at least 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.





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.


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.

Train up a child in the way he should go – Proverbs 22:6

Training up a child – Proverbs 22:6

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6, NIV).”

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the above verse quoted in church services during the dedication of someone’s child. And as I’ve heard it explained, “the way he should go” means, “The Lord’s way,” and that what God is promising is that if a parent raises a child according to the ways of the Lord that the child will continue to follow those ways when they become an adult.

This understanding of the verse seems to make sense when you note how it is footnoted in the New American Standard translation of the Bible. This version indicates that the “way he should go” literally means, “according to his way.”  If one substitutes the second phrase for  the first, the verse would read,

“Train a child according to his way, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

The predominant conclusion among those who quote this verse with this understanding of it seems to be that “his way” means “God’s way” and that if we teach a child to follow God’s commandments and the ways of His wisdom when that child is young, when that child becomes an adult they will not turn away from those ways.

Is this a guarantee that if a child is raised right that they will pursue what’s right?

I used to think this was a pretty terrific promise. What parent would not want to know that they could ensure their child’s future spiritual health by teaching them the ways of God’s wisdom and exhorting them to follow His commandments.  This presumes of course that children simply need to be pointed in the right direction and that once they understand it and know its benefits will embrace it. Seems like a pretty good principle of parenting: teach what is right in God’s eyes and what follows will be a lifetime of obedience to Him.

Over the years I noted, however, that there is a huge gap between what is happening in the lives of the children of Christian parents and what some conclude this verse means; that if we parent right our children will follow what’s right when they grow older. Time after time I saw parents raise their children according to what they deemed to be sound biblical principles only to see those children abandon God’s ways when those children reached adulthood. I also observed that Christians who parented multiple children didn’t always have the same outcome even though they seemingly raised all their children according to God’s wise advice. One child might end up following the ways of the Lord when they became an adult, for example, while the other or others might choose a more worldly path. Godly parents who seemingly did everything right might not even have one child who stayed in a relationship with God into adulthood. It seemed that good Christian parenting no matter how much focused on what’s right in God’s eyes didn’t guarantee that a child would continue to be obedient to God when that child reached adulthood.

Treating this verse as a promise that if a child is trained according to the Lord’s ways that when that child grows old they’ll keep following those ways didn’t stand the test of reality. Although some might attribute bad results in this regard to bad parenting,  I suspected that it was my understanding of Proverbs 22:6 that was flawed.

Does “His way” mean “the Lord’s Way”? 

I then began thinking about the significance of the word “his” in “according to his way.” Since “his” is a pronoun, it has to have an antecedent; a noun it refers to. The general rule of thumb is that the antecedent for a pronoun is the closest noun in the same sentence or paragraph. The problem when assuming that the antecedent for “his” is “God” or “the Lord” is that neither is mentioned in this verse. There are references to “the Lord” in other verses in the chapter but these have no textual connection to Proverbs 22:6. The implication of this is that “his way” cannot be accurately interpreted “the Lord’s way.” It’s more likely therefore that “his way” is “the child’s way” since “child” is the only personal noun referenced in the verse.

If “his way” really means  “the child’s way,” then the passage would more accurately be translated, 

“Train up a child according to the child’s way, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

What if “his way” really means “the child’s way”?

If this is the correct translation of the verse, if “his way” is really “the child’s way,” then it may be telling parents that if they train up a child according to the child’s natural inclinations that when that child grows old they will keep on living according to those inclinations.

In order to understand the implications of this, it’s important to understand what a child’s natural inclinations are. According to the Apostle Paul,

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (Romans 3:10,11).”

Paul said that no one inherently does what is good. Nobody is naturally inclined to be obedient to God. This includes children. So what happens if you let a child be themselves? If they have the choice between doing what is right in God’s eyes or pursuing what’s wrong, will they automatically embrace the good and forgo the bad? I suspect that if a child is raised according to what they are naturally inclined to do and those inclinations are wrong in God’s eyes that they’ll continue to live that way well into adulthood.

Many if not most children seem to have an abundance of good qualities, however. Whether these are caught, taught, or are innate is a subject for debate. But regardless of how a child has acquired these positive traits, what happens if those traits are nurtured? If children are raised according to their positive character traits whether they acquired or inherent, will they continue to embrace them when they become adults?  I suspect that they will.

Children also have natural talents and gifts. These as well as other paths they choose in life may have very little to do with right or wrong. They simply represent traits and desires that make them different from others, including their parents. If parents encourage their children to pursue and develop interests and abilities that are inherent within them, ones that may be neutral in God’s,  will that child continue to pursue those interests  when they become adults?  Once again, I believe that they will.

This verse could be both a warning and a promise.

If this verse means that when you train up a child according to the child’s way that when they grow old they won’t depart from it, then it could therefore be both a warning and a promise. It could be warning parents not to give into every whim a child has as many of these whims represent ungodly tendencies, ones a child will continue to pursue if not corrected early in their lives. It could also be a promise that when a child’s exhibits positive traits and gifts and these are nurtured and developed that these will continue to be a big part of the child’s life as well when they become adults.

That’s my understanding of Proverbs 22:6, at least as I see it today.