[Feb 28]--Omnipresence

Exodus 40: 34-38

The book of Exodus ends on a glorious scene-literally. The last few chapters describe in excruciating detail how the Hebrews meticulously put together the priestly garments, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Tabernacle. After all this painstaking labor, the Tabernacle--where men would officially meet God--was completed. God appeared and so filled the tabernacle that Moses had to step out. The Lord’s glory was there, and there was no room for men. I wish every worship experience on Sunday would be like that.

This seems like a good time to think about omnipresence. Most people know (or can figure out) that the term refers to the fact that God is everywhere in all creation, but they might not have thought out what that means.

First, here are some Scriptures which talk about God in this way. Solomon, when he dedicated his temple, declared “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” The Lord, when confronting rebellious sinners, claimed through his prophet "'Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?' declares the Lord. 'Do not I fill heaven and earth?'declares the Lord?" and of course the expected answer is obvious. But the ultimate declaration of God’s omnipresence is found in Psalm 139: "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast."

But if God is everywhere, then what do we mean when we say we’re “entering his presence”? How could God be anymore “here” than “there”? What exactly happened in today’s passage? I think that the modern world has a profound analogy which might shed some light on this. Think of radio waves. They surround us, go through the walls of our home, and even go through our bodies. But our five senses don’t register them at all, and if some tribesman in Africa was never exposed to the outside world, he'd never know radio waves even exist. Until. . . . he happened to pick up a radio and turned it on. Once he turned it on and turned that little knob to the right frequency, he'd hear what the radio station was playing.

I believe that it’s the same with us. I used to attend a church that met in a gym. During the week, people played basketball, did aerobics and all sorts of other activities, and many of them just thought of it as a gym. What was the difference on Sunday morning? It’s that a group of people met together for the express purpose of “tuning into” our Savior God. When I do my personal devotions, Bible reading, and prayer, I’m “tuning into” what my Father has to say to me and what I want to say to him.

This thought can be incredibly comforting and disturbing at the same time. Through Christ, I have access to the Lord anytime day or night. The question is not “Is God here?” The only question is “Am I listening to the right frequency?”

Lord, please speak, for your servant is listening.

[Feb 27]--God’s Glory Revealed

Exodus 33:12-23; 34:5-7

One of the great paradoxes of the Christian life is our yearning for God’s presence. Once we start to truly fellowship with and worship our Savior, we start to get more of a sense of his closeness. As we sense him, we're utterly satisfied, and at the same time we’re not. We desire more, and yet we’re a little fearful of what might happen if we completely give ourselves over to him.

This is the heart’s desire of every believer who's started to grow in Christ, and it was manifested in this passage. The people of God had come within a hairsbreadth of being destroyed, because while Moses was receiving the Law, they were participating in disgusting sexual orgies and blatant idolatry. I want you to ponder that for a moment: The Lord wasn't even finished giving his Law to his people before they broke it (which is just a foretaste of their level of obedience throughout their history). Moses came down, saw what was happening, and in a burst of temper, smashed the stones on which the Law was written. He then spent the next forty days straight pleading for his people so that God wouldn’t just annihilate them and start over.

After spending so much time in his intimate presence for so many days, Moses asked for the unthinkable, for God to completely reveal himself. The Lord mercifully didn’t give him exactly what he wanted, since to be exposed to the full presence (or “face”) would be like standing at ground zero of a nuclear blast. However, he did partially give in to the request.

After putting Moses in the cleft of a rock and putting his “hand” over him (remember what we said about anthropomorphism), he passed by and allowed Moses to see his “back.” According to the NIV Study Bible, this is probably referring to the aftereffects of God’s passing by.

The interesting thing to me, however, is how God revealed himself to Moses. If Moses saw any physical manifestation, it’s not recorded. What the Lord did reveal, though was his “Name.” Wait a minute, I thought he revealed his true name back in chapter 3: “I am.” That name is used here, but this is more than just knowing what to call him. “Name” is used in Scripture to refer to your reputation and character. The Lord Almighty reveals to us here his true self. This is far more important than any physical manifestation, since the Lord can make himself appear however he pleases. What he is, however, never changes. He's  the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love and mercy, and he always will be. If you continue reading the Old Testament, this “name” of God is found multiple times. The Psalmist quotes this. Jonah was reluctant to go to Nineveh for this exact reason: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” He knew what type of God had sent him, and we know also. Everyday, he shows me that he’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Father, you are truly the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. I love you.

[Feb 26]--Heart and Shoulders

Exodus 28:9-21, 29

If you weren’t raised in the Catholic Church, then the word “priest” might not be too important to you. In the atmosphere of American Protestant Christianity, which tends to emphasize the nearness of God a lot more than the transcendence of him, the idea that we need a Priest might seem foreign to us. To the ancient Hebrew, however, the priesthood was vital. You would have no problem convincing him that the priest was a very important person. Especially after the display on Mount Sinai during the giving of the Ten Commandments, most thinking people would not be all that anxious to approach the Lord and initiate an intimate relationship with him. They were perfectly happy to have Moses be their mediator as far as giving them the Law, and Aaron and his descendants were appointed to be the “go-betweens” for everyday average Israelites on a permanent basis.

If you've read the book of Hebrews, then you know that the Aaronic priesthood was a shadow of the final and ultimate High Priest, namely our Lord Jesus. What the priests couldn’t accomplish under the Old Covenant, Jesus did. He ascended to Heaven, sat down at the right hand of God, and even now intercedes for us before the Father.

If we believe that the priesthood of Aaron was a type (remember that word?), a foreshadowing, an illustration of the Lord Jesus, then why would we ignore what the Old Testament says about it? Today’s passage is one of the most beautiful illustrations I’ve ever seen of the Lord Jesus as our High Priest and what that entails, and a lot of Christians miss it.

The Aaronic priest had very detailed instructions about every aspect of his service, and this of course included his “work uniform.” They made his robe, his turban, his belt, and his undergarments, but what interests me here are his shoulder pieces and his breastplate. They inscribed on two separate onyx stones the names of the tribes of Israel (Reuben, Simeon, Judah, etc.) and placed these stones on the shoulder pieces for the priest. They also fashioned a breast-piece and mounted upon it twelve stones, each stone again representing a tribe of Israel. In this way, every time the priest entered the presence of God, offered the sacrifices, and interceded for the people, he literally carried their names on his shoulders and heart.

That, my friend, is what our High Priest does for us. When he ascended up to the right hand of God the Father, he carried our names on his heart and on his shoulders. He bore the burden of our sins, and he even now carries the weight of our concerns, our fears, our heartaches, our pains. We're always on his heart, and he knows each of us by name. Yes, even you.

Lord Jesus, thank you.

[Feb 25]--People and Things

Exodus 22:25-27; Deut. 24:10-13

When discussing the commandment against stealing, I made the point that God apparently values property rights, meaning that although ultimately you don’t own your “stuff,” your neighbor doesn’t own your stuff either. While this is pretty obvious, there have been quite a few debates within the church over the last 30-40 years about which view of economics is closest to the biblical worldview. How high should taxes go? How much should government regulate businesses and wages? The Bible doesn’t give too many cut and dried answers on these issues, but there are some questions which I think we can answer.

No matter what your view on taxes or government regulation, we can lay down one principle which should overshadow all discussion on economics: People are more important than things. The Torah had the death penalty for several crimes which we'd never sanction today: blasphemy, cursing one’s parents, kidnapping, adultery; but theft was not one of them. The absolute worst punishment one could receive for property theft would be a hefty fine several times the worth of the stolen item (see here, for example). Apparently God considered things like parental authority much more important than any type of theft (except for theft of people, otherwise known as kidnapping, which was a capital crime).

On the issue of interest for loans, this used to be a much more debated issue within the church, since the international banking system is a relatively recent development. The Medieval Church (on the basis of passages like today’s reading) usually outlawed any form of interest, but Jews tended to interpret it as “excessive” interest. The Jewish argument is that interest is the payment the loaner receives for the use of the money; if there’s no interest, then in most situations the lender actually loses money. Friends would never charge interest in a personal loan, and you shouldn't charge interest if you're making an emergency loan to someone in immediate need, but a bank has to make some type of profit, or it'll close its doors and its potential borrowers will be robbed of its resources. The passage in Exodus specifically and explicitly differentiates what it's talking about from a business deal. This is not talking about taking a loan to start a small business. This is loaning something to your neighbor to keep them from starving or freezing to death. I find the Jewish case to be persuasive, but the main point of this passage remains unchanged: People are more important than things.

When examining the Deuteronomy passage for today, I think we need to use the principle/application method. Why would God care about how a creditor collects a debt? Because human dignity is important to him. Imagine that you’re a debtor, and someone storms into your home and demands repayment in front of your wife and children. How would that make you feel? If you're so poor that you have to put up your coat as collateral, then the Lord commands the creditor to show compassion. Again, people are more important than things.

I might not be an international banker, but I still might need to examine my attitude towards things and people. In almost every book of the Bible you will find warnings about how we treat the poor and/or encouragement for us to be generous. Proverbs 19:17 says that “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” If my very soul belongs to my Lord, then how is that reflected in my finances?

Lord Jesus, you own it all. Whatever you want, the answers is “yes.” When I don’t value bearers of your image, please forgive me.

[Feb 24]--Slavery Part Two

Galatians 3:26-28

What was the biblical basis for the abolition movement? As I mentioned before, Genesis 1:27 should be the basis for all our dealings with other people in any situation. The abolitionists (who were mostly fervent Christians) argued (and of course I agree) that any system that degrades and despises the image of God (which is found in every human being) is--right off the bat--incompatible with Scripture.

The Bible is certainly not racist, so any attempt to use it to justify the race-based slavery in the U.S. should've been immediately suspect. The belief that one pigment of skin is superior to another finds absolutely no basis in Scripture. The slavery mentioned in the Bible was not based on racism; in fact, most of the slaves were prisoners of war or who'd sold themselves in order to pay a debt.

While it is true that Paul didn’t condemn slavery as intrinsically sinful and didn't call for its immediate abolition, I believe that he attacked it “from the inside-out.” The notion that a master is of more “worth” than a slave is contradicted by today’s passage: As commonly noted, the ground is all level at the foot of the cross. Ephesians 6:5-9, in its instructions for masters, taught that God holds no “double standard” and will judge all of us by the same yardstick. The strongest piece of evidence, however, is the entire book of Philemon, where Paul urged reconciliation between a fugitive slave and his former master. He openly encouraged Philemon (the owner) to see his slave as a dear brother (vs. 15-16), not a piece of property. Finally, Paul deliberately equated himself with the fugitive slave: After reminding him of Philemon’s debt to Paul (for leading him to Christ), he wrote these startling words in verse 17: “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me” (emphasis mine). Thus Paul the apostle equated himself with the lowest person on the "totem pole," an escaped slave.

We need to remember that the Bible’s primary focus is our relationship with God, which first and foremost affects our relationship with other individuals. Social and legal reform is important, but Paul’s approach towards slavery is not immediate abolition but the undermining of it through adjusting our view of other people (as image-bearers and siblings in Christ). As Christians changed their outlook, finally they started asking themselves, “How can I claim to own my own brother, like an animal or a piece of furniture?” The laws followed suit.

Finally, the two best biblical arguments I have heard against slavery were most famously put forward by Abraham Lincoln himself, even though he wasn't exactly a biblical scholar. First, as Thomas Krannawitter points out, Lincoln argued that human equality "is the father of all moral principle." As I mentioned earlier, the fact that we're all created in God's image confers a worth/value on us and obviously refutes any system based on any type of slavery, especially race-based like America's.

Second, he actually applied the "Golden Rule": If I wouldn’t want to be a slave, I shouldn’t own slaves.

Of course, no one is really defending slavery today, but the Bible speaks of an even worse form of bondage. Jesus told us in John 8:34 that “everyone who sins is a slave to sin,” but two verses later he also promised that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” I might not have physical chains around my neck, but outside of Christ all of humanity is trapped by a Master who's far more cruel and oppressive than any plantation owner. Thank the Lord Jesus, we who belong to him are not slaves but heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.

Lord Jesus, you have freed me from my chains. I want to live in your freedom. Please help me.

[Feb 23]--But What About Slavery?

Exodus 21:1-6, 26-27

As I mentioned before, biblical Christianity gets criticized sometimes because of its relationship with slavery. Since the Torah addressed this issue more than once, this might be a good point at which to examine it further.

First, let’s look at the accusation, namely that the Bible condones slavery. It is absolutely true that the Bible nowhere explicitly says that slavery in and of itself is wrong. The Torah regulated it and mitigated it, but it didn’t outlaw it. Jesus never spoke a word against it, and Paul only told slaves to obey their masters and masters to treat them well and not to threaten them. Unfortunately, many preachers from the pulpit, especially in the South, used the Bible to attempt to justify the “Peculiar Institution.”

However, there are a few points to consider:

When we read the word "slavery" in Scripture, we need to be careful about conflating it with what we visualize when we hear the word, especially in the context of the African slave trade, which supplied slaves in the United States, South America, and the Middle East in the last 500 years or so. It's the same word, but the two concepts are very different. 

When you read it in Scripture, it's usually referring to someone brought to that situation as 1) a prisoner of war, 2) in punishment for a crime, or 3) by voluntary signing up for it, usually for a limited amount of time. 

This is in stark contrast to the absolutely evil practice of what we're usually referring to when we use the word. That was going into another country (or continent), kidnapping people, then selling them into slavery far away from their homeland. This, of course, is exactly what was happening during the Atlantic Slave Trade. This slavery was not because of anything the slave had done, and it tended to be based on one's ethnic background and for life. 

So what exactly does the Torah say about this? 

1) As the main passage above explicitly states, actual (lifetime) slavery of one’s fellow Hebrew was forbidden. The most any Israelite could be made to serve would be seven years, which would be roughly equivalent to indentured servitude. If someone was so poor that they couldn’t eat or support their family, they could sell their labor to someone else for a specified length of time. It’s not the ideal situation, but it’s not permanent slavery, and it was only acceptable compared to the alternatives. 

2) What about Gentiles? If someone was a slave in this system, it likely was lifelong. But why would a Gentile be in this situation? Most likely because they were a prisoner of war. Again, not an ideal situation. But if the Israelites went to war with another nation and won, what were the alternatives? Let them go, making them pinkie-swear that they'd never fight Israel again? Or kill them all, including all the women and children?

And this is really a tough thing to keep in mind, but we need to remember that slavery wasn't even an official option for the actual Canaanites, who were under God's death penalty. The Israelites weren't supposed to take any of them as slaves or forced workers; they were explicitly commanded to kill them

2) Even if someone (a foreigner) was a permanent slave, the Torah eased their burden and curbed abuses. For example, it forbade physical discipline that resulted in any permanent harm (vss. 26-27). And...here's an interesting fact (credit to Dennis Prager):  Under God's law, a slave who fled his master could not be returned to him. Think about this for a moment. If you can walk away from your position at any time, and the owner has to let you go, then is that "slavery" as we normally use the term? 

As I've heard explained from multiple teachers, a lot of human laws throughout history were there to protect the rights of the rich and powerful. And yes, those are real: God explicitly warned judges to "not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great." But in stark contrast to virtually all of human history which protected the rights of slave owners, God's law gave explicit protections for slaves (of all types). His heart is always careful to protect the interests of the poor, the oppressed, the immigrant, the refugee, the widow, the fatherless, and, yes, slaves. 

So how would God view the Atlantic Slave Trade? Well, we don't have to guess: Kidnapping was a capital crime, and this didn't just apply to kidnapping fellow Jews. And on a side-note, we can see how Paul viewed slave-traders in 1 Tim. 1:9-10 (notice what type of people they're listed with in the passage). 

In stark contrast to the system under the Torah, we had the "Fugitive Slave Laws" of the Antebellum United States. These were the (shameful) laws which required that if a slave escaped his master to another community or territory or state, the government of that new area was required by law to return the slave to his master once the master showed up to claim him and haul him back to the plantation. So I ask you, why did the slave owners push this type of legislation? Because if slaves could walk away, the system of slavery was completely unsustainable. They couldn't hope to keep slaves without that type of enforcement. 

Kidnapping people, holding them in slavery with no hope of eventual release, and returning fugitive slaves back to their master, all of these practices--which God explicitly outlawed--were perfectly legal in American race-based slavery, for the simple reason that these practices made American race-based slavery possible and sustainable.

I feel the need to repeat and emphasize: Under God's explicit command, slavery as practiced in the United States could not have existed.

3) This argument in no way condones the crime and injustice of slavery, but it should be recognized that by placing any limits on the institution, the Bible made huge strides in reform. There's never been a culture, society, or nation, that didn’t practice it at one time or another, and there were almost never any legal restrictions on how one could treat his slaves. For all recorded history, it was practiced almost universally, and no one questioned its intrinsic morality. Few rejected slavery in principle. There were slave revolts, because no one wanted to be a slave, but the former slaves usually turned around and owned slaves as soon as they got the chance. Then suddenly, about two hundred years ago, some believers started examining their Bibles and concluded that the whole institution (especially as it was currently practiced) was completely incompatible with Christian practice. Within less than a hundred years, slavery went from being practiced everywhere to being practiced almost nowhere (at least legally). This is almost completely due to an abolition movement which was almost entirely led and populated by fervent Christians who explicitly took God's word seriously. We’ll take a look at their reasoning tomorrow.

Father God, I don’t want to just examine your word, I want your word to examine me. Help me not make it say what I want to hear.

[Feb 22]--Fear Versus Being Afraid

Psalm 33:16-22

I was planning on talking about the concept of the fear of the Lord yesterday, but in my research I found so much material that I felt I couldn’t even begin to do it justice. As we mentioned yesterday, Moses told the Hebrews that God’s terrifying display was so that “the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” If you read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, you’ll see a lot of references to “the fear of the Lord” or some variation. What does this term mean? Are we supposed to be afraid of God? Is he looking for frightened subjects, people who obey his commands because they’re afraid of punishment?

All you have to do is take a cursory glance at the biblical passages to know that this isn't the case. Of course, there's a major element of obedience to God’s instructions and teachings here. The term is first mentioned in Genesis 20, in which Abraham excused lying to Abimelech because he claimed that “There is surely no fear of God in this place” and he feared for his life. In other words, the fear of the Lord was supposed to cause moral behavior. You can find several other passages in which the concept is linked to obeying God and avoiding sin: Deut 6:2, 31:12, 1 Samuel 12:14, and Job 1:8 among many others.

However, there's an element of intimacy as well. The fear of the Lord is linked in Scripture with loving God, seeking the Lord, rejoicing in God, praising the Lord, hoping in his unfailing love (today’s reading), and seeking his favor. The person who fears the Lord delights in his commands. Eugene Peterson describes it as “a fear that pulls us out of our preoccupation with ourselves, our feelings, or our circumstances into a world of wonder." Ruby Shelly says that it is “Not dread but astonishment. Not terror but reverence. Not shaking-in-your-boots panic, but enraptured-with-love fascination.”

Therefore, there's all the difference in the world between the fear of the Lord and being afraid of God; in fact, you could argue that they’re polar opposites. In fact, you can see it in the passage we read yesterday: When the people (in sheer terror) begged Moses to be their mediator, he told them "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning." At first glance, that might seem a little odd. At first, he tells them to not be afraid, then he tells them that this whole display of God's power and law is to bring about the right kind of fear of the Lord.

Being afraid of God would drive you away from him, while the biblical fear of the Lord will drive you towards him. My personal definition would be: reveling in both his immanence and transcendence. That the Lord over the universe, who keeps the planets and suns in their orbits, wants to be as close as the breath on my lips--this should drop me to my knees.

I suggest that you look up Isaiah 57:13 and use it as a springboard for your prayer.immanence and transcendence

[Feb 21]--Two Very Different Covenants

Exodus 20:18-21

Overall, I was very impressed with the movie The Prince of Egypt. I especially loved the presentation of Moses’ encounter with the Lord at the burning bush, and most of the scenes were either directly from Scripture or at least consistent with what could've happened. One major problem I had with the film, however, is how it ended. Not the drowning of the Egyptian army, but the very end when Moses comes down from the mountain, presumably with the Ten Commandments in his hands. The Hebrews all stand in awe, gazing with adoration and looking more than willing to enter into this new relationship with their Redeemer. This is certainly NOT the image from Scripture, as you can read in this passage.

They were terrified, and with good reason. The Lord met with Moses, and Almighty God's appearance was accompanied with thunder, lightning, smoke, and a loud trumpet. This was so frightening that they begged for Moses to be their mediator instead of having the Almighty speak anymore to them directly. Moses told them that the main purpose of this display of God’s power was to “keep [them] from sinning.” He ultimately wanted to have an intimate relationship with them, but he had to establish at the very beginning who was in charge. They were not an employee and a boss negotiating over terms of employment, and they were certainly not buddies who were going to “hang out” with each other. He was God and they were his people, and the intimacy of their relationship was going to be within that framework. Transcendence was going to be established, and then immanence.

The passage should make us so grateful for the New Covenant we have in Christ. Read Hebrews 12:18-24: "You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: 'If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.' The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, 'I am trembling with fear.' But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel."

As wonderful and awe-inspiring as the First Covenant under Moses was, ours is infinitely more marvelous. Most of them only had a relationship with the Lord from a distance, but ours is much more intimate. When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, indicating that the way has now been opened for us to come directly into his presence. The door's open wide. Come on in.

Lord Jesus, it took your blood to get me into the presence of the Father. You are my High Priest, my Mediator. You are all I need.

[Feb 20]--Valuing God’s Providence

Exodus 20:17

If you needed any more proof that God is concerned with our heart-attitudes instead of just our outward actions, this verse should provide it. Webster’s Dictionary defines covet as “to have an earnest wish to own or enjoy,” and God apparently considers it important enough to include it in his “Top Ten.”

Again, we need to start by making sure we understand what this commandment is not saying. It’s not necessarily wrong to desire better things or to improve your situation. It’s not necessarily wrong to desire to make more money and have a better standard of living. Any parent should desire to provide well for their families, and anyone who believes that enjoying the finer things in life is wrong is flirting with Asceticism (remember our discussion on it?). God created a good world, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it, as long as we don’t let its pleasures distract us from him.

The key to understanding is the rest of the verse: We're forbidden to covet anything that belongs to our neighbor. This isn't forbidding a simple desire to improve one's life; it’s forbidding envy. This commandment warns against looking at what we have and enviously comparing it with what our neighbor has.

Why is this attitude so wrong? There are at least two reasons I can think of. First, it shows a complete disregard for God’s providence in our lives. He's been so gracious and generous in providing us with not only what we need (air, food, water, shelter), but he showers us with blessing after blessing. Like David in the 23rd Psalm, we ought to recognize that our “cup overflows." Unfortunately, all too often we're not like David; we're more like spoiled children who whine and complain and bang our spoons on our high chair that somehow our neighbor has it better: "It's not FAIR!!!"

The second reason is because when we disobey this command, we’re betraying the fact that we’ve lost the eternal perspective. Someone once told me, “When times are really tough, remember that this is as close to hell as you’re ever going to get. When you see a lost man, remember that this is the only heaven he'll ever see.” How can I even try to imagine the glory to come, what my Savior has in store for me, and still whine and cry over things which will one day be dust and ashes? I am a co-heir with Christ. I think that bears repeating in big capital letters: I AM A CO-HEIR WITH CHRIST. I think I need to start living like one.

Father, I can’t believe that you would not only forgive my sin, but make me a co-heir with your Son. When my mouth is about to utter any complaints about how you're treating me, please turn it into praise and gratitude. 

[Feb 19]--Valuing Reputations

Exodus 20:16

It ought to go without saying that Christians should be characterized by truthfulness in general, but that’s not strictly what this verse is talking about. Of course, there are other verses which forbid lying in general (such as Ephesians 4:25 and Leviticus 19:11), but this commandment is a bit more specific. God explicitly in this verse forbids us from testifying falsely about our neighbor, especially in a court of law.

Anyone who has seen courts in other nations should be very grateful for the legal system in this country. Little niceties like the presumption of innocence, not being forced to testify against oneself, and the systemic safeguards against police and prosecution abuse are things which we take for granted and which people in other lands would love to have. Of course, any court system other than God’s is going to have some abuse and injustice, but overall it’s one of the best in the world. A lot of that is the product of biblical influence on Western civilization, which filters down into our judicial system.

However, there's one major reform I'd like to put into effect which can be found in Deuteronomy 19:16-21. Read that passage and think about the current penalties for perjury. Just in case you missed it, if you were a false witness in a capital case (in which the accused is subject to the death penalty), then if you're found out you get the penalty he would've gotten if he'd been found guilty. Apparently God takes slandering someone in court much more seriously than we do! Maybe we can’t go as far as this passage would indicate (handing out the death penalty), but I thoroughly believe we need to put some teeth in our perjury laws.

Of course, even outside the courtroom it’s the easiest thing in the world (especially with the internet) to trash someone’s reputation without any repercussions. The book of Proverbs says that “a good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” In other words, all the silver and gold in the world is not worth as much as being known as a person with good character. As any pastor with any experience can testify, gossip rots out the foundation of any church, and every leader in the church must have a “zero-tolerance” policy on it.

And there's another way we can disobey this commandment, especially on the internet. If we come across someone who strongly disagrees with us, especially on a topic which really high stakes for us (like abortion), then here's a question: In our arguments, are we representing their position accurately? Are we making sure that what we're saying about them is an accurate picture? Keep in mind, much of the time, you're hearing only one side of the story, which Solomon also cautions us about. 

Of course it's not Scripture, but the Westminster Larger Catechism's statement on this is pretty sobering (credit David French): 

"The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report."

Maybe we don’t commit perjury in an earthly court, but God’s “court” is all around us and always in session. Please remember, in any conversation there’s always at least One other listener.

Lord Jesus, you are Truth in the flesh, and my life should reflect that. May the words of my mouth honor, glorify, and please you.

[Feb 18]--Valuing Property

Exodus 20:15

When you think about it, this commandment might seem a little out of place with the others. Does this prohibition really belong with the directives against adultery, murder, idolatry, etc? Does this belong in the “Top Ten”? Apparently God thinks so.

And since the Lord considered it important enough to put in his "Top Ten" list, I'd like to point out that our culture specifically denies its importance, especially in our popular culture (TV and movies). Think about it for a moment: How many TV shows and movies glorify thieves, such as pirates, cat burglars, bandits, or bank robbers? How many TV shows and movies present the spoken or unspoken premise that it's OK to steal, as long as it's from people who're wealthier than you? How's about some of our heroes, like Jesse James, or Billy the Kid, or Bonnie and Clyde, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Because of all the glamour and mystery we've associated with people like this, and since they're normally presented to us as charismatic and attractive rogues, we seem to forget that these men were thieves and robbers, taking stuff that didn't belong to them. It's doesn't really matter whether their targets were people we happen to feel sympathies for or not.

First off, let’s talk about what this commandment does not mean. We need to start with the understanding that everything belongs to God, and ultimately we own nothing--we’re only stewards. This means that the Lord has loaned us things and one day we'll have to give them up and also give an accounting before him about how we used them. Therefore, we don't have a right to do with our possessions as we please, and whatever the Lord desires us to give up for him, we should do so with a smile on our face. Again, we owe him everything and he owes us nothing except judgment.

Nevertheless, although in the ultimate sense we don’t own our property, our property doesn't belong to our neighbors either. With this verse God establishes property rights, at least as far as other people are concerned. This undermines the whole foundation of Marxism/Communism, since Marx claimed that property rights (the idea that your property is your own, not the community’s) are just made-up by rich people in order to exploit poor people. His ultimate goal was to abolish private property, put “the people” (by which he meant the government) in ownership of everything, and then we’ll have paradise on earth. With over 300 million murdered in the name of Communism during the last century, you'd think his ideas are getting harder and harder to defend. Although Communism itself has been largely refuted, its disdain for property rights still runs in the back of a lot of peoples' minds.

On a "micro" level, this is one commandment that most people think they obey, but don’t. We might not have shoplifted or robbed a bank, but how about our relationship with our employers? When we’re on the clock, they own our time. Have we been stealing it by goofing off when we’re supposed to be working? Aren’t we in effect stealing money from them? Someone once told me that every Christian ought to be working as if Jesus himself is signing your paycheck and watching over your shoulder, because he is. This aspect alone is enough to convict me, and I need to be better.

Lord Jesus, I know that your blood covers my sin, but that’s no excuse for being a poor employee. Help me to be the kind of worker who brings honor to you.

[Feb 17]--Valuing Marriage

Exodus 20:14

To say that marriage is under assault in our time is a classic understatement. In fact, it seems that it’s under attack from several quarters. Trying to expand the definition to include homosexual unions is just one of the more overt attempts by the Enemy to undermine it. Every divorce in which at least one Christian is involved is a victory for his dark kingdom, but that’s just the end-product of people believing his lies. Watch most TV shows and they tend to present marriage as boring at best, abusive at worst. Adultery is still usually presented as a bad thing, but sex before marriage is presented as the norm, and the idea that someone would actually stick to God’s standard (wait until marriage and then be faithful to your spouse) is apparently unthinkable. Worst of all, they play into the stereotype that marriage is the killjoy of your sex life, while singles are having sex on every day of the week that ends in “Y" (which is a complete lie, by the way).

Less than fifty years ago I could assume that every Bible-believing Christian would know that sex before marriage is wrong, but unfortunately I can’t do that anymore, so here goes. Of course some smart aleck can start by asking, “If I’m single and only have sex with other singles, that’s not adultery, so how's it wrong?” In Mark 10:1-12 when Jesus was asked about divorce, he sent his questioners right back to the first two chapters of Genesis (remember what I said about those wonderful three chapters?). In other words, God’s standard is one man united with one woman for life. Anything other than that (apart from a specific calling from God to singleness) is less than what he has planned for us. In 1 Corinthians Paul warned against several different lifestyles which are unacceptable for God’s people, and he listed both adulterers and the “sexually immoral”--meaning these are two different offenses. The word for “sexual immorality” is porneia from which we get the word “pornography.” It’s a catchall term for any sexual activity outside of the Lord's plan.

Nevertheless, I want to get past all the “don’ts” of sexual immorality to a positive outlook. As a youth minister told me as a teenager, God is pro-sex, the Bible is pro-sex, and the church ought to be pro-sex. In fact, I thoroughly believe that one of the main reasons why the Lord is so against sexual immorality is because he is so much pro-marriage and wants to see his people in healthy relationships. In order for a husband and wife to truly bond together emotionally and physically, in order for them to even approach the intimacy the Lord desires for them, they need to come into their marital bed with as few “extra” people as possible. Of course, God forgives any sin which is confessed, and none of us (especially guys) can claim that we always hold to Jesus’ standard of "no lust for anyone but your spouse." But it’s also true that the closer we stick to God’s plan, the easier marriage turns out to be.

Father God, I really need to change my thinking on this. Please help me.

[Feb 16]--Valuing His Image

Exodus 20:13

This command might be, for most people, both the easiest and hardest to obey. The vast majority of us have never physically committed murder, so we might be tempted to move on to the next one. Of course, if we’re familiar with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, then we see that we aren’t off the hook just because we've never pulled a trigger on someone. First we’ll deal with some modern misinterpretations, and then we’ll examine how the Lord Jesus understood it.

The first question a modern person might ask is “Does this outlaw capital punishment by the state?” The short answer is no. Anyone who has claimed that it does probably has never read the rest of the Torah. In fact, the very next chapter in Exodus explicitly orders capital punishment for at least four crimes, and you can make the argument for two others (killing a slave and causing a miscarriage). There are some biblical passages which one can use to argue against the death penalty, but this isn’t one of them.

How the Jews interpreted this verse is a classic study in legalism. The way that they interpreted this command (and which Jesus seeks to correct) was that as long as you didn’t physically kill someone, you weren’t guilty of breaking it. Then along came our Savior to rectify this misunderstanding: Every physical murder started with a thought. God is not just concerned with our actions but with the thoughts and attitudes which lead to those actions. The attitudes that he condemned were both unjustified anger and the degrading of another person’s dignity as created in God’s image. The word Raca was an Aramaic term of contempt, literally “empty head,” or roughly equivalent to “stupid idiot.” This passage probably doesn’t say that calling someone foolish is necessarily a bad thing (Paul did it in Galatians), but what Jesus seemed to be warning against is a mind-set of disregarding the infinite value of an image-bearer. This is why the Lord's commands to Noah post-flood include capital punishment for murder: Because we are made in God's image, the ultimate crime of taking a life requires (at least in some circumstances) the ultimate punishment.

Based on the context in Jesus' sermon, the anger which we need to avoid is settled anger or bitter resentment, not simply being angry at someone. To summarize, in order to follow his instruction, we need not only to avoid physical murder, but value the image of God placed on every person we meet.

Lord Jesus, your word is pretty disturbing at times. Change me, please.

[Feb 15]--Valuing Our Parents

Exodus 20:12

I'd like to point out something in order to emphasize the importance of this commandment. The first four commandments have to do with our "vertical" relationship": our relationship with the Lord. The last six commandments deal with our "horizontal" relationship: our relationships with other people. Of the latter six commandments, the very first one God mentions is the one telling us to honor our parents. And by the way, the very next commandment is the one forbidding adultery, thus displaying how much God values marriage. This tells me--and of course both common sense and history bear this out--that the family is the foundation of society. A society might last a while after its families break down, but it's like a tree branch that's been cut off from the tree: Seemingly alive for a while, but dying.

I believe that in America this is one of the most openly flouted commandments of the Ten. At least three generations in America so far have been fed on the notion that anyone older than them is a fool at best and an evil person at worst. The rallying cry in the 1960’s was “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” and subsequent generations have followed this example. Of course, this is a youth-obsessed culture: Most of its advertising resources are channeled into snagging teenagers and pre-teens, and most of the music and other media target this group as well. One might think from listening to most people that the world started on the day they were born, so there’s no need to study history, American or otherwise.

The odd thing is, this overemphasis on youth makes us the oddball. All of the culture and societies which have populated this planet over the several thousand years of recorded history have tended to trust old over young (both ideas and people). God’s command in Leviticus to stand up in respect for the aged would have been practically unnecessary for most people, but not us.

This isn't to say that it’s impossible to go overboard in the other direction. Most of the conflicts you find in the book of Acts are from the Good News breaking through barriers of tradition, and "tradition" (as we’ve mentioned before) really is just “how we’ve always done it.” Having said that, I believe that this command is a wonderful corrective to our culture.

The first obvious application is how we treat our physical parents. None of us have perfect parents (some a lot less perfect than others), but we owe them for at least one thing (bringing us into this world). This command is not conditional in any way: Even when we have moved out of their home and established our own family, even when they're long dead, I believe that we're required to honor them as best we can, and treat them with respect. This respect is not necessarily because of what they've done; it's required because of who they are. Of course, this respect should be a hundred-fold if we were raised in a Christian home and influenced in any way towards the Lord. Naturally, strict obedience to our parents is limited to children (who live inside the home), but honoring them has no time limit for adults. If you were 70 years old, you should still show respect towards your 90-year-old dad.

I also believe that we should honor our non-bio “parents” as well. Paul called himself the “father” of everyone whom he led to Christ, so I think we should be eternally grateful for those who (directly or indirectly) led us to our Savior. And maybe it’s just me, but I also feel gratitude towards the spiritual heroes over the centuries who have influenced the church for the better and who inspire me to follow my Lord more closely. As Lewis said when complimented on his writings, we're all midgets standing on the shoulders of giants.

Lord Jesus, I am so grateful for the blessings you have poured out over me. You are so good to me.

[Feb 14]--Valuing God’s Pattern

Exodus 20:8-11

The issue of how we need to follow the fourth commandment has caused a little controversy in the past few years, but it seems that it’s mostly died down. There was a time in which “Blue Laws” (making it illegal to conduct business on Sunday) were quite common, but they seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur in most communities. There was a time in which most conservative Christians would never dream of going to a store or (heaven forbid) participating in some form of “worldly” entertainment (like TV or movies) on Sunday. Times have certainly changed, and outside of conservative Jewish circles this commandment seems to have been largely abandoned.

Of course, there are some reasons for this. First, there's no Scriptural basis for changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. The closest we can find to it in the New Testament is Revelation 1:10, which refers to the “Lord’s day,” which probably was a reference to Sunday, but that doesn't change my main point. The only other argument is tradition, because the early church began worshipping on Sunday very early in its history (for obvious reasons). But as far as a direct command to treat Sunday as a day in which you're forbidden to do anything but worship the Lord, you won’t find it in Scripture. Furthermore, Paul told us “[Do] not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” In other words, the Sabbath points us towards Christ, but we shouldn’t consider ourselves legalistically bound to it. Another point to consider is that it's the only one of the Ten Commandments which is never repeated in the N.T.

Does this mean that we can simply ignore this commandment, then? I don’t think so. This is the only commandment in which we’re told that the reason to obey is in order to follow God’s example at the beginning of creation. In other words, this commandment is woven into the very fabric of creation itself. The pattern of work, then rest, is not something God made up just for humanity’s benefit; it’s carried out all around us. Most of the animal world and most of the plant world follows this pattern, so it’s part of the whole rhythm of everything. When we abandon this pattern by going without rest (or work!), we’ll find ourselves running like a car with sugar in its gas tank. I don’t believe we're obligated not to do anything on Sunday, but it would definitely be a good idea to take at least one day off a week to “recharge” and refocus our attention on what’s really important in life, especially our relationship with our Savior.

Lord Jesus, like Paul said you are my Sabbath Rest. In you I find rest from my work, both here and in eternity.

[Feb 13]--Valuing God’s Name

Exodus 20:7

I sometime get amused by “Christian cussing.” You know, when a Christian who’s trying to watch his language uses a near-miss word instead of profanity: “Gosh darn it” or “son-of-a-gun,” for example. Although this verse doesn’t really address the issue of profanity, believers use this command as a reminder to be careful about our speech. It’s always good to be careful about your speech, but naturally everyone knows what the person is trying to say without saying it.

Traditionally, a lot of Christians have used this verse to outlaw using the Lord’s name (either “God” or “Jesus” or some derivative) as a swear word. This is why you won’t hear orthodox or practicing Jews use the name “Yahweh” which is probably how the name “I am” was pronounced in the original Hebrew. They took this command so seriously that they substituted the name Adonai (a generic term for “lord” or “master”) when his name came up for public reading of Scripture. Even today, if they are writing about him, they will use the word G-d instead of spelling out that simple three-letter word. Their reasoning is that if you never actually use his name, you can’t misuse it.

While it is true that using our beloved Lord’s name as a swear word shows a lack of respect (and so it’s not a good idea), I would submit that by just focusing on this aspect, we miss a large part of the command. I found out about this alternate interpretation of the third Commandment while listening to Dennis Prager (a conservative Jewish pundit) on his national radio program. He’s a political commentator, but he also teaches the Torah from the original Hebrew in weekly Bible classes, and has taken 18 years to complete the course one time with his students. He claims that this verse has a lot more to do with how we live than just with our speech. The verse was rendered “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” in the King James, and we’re told not to “misuse” his name according to the NIV. 

According to Prager, however, literally the verse orders us not to “carry the name of the Lord your God wrongly.” He interprets this to mean that when we “carry” his name as his ambassadors and we misrepresent him by our conduct, the Lord takes that very seriously. As he points out, this is the only commandment with a special warning that he won’t hold someone guiltless who disobeys him in this matter (notice there’s no such warning attached to murder or adultery), and if this interpretation is correct we can see why. 

Please keep in mind that when the Scriptures talk about someone's "name," they're talking about more than a proper noun by which to address someone (like "Steve" or "Maria"). The authors frequently use the term in the sense of "reputation" or "authority," just like we often do in English (e.g. "The company lost its good name when the scandal became public," or "The press secretary is speaking in the name of the President when he speaks to the press"). Dennis's interpretation gains a lot more weight when we consider this.

For example, ask any restaurant server at a restaurant about “hell day.” This is their common slang for Sunday, when tons of Christians come in for lunch after church wearing nice clothes, pray extensively over their meal, and then proceed to treat their server like something you scrape off your shoe (being rude to them, leaving a mess and no tip, etc.). Or think about the times that you cut someone off while sporting a Christian bumper sticker. And what do the people at work think about you, the ones who know that you claim Jesus as your Lord and Savior?

Look, I honestly think that Prager overstates his case when he says that this commandment only has to do with our behavior, not our speech. It's disrespectful to speak of Almighty God in any flippant way. The Lord Jesus solemnly warns us that "on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." But Dennis makes a strong (and very convicting) point: When we misrepresent him by our conduct, when we cause nonbelievers to turn away from the Lord because of how we act, God Almighty takes that extremely seriously, maybe even more seriously than letting a "curse" word slip.

You might never use a swear word in your everyday language, but how are you “carrying” his name to the people you encounter?

Father God, you are perfect, and I’m certainly not. Please let people see more of you and less of me. By how I speak and how I act, may I proclaim whom I belong to. Please please please let me carry your name to them in a way that draws them closer to you, never turning them away.

[Feb 12]--Valuing God

Exodus 20:1-6

Using the “Principle-Application” method of applying the Torah, we’re going to look at the Ten Commandments over the next few days and try to realign our priorities to God’s.

Let's talk a bit about the numbering. Christians tend to list vs. 3 as the fist commandment "No other gods besides me," and vss. 4-6 as the second commandment: Basically summarized as "No idols." Jews, on the other hand, list vss. 3-6 as collectively giving one commandment. This is how they number them: vs. 2 has the first commandment, while 3-6 list the second. How can this be? How do they see "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." as a commandment? There's a really good reason for this. The word we translate as "commandment" could just as easily be translated as "word." That's how the rabbis translate and understand it, and I'm actually persuaded by their case, since "No gods before me" and "no idols" seem pretty linked together, if not just a restatement of the same idea. Of course, this isn't an essential issue for me, since it doesn't really affect the points I think God is trying to make to us here.

However we number the commandments, we need to notice how the Lord started out this passage. He began by reminding them of who he was and what he had done before, which established the authority behind these commands. These are not suggestions from a friend, they aren't even instructions from our parents. They are commands from the Almighty God who'd rescued them out of Egyptian slavery and death. They owed him everything. Whatever he told them to do, he deserved absolute and instant obedience.

As such, the first thing he desires is complete allegiance and loyalty. We love our parents and other family, we can be loyal to our country, we can be true to our friends, but ultimately our love and loyalty go to our Savior God.

It’s probably easy to see why God forbids us to worship any god but him. I mean, he's been so good to us, and just like the ancient Hebrews we owe him everything while he owes us nothing but judgment. But why is it wrong to make images of him to focus our worship? Why not just paint a picture of Jesus and pray to it? There are two good reasons not to. First, he's too “big” to be represented in any picture. Any representation of him will be completely inadequate to capture his majesty and character. The other reason is that it’s too easy to confuse the representation with the One we worship. We tend to think that God is somehow “contained” in the box we have designed for him.

You might think that you’re being obedient to these commands because you don’t bow down before a block of wood or stone. Unfortunately God’s standard is a bit higher than we think. Paul says not once but twice that that greed is idolatry. In fact, how can we obey the command which Jesus considered the most important (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength”) if he has any rival for our affections? As someone once told me, “If anything controls you besides the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s an idol.”

Just like the Hebrews, we belong to our Savior God twice over: Once because he made us, and twice because he redeemed us out of the land of slavery and death. He deserves to have absolutely no rivals for our hearts.

Father God, please forgive me. You are my all in all, and I constantly need to be reminded of that.

How to study the Law: Some evidence

            I realize that this concept might be a little new. I've heard some Bible teachers present similar ideas, but I haven't really heard it put exactly like this. I don't think I'm coming up with anything new, and with your indulgence I'd like to present the evidence that I'm not just pulling something out of nowhere. 
            Just to be clear, what would I consider to be evidence? Well, it'd have to be New Testament references (since we’re under the New Covenant, not the old) in which the inspired writer quotes from the O.T. and is applying it to N.T. believers but is not using the O.T. for one of these purposes: A) quoting an O.T. prophecy about Christ, B) using the Law to show us our need for Christ, or C) pointing out a type of Christ (a visual representation of his nature and/or work in the O.T.; e.g. Abraham offering Isaac on the altar). 
            Here’s what I came up with. Take a look at the evidence, and see if I’m misrepresenting it.

One of the most famous passages on the nature of God’s word is 2 Tim. 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God [traditionally rendered "man of God"] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” But please note the verses immediately preceding this. Let’s take a closer look at vss.14-17:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

            Paul is commending Timothy’s home life, recalling how Timothy, being raised by a Jewish mother and grandmother, had been raised with the “Holy Scriptures.” This is definitely referring to what we call the Old Testament. Timothy was not raised hearing the Gospels and Paul’s epistles. He was raised hearing the Torah and the Prophets and stories about David and Solomon and Hezekiah.
            Now, I grant you that the result of this was to “make [Timothy] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” In other words, his training in the Old Testament prepared him for Paul’s presentation of the Good News which led him to faith in Christ. I get that.
            But what does Paul say about “Scripture”? It’s "God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness." Through it God the Holy Spirit “teaches” us. MacArthur explains it thus: “The divine instruction or doctrinal content of both the OT and the NT (cf. 2:15; Ac20:18,20,21,27; 1Co 2:14-16; Col 3:16; 1Jn 2:20,24,27). The Scripture provides the comprehensive and complete body of divine truth necessary for life and godliness. Cf. Ps 119:97-105.”
            It “rebukes” us, which is pretty self-explanatory.
            It “corrects” us. MacArthur: “The restoration of something to its proper condition. The word appears only here in the NT, but was used in extrabiblical Greek of righting a fallen object, or helping back to their feet those who had stumbled. Scripture not only rebukes wrong behavior, but also points the way back to godly living. Cf. Ps 119:9-11; Jn 15:1,2.”
            And here’s the phrase I want us to focus on: It “trains us in righteousness.” This is not talking about the perfect righteousness we have in Christ. That’s the only hope I have before the Throne, but that’s not what this passage is referring to, since there's no training involved in that. It’s talking about my personal righteousness, how obedient I am to what he tells me to do. His word is used by the Spirit to train me like a child to be a better follower of Jesus, to think more like him and to be more obedient to him.
            Now my friend, do you think that in the context of this passage, that this “training in righteousness” is only referring to the N.T.? Really? In the context of these verses, does that make sense to you?
            The problem is that, either consciously or unconsciously, modern-day Christians seem to think that the Old Testament doesn’t have any purpose in training us in righteousness.
            Let me present another piece of evidence for your consideration. In Deuteronomy 25:4, Moses told his people “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Paul quotes this verse from the Torah not once but twice. Let’s look at both them:

1 Cor. 9:9-10: “For it is written in the Law of Moses: ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.”

1 Tim. 5:18: “For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’”

            Please notice something important here: In neither of these passages is Paul applying the Old Testament the "standard" way, the way we normally apply it. He’s not using it to show us how far we fall short of God’s standards. He’s not using prophecies to show nonbelievers that Jesus is the Messiah. He’s not talking about how Sarah and Hagar are representatives of the Law and the Gospel (like he did in Galatians).  
            He’s using the Scriptures in the exact way I’ve described. God laid out the Law under Moses: Don’t muzzle an ox while he’s treading the grain. That’s the application which was time-bound. But Paul very specifically says in the 1st Corinthian passage that there’s a principle behind that Old Testament verse, namely that whoever has worked on something deserves to benefit from the product of that work. Specifically, Paul uses that O.T. application to tell us that that ministers--especially leaders who serve full-time for the church--should be paid and given honor. This is an application which he drew from the Torah. He’s applying this right here and right now to believers on this side of the cross, and he’s not talking about salvation, or how the O.T. priesthood points towards Christ, or how this prophecy foretells something about our Savior.
            Why is this important? Why am I making such a big deal over this?
            Because if you think that the only purpose of Old Testament Scripture is to tell you something directly about Jesus in the way we commonly think, then you might be tempted to skip over a huge portion of it. This is my theory as to why some believers—who honestly want to please the Lord—don’t read and study the Torah. They know that the Old Testament prophesizes about him. They fully understand that they’ll never live up his perfect standards. They know that they’re saved by grace through faith in Christ plus nothing. They also know that we as believers don’t have to keep kosher or keep the Sabbath or observe Jewish holidays. So maybe consciously or unconsciously they think they’ve “got it” when it comes to the Old Testament, especially what they consider to be the more "boring" parts of the Torah. They read passages of the Torah and the only thing they pull out of it is 1) How this shows I need Jesus to save me, or 2) This points towards X about my Savior, and that’s all they know or care about.
            I think that this failure to distinguish between principles and applications can--quite frankly--lead to boredom. If you read something like "Don't muzzle the ox while it treads out the grain" and all you see is the time-bound application, then of course you're not going to see this as particularly relevant. Unless you happen to own an ox which you're using to tread grain, why would you care about that verse? So the best-case scenario is that you read the Torah as part of your Bible-reading plan because you know that you need to read your Bible from cover to cover. Much more likely you'll do what most Christians do: Read the stories in Genesis and Exodus and then move to the other exciting stories in the rest of the O.T., if you don't just completely bypass the O.T. altogether.        
            But don’t you see? The Torah is a place where your Savior lays out what’s important to him. I know that we’re not under the Law as a means of pleasing him. I’m not a Judaizer. I've read and fully believe every word which Paul wrote in Galatians. But do you not understand that this is a great chance to see what’s important to your Savior God?
            If you’re falling in love with someone, isn’t part of that process finding out about them, what they love and hate, what’s important to them and what isn’t? How can I say I love God when I don’t take the opportunity to discover what’s important to him?
            I have to confess that I feel a little weird thinking and writing this way. Christ is our all in all, right? I was raised in church and was saturated in the Bible growing up, and I was trained to interpret the O.T. the way you were likely raised to interpret it: Every passage of the O.T. is there to 1) prophecy about Christ, 2) show us our need of him, or 3) to present a visual image of his nature and/or work. I completely believe that these purposes are entirely valid. But to those three I'd like to add another purpose: To show by principle and application what's important to him and thus to train us in righteousness. Apparently Paul didn’t have any problem looking to the Torah for principles which believers can apply--here and now--to how we think and act. In doing so, we’re trying to think the way he thinks, to adjust our priorities according to his, and thus be more obedient and pleasing to him in our daily lives.
            Let me repeat what I said before: The main purpose of the Old Testament—of which the Torah is the foundation—is to point towards Jesus Christ, to prepare us for him and to tell us about him. But I'd say learning about him includes learning about his priorities and thinking his thoughts after him, right? 
            By the way, I've recently discovered this blog entry by a ministry called "Olive Tree" which basically lays out the same major point I'm making. True, they don't use the exact "Principle/Application" motif I've been using, but they make the same general point I've been making. Like I mentioned in the last entry, they basically follow the pattern of most biblical scholars in distinguishing between the Civil Laws (like legal penalties for adultery), the Ceremonial Laws (like the Feast of Tabernacles), and the Moral Law (like the command to honor one's parents). They even use the term "principles" as a way for us to apply them as N.T. believers.  
            And if I’ve made the case for you, then how should that affect your Bible study habits?  

How to study the Law: A little deeper

            One of the limitations which I’ve put upon myself on this blog is brevity. In order to keep strict limits on my natural wordiness, I tend to keep my devotionals to about a page or so. If I get up to a page and half, I usually break it off into another devotional posting. I realize that the intended purpose of a daily devotional is for someone to spend about 10-15 minutes reading God’s word and then a short commentary on it. Any more than that and I risk losing my audience.
            But in this case I need to do something different. I feel the need to delve into a certain topic with a certain “take” that a lot of my fellow Evangelicals might find a little disconcerting, at least at first. What I’m going to say is different from what some of you might've heard from other Bible teachers. At first it’ll seem a little radical, but I don’t think it really is. What I’m proposing has some pretty strong biblical support. If you think I’m wrongly applying Scripture, then so be it. But since what I’m saying is a little different from what you might’ve been taught up until now, I need to take a little extra space in order to make sure I’m understood.
            What am I proposing that might seem weird to you?

The Old Testament, particularly the Law of Moses, has purposes for the modern-day believer other than just pointing directly to Christ's nature and work in salvation.

            Now, before you go ahead and write me off as a rank heretic, please let me clarify what I’m saying and what I’m not saying.

I thoroughly believe that the main purpose of the Old Testament is to point towards Christ.

How does the O.T. do this? You’re probably familiar with these:

·         The prophecies which predicted his nature, the details surrounding his birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, the purpose of his coming (i.e. to die for us), etc.
·         By showing us God’s standards for righteousness, the Law acted as a sort of “nanny” in order to lead us to Christ. Basically by showing us his standards, he shows us how far we fall short of them and our need for a Savior. Paul repeatedly points out this purpose of the Law. I also believe that one of the purposes of the recorded history of Israel is to underscore this point by showing us how badly the nation screwed up over and over and over and over. If anyone thinks they can be considered righteous before God by observing the Law, I think the sordid history of Israel is pretty decent counterevidence to that notion.
·         We have foreshadows and symbols which pointed us towards Christ: The blood sacrifices, the priesthood, the types which were fulfilled in him (e.g. the ram which took the place of Isaac on the altar), etc.

            I completely believe that in these ways the Old Testament—of which the Law of Moses is the foundation—points us towards Christ. Jesus told the religious leaders that Moses had written about him. If you read the Old Testament and don’t see Jesus, then you’re missing out on the most important aspect of it.
            However, does this mean that the only purposes of the Old Testament are based on the ones listed above? Does everything in the Old Testament fall into one or more of them? Really?
            I don’t think so, and I think I have some evidence for my position. Here’s a purpose which I think a lot of Christians miss. My thesis:

One of the purposes of the Law of Moses (also known as the Torah) is to show us the heart of God: What he loves and hates, what’s important to him and what isn’t. As a corollary to this, the Torah is important to us as a guide to righteous living as modern believers this side of the cross.

            Once again, I need to quickly clarify what I’m not saying here. As believers we’re not under the Law as far as dietary laws or holy days or making blood sacrifices. Paul explicitly said that those things were the shadow, and the reality is found in Christ (probably referring to purpose #3 above).
            Let me try to explain what I mean by making a very sharp and very very very important distinction. We need to distinguish between principles and applications.
            What do I mean by principle? Well, Merriam-Webster defines it as “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption.”  What would be some principles?

·         Keep the Lord as first place in your life, and deal decisively with any rivals for that first place.
·         You do things God’s way, not the way that seems right to you.
·         You must treat sin extremely seriously and hate it passionately.
·         God has a special care for those who are "the least of these": the poor, the immigrant, the orphan,  the widow, the outsider, the oppressed, etc. He takes extremely seriously and personally any efforts to exploit, oppress, or take advantage of them. And this means that God's people will reflect that concern in how they treat anyone with a disadvantage or who's marginalilzed. 
·         Keep a proper balance of work and rest. Set some time aside to refocus yourself on him.
·         When he blesses you, he expects you to “pay it forward” by blessing others.
·         Every human being is uniquely created in his image and thus has (incredibly high) intrinsic value and is entitled to dignity and respect.
·         Property rights are important.
·         God’s standard for all expressions of sexuality is one man united with one woman for life.
·         Humans are more important than things.
·         Honor your parents.

            In contrast, a lot of the Torah is made up of applications of principles like those listed above. So what would be some examples?

·         You’re expressly forbidden from working on Saturday.
·         Don’t wear clothing made from more than one type of material.
·         You have to physically separate yourself from unclean people, animals, houses, etc.
·         Kill idolaters and sexually promiscuous people. Adultery and homosexuality are capital offenses.
·         When you harvest your crops, don’t glean at all. Leave your gleanings for the poor.
·         When you come to collect on a loan, don’t go into the man’s house to do so.
·         Don’t move a land boundary marker.
·         Cursing your parents is a capital offense.

            You see the pattern here? Principles are eternal. They don’t change any more than God does. They apply to us just as much as they did to the Hebrews at Sinai. But applications are largely time-bound. I don’t for one moment think we need to worry about wearing different material clothing, and I’d never support capital punishment for adulterers or homosexuals today. But God hasn't changed his stance against homosexuality or any other sexual expression outside of marriage. He hates idolatry just as much now as he did in the days of Moses, but I don't advocate any type of legal penalty for it, much less death. So for me, I take the principle (absolute hatred for any type of idolatry) and apply it, not by trying to pass laws against it, but by proclaiming (to myself and the world) that it's just as much as sin now as it was back then.
            So what about the Ten Commandments? Which are they? That's a good question, and like most good questions, it doesn't have a simple answer. "No other gods," "Eschew any idols," "Don't misuse the Name," and "Honor your parents" are eternal principles. You could, I suppose, make the case that "Do not murder" and "Do not steal" are applications of the principles "People are made in God's image" and "Property rights are important."  Based on Paul, I'd strongly make the case that "Keep the Sabbath Day holy" was a time-bound application of some greater principles.
            Actually, based on the words of our Savior and Paul, you could make the case that "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" are the bedrock principles, and everything else in the Torah is just application of them. I might have to think this through in more detail.
            But with these exceptions aside, I think it's pretty clear most of the time what's an eternal principle vs. what's a time-bound application of a principle. If you read something in the Torah and you can't apply it directly today (e.g. you don't own a field and gleaning isn't an issue) or if the N.T. specifically says it doesn't directly apply to you anymore (e.g. the dietary laws), then it seems to me that it's pretty clear it's an application. If it's repeated in the N.T. (e.g. "Love your neighbor as yourself"), then it's definitely a principle you need to follow. When reading about something that seems to be an application, prayerfully ask yourself questions like "Why would God want his people in that time to do this? What does it say about his priorities, what he values highly and doesn't value as highly?" If you don't come up with any good answers, a good study Bible or Bible teacher can probably help you out. 
            Do I have any scriptural evidence for this, or am I pulling something out of nowhere? I'm getting a little long here, so let me present some in the next posting.