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Recently, I read of the following account:
Elephants and rhinos normally get along quite peacefully, though the elephant defends her calf against any hint of aggression. Once a baby elephant at a water hole near Tree Tops Lodge, in Kenya’s Abedare National Park, playfully approached a rhino. The rhino charged, sending the calf squealing back to its mother, and then the rhino sauntered off. The mother elephant was so enraged that she turned and attacked another rhino drinking nearby, sending a tusk into its chest. While tourists watched from the lodge’s terrace, the elephant then held the innocent rhino underwater with her forefeet until it drowned.
The Law of the Jungle is brutal. It is a law that essentially says, you can do whatever you can get away with. It is a law that says that you, the individual, and perhaps (but not always) your family is the only thing that is important. It is a law that permits one not only to hate his enemy, but also to turn on his friend if such is expedient. Power and survival are the sole virtues of the Law of the Jungle and one’s purpose in life is simply the gaining and preservation of power and the propagation of one’s own line. Sacrifice is meaningless unless it brings about that end. The strong survive; all others are merely in the way.
What struck me about this little account of the elephant and the rhinoceros was not only the brutality of the event where the mother enacts her revenge on an uninvolved bystander, but sadly, how often Christians act in much the same way when dealing with one another. True, we typically don’t drown people in watering holes, but how often we drown others with criticism, exclusion, or outright hostility. How often we follow the example of the Jungle and not the example of Christ in our personal dealings.
In the jungle, when one is offended, revenge is the response. There is no such thing as humility or grace, these things belong only to those who bear God’s image. And in the jungle, when revenge is handed out, there is always an escalation of aggression—even a minor offense yielding capital punishment as in this case. There, of course, are many who would point to the brutality of many of the Old Testament Biblical laws, but the concept of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is a principle that states that the punishment must suit the crime. One could not demand execution in response to a personal injury—in the jungle, as the account of the elephant and the rhino illustrates, death is common even for small crimes. It is not a matter of justice, but of severe vengeance served cold and bloody.
It should not be too surprising when non-Christians choose to follow the Law of the Jungle for philosophically they simply see humanity as a highly developed animal living under the same rule as our “cousins” in the animal kingdom. In addition, to really give grace to others, it requires that one have experienced it in a transforming way. And free grace is one of those things that really is unique to Christianity and to the way our God deals with us.
What grieves me is when I see professing Christians choosing to follow the Law of the Jungle instead of another law—the law modeled to us by Christ—is that they demonstrate that they don’t really understand what it is that Christ did on the cross. When Jesus hung upon the cross of Calvary, the man without sin, being judged as a sinner, his words were not that of vengeance, but he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The word we translate as “forgive” is the Greek word ajfi/hmi (aphiami), which means to pardon, forgive, or to release from legal obligation.
We owe a debt to God because we have broken his law. In addition, we owe a debt to God because we have inherited the unpaid debt of our fathers that have gone before us (Exodus 20:5, 34:7). This debt goes back to Adam (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). God is righteous and righteous justice is demanded for sin—we have inherited death and earned wrath. Yet, God chose to do something unheard of; he took the punishment for a group of people upon himself by sending his Son, Jesus Christ to die and bear his wrath in their place—a substitutionary work of atonement. To Christ’s work, we contribute nothing. Jesus has fulfilled the righteous demands of the law on our behalf and we vicariously benefit.
Who is the “we” that benefit? It is those who have been given new life by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3) and are thus drawn to Christ in faith. This is a work totally dependent on God and on his Grace, not upon who we are or what we might be capable of doing. Were it earned in any way or reliant on our works in any way, Grace would no longer be Grace (Romans 11:6). In theological terms, we refer to this as God’s act of election, an act which God chose before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 1:4,11). We are spiritually dead in our trespasses against God (Ephesians 2:5) before this new life and thus, can do nothing to help ourselves, but are totally and absolutely reliant upon God’s Grace for this salvation. Grace is not favoritism, for favoritism demands that there is a reason one places his affections more so on one person than another; Grace is given where it is not deserved so that the giver of Grace is upheld. Who then is this body of grace-receivers? It is those who are born again believers in Jesus Christ—those who believe in their heart and profess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9).
The sad thing is that so many who profess this betray their hearts when they refuse to show grace to others around them. If you are a professing Christian, you must understand that the bar has been set very high. Christ has shown infinite grace to you; you have an obligation to show grace to others around you. No, it is true that you and I are not capable of the intense level of grace modeled by Christ Jesus; we have been shown a grace that transcends all worldly experience. At the same time, as ones who have received grace that is transcendent we can yet strive for a grace that gives others a taste of the grace that can be found in Christ.
God is not asking you to show others something that he has not first shown to you in super-abundance; he is asking you to show grace to those around you that do not deserve it, who have offended you, and who have rejected the things that you stand for. He has also promised that he will not leave you on your own as you seek to do this, but that he will be with you in the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The next time you are tempted to gossip, complain, slander, undermine, or get angry at another around you, make the decision to show them grace and shed love upon them instead of wrath (even where that wrath is deserved). If you want to see a change in the culture around us, take the lead not from elephants in the wild, but from Jesus Christ. Then step back and watch what God does through your witness.
 Cited from: Shreeve, James. Nature: The Other Earthlings. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1987. Pg 166.
An Additional Chapter from Herodotus
(a tribute to C.S. Lewis)
Once upon a time in the village of Acirema, a strange tradition resided with the people, though, perhaps the word tradition is not the best word to describe the antics that were found to take place amongst the people. You see, the people did not think of Exmass as a tradition, they saw it as a grand celebration—one of the High Days of the whole year that people looked forward to with great anticipation. Yet, despite the anticipation and despite the fact that people called it a “celebration,” there was little about this time of year that one would describe as celebratory. Perhaps I should explain.
Every year the people of Acirema “celebrate” what they refer to as the High Day of Exmass, yet the activities of preparation for this high day begin a full month prior to the official day of celebration. Indeed, there are some who begin their preparation months or even a full year prior, but these people are considered rebellions and are resented by the bulk of the Aciremanians, thus for now, we shall simply focus on the official tradition as is mandated in the unofficial law of the land—known as the Manual of Etiquette, written by the village matriarch, Deer Abigail.
Officially, then the High Day of Exmass begins with a lesser celebration to “kick off” the preparations. This lesser celebration is referred to as Saint Guineafowl Day. On this day, families gather together for the ritual slaughter and consumption of a large fowl. On occasions, some families will choose another animal, often from the swine family, but fowl is the proper sacrifice according to the manual. The rule is that family members are required to consume as much of the fowl as physically possible in one sitting and to accomplish this, sometimes extended family members will gather to join in together with the feasting. None of the bird must go to waste. If there is any left over, it must be saved and reheated for meals on the following days until it is all consumed. Even the bones are to be boiled down in a dish called “broth” so that even the essence of the fowl is fully removed and consumed by the family—again, nothing may go to waste.
In addition to the ritual slaughter and consumption on Saint Guineafowl Day, this day is accompanied by two additional traditions in Acirema. The first is the Saint Guineafowl Sycam Parade. Rowland Sycam was an entrepreneur in the early history of Acirema who was involved in the history of the helping people prepare for the High Day of Exmass, and thus, in his honor, his retail stores host a tremendous parade on Saint Guineafowl Day. In this parade, adults dress up as children in all forms of costumes and disguises and walk along a “Route” that extends for a mile or so. Some of the adults choose not to walk, thus add exotic decorations to their cars and trucks so that they can drive the distance of the Route—these decorated cars, they call “floats” for an undiscovered reason. In addition to adults, children are often dressed in adult dress uniforms, like that of soldiers, and given musical contraptions, being expected to then march in-step and play a song on their instrument at the same time.
One of the favorite elements of the parade is the appearance of the village’s famous singers. These famous singers will stand on the “floats” and pretend to sing along with a recording of their own songs. Those who come to watch the parade, called “Spectators” then pretend that the singers are actually singing and critique how well (or poorly) each singer “performs” their song. This performance also plays an important role in the preparations that lead to Exmass, for it is the songs that are chosen and thus performed that will be repeated at regular intervals on the radio in the initial portion of the preparation season. This, then, gives instruction to the people as to which musical arrangements to purchase and give to loved ones, but we get ahead of ourselves.
The final element of the parade is the construction of giant balloons, each depicting a local deity from the various mythological religions that people pretend not to practice. Citizens of Acirema are supposed to worship in one national religion, but in reality, they practice many, spending Sundays giving lip-service to the national religion in central buildings called “churches” and then spending the following Saturday morning in front of a contraption called a “Television” which broadcasts the legends and myths that shape the culture. It is these legends and myths that form the subject matter of these balloons, which float high in the air (in contrast to the “floats” which roll on the ground) and act as the spiritual guardians of the participants and spectators of the parade.
After the St. Guineafowl Sycam Day parade is through, and everyone congratulates themselves on how wonderful the decorations and floats were, treating such as the most important news of the day (certainly more important than wars or economic difficulties, for these things detract from the events in the season to come), then comes the final activity of St. Guineafowl Day—“football.” Football is the national athletic competition of Acirema and has little to do with either feet or balls, but I am told that if I were an Aciremanian, I would understand this colloquial reference. Anyhow, in this competition, two teams of men line up against each other with each teammate covered from head to toe in padding and other protective gear. Then there is an oval-shaped object called a “pig-skin” even though it is made out of cow-hide. Each team gets a turn holding on to the “pig-skin” and tries to run it or throw it past the other team and deliver it to the opposite end of the playing field, which is called a “grid-iron” though it is neither a grid nor made out of iron (again, I am told that were I an Aciremanian, I would understand this reference). While one team tries to get the pig-skin to the other side of the field, the other team seeks to clobber the person who happens to be holding the ball. Such is the nature of the game with both sides seeking to clobber each other and the team which gets the ball across the other team’s side (called a “goal-line”) wins the competition. The only reference to feet that I can come up with is that at times, the pig-skin is kicked from one side to the other either to change which team gets to be clobbered or to try and kick it through a giant set of prongs resembling a bent fork. And thus we end our description of the day, except for a final comment that nearly all Aciremanians both look forward to the day and regret the level to which they have participated in the eating of fowl. To express their regret, they chant in unison the words, “Oh, my stomach, I feel sick,” and then usually eat a little bit more to make sure that fellow Aciremanians do not think them lax in their celebration.
After the celebration of St. Guineafowl Day, comes the real preparations for Exmass, beginning with the celebration of a day called, “Black Friday.” The proper etiquette for Black Friday is to get up before dawn, pile into the car along with nearly every other Aciremanian, and to fill the streets with traffic. The initial objective is to have so many vehicles on the road that all movement is reduced to a near standstill, and then to yell at each other from behind closed and locked doors, often inventing names for the other drivers as they try and budge their vehicle in front of your own. The secondary objective for this day is the reason for its name (this name one needs not be an Aciremanian to understand). This traffic jam caused by all of the Black Friday celebrants is known to frustrate even the most seasoned law enforcement officer and hence the name was coined by those law enforcement officers who dreaded the coming of the day.
The second part of the Black Friday celebration takes place when the celebrants are actually able to arrive at the shopping centers. It is rumored that some people, hoping to avoid the celebration of the traffic jam, actually go out the day before, after they finish their St. Guineafowl Day celebrations, drive to the stores, and sleep in their cars. This rumor has not been substantiated personally, though it has been received from reliable sources. Regardless of when the celebrants arrive at the stores, the goal is to charge into the store as quickly as possible, elbowing and running other participants underfoot. In some ways, this seems to be a public replaying of the athletic event of “Football” from the day before, just without the pig-skin or goal lines. Prior to Black Friday, the stores have artificially elevated the prices on their products so that on Black Friday they can return their prices to normal and get the celebrants to think that they are getting a bargain. This aspect of the event is called a “sale.” Finally, celebrants gather up all of their “sale items,” and pay for them with little pieces of colored plastic (called a “credit card”—an invention which allows the owner to “buy” an item and then pay three-times the original price of the item across an extended period of time). Then, the participants jump back in their cars and celebrate the traffic jam one more time until they eventually arrive home once again that evening, just in time to eat more of the left-over food from St. Guineafowl Day, go to bed, and wake up the next morning to worship their culture’s ancient myths before the television.
The next several weeks between Black Friday and Exmass are filled with the important pastime of mailing what are called Exmass Cards. Exmass Cards are pieces of folded heavy paper with decorations on the front and a holiday greeting inside wishing the recipient well. The pictures on the cards are usually nostalgic and contain winter scenes even though in most parts of Acirema it never snows on Exmass. Nevertheless, such is what people expect and hope for each year. The ritual goes something like this: each Aciremanian purchases a stack of these cards adequate to send to each of their friends and acquaintances. Cards are signed and then put in the mail with each citizen keeping a careful list of who they sent the cards to.
A second list is then kept that records the cards that they in turn receive from acquaintances. Then the lists are compared. The ritual then gets rather confusing as individuals get their lists made. If one discovers, when one is comparing the lists of cards sent out and received, that someone not on the initial list has sent them a card, then the proper etiquette (again according to their local guru, D. Abigail) is to raise one fist and curse the heavens and to go back to the store to buy another Exmass Card to send to this offender. Similarly, after Exmass, the lists are compared and if more than two Exmass seasons go by without receiving an Exmass Card from someone on the list, their name is struck off—again with hand shaking and cursing. At times, this can get rather comical as people are always dropping off and adding people to their lists, always following the proper custom, which is designed to get them into the “Spirit of Exmass.”
When the day of Exmass finally comes, families celebrate with a routine of giving expensive gifts and trinkets, most of which will be broken (some intentionally and some unintentionally) within a few weeks. Again, the purpose of the gifts is to be in the “Spirit of Exmass” and oftentimes the parents in the family will pretend that a portion of the gifts come from a winter sprite whose name escapes me, but he is purportedly rather fat, flies around the world in an old sleigh pulled by Caribou which have the ability to fly. When he arrives at each home, he diminishes his size, sneaks into each house through a variety of openings, and then leaves the gifts. It is said, also, that if one wants this winter sprite to leave his gifts, the family must leave behind an offering of milk and cookies, lest lumps of coal be left in stockings in lieu of the gifts. The stockings are not real stockings, nor will they fit the feet of anyone in the family, but are single cloth and felt boots of varying sizes (not pairs, but one only) which are hung for the express purpose of being filled with candy and small gifts. Most of the children do not believe this fanciful tale, but they tend to go along with it, knowing that one day they too will be parents and expected to carry on the Exmass tradition as their parents did before them.
It should be noted that parents go to great extremes to get their children to believe in this winter sprite, even to the extent of hiring fat older men to sit in shopping centers dressed up as this snow sprite and to tell the children that he really is the one who will visit their home that Exmass Eve. Children who are too small or daft to know better are forced to sit on the knees of such men (oftentimes while screaming in protest) and tell them what they want the faux-sprite to bring them. Then pictures are taken which serve to do two things—first, they further traumatize the child (still part of getting into the “Exmass Spirit”) and second they serve to “commemorate” the experience so that parents will be able to show their friends and family just how faithful they have been to the “Exmass Traditions.”
Yet, we digress from the tradition of the gifts. The gifts are placed around a tree that is covered by tinsel, lights, and other random ornaments. The tree has been chopped down for this express purpose and will be disposed of after the season is through. Each gift is also covered with brightly colored paper called, “wrapping,” which is designed to keep the object hidden from spectators and to make them more interesting to open on Exmass morning. There is one difficulty with the tradition of the gifts, though, for just as with Exmass Cards, two separate lists must be kept, so too, lists are kept to keep track of Exmass gifts. For if you record that someone has given you a gift of a greater value than the gift you have given them, once again, you are expected to shake your hand to the heavens and curse, making proper notation in your records so that you are not so embarrassed in the following year. Similarly, if someone to whom you have not given a gift chooses to give you one, then you must not only note that while shaking your hand and cursing, but also you are obliged to immediately run out an purchase a similarly valued gift for the person in question. Lastly, when the gifts are fully catalogued, the children have a special task that is germane to their age-group. They must write a note saying, “thank you,” and how wonderful they thought the gift was (whether or not they thought the gift was wonderful). Such a practice is only performed by children because adults uniformly hate to write such notes (largely as they were forced to write such notes when they were children), but think that it is a good way to discipline their rambunctious children, so enforce this practice upon them with solemnity and zeal.
Finally, Exmass comes to a close with another feast, similar to that of St. Guineafowl Day, but this time with a wider variety of foods and no requirement that fowl be eaten. The gorging of food is followed by the watching of various athletic events, including more “Football” and is often accompanied by family favorite programs that teach “The Spirit of Exmass.” There is also a tradition of the “Exmass Wine,” which is a drink made from grapes and allowed to ferment. This, they drink in abundance either while they are eating or while they are watching the Exmass programs on television. The tradition is to drink enough that when one wakes up the next morning, ones head hurts as if it has been hit by a football player (perhaps this is an attempt at vicarious participation in their favorite sport). When one wakes up in such a manner, the proper etiquette is to curse again and avoid others until the feeling wears off. It is also said that some families read the story of the first Exmass, but this report is rather unsubstantiated.
On a final note, upon further study, it seems that there are some Aciremaians who are largely dissenters to this Exmass tradition. Apparently, they claim that Exmass has its origins in a religious holiday called Krissmass, or something very close to that (these dissenters are often mocked and scoffed amongst the rolls of the Aciremaians as being ones without the “Spirit of Exmass,” so they typically keep to themselves during this time and have been hard to study). What I have learned, though, has been quite interesting. They will often participate in some of the Exmass activities, though with a great deal more restraint. What my informants tell me, though, is that these Aciremaians believe that their God became human in a far away place on this day and then later would die in a horrible way to atone for their sins. This is interesting to speculate upon and perhaps demands further research, for they believe that the gift of Krissmas is God himself, not the things packaged in glossy paper. Indeed, something to investigate further…
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, argued that there was a hierarchy of values in terms of what was worthwhile for individuals and society to pursue. For Aristotle, the highest value was the knowledge of truth for its own sake. Of course, Aristotle was an Empiricist, which means that his real interest in “Truth” has to do with what one can observe with one’s senses or through the use of observational tools. Some might be tempted to simply label this, “science,” but such a label would shortchange both science and Aristotle’s view. Much of science is based on the use of reason built upon basic presuppositions and Aristotle recognized that observation could be applied to things outside of the realm of what we would typically classify as science (metaphysics, for example).
Aristotle’s second value was the discovery of practical knowledge—what Christians and Jews typically refer to as wisdom. This is the kind of knowledge that can guide one to live a life well and skillfully. For Aristotle, this was exemplified in the Four Cardinal Virtues of Greek thought: Justice, Wisdom, Courage, and Moderation. Finally, the value at the bottom of Aristotle’s list was that of learning to be skilled in Technique—what we would refer to as technical or vocational skills. These are the skills by which one would earn a trade.
I began to reflect on these ideas for two reasons. First, I heard a contemporary philosopher argue that our modern culture has turned Aristotle’s hierarchy upside down—that those who our society values the most (based on their paychecks) are those who demonstrate a high degree of skill in technique and those who are valued the least are those whose life is dedicated to the pursuit of truth for truth’s sake. Thus we live in a society where professional athletes, popular musicians and actors, and skillful doctors (again, technique with the surgical instruments) are the wealthiest class and preachers, teachers, and philosophers make up one of the poorest classes in society. The second reason that I began reflecting on this idea is because I happened to be teaching on Augustine’s approach to the Four Cardinal Virtues of the Greeks. Ultimately, Augustine affirmed these virtues as Christian virtues, but only when they were joined by faith, hope, and love—especially love.
Thus, I began asking the question, if I had to construct a hierarchy of values for the Christian life, how do I think that they would be reflected in the Christian life. One might be tempted to begin, as Aristotle begins, with a knowledge of truth for its own sake. Jesus said that his purpose in coming to dwell with men was to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37). God, of course, is the God of truth (Isaiah 65:16) and those who reject God suppress the truth (Romans 1:18). In addition, those who have no knowledge of God (as truth resides in God) destroy themselves (1 Corinthians 1:34). Also, the implication of scripture is that it is the knowledge of God that allows his people to be faithful (Hosea 6:6) and when there is no faithfulness in the land, it is joined by a lack of the knowledge of God (Hosea 4:1).
Yet, it seems to me that a higher virtue sets the stage for the knowledge of the Lord. When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the very Son of God, Jesus’ response is not to congratulate him on that knowledge, saying it was the highest virtue, but Jesus instead said, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah” for this knowledge came from “my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). There are two things that need to be brought out from this verse in light of understanding Christian virtue. First of all, the source of the knowledge of God is God himself, not something gained through a human pursuit—and if something has a source, or a precursor, it ought not be seen as the “highest” virtue. Secondly, Jesus does not say, “virtuous are you,” but he says, “blessed are you.” The Greek word for virtue, ajreth/ (arête), refers to one’s moral excellence or other attributes that make one praiseworthy. Yet, blessedness, maka/rioß (makarios), has to do with one’s internal state as a result of their relationship to God. Thus, Jesus can say, “blessed are you when you are persecuted for my name’s sake…” Similarly, Peter’s blessedness does not come from anything he has done, but because of what has been done to him.
Now, we may be tempted to engage in a discussion of regeneration, but since the purpose of a hierarchy of virtue is to give us something of merit to pursue, such a discussion does not seem to have a place here as regeneration is something that God does in us which in turn precipitates a response of faith and repentance in the believer. Our temptation, too, might be to jump immediately to the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and to Peter’s instructions on how to build up our faith (2 Peter 5-7), but again, these seem to have their source in a virtue that is more primary.
And that brings us to the question, what then does the Bible present as primary? The logical answer seems to be that the highest virtue is the fear of the Lord. We are told in scripture that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both wisdom (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10) and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). The fear of the Lord gives life and health not only to the individual believer, but it is also a sign of a healthy church (Acts 9:31). And then, out of the fear of the Lord proceeds the pursuit of the other Christian virtues.
(This took me a while to transcribe, but what follows is the content of my lecture at the International Calvin 500 Conference, held in Moscow, Russia, this past September)
I would like to begin simply by thanking you for the opportunity to speak this day. As I stand here and listen to some of the things that have been said and talked about thus far, I realize my own inability to stand before you.
Sometimes as we receive opportunities to speak we are truly humbled by those who have given us that opportunity. At the same time, as a Calvinist, I believe in God’s sovereignty, and as someone who believes in God’s sovereignty I believe that God has brought me here by his divine hand. If this is true then despite my weaknesses then I believe that God has a message to bring through me. This was mentioned yesterday as well, but I wanted to give this as a way of reminder. That as we meet on this anniversary of Calvin’s birth, we meet not to glorify the man, but we do so to glorify the God who raised up this man to serve his church. And I believe that we can honor that God by learning from the things that this man has taught us.
The second thing I would like to do by way of introduction is to introduce my agenda. It is a dangerous thing when the speaker actually tells you why he is speaking because all of us have motives behind what we want to talk about. Oftentimes those motives go unspoken, but in this case I want to set them on the table in front of us.
We live in a world that is more and more raising up and praising the supposed virtues of atheism. We live in a world where the Christian church is seen to be irrelevant and not essential to everyday life. Though I am new to Moscow, I have spent time in Ukraine and know the difficulties that the protestants face in dealing with the Orthodox Church. So part of my agenda in choosing the topics that I did was to help equip you to show the world that the church is not irrelevant. As pastors, part of our job is to teach the church how to stand for the truth and to live that truth relevant, living it out every day. We also have a responsibility to protect our church members from being wooed back to Orthodoxy or being lulled into atheism. And I do believe that Calvin is a great person to help us do both things. Thus, my goal this day, recognizing that we cannot exhaustively explore Calvin’s apologetics, my goal is to explore elements of Calvin’s apologetics with the aim of applying them both in the west and in the east.
To accomplish this goal, I would like to look at three elements of Calvin’s apologetic approach:
- I would like to look at his writings, with a primary focus on his Lausanne Discourses and his letter to Bishop Sadolet.
- I would like at the theology of Calvin’s Doctrine of Vocation.
- I would also like to look at his emphasis on a theologically educated laity.
I have a secondary goal as well: that is to encourage you, as pastors, to write for your congregations. Now, I recognize that many of Calvin’s writings were taken down by secretaries, but the principle is there in Calvin’s theology that his words were to be heard and applied to the lives of his people. At this point we must recognize the context that Calvin was writing in—he did not have a computer to type upon, but the writing was done with a quill pen or a stylus dipped in ink. Despite that, Calvin wrote more than many people will read in their lifetimes. Also Calvin understood the principle that a shepherd does not feed his sheep only once or twice a week. But a shepherd feeds his sheep everyday. Calvin had the luxury of having daily worship services in Geneva, but that is oftentimes not an option in our contexts. Yet, if you write daily Bible studies and theological things for your congregations to read, they will read them. And you will have a means to feed your flock on a daily basis.
There is another aspect of me wanting to encourage you to write. I have a vision for a change in the names of authors in Reformed literature. As you heard yesterday and this morning, you have an honorable Reformed heritage, but most of the most well-known names in Reformed Theology are western names. We have names like Boston, Owen, Calvin, Hodge, Lloyd-Jones—these are names that are dominant in Reformed literature, and while the translation of these texts from English into Russian is a valuable resource to you, I desire to see Russian names filling the bookshelves of our theologically Reformed seminaries. You heard the challenge to learn English so that you can read more of these resources; I long to see a time when people will be saying to people in the west, “Learn Russian!” so that you can read these new Reformed theological resources.
But for that to happen it needs to begin with someone like you—so there is my challenge to set before you as we begin—Write! And write for your people, for they will read it. It is a way that you will strengthen the church and it is a means by which Calvin did just that in Geneva.
I also want to make one other comment by way of introduction, and that is a note with respect to Calvin and his role as a man of the Church. Henry Beveridge, one of Calvin’s translators, wrote: “the whole of Calvin’s life shows that zeal for the interests of the church was his ruling passion.” Calvin did not set out to go through Geneva to be their pastor—his goal was Strasburg to be a scholar, yet God had other plans for Calvin and Calvin was willing to submit to God’s will. Many in our culture, especially in the west, have seen the failures of the church and have chosen as a result to reject the church altogether. Calvin saw the failure of the Roman Catholic church of his day, but he also recognized that the failure was in man’s failure as a fallen individual.
As a result, you do not simply let the church die or give up on her. But as pastors, you need to live for her and die for her, to pour yourself out for her and to suffer for her. If you do this you will honor not only John Calvin’s memory, but you will also honor our Lord’s memory—the one who died to lay his claim upon the church.
So let us begin and speak of Calvin’s apologetics. And I want to begin by raising the question, what is an Apologia. The word, Apologia simply means, “a reasoned defense.” It is a legal term used to refer to how one would defend a view or a client in a court case. Peter uses this and applies it to our Christian life. Peter writes, “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense—an Apologia—to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Yet Peter continues, “do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
Too often, people who would defend the Christian faith in the world around us, do so with an arrogant and a haughty spirit. Sometimes, when you are right and you know that you are right, you find yourself in a dangerous position. I think that this is one of reasons that Calvin’s model is so valuable for us today. Because as you read Calvin’s writings against those who would challenge the Reformed faith, you do not see an arrogant man ranting and raving, but you see a man of humility speaking with grace.
Note too the reason that Peter emphasizes our apologia given with humility. He says that we are to do so that those who revile you may be put to shame. The implication that he is making here is that there are some that may be brought to Christ through our reasoned defense. But even in rebuking those that would attack the Christian faith, we do not chase them away or scare them away from the truth.
In October of 1536, about a month after Calvin had arrived in Geneva, having agreed to stay and help the city in its reforms, Farel and Viret to Calvin with them to Lausanne. Lausanne is a city about 60 Kilometers from Geneva on the other side of Lake Geneva. The purpose of this debate was to debate whether or not the Reformed teachings should be brought to Lausanne. Farel had invited representatives from the Roman Catholic Church to debate over 10 questions that Farel had drawn up.
These questions included the debate over justification, the role of Christ as sole mediator, the role of scripture as sole authority for the believer, and who would constitute the church. Calvin is there not to speak nor to debate, but simply as a witness. Yet there are two points during this discourse where Calvin found that he could not keep his peace. And at these points—October 5th and 7th, Calvin stood to speak.
On the 5th of October, they were discussing the 3rd of the 10 questions. The question was over the real presence of Christ in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. The Romanists would not only argue from the real presence, but would also accuse the Reformers of departing from the consistent teaching of the church through history.
At this point, Calvin stood and addressed the panel. He said, “I held myself absolved from speaking up until now and would have willingly abstained until the end seeing that my word is not very necessary of adding anything to the adequate replies which my brothers Farel and Viret give. And he went on the address the group of speakers. We don’t have time to explore the entirely the fullness of Calvin’s response, but let me outline some of the elements of Calvin’s defense.
Calvin begins by saying that any who would condemn the early church fathers are both arrogant and filled with contempt for God as God had raised those church fathers up to build his church. In other words, part of what he is doing is saying is that if he as the reformer is guilty of what the Romanists are accusing him of, he should be condemned.
He continues and assumes for the sake of argument that our primary obligation is to submit to scripture as those church fathers submitted to scripture. He says that this accusation that they are making is nothing more than their failure to understand the Reformation. He went on to say, in addition, if one would take time to examine the Church fathers, they would find that the Fathers would support the Reformation position and not the Roman Catholic position. One could even, by extension, take the argument to the next step that the church fathers did not support the Eastern Orthodox view of the real presence of Christ in the elements.
Calvin continued on to cite from memory passages from the church fathers. He cites Tertullian’s refutation of Marcion; Chrysostom’s unfinished commentary on Matthew; then he goes on to exhaustively cite Augustine and his writings. He cites from Augustine’s Epistle 23, from Against Adamantius the Manichee, Homily on the Gospel of John, and continues on from several other letters of Augustine.
Then he poses the question toward the Romanists, speaking to Dr. Blancherose, a leader of the Romanist position, and now you explain your position in light of the Scriptural teaching and of the Church fathers. Before he closes, Calvin goes on to defend the Protestant position of the spiritual presence of Christ in the elements. He does so by comparing Matthew and Mark’s recording of the Last Supper to Luke and Paul’s recording of the same. Where he sees in Matthew in Mark Jesus saying, “this is my blood”, Luke and Paul record Jesus as saying, “this is the new testament in my blood.” And then making the argument that even though Matthew and Mark are not recording it in the same way, that there is a clear understanding that this is to be symbolic, not a real presence in the Lord’s Supper.
Let’s make several observations from the way in which John Calvin refutes the Roman Catholic representatives. First is the gracious and humble nature with which Calvin approached the Roman criticism. The Romanists had been calling the reformers both apostate and ignorant of the Church Fathers. They were essentially saying that the Reformers had no idea what they were talking about and rather than getting upset and responding in anger, Calvin responds in grace and humility.
Calvin goes on to demonstrate not only his knowledge of scripture but also his knowledge of the church fathers. What he is essentially doing is taking the things that the Romanists are appealing to and using their own words to dismantle their arguments. Calvin was demonstrating that the church fathers were the allies of the Reformation and not of the Roman Catholic church.
That is something that is very important to recognize in our own ministries. Often our tendency is to read and study only those who agree with the positions we hold. But if we are going to make an effective apologetic for what we know to be true in the world around us, we need to be educated in the ideas and thoughts of those who will attack what we know to be true. At the same time, we need to do so from a position of having been educated on a foundation of truth.
Calvin demonstrates in his response that he is well read and well versed in the breadth of all of the teachings that are out there. And that is something that we need to do as pastors and as apologists for the church in this community. It is also worth noting that not only did Calvin impress those to whom he was addressing with his knowledge of the church fathers, but some of the bishops who had been accusing Calvin of not knowing the church fathers actually confessed that they had never read the church fathers in the first place, but their knowledge of the church fathers was only a secondhand knowledge taught to them by somebody else.
We will come back to this idea, but Calvin also expresses an apologetic that is grounded in solid and clear theology. One of the problems that we find in the west is that those who are our “apologists” are not necessary theologians. What Calvin is demonstrating is that to be an effective apologist, you must have a clear understanding of theology.
The second point in which Calvin stood up to speak (2 days later) is a much shorter response. Question number 8 in the discussion dealt with the power of the civil magistrate. But in the discussion the question of Hildebrand had come up. Oftentimes Hildebrand is giving credit for formalizing the doctrine of transubstantiation that the Roman Catholics hold. But if you look back at church history, one of the things you will find is that Hildebrand is one of the most corrupt and abusive Popes of history. Another element of Calvin’s apologetic comes out here in his response. Calvin poses the question as to whether one should trust a doctrine created by one who is personally morally corrupt. In other words, he is asking the question, “Do you separate the life of the man from his theology?” Calvin’s argument is, “no.” That as one looks at a man’s theology one must also be looking at their theology and if the lifestyle of the man is corrupt, his theology should be questioned.
How too that as pastors we need to demonstrate how we live our lives in our communities.
The second discourse I want to deal with is his letter with the Cardinal James Sadolet. In 1539, shortly after Calvin and Farel’s banishment from Geneva, the Roman Catholic Church sought to draw the church of Geneva back to Rome. The church itself did not quite know how to respond to Sadolet’s letter of invitation. Their first response was to send a letter to the churches in Bern to ask them to respond on their behalf. When Bern did not respond, Calvin was asked to write a letter of response.
I want to just highlight this for a moment because this is a man who has just been kicked out of his church and they are asking him to write a letter in their defense; I wonder how many pastors today would be willing to do just that. It is a demonstration not only of Calvin’s humble personality but also of his understanding of the role of the pastor. The pastor was pastor over his people even if he had been removed and exiled from his people and thus he chose to continue to serve those who had kicked him out of the city and he responded to Sadolet’s letter.
As we seek to understand the dialogue that goes back and forth, you have to understand part of Sadolet’s approach. He begins by using language of affection for the people of Geneva and setting forth the claim that Rome is the only source where they will find peace. Calvin sees through the ruse very quickly and points out that Sadolet had never had any interests in Geneva prior to this time. But Sadolet went on and accused Calvin and Farel of sedition and said that they were “assailing the authority of the church.”
This language of authority is the key concept in Sadolet’s letter. Essentially what Sadolet is arguing for is the authority of the church to interpret scripture and the authority of tradition to set forth truth in the lives of people. He even goes as far as to use reformational language, largely designed to disarm the Genevese senate. Sadolet speaks of having offered salvation through faith alone, but at the same time he speaks out of one side of his mouth sounding like a reformer, he speaks out of the other side of his mouth as well. He says that faith in Christ alone is essential for salvation, but why stop there, but faith is only a beginning and to be genuinely worthy of salvation, one must also have works.
There are numerous theologies today which try to do the same basic thing that Sadolet is suggesting, existing both in the east and in the west. They pay lip service on one side to salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ but they try and sneak in human works by the back door. Yet the Apostle Paul wrote that God did not permit works so that no man may boast. And these theologies that deviate from salvation by faith alone is something that we need to guard ourselves and our churches against.
But Sadolet goes on and portrays the church as the anchor of Christian faith and thus for the Reformers to separate themselves of Rome is portrayed as a deep and dreadful sin of preposterous false religion. In the end, they are separated both from God and the Anchor of their faith which is considered to be the church, not Jesus Christ.
He goes on to appeal to the majority of the people in history (as he says), who have held to this Roman Catholic interpretation of scripture. And he says that if all of these people have understood it one way before, how do you know that you can trust this Calvin and the Reformers who understand it differently. Essentially what he is saying is that the Bible is too difficult for people to understand on their own, but to understand the Bible you need to be trained, equipped, and learned to understand it. This is the same basic principle that kept the Bible out of the hands of the layman for centuries on end.
One of the things that the Reformers understood was that when you read Scripture yourself, the lies of the Roman Catholic Church became clear. Sadolet even goes as far in his argument to suggest that the church cannot err in its interpretation of Scripture and if there might be errors, those errors must be in scripture and not in the church’s interpretation of scripture.
After he goes continues on this long discourse, making many slanderous comments about Calvin, though not by name, he closes by saying that he will agree to mediate between them and God if they will return to Rome. In other words, he is saying that the individuals themselves have no ability to come before God’s throne in light of their sins but we need Bishops and the church to do that on our behalf.
Yet, scripture is very clear that Christ and Christ alone is the only mediator between God and man.
So it is to this letter that Calvin begins to respond. Some have argued that this response of Calvin was the greatest apologetic of the Reformation. In spite of personal criticism, Calvin maintains a humble approach to Sadolet. And he writes that it is the duty of the pastor to defend his flock even while in exile. He almost goes as far as to apologize for the letter he is about to write. Sadolet was a respected scholar of his day and Calvin understood that his response to Sadolet would demonstrate Sadolet’s own ignorance of the Reformation and would show that Sadolet neither understood scripture nor the church fathers.
Calvin writes that it is with great reluctance that I bring forward your name before the learned world and address to you the following postulation. He continues that though he apologizes for essentially defaming Sadolet, he refuses to apologize for the Reformation.
I think that it is important to stop here and make an observation. Too many people in the west are more concerned with their standing than with the truth. In turn they end up sacrificing a great deal of truth to preserve their unity and their fellowship. Calvin understood that when one sacrifices the truth one sacrifices and compromises the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That would also compromise his call as a pastor.
Thus, though he is very gracious in the way he addresses his letter back to Sadolet, he refuses to compromise the truth that he is about to write. Calvin also refuses to attack the character of Sadolet, only Sadolet’s ideas as being insidious. When you get into debates with people, the temptation is to attack the person and the person’s character—it is much more difficult to attack the person’s ideas. One of the things that Calvin demonstrates is not slandering but dealing with the ideas as they are printed on paper.
Calvin’s apologetic here essentially elevates Scripture as the authority over top of church tradition. What he ultimately says is that the Genevese movement away from the Roman Catholic church is simply a reflection of them having been faithfully taught the scriptures. Here he is giving credit not to himself but to Farel and those who led the way or paved the road for him in Geneva. It is also a reminder to us of how important Calvin viewed the role of preaching faithfully God’s word. There is a temptation that pastors faith—to want to be popular—to want to have people come and listen to them as they preach. And Calvin is saying that we need to forget this philosophy in our preaching because the only way to become a popular preacher is to seek not to offend. We cannot sacrifice faithfully preaching God’s word. At the same time, when we do not sacrifice the preaching of God’s word, change will come and God will bring reformation and revival in His own time. And this is what Calvin is looking back at as he looks at the city of Geneva as they have moved away from the Roman Catholic Church.
Calvin then works systematically through Sadolet’s letter and then illustrates the logical errors and inconsistencies in each of his arguments. It is interesting for us to note where Calvin begins because he begins with what we, in Presbyterian circles, call the Regulative Principle of Worship. In other words, scripture regulates everything that we do in worship.
I think that emphasizes some of the things that Calvin holds to be important to the life of the Church. Oftentimes Calvin is thought of as the theologian of the Reformation, and he indeed was, but he is a theologian of worship. He saw the role of worship of God’s people as essential an that if our theology does not lead us into worship and equip us to worship better, our theology is wrong.
He begins this section by posing the question—which is the true Church, the Roman Catholic Church or the Reformed church? As he looks at this Regulative principle of worship and at the marks of the true church, he concludes that it is the Reformed church that is the true church. And Calvin demonstrates that the Roman Catholic church has moved away from Scripture and the tradition of the church fathers. In other words, it is the Roman Catholic Church that has moved away from fellowship and the Reformers and the ones who are preserving the true faith.
Calvin also mentions how he mentions how he longs for a day of ecclesiastical unity, that the church may indeed may be once again be one body, but only under God’s word, and not under man made traditions that are followed by the church.
So Calvin demonstrates a lot about apologetics in the way he approaches his writings, but Calvin also does not end his apologetic method or approach with his writings themselves. Calvin also applies his apologetics to actions in life. We have already demonstrated how Calvin is a student of the early church fathers. And in his apologetic writings he is following in the tradition of those like Quadratus who wrote to Hadrian to end the persecution of the church. And also in the line of those like Tertullian who wrote that Christians are an asset to the empire and not a threat.
As I was listening to pastor Ten speak earlier this morning, I heard this language coming out; he is looking at the benefits that the Reformed people brought to Russia. He was lamenting the fact that we as the church are not given credit for that—in a sense giving a call to all of us and particularly to you as pastors to speak to those over you and to say to them that we are a benefit to you and to your communities.
One of the questions that I am constantly asking the Ruling Elders of my church is this: If the church closed its doors and disappeared tomorrow, would the community notice? All too often the answer that churches give is that the community would not notice their disappearance. My challenge to you is the same challenge I give to my Ruling Elders every time we meet as a session. Be intentional about way you live and the way you exist. Be a benefit to your community in such a way that they see you as relevant to what you are doing and even if they don’t agree with you or hold to the Christian faith, they should see your presence as beneficial to the community.
One of the churches that I preached in many years ago when I was in seminary was built by an unbeliever. Yet he had the honest belief that if his community that he was establishing would continue, it needed a Presbyterian church. My prayer is that your communities (even non-believers in your communities) would think the same way. Like these early church fathers, Calvin, too, said that Christians were an important part of their society.
And he went on to teach about how the church is to live faithfully within that society. This is what we sometimes call the doctrine of vocational calling. The Roman Catholics taught that the only ones who were called by God to serve were the priests. Calvin taught that regardless of your occupation and the work you do, you are called by God to do it. That if you are a farmer, God had called you to be that farmer. That if you were an officer in the church or in the city government, God had called you to that as well. That work in itself is good and it is given by God no matter how dignified nor how menial that calling. And if God has given you work to do, it is a holy calling to work out in our lives.
In a sense, part of this is not only to encourage us to work harder and to work to the glory of God, but part of this is also an apologetic in lifestyle. In the passage we read from in 1 Peter earlier this afternoon, Peter is talking about how we live out our lives in every context despite the persecution we may face and we are to live in a dignified and honorable way so that when we are reviled, others will be drawn to Christ. That they will look at is, with the hope that we have, despite our condition and they will scratch their heads and ask how that person can be happy despite what that person may be doing. Calvin understood that when Christians live out their faith in their work, that the communities around them will recognize the value of having Christians in their midst. And not only will they cease persecution but will also open up doors to practice faith more freely.
If you want to bring change in Russia, one of the ways that you will do so is by teaching your people to live out their holy callings in life. And if you teach them to live out their work to the Glory of God they will draw others to Christ and will open gateways for the church to grow and flourish. As Christians, we need to live to a higher standard because God is who we serve, not man. And that we are thankful and joyful at whatever provision that God gives us both for our provision and for our lives.
Think about it in the most basic of terms. What kind of people do you prefer to have around you during the day? Do you want cheerful people or grumpy ones? Cheerful people make work more pleasant no matter how dirty that work may be, and again the gospel is spread.
In the time I have left, I want to make one more observation about Calvin’s view on apologetics. That is the importance that Calvin placed on education. The Roman Catholic church kept theological education to a few, Calvin instead opened it up to the masses. The Roman Catholic church taught ritual whereas Calvin taught scripture. Calvin did so through his personal teachings on the Bible and through his writings.
In addition, in 1559, Calvin opened the Genevan Academy to train believers to do whatever they were called to do. This was a school not open only to those training for the ministry but to everyone in the city. By Calvin’s death, 5 years after the opening of the school, there were 1200 students in the college alone and an additional 300 were in the seminary training to be pastors. Of course, many of those pastors would go back to France to face the persecution that was taking place there. An interesting side note is that Thomas Jefferson, an early American president, actually tried to buy the college Calvin began and move it to America. Jefferson believed that such a university would benefit the new country called America.
And obviously the college was not moved, but a similarly designed college was established.
I am convinced that this is the kind of mindset that you want to nourish in your church. You do not want a congregation of people who will just come to speak to you every week. But you want a congregation like the Bereans, faithfully seeking out God’s word, digging into it to find out what is going on. You want a congregation that is hungry and eager to understand God’s word and learn God’s truth. Some pastors consider that a threat because as a pastor that means you need to be well versed and study yourself. But if you hold that mindset, shame on your…we need to be the teachers of God’s people and to nourish in them a spirit that wants to know God’s truth. And we want them asking difficult questions—that helps to teach us that they are drawing upon spiritual truth as well.
And you especially need to train up the men in your church. One of the weak parts of the church in America is that it is dominated by women. This is not to knock the faith or the prayers of the ladies who are in our churches, but we need men who are hungry for God’s word and theology who will lead and teach their families. And that will only happen if you teach and emphasized the teaching in terms of the lives of the men of your church.
There is a lot more that we could talk about in terms of Calvin’s Apologetics. We could talk about Calvin’s style of worship and how worship itself is an apologetic tool. But I set that into your lives and for your responsibility for further study; I simply want to set before you three basic goals:
1. Be prepared to defend your church as pastors; there are bears and their lions out there in the world that are seeking to devour and destroy.
2. As a shepherd of God’s fold you have a responsibility to protect them, but you have a responsibility to feed or teach them as well. Part of that is through educating them and through teaching them a lifestyle that will draw others to Christ and ease the persecution on the church.
3. We also have a responsibility to educate your people. Teach them from the pulpit every opportunity that you get. Teach them through your lifestyle every time they are looking at you. And write for them so that you will teach them when you are apart.
I will confess that I am a consummate daydreamer. My mind not only drifts off into curiosity on things tangential to what is taking place or being taught, but I am also prone to rabbit trails when I am in the role of teacher. I never realized just how frustrating that must have been to my parents (who were trying to get me to do homework, etc…) until I became a parent and found that my son is prone to the same thing—the apple does not fall too far from the tree. One of the phrases that my parents used to use commonly was, “Come on, Win, get with the program.” What they meant by this was to get focused and to be a part of the task (the program) that was at hand.
Our Lord also gives a “program” to the church. After Peter’s confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Jesus utters the following words:
“And now I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
This is one of those passages that contains a tremendous amount of theology, but essentially Jesus is saying that the confession of Jesus as the Christ and Son of God—the confession of the Gospel—is the rock upon which the church will be built. So, what is the church’s “program”? The program is to take this confession of Christ and use it to batter down the gates of hell—essentially to use the gospel of Jesus Christ as a tool by which the fortifications of the Devil that exist on this earth are destroyed. To use military terminology, the church is being portrayed as an army on the march in enemy territory.
Now, there are many things that the church does, we are called in the Great commission to make disciples by baptizing and teaching all that Christ has taught (Matthew 28:19-20), we are called to care for the widows and orphans and to keep ourselves unstained by the sinful things of this world (James 1:27), we are to be ready with a reasonable defense of the Truth that God has given us (1 Peter 3:15-16), and we gather to worship (Hebrews 12:28-29). Yet, all of these things fall under the heading of engaging the enemy’s strongholds and battering in their gates (the primary place where an invading army would focus their attack).
Yet, as I look at the church today, I wonder whether we have allowed ourselves to daydream. For some it may be about the busyness of life; for others it may be their comfort or reputation. Some spend so much time thinking about the world to come that they are distracted from the task at hand. Regardless of the reason, a soldier who is distracted during a time of war usually becomes a casualty (and others are often wounded or killed because of the soldier’s distraction).
The question we must ask of ourselves is whether or not we have “gotten with the program” and are a part of the task. My concern is that there are too many confessing Christians who are watching the program as if it is on television, seeing church as entertainment or a social club, not as an army at war in enemy territory, besieging the fortifications of the Devil. How the church needs to “get with the program” and stop trying to watch it from their easy chair.
“No one who serves as a soldier becomes entangled in the affairs of life in order that he might please the one who has enlisted them.”
(2 Timothy 2:4)
“The Christian faith has not been tried and found lacking; it has been found difficult and been left untried.”
I must confess up front that I am not a coffee drinker. I neither like the taste of it nor the smell of it, nor do I have any compulsion to infuse it with a variety of sweeteners to try and mask its otherwise awful taste. This is not a criticism of those who like coffee (my wife is one of them), it is simply a statement of fact, and to set the record strait, it is not that I do not also have a morning crutch, but for me it is tea—“Earl Grey, hot,” as Captain Picard used to say.
All of that being said, what I find interesting is the popularity of the specialized coffee drinks in our society. People flock to one of dozens of corner coffee stores to buy the latest “Chunky-Monkey-Sola-Frappe” concoction or if they are more frugal, they will get a designer coffee machine for their home to whip up their favorite concoctions. Now, I see nothing inherently wrong with this practice (I like stacking onions, pickles, lettuce, and ketchup on my hamburgers), what I find interesting is that by the time everything is said and done, one can barely taste the original coffee flavor—and for some, I know that is the objective.
Imagine a world, for a minute, where coffee is only ever served in this fashion (this should not be too hard as we are close to that now). Imagine that you have never tasted “black” coffee, but that it has always been filled with the additives that we might see at a specialized coffee place. And imagine that this is the way coffee has been served for several generations. You may have heard stories of coffee being served black, but only in the old days when the people were so poor or backwards that they did not know any better.
Then imagine, one day, something changed in the world around you. Imagine that you, and everyone around you, were served black coffee—no milk, no sweetener, just straight brewed coffee. What do you imagine might be the response. My guess is that most people would quickly spit it out in disgust. They might curse what they were served and leave in search of “real coffee”—or at least coffee that was diluted with the sweeteners that people were used to.
I imagine, though, that there might be a few people (likely a very few), who will have something confirmed in their hearts. Deep down, while they have been drinking all of the concoctions, they have sensed that there must be something more out there—that that there must be something stronger and more robust in this thing called coffee than what was being served. The taste might not totally agree with them, but they know deep down that this coffee, black and strong, is what they have been looking for all along and for them to go back to anything else is something they have no desire to do.
It is imaginable, that the majority of the “coffee” drinkers would take offense to those who began serving and drinking black coffee. They might see them as unsophisticated and seeking to undo great social advances. It is imaginable that the majority might even legislate to try and restrict the “black coffee drinkers” from being able to proselytize and win others to drinking black coffee. There might even be some that would go back to drinking the stylized coffees just to more comfortably fit into their communities. There may even be some that would become secret black coffee drinkers, drinking the concoctions in social settings for the business contacts, but only drinking black coffee at home. There would be some who would even go to the other extreme, gathering with other black coffee drinkers and living separate from non-black coffee drinkers to eliminate any outside influence upon their families. Yet there would be some who, despite regulations and litigation against the black coffee establishments, would continue drinking their black coffee while remaining in society, being willing to have the honest discussion about coffee and to answer questions from the skeptical but curious who still are drinking the fancy mixes.
Okay, so what does this have to do with Christianity? If you haven’t anticipated it, my suggestion is that we have a lot of “doctored up” Christianity in our culture today. It may have at its most basic root, genuine Christian belief, but because true Christianity is vibrant, strong, and offensive to the broader culture, churches have been quick to dilute it with all kinds of sweeteners and additives to hide the taste. C.S. Lewis called this kind of liberal Christianity as “Christianity in water”—something almost unrecognizable as Christianity because it has been so diluted. It is no wonder, given our culture has strayed so much from “straight-black” Christianity (to keep the coffee analogy), that so many people react so violently against the preaching of the wrath to come and the need for Christians to take up their cross and die daily to this world. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been reduced to love and fuzzy feelings rather than about a mighty God who chose to take on flesh and live in the midst of wicked, fallen, and hateful men to redeem some of them to glory, bearing the judgment for their sins on his shoulder. All we are, we owe to him.
Drinking this kind of “coffee” will earn you the title of being intolerant, unsophisticated, and backwards. It requires a whole new view of the world. But this is true Christianity. Lewis argued that while most people would be reviled if they were confronted with real Christianity, there would be some who would find that it was what they were looking for all along and find the real stuff to be “red meat and strong beer.” How many of our churches look more like Starbucks in their theology and social stance than like the strong, black coffee of the Scriptures.
I don’t want any nice Christians in our church! In fact, I don’t want to see nice Christians anywhere in the world! Okay, now that I have your attention, let me explain what I mean. The English word, “nice,” comes from the Latin word “nescire.” Nescire has as its root word, “scio,” which is the verb, “to know.” The “ne” prefix negates the term. Thus, the term “nescire” means “to not know” or “to be ignorant.” When the term originally came into Middle English, it meant the equivalent of “stupid.” Over time, the usage of the term changed from being stupid to being unthreatening (someone who knows nothing is not a threat!) to being pleasant to be around. Slowly, the term continued to change in its usage to the way we use the term today (pleasant or agreeable).
Thus, at least in the original sense of the word, I don’t want to see nice Christians in my congregation or even in the world. I want Christians to know what they believe and why they believe what they believe. I want them to be strong enough in what they do know to stand against those who would challenge their beliefs. In fact, I would argue that part of the reason the American church is in the mess that it is in is because of nice Christians—at least in the original sense of the term.
God speaks of this very thing through the prophet Hosea. In the fourth chapter of Hosea, God begins by lamenting that there is no knowledge of God in the land (Hosea 4:1) and as a result, the people’s lives are filled by swearing, lying, adultery, and bloodshed (Hosea 4:2). And when we get to verse six of the same chapter, God makes a devastating statement: “My people are ruined because they are without knowledge.” In other words, the knowledge of God (understanding that true knowledge comes through a relationship with God—Proverbs 1:7) is what keeps us healthy and whole as God’s people—it prevents us from utter ruin.
But look at what else Hosea records in this verse: “Because you have rejected knowledge, so I reject you from being a priest to me; and because you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children.” This is covenantal language, as when God makes his promises to his people, he consistently makes them with their posterity (Genesis 12:7; 17:19; Deuteronomy 12:28; Acts 2:39), thus the threat of discipline is not only pronounced against God’s people, but also against the generations that will follow them. In addition, Jesus uses similar language in Matthew 10:32-33, where he says that those who confess him, he will confess before his Father and those who deny him, he too will deny—all connected to the lack of knowledge of Him.
Now, it is fair to say that as Christians, we ought to be pleasant people to be around, but pleasant should not be our goal—loving should. So nice really should not be something that we strive for as an attribute even in the modern usage of the term. More importantly, though, we should strive to be knowledgeable in the things of God. To cite the old King James language, “study to show yourselves approved” (2 Timothy 2:15) because the Scriptures are profitable to prepare you for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Strive never to be nice—be loving, but also be knowledgeable in the Truth so that you will always be prepared to make a reasoned defense of the hope you have within you (1 Peter 3:15).
One of the things we talk a lot about in church circles is the authority of scripture—that it is given by God and is designed to instruct us in every area of life. One of the terms that we use when we speak of why the scriptures are authoritative is the term “inerrant.” But I have found that while we often throw that term around, a lot of times, people aren’t entirely sure what the term means.
To be “inerrant” means far more than something has no errors in it. When I was in school, I regularly had “error-free” mathematics tests; when I was in seminary, many of my Hebrew vocabulary tests were found to be “error-free,” but none of these were inerrant. The word inerrant means not only that something has no errors, but that it is incapable of making an error. The Oxford American Dictionary defines “inerrant” as “incapable of being wrong.” One writer described the inerrancy of the scriptures in this way: “They are exempt from the liability to mistake.”
So why do we ascribe such a nature to the scriptures? To begin with, they are God’s word, and if God is incapable of making a mistake, then his word also must be incapable of making a mistake—remembering that those who wrote down God’s word were “moved along by the Spirit” as a ship is blown by the wind filling its sails (2 Peter 1:21). In the language of the Apostle Paul, scripture is exhaled by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and thus is the source of all training and guidance for the believer. These are God’s words and not man’s and thus we ought to expect them to carry the authority and attributes of God’s character and not man’s character.
It is granted that there are many these days that doubt the inerrancy of scripture. For some, it is a plain matter of unbelief. For others it is misinformation or not having studied the evidence. For others it is the fear that if one acknowledges these words to be the inerrant word of God then one must submit one’s life to scripture’s authority and demands, and such is true. Regardless of the reason that people doubt, Scripture has withstood every test and challenge that has been leveled at it.
There is one other thing that is worth noting about such a book as we have. Not only are the scriptures our only guide for faith and life, but they are the only book to guide us as we go to our deaths. The Bible shows us Jesus Christ, our need for him as a redeemer, and his promise that if we trust in him in life, confessing him with our lips and believing in him in our hearts, he will confess us before the Father and guarantee us eternal life in paradise. For the one who is facing death, this is the kind of knowledge that brings peace and enables them to leave this world with grace and not fear. It is no wonder that the Scriptures are what most people ask to have read to them on their deathbeds, and not Shakespeare or Coleridge. The Bible is the one book that transcends death because it was written by a God who died and rose again—promising that he would do the same for us.
Some initial thoughts as to some Biblical principles that ought to shape the way Christian schools and Christian teachers order their classrooms. These thoughts are not meant as exhaustive, but instead are meant to be a Biblical foundation upon which a philosophy of Christian education can be built.
1. The interaction with students, from instruction to discipline, must be built on the principle that students bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and though that image was twisted and deformed as a result of the fall through the entrance of sin and death (Romans 5:12), the image of God was not lost in the fall (Genesis 9:6). Thus, a large part of the role of Christian education is that of “straightening” the fallen person—helping to restore the person in such a way that they accurately reflect the image of God. As Christ is the perfect reflection of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), it is into the image modeled for us by Christ that we seek to direct the transformation of our students. The life and well-being of the child is seen by scripture in a special way (Psalm 127:3; Matthew 19:14; Mark 9:42). How we handle sin in the classroom as well as education in the classroom must be seen in this context, and teachers are to understand that they are to be held to a higher standard than others (James 3:1).
2. Education is a divinely ordained responsibility of parents, but particularly that of the Father as the covenant head of the household (Ephesians 6:4; Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 4:10; 6:7, 20-21; 11:19; 32:46; Psalm 78:5; 2 Timothy 1:5). It is also noted in scripture that the Levitical priests were to come alongside of the parents for the purpose of educating their children (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Judges 13:8; 1 Samuel 12:23; Ezekiel 44:23; 2 Chronicles 15:3) as part of the larger covenantal community of believers (Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12; Matthew 2:6; Romans 9:25; 2 Corinthians 6:16). There are also occasions where others within the covenant community who had particular gifts and skills were gifted to teach (Exodus 35:34). While it is recognized that God’s people can learn things from non-believers (1 Kings 5:6; Acts 7:22), the Bible presents teaching as an activity to be undertaken by the covenant community. Though the Levitical Priesthood has fallen away and been replaced by Christ (Hebrews 7), all believers are now priests (1 Peter 2:9; Isaiah 66:20-21) and thus responsible to fulfill the Levitical functions which are not a part of the sacrificial system as that role has been fulfilled by Christ alone (Hebrews 10:10-14). Hence, Christian parents must not only seek to oversee the education of their children, but they also have a Biblical mandate that the education of their children is done by Christians, and not by non-believers. In turn, teachers must be mindful that they are serving as proxies for the student’s parents, not as replacements and are to instruct in such a fashion as to honor the parents for whom they are acting.
3. The teacher must understand that the Biblical end of education is to equip the students to obedience to God’s commands so that their days may be long in the land (Deuteronomy 5:33; 11:9). Hence, children are also commanded to honor their parents (which implies an honoring of their instruction) so that their days may be long in the land (Exodus 20:12). The Biblical idiom of “living long” does not so much refer to long physical life in the land as it refers to the life and essential health of the covenantal community of the faithful in the land which God had given them. This language, though, is later applied to the church (Ephesians 6:3) under the auspices of living faithfully in the world. To accomplish this, teaching is to include the law for righteous living (Exodus 24:12; 2 Kings 17:27) and also instruction in more mundane areas (2 Samuel 1:8; Exodus 35:25; Isaiah 28:23-29). In addition, scripture mandates the teaching of the history of God’s acts (Exodus 12:14; 2 Samuel 1:18; Psalm 66:5). Thus, teaching that is scriptural (and hence mandated to be done within the community of faith) is teaching that covers every discipline of life and is designed so that the believer may walk in reverence and obedience to the commands of God (Deuteronomy 14:22; Micah 4:2; 1 Peter 1:16). The implication of this marks Christian teaching as being something distinct from secular (the Greek model) education. For the heathen, religion and faith have no bearing on one’s thinking, philosophy, or ordinary life; for the Christian, knowledge of God lived out in faith is everything—there is no aspect of life that religion is not meant to touch and inform. Hence, the Christian classroom needs to reflect that principle.
4. Discipline is a God-given tool by which education is furthered (Hebrews 12:5-11; Psalm 50:16-23; Proverbs 12:1; 13:24; Revelation 3:19). It is designed to keep children from vicious teachings and error, to suppress feelings of bitterness of students who have been wronged, to punish wrongdoing, and to show the repulsive nature of sin and the pains that are associated with it. Said discipline should be non-preferential and balanced to suit the infraction. Discipline also should not be designed to break, humiliate, or discourage the child from a pursuit of a God-honoring life. It should be firm, but delivered with a spirit of kindness and not vengeance or anger. Ultimately discipline should build up not only the student being disciplined, but the entire class as well. Finally, once discipline is administered, the student is to be considered as justified as to the law of the classroom and should be reinstated to the covenantal community of the class in question without lingering reminders of said sin.
A few final thoughts about the childhood education that Jesus would have received:
- Synagogue schools were funded by the parents of the children attending. The education of poor students was funded by donations given in the temple or at Sabbath worship.
- Teachers were salaried by the synagogue and were not allowed to accept money from wealthy families lest favoritism be given.
- Teachers were forbidden from losing their patience with students for not understanding concepts, but were expected to be able to make them plain to all.
- Kindness was encouraged and schools used the strap in discipline, not the rod.
- Parents were prohibited from sending their children to schools in other communities for the purpose of eliminating rivalries and to maintain the educational level of the town.
- Leviticus was the first book taught to children (particularly Leviticus 1-8).
- Other passages of scripture that were found in Children’s primers were: the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41); the Hallel Psalms (Psalms 113-118); and The Creation and Flood narratives (Genesis 1-11).
- To the Jew, the study of scripture was of greater importance than any other study they could pursue. The culture considered it profane to even learn a trade apart from a study of the scriptures. The study of trades did not replace scriptural study, but flowed out of scriptural study.
Part of a Traditional Jewish Morning Prayer:
“These are the things of which man eats the fruit of the world, but their possession continues for the next world: to honor the father and mother, pious works, peacemaking between man and man, and the study of the law, which is equivalent to them all.”
“Now, to him who has the power to keep you free from stumbling, and to set you before his glory, blameless and with a shout of joy, To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Lord—be glory, majesty, power and authority, before all the ages, now, and into all eternity! Amen.
Personally, I think that this is the best benediction found within all of scripture. It is a reminder that at the end of the day, everything points to Jesus. He is our keeper and he will present us before God’s throne glorified and without compromise. The picture given in verse 24 is worth its weight in gold. Jude tells us that when we will be presented before God the father it will be with shouts of joy. The term that he uses here is the Greek word aÓgalli÷asiß (agalliasis), which literally refers to a “piercing exclamation.” This term is used in the Greek version of the Old Testament 19 times (18 times in the Psalms plus Isaiah 51:11) and in each case, the word is used in connection with worship. When we approach the throne in heaven, it will be with great shouts of worship and praise, if this is so, I wonder why we tend to be so quiet in our worship here. This is also an act which brings God great joy. The Puritan, Thomas Watson once said, “When God calls a man to himself, it is an act that he never repents of.” God rejoices in the completion of his work—in bringing lost sinners to himself, and heaven rejoices with him (Luke 15:10). Friends, love the God that has offered salvation to you. Cling to him. Immerse yourself in his word. To God be the glory, forever and ever!
“Now, show mercy to those who doubt; save others, snatching them from the fire; show mercy mixed with fear, hating even the garment stained by corrupted flesh.”
Jude’s guide for evangelism: Jude moves on to exhort us to make our faith active with an outward expression of faith. Now, there are some who suggest that these exhortations are directed to the faithful in addressing believers who are in various stages of drifting away. While this may be the case, I suggest that in the context of the mission of the Church, these exhortations are a guide for bringing converts into the fold. The church to which Jude is writing has fallen into error because of these false teachers. Error usually is a gradual process, so there are probably quite a few within the congregation that are not saved. Jude is providing this as a tool to deal with these people that are in their midst.
First, we are to be merciful to those who doubt. As God has shown us mercy in our sin, so we need to show mercy toward others. This does not mean that everyone can believe whatever they want, but it means that we also cannot shove our beliefs down someone else’s throat. If change needs to take place, and their conversion is genuine, then the Holy Spirit will do his work in their life. Note that the word that we translate as “doubt” is the Greek word diakri÷nw (diakrino), which means “to consider, evaluate, or doubt.” Jude is making a contrast between the thoughtful doubter who is still wrestling through the question of faith and the mockers who think and speak like unreasoning animals.
Second, we are to snatch others from the fire. When warnings do not work, sometimes a lifeguard is needed. People are saved through hearing the Gospel read and preached, we are to be actively at work in the field of evangelism. The real work is done by the Holy Spirit, but God has blessed us with the privilege of taking part in the process. Thus preachers are commended to faithfully preach the word and believers are commended to faithfully live out that word in the presence of others. Friends, if you are a born again believer, you have a witness or a testimony that can be used by God to draw others near to himself. The question we must ask is whether we are willing to share that testimony with others.
Third, we are to show mercy mixed with fear. Remembering that Godly fear is a humble awe and reverence toward him. We are to always remember from where God has lifted us up as we deal with people where they are, but to be on our guard lest we fall into their pit. Remember once again that God has shown you great mercy. Mercy is best defined as doing for someone else what they cannot do for themselves and what you have no obligation to do for them. That describes what Jesus did for us while we were still sinners, will you demonstrate that kind of mercy to a dying world?
Fourth, we are to hate even the clothing stained by sin. Clothing, in the Biblical mindset, represented status and position. Believers are given Christ’s righteousness to wear as a robe. Unbelievers wear the stained garments of their sinful life. When we evangelize, we are to hate the sin, not the sinner, but must never be tempted to put on the clothes of a sinful life. We are to be holy as God is holy. In turn, it is not only sin that we are to hate, but also the lustful desires that lead to sin. These desires often clothe the blackest sins with fleshly finery. We are to separate ourselves from the corruption that leads to these sins.
“But you, beloved, yourselves being built up in the most holy faith, praying by the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, receiving the mercy of our Lord, Jesus Christ—eternal life.”
He begins the exhortations with guides for spiritual health within the congregation. We are to build ourselves up in the faith. This is different than the puffing up that the false teachers were doing. But building up is done through teaching, Bible study, fellowship, worship, and prayer. It is the laying of a sure foundation upon which our faith can be solidly built.
Secondly, we are to pray by the Holy Spirit. It is a reminder of what Paul teaches us that the Holy Spirit is a guide to our prayers and it is a reminder the Holy Spirit is the third part of the Trinity and an integral part of our salvation, actively working in our lives through the process of sanctification.
Thirdly, we are to keep ourselves in God’s love. Jude is not trying to replace God’s grace, but is linking grace and love together as one goes hand in hand with the other. And he is not suggesting that those who are truly saved can lose their salvation, rather he is saying that when we walk in disobedience, we earn God’s rebuke; we are to walk faithfully, striving for a “well done, my good and faithful servant.”
And Fourthly, we are to rest in the final salvation that Jesus Christ has assured. The judgment of God against unrighteousness means salvation for those who have been saved. What does the mercy of God look like when it is applied to a person’s life? It fully manifests itself in eternal salvation—eternal life in the presence of God himself. What more could we hope to ask?
“But you, beloved, remember the things that were foretold by the apostles of our Lord, Jesus Christ. For they said to you, ‘In the end times there will be mockers chasing their own desires and impiety.’ It is these who cause divisions. Natural ones, they do not have the Spirit.”
A third time Jude uses the word beloved to refer to the people in this church. It is a reminder to us that Jude is not writing here as an angry schoolmaster reprimanding unruly children. Rather, Jude is writing as a faithful brother in Christ, seeking to preserve his family from the dangers that surround it. Jude reminds us that false teachers will abound, which should be a constant reminder to us today. And we should not be surprised by their arrival, but ever watchful to keep our fellowship pure. Then Jude offers us two kinds of exhortations: inward and outward.
It is important for us to remember all of the things that the Apostles and Prophets have said. All of scripture is God-breathed and profitable to prepare the believer for every good work (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is our only guide and standard for life and faith. It will keep us from error and a faithful study of it will prevent us from being seduced by the false teachers who fill the world. The problem is that though we have the Bible available to us in a different translation for every day of the month, we don’t take time to read it or to study it. We see that as the pastor’s job. Yet, who will police the pastor that he does not fall into error and lead others in the same direction? It must be the men and women sitting in the pews who are always seeking a clearer understanding of the truth. Recognize that mockers will come and that they will wreak havoc in the fellowship, but be prepared to deal with them when that happens. That preparation comes by the careful study of scripture.
“And Enoch, the seventh son from Adam, prophesied these things saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with his holy myriads with him to bring judgment against all, to convict all human life of all their works of impiety, which they did impiously, and concerning all the cruelty that impious sinners spoke against Him. These are grumblers and complainers, walking according to their cravings and their mouths speaking boasts, flattering to gain advantage.”
This is the second time that Jude quotes from non-canonical literature. Here he quotes from the Apocalypse of Enoch, pointing to the second coming of Christ with his angels to judge the wicked (if you want a picture of those myriads of angels take a peek at Revelation 5:11). Do you notice a theme in this section? Impious, impious, impious… Sin is impious and sin brings death. It is only by being born again in Jesus Christ that we can be saved from the wrath that is to come. Woe, Woe, Woe. Revelation also contains three woes (Revelation 8:13). Three is a number of completion or fullness. Here we find the fullness of the woes of sinful man. These men have made full and complete their ungodliness and impiety and their judgment to come will be equally full and complete.
Make careful note of verse 15. When Christ comes again, he will execute judgment against all mankind, not just the evil ones. The Apostle John tells us in Revelation 20 that God will judge all mankind according to their works, and all whose names are not written on the Lamb’s Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his minions. No one can stand upon his own works, it simply cannot be done because of indwelling sin. Only Jesus Christ has earned salvation by his works and he alone offers a way to paradise, being clothed in his righteousness. That comes through faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. There is no other way to avoid the punishment that we deserve.
The elect, those whose names are written on the Lamb’s book of life and were written there from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), are the ones who will escape judgment, but all else will face eternal damnation. These, Jude reminds us again, are grumblers and complainers who chase after their own cravings. The word that we translate as “cravings” is the Greek word e˙piqumi÷a (epithumia), which refers to cravings or lusts, more times than not, for things that are forbidden. Also Jude points to judgment for the flatterers. This is the word qauma¿zw (thaumazo) in Greek, which literally means “to marvel” or “to be amazed.” This is not subtle flattery, but loud, boisterous flattery designed to inflate the ego of the listeners.
This is not to categorically state that all that are guilty of grumbling or flatterers are going to Hell, what it reflects is the idea that these things should not reflect the heart of the believer. God forgives us when we stumble and repent of our sins, yet if we remain hardened and unrepentant, we will face eternal punishment.
All of Jude’s warnings can begin to weigh on you. He warns you from the past, the present, and the future. But there is a reason that we are given warnings—they often keep us from harming ourselves. When I was in the Boy Scouts, I took Life-Saving Merit Badge. A great deal of the badge dealt with water rescues. But one of the things that the instructor impressed upon us was the value of preventive measures. Those measures begin with clearly posted warning signs. The letter of Jude is one of those signs.
Before we shift gears into Jude’s exhortation to the faithful of the church, I want to drive home the need to beware. There are spiritual predators who seek to fill your pulpits and they will seek to guide you down a false path. Watch closely through the eyes of scripture and prayer, not being impressed by flash or new ideas but holding true to the faith that was taught by the Apostles and handed down through the ages.
“They are a stain to your love feasts, eating without fear, shepherding themselves; they are waterless clouds, blown by the wind—unfruitful trees in late autumn—twice dead and uprooted. They are wild waves at sea, foaming up their own shame, wandering stars for whom the dark gloom of eternity has been kept.”
Eating without fear: These men have fully engaged in the “love feasts” or the aÓga¿ph (agape), which given its context both here and in historical literature, is most likely what we call Holy Communion today. Paul writes a stern warning against those who would approach the Lord’s table in an unworthy manner and goes as far as to say that those who do eat and drink judgment upon themselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). Unbelievers sometimes balk when we fence the communion table, preventing them from participating, but we do that not to exclude them, but to save them from imminent judgment. To the unbeliever, the communion cup is a cup of poison and judgment, it should be understood that it is a blessing that we withhold communion from those who would take it wrongly.
But this warning is important for believers to here as well as unbelievers. This is because those who would come to the communion table still holding sins or hatred against a brother, being unrepentant, also heap judgment upon themselves. We need to come to the table with great joy at the privilege that has been offered to us, but at the same time, we should approach God with fear and trembling, trusting in his grace and not taking that privilege and gift for granted.
Shepherding Themselves: These men have assumed the role of pastor without any concern or care for the sheep—they just want a paycheck to satisfy their own lusts. If a shepherd is not vigilant, the sheep will soon be devoured. These men are reckless with the flock that they tend and are more interested in the condition of their bellies than the spiritual condition of their flock.
One of my fears is that when we ordain men to the Gospel ministry, we pay more attention to the facts they know than to the man’s character. This is a recipe for disaster. Robert Murray M’Cheyene once stated that the greatest need of his congregation was his personal holiness. How true that is!
Waterless clouds: A cloud that is without rain may look pretty from a distance, but when up close you will quickly realize that they have no substance. They are valueless and will drift along with the winds of change. Oh, how this speaks of many American pastors today! How many ministers of the Gospel really cherish the Gospel they have been called to preach? How many would lay down their life to preserve the truth of the Gospel? How many pastors have the spiritual depth and density to truly feed their congregations? When sermons are filled with fluff, it is likely that the preacher is filled with the same. Jesus said that those who would come to him in faith would become fountains of water (John 7:38). As the Holy Spirit waters the believer in abundance, the believer’s cup runneth over with rivers of living water. To use the language of 2 Peter, these men are dry wells.
Fruitless trees: Not only do these trees bear no fruit, making them useless, but it is late in autumn and they have no sap in their veins to nourish growth and they are uprooted, never to see growth again. These men are twice dead, they are dead to sin here on earth and they are dead spiritually, an enemy of the giver of life. As Jesus said, the branches that do not bear fruit will be cut off, and they will wither and die being separated from the sap, and then, they will be thrown into the fire (John 15:1-8). Friends, our Lord has told us that we are to judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20), these men are not only bearing no fruit, but there is no hope for them to bear fruit—they are twice dead. Be alert to those who would come in your midst in a like manner.
Wild waves: The ocean waves are loud and chaotic. Their shame and immorality is like the foam at the top of a breaker. They rage wildly in their sin without trying to hide it. They crash to the shore and they toss everything and everyone caught in their breakers around wildly. There is no safety to be found in these waters, only destruction. Remember that even in Jude’s day the sea was a place of danger and mystery, and so too are these false teachers.
Wandering stars: The language of stars is often used of angels, and in the context of verse 6, this implies that the false teachers will share the same fate as the fallen angels. They will be lost in darkness and damned forever. The believer will spend eternity with Christ, the unbeliever will spend eternity separated from Christ. Christ is true light and apart from him there is no light at all. Flames, weeping, gnashing of teeth, the worm consuming, separation from all that is good and right, and darkness—not a pretty image.
And none of this paints a pretty picture of the people who have become leaders in the church to which Jude is writing. This is a dark time for them. These men are destined for Hell in more ways than one and the church has fallen into their trap. Yet, these descriptions are sadly contemporary. Many churches, as well as whole denominations, have been seduced by men like this. We must be ever vigilant that we do not allow anyone to lead us or our congregation down such roads. We need to be keenly aware of who we ask to lead us. We need to watch to see whether these men are ones who will build up Christ’s body or only their own. We need to see whether they will bring unity or discord. We need to see whose agenda they are working toward. And most importantly, we need to see whether their life is pointing toward Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. These are not only questions that should be asked of pastors, but should be asked of all the members of Christ’s visible church. And, we absolutely must be asking them about our own lives.
The Three Woes:
“Woe to them who have traveled the way of Cain, and to them who have committed the error of Balaam, who have dedicated themselves to wages, and to those who perished in Korah’s rebellion.”
1) The way of Cain: Instead of taking the way of Christ, these false teachers are taking the way of Cain. Cain resented the purity of his brother’s sacrifice, and sought to destroy it. He perverted worship and he allowed pride to reign in his life.
2) Balaam’s Error: Instead of following the truth of Christ, Balaam sought to curse God’s anointed for his own gain and sought to mislead the Israelites into disobeying God’s law. He perverted the truth of doctrine for his own benefit. In addition, Balaam also taught Balak how to seduce the young Israelite men and bring them into sin (Revelation 2:14).
3) Korah’s rebellion: Instead of seeking to live as Christ, Korah sought to usurp rule and authority from Moses and the true priesthood. He perverted the life of the people of God, bringing disorder to the church.
These men are all apostate and brought destruction to the people who followed them. Woe to them, they are perverters of worship. Woe to them, they are perverters of the fellowship of God’s people. Woe to them, they are perverters of the leadership of Christ’s church. All of these men put their pride and personal desires ahead of the good of God’s people. Each of these men were destroyed for their sin.
“As Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, in like manner committing sexual sin and going after each other’s flesh, they are set before you as an example of suffering justice and eternal fire.”
Thirdly, Jude deals with the sin of sexual immorality by pointing to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This destruction is only a shadow of the destruction that will come on the ungodly in final judgment, for at that time the fire of judgment will be eternal.
Friends, we live in a culture that glorifies sexual immorality, not unlike the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Our culture has rejected the idea that sexuality is meant to be enjoyed within the confines of a marriage relationship. To understand why this is, we must understand what sexuality represents. Sexual relations between a husband and his wife represent the sealing of their marriage covenant, which is why we say that a marriage is not consummated until after sexual relations have occurred. Covenants, both in Biblical language and in the larger ancient world, were confirmed by the shedding of blood. The shedding of blood when a husband takes his wife in sexual relations and her hymen is broken is representative of the confirmation of this covenant. Afterwards, when a husband and a wife come together to the marriage bed, they are renewing the covenant which they made with each other before God.
This is why marital infidelity is so heinous in the eyes of God. For not only does it break the emotional and spiritual trust that is to be held within a family relationship, but it is a breaking of the covenant which was made by bringing someone who is not a member of the covenant into the covenant relationship. This is also why pre-marital sex is considered a sin, for it pretends to confirm a covenant that has never been made.
Throughout scripture, God uses the illustration of marriage to represent his covenant with his people. He is the faithful husband and Israel is the wife who falls repeatedly into sin. When the church worships idols, she brings an outsider into the marriage bed. To confirm the covenant with his people, God shed his own blood—the blood of Christ on the cross—thus, when God’s people fall into idolatry, they are simply playing at a covenant that does not exist.
Just as God uses the illustration of marriage to represent his relationship to the church, his faithfulness in his marriage to the church is to be modeled in the marriages of his people. Given that we live in a culture where the divorce rate amongst believers is as high as it is in the culture, it would seem that we don’t tend to take this very seriously. Friends, the faithfulness that you demonstrate within your marriage sends a message to the world about what you think of God’s faithfulness. If you want to send a message to the world that we must take our covenant with God seriously, then you must do so by demonstrating to the world how you take your covenant with your spouse seriously.
The sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah and the sexual immorality of our culture today mocks the covenant relationship that God has with his people. It makes light of the blood that was shed to confirm such a covenant. And, it downplays the idea of the covenant itself. The penalty for these two wicked cities and for all of the surrounding cities was for God to rain down fire upon them, wiping them from the face of the earth. And, this is the same judgment that faces those in our own culture that chase after sexual immorality—in the day of judgment. Our culture has exchanged the truth of God for a lie. We have adopted the idea that momentary pleasure is better than lasting pleasure and physical pleasure is better than spiritual pleasure. The pleasure that God offers in himself is eternal and infinitely satisfying. The pleasures of the flesh are fleeting and leave you unsatisfied and with a guilty conscience. Which will you chose?
“And the angels who did not hold to their own office, but deserted their own dwelling place to enter judgment on that great day, are kept, chained eternally in gloom.”
Secondly, Jude describes the pride of the fallen angels, who looked to increase their own power and authority above the position that they had been set to by God himself. They have been cast out of their original place, which is heaven, and have been kept chained in darkness for judgment. This is a verse that has brought many a misinterpretation because we know that demons, which are fallen angels, travel the earth seeking to destroy. Two things that we must remember. First, while Satan and his minions are working to attack us, they are like a lion on a tether. They are chained and can only go as far as God allows them to go. God allows them to roam for many reasons (judgment on unbelievers, testing the faith of believers, restraining the pride of believers, etc…), but they can never go further than God allows. Secondly, these fallen angels once lived in Heaven in the very presence of God. When you have seen the glory of God face to face, even the brightest day on earth is as black as pitch.
We don’t know a lot about the fall of the angels, for scripture does not tell us much. We know of Satan’s fall from Revelation 12 and how he took one-third of the stars (a symbol regularly used to describe angels) with him. These are his minions. And, there is no forgiveness for fallen angels. You see, the angels understood the full glory of God and chose to reject it. Our rejection is a rejection based on sin and ignorance, not full knowledge of the truth. Even Adam, who walked with God, did not quite understand the fullness of God’s glory—that would be revealed in Christ’s work. As Augustine wrote, “more is gained in Christ than was lost in the fall.”
If we understand Ezekiel 28:11-19 as a statement of the fall of Satan, as many hold, then we understand that reason that was underlying the fall of Satan and his angels was pride. Jude builds on this when he says that the angels “did not hold to their own office…” The word that we translate as “hold” is the Greek word, thre÷w (tereo), which means “to keep”, “to hold”, “to guard”, or even “to cherish.” The word that we translate as “office” is the Greek word aÓrch\n (archan), which refers to a sphere of influence (note that the word also can mean “from the beginning” and is the word we get “arcane” from).
These angels demonstrate for us what pride looks like. They were unsatisfied with the place in the created order that God had given them, thus they despised that place, and sought to elevate themselves above God. This was also the sin of Adam and Eve. And, as Paul writes, it is the pride of a debased mind that leads to unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, mean-spiritedness, gossip, slander, God hating, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, inventions of evil, disobedience to parents, covenant breaking, lacking of affection, and lacking the ability to show mercy (Romans 1:29-31). Friends, pride gives birth to this. This is the result of the fall and these things reflect the general disposition of the Devil. When we chase after sin, choosing it over righteousness, we chase after these things. Christian, seek the righteousness of God and the fruit of the Spirit; reflect God in your daily living and not the devil.
“Now I want to remind you, though you have known all these things, that the Lord once saved a people from the land of Egypt and afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”
(Jude 5-7, ESV)
Within this section that offers warnings from the history of Israel, we find three sins that are being addressed: Idolatry, Pride, and Sexual Perversion. In the context of the letter of Jude, these sins are likely the sins that these false teachers have brought with them. Jude wants the church of his day, and by extension, the church of all ages to understand just how dangerous these sins are and that God will not permit these sins to flourish in the life of his people. These are sins of the world and Christians are not to be of the world.
These are also extraordinarily dangerous sins. The medieval church developed what they called the “Seven Deadly Sins” which were wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lechery, envy, gluttony. One pastor friend of mine argues that all sins stem from the sin of pride—as pride was at the heart of the first sin. I would argue that Jude is laying out a trio of sins that God deals most harshly against. There are certainly some sins that God is a bit more lenient towards when you read the ancient law, for example, but these three sins are sins against which God’s heaviest wrath is poured out. And, I would suggest that the reason for this is two-fold. First, these three sins will surely and rapidly take you out of fellowship with God. Second, these sins produce other sins in a person’s life.
Remember well the Apostle Paul’s argument in Romans 1. The reality of God can be seen in his natural revelation—Creation itself—but people chose to chase after their own desires, “exchanging the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:25). Their punishment for their denial of God was to be left to their sin. Sin destroys—it corrodes our souls. But Paul emphasizes three sins in particular: Idolatry (vs. 25), Sexual Perversion (vss. 26-27), and Pride (vs. 28). These are the same three sins that Jude is bringing out, and from these three sins, flow all other sinful living (Romans 1:29-32).
The greatest problem that the Israelites had in their wilderness wanderings was Idolatry. Over and over again, the people are contending with Moses about how things were so much better in Egypt. They made the golden calf, and as they approached the promised land, they also engaged in idolatry with the pagans of the region. Because of this, God kept them in the wilderness for forty years so that none of the original people who left Egypt would enter the Promised Land. Many of these were even killed directly with sickness, war, or natural disaster. Yet, even in the midst of such idolatry, God preserved a faithful remnant for himself.
We may be tempted to wonder about what God was doing, rescuing his people and then killing off those who were unfaithful. Yet, what happened in the wilderness is a picture of what will happen in judgment. There are many who have entered into fellowship with the visible church, but not all of these people are born again believers. There will come a time when we will all stand before God’s throne of judgment and whether we are redeemed or condemned will have nothing to do with which membership card we held in life. It will have everything to do with whether we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Anything that has captured our hearts other than Jesus—whether that be our money, our careers, our families, our accomplishments, etc…–this is idolatry. And idolatry is not something that God tolerates in his body.
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ, brother of James, to those who have been loved in God the father, and who have been guarded and called for Jesus Christ: May mercy be to you and may peace and love be multiplied.”
As mentioned earlier, Jude identifies himself not as Jesus’ half-brother, but as Jesus’ servant and brother of James. It is a clear reminder to us that we are to take a humble attitude when we approach leadership roles. We are called to be servants, not masters and Jude’s attitude exemplifies just this mindset. Jude also reminds us as we read this letter, that those of us who are called and elect are beloved to God and kept, not on our own strength but guarded by the power of God and held for Jesus. There is a great eternal wedding that God has planned and He has called a people to himself—the church—to be the bride of his beloved son, Jesus. What a blessing to be called beloved of God. This is the name that God gave to Solomon (Jedidiah: see 2 Samuel 12: 25).
The blessing is also interesting. Not only does he pray for mercy, which is unusual (only 1 & 2 Timothy and 2 John contain mercy in their blessing), but it is the only epistle where mercy is listed first. I think that it is an indication that there are serious problems in this church. The people have clearly, based on the text, fallen astray, following these false teachers, they are in need of God’s mercy.
Note also that Jude’s blessing is for peace and love to be multiplied while mercy stands alone. Though one may argue that all three of these items are connected, as many modern translations would lead you to believe, the Greek sets mercy apart from the other two blessings. Perhaps this is because of the problems that are going on in this church. One of the things that these false teachers are doing is to create disharmony within the fellowship and to pervert the people’s love feasts. All sinners desperately need the mercy of God, yet, given the issues going on within this fellowship, they especially need God’s peace and love to shape their fellowship.
Author: Jude: the half-brother of Jesus. Reference Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13: 55. He is also the brother of James (the author of the epistle James, see Galatians 1:19 as well as Jude 1 for this connection). These were two of the children that Mary and Joseph had by normal means. We know little more than this about Jude other than the fact that Hippolytus (c. 170-232 AD) records that Jude preached in Greece and Macedonia, where he met his martyrdom (there is another tradition that Jude was martyred in Persia, which is in the area of modern day Iran/Iraq, but I have not been able to verify the origin of that tradition).
Why does Jude, which is short for Judas or Judah (Greek and Hebrew respectively), not refer to himself as Jesus’ half-brother? Humility. The brothers of Jesus did not become followers until after Jesus’ resurrection (we do not see them as part of the fold until Acts 1:14). It is a reminder to us that no matter what our pedigree, we are to see ourselves as servants of Jesus Christ.
Date: Little is known about Jude or the timing of the book, so we must be careful that we do not become too dogmatic about our position on this. Usually a date in the late 60s is suggested. The primary guide that we can work with is the second letter of Peter, which contains a remarkable number of parallel statements—so remarkable that it is almost impossible to see these letters as being connected.
While we don’t know much about the dating of Jude, we do have a fairly good idea about the dating of 2 Peter. We know from the early church records that Peter was martyred during the reign of Nero. Nero committed suicide in 68 AD as his power was about to be usurped. We also know that Nero’s persecution of Christians grew as he progressed in his reign.
Peter likely went to Jerusalem in the early sixties to assume a leadership role in the church there. This is the place from which Peter likely wrote both of his epistles. Given that Peter’s first epistle is written to churches that Paul founded and shepherded through written communications, it makes sense that Peter’s first letter was written either after Paul’s martyrdom or at least at the point in Paul’s imprisonment that he could no longer correspond with his churches. This, Peter took over in his stead. Since Paul is usually considered to have been martyred around 64 AD, it is likely that Peter’s first letter was not written until at least that point. And given the internal evidence (2 Peter 3:1) that Peter’s second epistle was written to the same churches as he wrote his first epistle to, that places his second letter later as well. My suggestion is that 2 Peter was probably written between 66 and 67 AD, just before Peter’s own martyrdom (2 Peter 1:14).
The question we must ask, then, was Jude written before or after Peter’s second letter? Or, in other words, was Peter building off of Jude’s letter or was Jude building off of Peter’s. The answer seems to be found in the connection between 2 Peter 3:3 and Jude 18. Both verses speak of the “mockers” who will come in the end times. The difference is that when Jude makes this comment, he does so as a quote from “the apostles.” The word that they both use, which means “one who mocks,” is the Greek word e˙mpai÷kthß (empaiktas). These two verses are the only two occurrences of this term in the New Testament, thus the only Apostle that Jude can be quoting from is the Apostle Peter.
This places the letter of Jude as having been written some time after AD 66/67. This also means that Jude was likely written to the same churches as Peter wrote his epistles to, given that only they would understand the reference that Jude was making. This seems to make sense, given the context of both letters, given that Peter speaks of the false teachers as coming (2 Peter 2:1) and Jude speaks of false teachers being present (Jude 4). Thus Peter is writing as a warning to beware of what is to come and Jude is writing to call people to cast out those who have come.
Though this may seem like a rather meaningless debate, it is important to note that Jude was writing under Peter’s authority. The early church fathers, when they were being led by the Holy Spirit to discern whether a book that was circulating amongst the churches was genuinely authoritative and the prophetic word of God, the primary criterion that they used was that of apostolic authorship (or oversight). Given that there are such striking similarities between Jude and 2 Peter, it is not hard to recognize the influence of one upon the other. Recognizing Peter, the apostle, as influencing the writing of Jude’s letter, then was an important factor in the recognition of this book as authoritative, as Jude himself, was not an Apostle.
Place of Origin: Again, this is an educated guess, no more. If the book is dated shortly after Peter’s death, falling in the late sixties it is likely to have been written in Rome. Were it written in the early seventies, it may have been penned from one of the churches that Jude was preaching at in Macedonia. Since it seems reasonable to date this within a fairly short period of time of the circulation of Peter’s second letter (the power of the language—things being repeated from one letter to the next—would diminish over time),my suggestion is that Jude wrote it from Rome within a few years of Peter’s death.
Destination and Audience: If I am correct in that Jude was writing to the same churches that Peter had been writing to, then the audience would be the churches in what is today modern Turkey. These are churches that were largely founded by the Apostle Paul during his missionary journeys, which adds support to the later dating of this letter. Jude makes a point of introducing himself as the brother of James. This may be simply a way of indicating which Jude he was (there were others) or it may be a way of connecting his letter to James’ earlier letter. Again, these are questions that fall into the realm of reason and not revelation, so we must be content in waiting for a definite answer until we are in a position to ask the author himself.
Book of Judges Outline
I. The Crisis and Conquest after Joshua’s Death (1:1-36)
a. Who shall go up to fight for us? (1:1-2)
b. Judah and Simeon go up & defeat the Canaanites (1:3-7)
c. Judah fights and takes the city of Jerusalem (1:8-10)
d. Continued conquest (1:11-20)
e. Benjamin fails to drive out the Jebusites (1:21)
f. Joseph takes Bethel (1:22-26)
g. Manasseh) fails to drive out Canaanites (1:27-28)
h. Ephraim fails to drive out Canaanites (1:29)
i. Zebulun fails to drive out Canaanites (1:30)
j. Asher fails to drive out Canaanites (1:31-32)
k. Naphtali fails to drive out Canaanites (1:33)
l. Dan pushed back by the Amorites (1:34)
m. Joseph halts Amorite advance (1:35-36)
II. First cycle of Sin
a. The Angel of the Lord pronounces judgment for not breaking down pagan altars (2:1-5)
b. The people return to their homes under Joshua’s leadership and lived in peace all of the days of Joshua’s life and of the lives of those who knew him (2:6-10)
c. The people did “The Evil” (2:11-13)
d. God gives them up to their enemies (2:14-15)
e. The Summary of the Book (2:16-3:6)
III. Second Cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (3:7)
b. The people served the Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia for 8 years (3:8)
c. God raised up Othniel as a deliverer (3:9-10)
d. The land had “rest” 40 years (3:11)
IV. Third cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (3:12)
b. The people served the Eglon, king of Moab for 18 years (3:12-14)
i. Possible setting for the book of Ruth?
c. God raised up Ehud as a deliverer (3:15-29)
d. The land had “rest” for 80 years (3:30)
e. God raised up Shamgar as deliverer against the Philistines (3:31)
V. Fourth cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (4:1)
b. Jabin, King of Canaan & Sisera conquered for 20 years (4:2-3)
c. God raised up Deborah as deliverer (4:4-24)
d. The Song of Deborah (5:1-31)
e. The land had rest for 40 years (5:31)
VI. Fifth cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (6:1)
b. Midian conquered for 7 years (6:2-6)
c. God sends a prophet to speak warning to the people (6:7-10)
d. God raises up Gideon as deliverer (6:11-8:21)
e. The people seek to make Gideon king (8:22-27)
f. The land had rest for 40 years (8:28)
VII. Interlude: Abimelech’s reign
a. The people enter into idolatry (8:29-35)
b. The rise of Abimelech to power (9:1-6)
c. The Parable of the Trees (9:7-15)
d. The Judgment of Jotham (9:16-21)
e. Abimelech reigns for 3 years (9:22)
f. The fall of Abimelech (9:23-57)
g. God raised up Tola as judge for 23 years (10:1-2)
h. God raised up Jair as judge for 22 years (10:3-5)
VIII. Sixth Cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (10:6)
b. The Philistines conquered for 18 years (10:7-9)
c. The people repent and the Lord rebukes them (10:10-16)
d. Who will go up for us? (10:17-18)
e. God raises up Jephthah as deliverer (11:1-33)
f. The result of Jephthah’s hasty vow (11:34-40)
g. Jephthah leads the people of Gilead against the people of Ephraim (12:1-6)
h. Jepthah judged Israel for 6 years (12:7)
i. God raised up Ibzan as judge for 7 years (12:8-10)
j. God raised up Elon as judge for 10 years (12:11-12)
k. God raised up Abdon as judge for 8 years (12:13-15)
IX. Seventh Cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (13:1)
b. The Philistines conquered for 40 years (13:1)
c. God raises up Samson as deliverer (13:2-15:19)
d. Samson judges Israel for 20 years (15:20)
e. Samson and Delilah (16:1-22)
f. Samson’s Faithful Death (16:23-31)
X. Interlude: Micah, two Levites, the Tribe of Dan, and the Concubine
a. Micah and the Levite (17:1-13)
b. Micah’s Idol and Levite taken by the Tribe of Dan (18:1-31)
c. The Levite and his Concubine (19:1-30)
d. The people of Israel avenge the Levite against Benjamin (20:1-48)
e. Wives for the men of the tribe of Benjamin (21:1-24)
XI. Close of the Book
a. “There was no king in Israel and everyone did what is right in their own eyes”