“You shall understand this, ones who forget God, lest I tear you and there be nothing to deliver: he glorifies me who makes a sacrifice of thanksgiving and who orders his way; I will show him the salvation of God.
It comes across as a broken record, but lest we forget the significance of this psalm for us today, recall that these words are spoken to God’s covenant people — not to the pagans. Yet, God calls his own, “those who forget God.” How have they forgotten God? As we have seen, they are going through the motions of sacrifice and ritual but their hearts and their lives to not reflect their devotion to the one they claim to serve and their actions look like the actions of the pagans.
How appropriate these words are for the church as well. How often the church behaves as if they do not believe that God exists. How often non-believers in our communities act with more compassion and morality than folks in the church? How often the old axiom is true that the Church kills its wounded rather than caring for them. How often it is that the conservative church rightly protects its doctrine and utterly neglects living that doctrine out in life. How often the people of God behave more like goats than sheep.
And so, God issues a warning in these final verses of the psalm. Do this, he says, lest you be torn to shreds and there be nothing left of you to redeem — fearful words spoken by God on high. They are a reminder of the unfaithful prophet who was not to eat or drink in Israel yet disobeyed (see 1 Kings 13) or of the young boys who mocked Elisha (see 2 Kings 2:23-25) and it is also a reminder of the punishment for failing to fulfill the covenant (Genesis 15:7-11) — that is, one’s life be forfeit. God is saying that if your life does not reflect these two things that you are an imposter amongst the people of God’s grace and are thus deserving of death for your wickedness. Ought then we not pay close attention to what these two things are?
What are those two things? We are called to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving and to order our ways. The latter command is the more obvious of the two. How do we order our ways but than by obedience to the law of God. Of what is our sacrifice of thanksgiving? While the book of Leviticus does prescribe thanksgiving offerings (see Leviticus 7:12-15; 22:29), more often than not, especially once we are in the New Testament context where altar sacrifices have been abolished by the sacrifice of Christ, you find the sacrifice of thanksgiving in the context of giving God praise. And thus, twice in this psalm we are called to praise God with thanksgiving as well as in Psalm 107:22 and in Psalm 116:17. Jonah too, speaks of making a sacrifice of thanksgiving with his voice (Jonah 2:9) and thus the author of Hebrews instructs us that we are to offer a sacrifice of praise as the fruit of our lips (Hebrews 13:15).
The question with which we are left then, is, “Are we doing those two things?” And recognize that this is a question to be posed to the church as a whole. Are we doing that both individually and corporately. And if not, then shall we repent? If we are the true church, we will.
“If you see a thief, you are accepting of him and you have a portion with adulterers. You address your mouth to evil and your tongue joins in deceit. You sit to speak against your brother and your mother’s son you slander.”
Remember once again, God is not rebuking the pagan unbeliever here, he is speaking to his own covenant people. Indeed, these words should convict us at just how greatly we tolerate sin in the life of the church. We accept thieves. No, perhaps not the masked bandits who climb into the open windows of people’s homes, but how often are the people of God guilty of cheating on their taxes, stealing from a government to which God calls us to pay our taxes (Romans 13:6). How often God’s people are guilty of borrowing from one another or from the church with no intention of repaying? And how often do the people of God work to steal the joy of blessings from one another when things are going poorly! And when this happens, where are the Elders when it comes to disciplining the body? No, they are accepting of the sin.
Similarly the same can be said with adultery. And likewise, while there may not be active adultery taking place on a physical level, Jesus reminds us that if we even think with lust in our hearts about a man or a woman, then we are guilty of the sin even if we never act upon it (Matthew 5:27-30). And thus sin is committed in thought as well as deed and it applies to things that our culture considers of no consequence, things like pornography and flirtatious behavior. And again, if one turns a blind eye toward the sin, one is guilty of having a portion with them.
And then, what shall we say about the tongue? For the Christian, the tongue is for blessing, for speaking truth, and for singing praises to God with thanksgiving. We are not to be given to lies (big or small), half-truths, fowl language, slander, gossip, back-biting, or any other sort of language that tears people down — even if we say, “Bless his heart…” afterwards. That which comes out of the mouth of a person is what defiles and reveals the sinfulness of their heart (Mark 7:18-23). To adapt a phrase from a popular movie of the 1990’s, “Evil is as Evil does.”
The question is not whether sins like this will show themselves in the Christian church but instead, what is done with them when they do show themselves. Do the guilty repent and seek to amend their ways? If so, good. If not, do the Elders act with loving discipline to call on the body to amend their ways? If so, good. If not, be wary, you may not be in a true church. There will be ample times where there is a want of discipline; there ought never be a neglect of discipline in the church of Jesus Christ.
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.”