1. IV. Christian Liberty (8:1-11:1)
    1. 1. Love Excels Knowledge (8:1-8:13)
      1. B. Be Conscientious (8:7-8:13)

Calvin (10/21/17-10/22/17)

This statement demonstrates the limits of scope which must apply to verse 1. The “we all” of that passage must encompass only those whose abuse of liberty Paul has in view. The point is simple: Having correct judgment is only sufficient in a world where you are alone. Where there are others, their ignorance matters as much to your decisions as your knowledge. We are all of us prone to pursuing what is to our own advantage with little to no regard for others. “We do not consider, that the propriety of those works that we do in the sight of men depends not merely on our own conscience, but also on that of our brethren.” Those without knowledge are not, in this case, without faith. There are poorly instructed. They do not as yet recognize the nothingness of these idols and as such, they still suppose something must transpire with those things consecrated to the idols. If something transpired, then surely those meats must pollute the partaker. The clear concern is that we, by our example, might cause one of less understanding to act in violation of his own conscience. “God would have us try or attempt nothing but what we know for certain is agreeable to him.” If doubts remain, it would be a fault in us to proceed. (Ro 14:23 – He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat in faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin.) “For as the excellence of actions depends on the fear of God and the integrity of conscience, so, on the other hand, there is no action, that is so good in appearance, as not to be polluted by a corrupt affection of the mind.” To act in violation of conscience is to demonstrate contempt for God. We must also consider that our food is not sanctified except by the word, and if that word is missing, the food is necessarily polluted, though not because that creature God created is itself polluted, but rather because our use of them is impure. (1Ti 4:4-5 – Everything created by God is good. Nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.) “Without faith there is nothing that is pure in the sight of God.”
God has clearly established that we are allowed to eat whatever. There is no proper basis for scruples of conscience in that regard. The point stands, however, that the liberty our knowledge admits to ought rightly be made subject to love. (Ro 14:17 – The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.) This is in contrast to what the Corinthians were apparently proposing, that their liberated views on sacrificial meats somehow commended them to God. [That, it seems, may be a carryover from the pagan perspective.] Meat does not commend us to God, but love is assuredly recommended to us by God, “which it were criminal to overlook.” Paul is not looking at physical betterment here, for clearly the one who eats is physically better off than the one who fasts. Rather, he is concerned with righteousness, which neither eating nor abstaining can improve in and of itself. We must also recognize, as we consider this, that ‘excess and luxury’ as regards our dining habits remains displeasing to God, whereas sobriety and moderation are always pleasing to Him. But, God’s kingdom is fundamentally spiritual. It cannot, then, consist in any way in these ‘outward observances’. They must, therefore, be matters indifferent. It’s not the act so much as the motive.
“He leaves their liberty untouched, but moderates the use of it thus far – that it may not give occasion of stumbling to the weak.” Beware the tendency to hold those in contempt who are less assured in their grasp on doctrine. [Interesting that this reflects almost directly the message of this morning’s Table Talk entry.] “It is the will and command of the LORD, that regard should be had to them.” Note the implicit exclusion of those strong, would-be tyrants, who wish to subject our liberty to their preferences. For such as these, ‘we need not fear giving offence’, as we would not be at risk of drawing them into sin. Rather, they are eagerly seeking something with which they might find fault.
The extent of the Corinthian’s perceived liberty now shows. They were not even concerned to go to the idolatrous feast and partake alongside the idolaters. Let it be allowed that their knowledge of the vanity of idols permitted of such an act, even so, it remains wrong, given its potential impact on those who have not the same knowledge. He who is without knowledge is not better instructed for your example, only encouraged to violate his own conscience and act apart from faith. Imitation is no excuse to act from evil conscience. Weakness here clearly refers to ignorance. Their actions, then, encourage the one who yet thinks the act sinful to participate anyway. His opinion has not changed in that regard, only his action. This is the sense behind being built up or strengthened as applied in this verse. This still has the sense of edifying, though the word differs (oikodomeetheesetai). But, here, it is something of an ironic application. “Now that is a ruinous kind of building, that is not founded on sound doctrine.”
“Mark how serious an evil it is, that mankind commonly think so little of – that of venturing upon anything with a doubtful or opposing conscience.” If our life is to be directed to and by the will of the Lord, then such an act can only demonstrate disregard for His will. “Let us bear in mind, therefore, that whenever we take a step in opposition to conscience, we are on the high road to ruin.” We might take this verse as posing a question along the lines of, “Is this why you were given knowledge, to destroy your brother?” Note the emphasis provided by reference to brother. He may be weak, but he remains family, son of the same God by the same adoption. This gains power by what follows. Like yourself, this one was redeemed by Christ’s blood. Christ did not account it ruinous to die so that the weak would not perish. Shall we, then, reckon their salvation as nothing? How precious is that individual in His sight. How precious each individual believer must be in our own!
“If the soul of every one that is weak is the price of Christ’s blood, that man who, for the sake of a very small portion of meat, hurries back again to death the brother who has been redeemed by Christ, shows how contemptible the blood of Christ is in his view.” This can only be open insult to Christ.
This must be recognized as hyperbole, yet the rule of love demonstrated by Paul’s example deserves attention. If he would be willing to go this far to avoid causing his brother undo difficulty, how can we do less? Understand as well that ‘offend’ in this instance [NASB has cause to stumble] is more than a matter of incurring displeasure, or doing some disagreeable thing. Rather [as the NASB rightly suggests] it is a matter of presenting them with a hindrance to piety, an occasion for sin. “Those are foolish, who allow Christians scarcely any use of things indifferent, lest they should offend superstitious person.” This would necessarily include eating meat on Fridays, whether we know an ex-Catholic is present or not, because there might be one. Further, recognize Paul’s concern is for causing issues for the poorly instructed, which is readily remedied by providing the needed instruction, thereby removing the need to limit one’s liberty. Then, there is that body of ‘pretended followers of Nicodemus’, who insist we ought to embrace the idolatry lest we offend those who do. Here, we do well to consider our willingness to be present at mass, or other such abominations.

Matthew Henry (10/22/17)

Note that Paul does not condemn the feasts as unlawful, but rather treats the matter in regard to its effect on the weaker believer. For one, not everybody did share this understanding in regard to idols. Some, “though they were converts to Christianity, and professed the true religion, […] were not perfectly cured of the old leaven, but retained an unaccountable respect for the idols they had worshipped before.” Some, it seems, who went to these feasts, did so not with the view that the idols were nothing, but rather with this misplaced veneration, and so, were defiled by the act; “whereas the design of the gospel was to turn men from dumb idols to the living God.” Admittedly, others take the concern to be pollution incurred from eating meats that came from these offerings, even if not participating in the feast itself. The sum is this: “We should be careful to do nothing that may occasion weak Christians to defile their consciences.”
To be clear, food and drink can neither render one virtuous nor render one criminal. The inclusion of this point suggests that some in Corinth had supposed this very thing, that their lack of concern regarding meats was somehow meritorious. We see this extend to the feasts, with the idea that their participation demonstrated the emptiness of those idols. But the act is one of indifference. It doesn’t matter one way or the other. “The bare eating, or forbearing to eat, has no virtue in it.” This is not part of God’s measurement system.
Now, we must be careful in regard to this perceived liberty in regard to the feasts. Paul cannot be supposed to have condoned this as within the Christian’s liberty here when in 1Co 10:20 he clearly indicates that such participation is participation with demons. Rather, he says that even supposing such a liberty were valid, it would be abused by allowing it to be a stumbling block for a weaker brother. The sense is that their insistence on their right to eat might very well lead to the weaker one falling away, back into his former idolatries.
Bear in mind that this weaker brother remains one for whom Christ died. Surely, then, he ought to be precious indeed to us. “If He had such compassion as to die for them, that they might not perish, we should have so much compassion for them as to deny ourselves, for their sake, in various instances, and not use our liberty to their hurt, to occasion their stumbling, or hazard their ruin.” The one who would prefer his rights to his brother’s life ‘has very little of the spirit of the Redeemer’.
We do well to remember, also, that offense against our weak brother is taken by Christ as offense against Himself. [Just as would be the case for offenses against you.] “Wounding their conscience is wounding Him.” (Isa 40:11 – Like a shepherd He will tend His flock. In His arm He will gather the lambs, and carry them in His bosom. He will gently lead the nursing ewes.) Be mindful! Don’t lack compassion for those Christ so greatly loves. Don’t allow your rights to lead you to sin against Christ who suffered for you. Don’t act so as ‘to defeat His gracious designs’ to the ruin of one He died to save.
Don’t take Paul to be suggesting he was never going to eat again. “This were to destroy himself, and to commit a heinous sin, to prevent the sin and fall of a brother.” We mustn’t do evil in hopes that good will come of it. It is, however, entirely possible to forego meat in perpetuity, and this he resolved to do. So strongly did he value the soul of his brother. “Liberty is valuable, but the weakness of a brother should induce, and sometimes bind, us to waive it.” We mustn’t claim our right to the hurt of our brother’s soul, which would be injury to our Redeemer. If it is clearly the case that my use of liberty will be a stumbling block to another, to pursue that liberty is itself a sin, however lawful the deed considered would otherwise be. “If we must be so careful not to occasion other men’s sins, how careful should we be to avoid sin ourselves!”

Adam Clarke (10/22/17)

This points back to 1Co 8:4, with its point that idols are nothing. Some didn’t get that, and could not eat with clear conscience. Why? For lack of proper instruction. [Here is a great shame: That our brother might incur guilt to himself due to our own failure to instruct!] Such ill-instructed converts would readily associate the Lord’s Supper with these former practices. Were not both events an eating of that which was sacrificed? How, then, could they eat the idolatrous offering without offense?
To be sure, participation in the feasts can never serve to recommend our souls to God. Neither was unwillingness to participate going to result in some sort of spiritual loss. [Which is much different than saying the feast itself was indifferent…]
If one without your knowledge, who supposes you to be superior in understanding, observes you at liberty, and assumes such liberty to himself without the requisite understanding, it shall be a grievous offense against him, that you so induced him to do what is not safe.
“Is it not strange that any professing the knowledge of the true God should even enter one of those temples? And is it not more surprising that any Christian should be found to feast there?” This just shows the vanity of that knowledge these Corinthians boasted of having. [As empty as the idols.]
Clarke takes this as proof-positive that ‘a man may perish for whom Christ died’. [Apparently, he assumes no possibility of a hypothetical argument here.]
Notice the strength of this: You sin against a brother by this act. As such, you necessarily sin against Christ. You are sending one He purchased to perdition, defeating His gracious intentions. Again, Clarke sees this as evidence that salvation can fail.
Better an eternity as a vegetarian than that my eating of meat should cause even one brother to fall into final ruin. Origen advises us to remain conscious of the fact that, ‘the souls of them that perish by us [will be] required of and avenged upon us’. Chapter summary: The greater our reputation for knowledge and sanctity, the greater the damage if our example veers from holy commandment. “Every man should walk so as either to light or lead his brother to heaven.” We have a duty to watch against our own apostasy first, and seek to prevent it in our brother, as this passage so strongly argues the possibility of one for whom Christ died finally perishing. This is bolstered by Romans 14:15 – If because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. The assumption here is that such influences as these do irreparable harm. As to the doctrine of perseverance, the question is asked why Paul would teach such things as this if he held to that view, and Clarke finds this chapter presenting such answer as would insist Paul taught no such thing. All wish to be wise, or at least seen to be so. It is when our desire for wisdom leads to unlawful acts that we fall. “Though extensive knowledge is not given to all, yet it is given for all.” Use it to edify all, or know that you rob others of their right. It is misuse of a talent. Bear with the overly scrupulous, though they ‘often run into ridiculous extremes’. The cure will not be found in ridicule or wrath. Don’t be the cause of their falling away! This only holds so far as our brothers concerns are in regard to blamable conduct on our part. “We are called to walk by the testimony of God; not according to the measure of any man’s conscience, how sincere soever he may be.” “Many persons cover a spirit of envy and uncharitableness with the name of godly zeal and tender concern for the salvation of others; they find fault with all; their spirt is a spirit of universal censoriousness; none can please them; and everyone suffers by them.”

Barnes' Notes (10/23/17)

The ‘all’ supposed by the Corinthians was not in fact universal, as some still supposed a real existence for these idols. On this basis, abstinence remains the proper course. Some, though Christians, still thought the gods of the idols real, and their favor a thing to be sought. Such folk, it must be supposed, did not perceive gods so much as intermediaries – angels – and thought these worthy of appeal. Don’t be too hard on these Corinthians. Their pagan upbringing would take time to correct after conversion. Such as these could not eat without a sense of their meal being an attempt to influence the spirit of the idol. They could not, then, eat with clear conscience, freed from these former superstitions. At the same time, their conscience was not sufficiently strong to resist the temptation to participate in spite of misgivings. “By thus countenancing idolatry he is led into sin, and contracts guilt that will give him pain when his conscience becomes more enlightened.”
Here, Paul returns to the arguments given by the Corinthians. This gets to the argument that God looks at the heart and at motives, moral considerations, and therefore these outward activities cannot be important. Once again, the premise is granted, but the conclusion rejected, as these outward actions might very well lead others to sin, and ‘would THEN become a matter of GREAT IMPORTANCE in the sight of God, and should be in the sight of all true Christians’. God’s favor surely does not depend on either eating or abstaining in and of itself. There is no moral worth to a meal.
Although this is true, “The grand principle to be observed is, so to act as not to injure your brethren.” Compared to your brother being led into sin, your liberty to eat is of no importance. The former concern ought be your chief concern in all matters of indifference. The fundamental remains: “A man may have a RIGHT abstractly to do a thing, but it may not be prudent or wise to exercise it.” Don’t allow your ‘right’ to be the cause of another abandoning his faith.
Here, ‘any man’ expands to encompass not only the ignorant brother, but also the potential brother. Act as one who may be considered an example, and think how your actions may be interpreted. To sit in on these entertainments, whether at the temple or at somebody’s house, would be recognized as participation in acts designed to honor the idols. What will he think, who sees you cheerfully participating? What will you be building up in your brother? (Ac 9:31 – So the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. Ro 14:19 – So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Eph 4:12 – for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. 1Th 5:11 – Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing.) The word is different, but the sense is similar. The observer may have had superstitions in regard to these idols, but now your actions have served to confirm this belief in him. What was being replaced by sound Christian doctrine is now dislodged by your example confirming his former beliefs. “He will infer not only that it is a right, but that it is a matter of conscience with you, and will follow your example.”
If that is the result, the duty of the knowledgeable one is plain. The use of ‘brother’ here makes clear that we are back to speaking of Christians, however uninformed. [Makes me wonder why he thought the previous verse could expand farther.] As to the perishing, this speaks to the tendency in the course of action being described. It will tend to lead that one into sin, which will tend toward apostasy, which will tend toward ruin. “But this does not prove that any who were truly converted should apostatize and be lost.” A tendency is not a necessity. The very warning delivered in this passage may suffice to prevent its happening. The example of a canoe approaching Niagara Falls is proposed. That canoe has a clear tendency in its direction, but one who hails the paddler from shore issues a call designed to save that paddler, and if said paddler heeds the warning, it is indeed an effectual call. “So it may be in the warnings to Christians.” Further, Paul does not go so far as to say a Christian would be lost. Rather, he posits a logical flow; a hypothetical if/then. Returning to the canoe: If he continues on his current course then he will be destroyed, but this does not insist that he actually follows said course to his destruction. Finally, we have the testimony of Scripture itself. (Jn 10:28 – I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. Ro 8:29-30 – Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, He also called; and whom He called, He also justified; and whom He justified, He also glorified.) All that being so, the question remains: Why would you do anything that tends toward the destruction of the soul of another? There can be no stronger argument, can there? The barest possibility of such an outcome ought to deter us from our course. “It is an appeal drawn from the deep and tender love, the sufferings, and the dying groans of the Son of God.” Consider what He denied Himself so as to redeem this one, and what self-gratification of yours can suffice to deflect that one towards destruction?
If the Law requires that you love your brother, how can such an action on your part not be sin? “Sin is properly against God; but there may be a course of injury pursued against people, or doing them injustice or wrong, and this is sin against them.” This poor brother doesn’t have your knowledge. They still believe the idols are something to be honored, and your actions are causing them to sin according to their beliefs, their conscience becoming the more perverted and oppressed by guilt. This cannot but be a sin against Christ who commanded you to love them and seek their good. They, too, despite their lack of learning, are intimately united to Christ. “To offend them is to offend Him; to injure the members is to injure the head; to destroy their souls is to pain His heart and to injure His cause.” (Lk 10:16 – The one who listens to you listens to Me. The one who rejects you rejects Me, and as such, rejects the One who sent Me.)
Paul offers his own example, how he would act given the same circumstances. This is not a matter of merely irritating a brother by our choices. It’s a matter of pursuing a matter of indifference even though it may lead another to sin. The law of love requires self-denial in such a case. “This is a noble resolution; and marks a great, disinterested, and magnanimous spirit.” It demonstrates that God’s glory was foremost in Paul’s thoughts. Personal comfort could take a back seat. “It was the principle on which Paul always acted; and is the very spirit of the self-denying Son of God.”

Wycliffe (10/23/17)

The remainder of the chapter amplifies the point that love edifies. Here, the less knowledgeable are coming from a past long accustomed to idols as real matters of concern and worship.
Meat cannot bring one nearer to God. Quoting the ICC, “It is the clean heart, and not clean food, that will matter; and the weak brother confounds the two.”
Don’t allow liberty, exercised as right, become a stumbling block to the weak. “Knowledge will not solve the problem” (1Co 8:1-3).
Here, we have ironic application of the theme of building up. “Fine edification this is; it builds up to sin!”
The translator may prefer to present this as statement rather than question. Perish, in this instance, pertains to bodily, not eternal perishing. To persist in violating one’s conscience sets one liable to sin unto death. (1Co 5:5 – I have determined to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1Co 11:30 – For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 1Jn 5:16-17 – If you see a brother committing a sin not leading to death, ask and God will give life to them. There is a sin leading to death, and I don’t say that you should so pray for one sinning in this fashion. But, all unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin which does not lead to death.) “The tense is present; the process of perishing is going on as long as he persists in eating.”
Here is the worst of it: This ‘strong’ believer is sinning against Christ by his actions, because of the unity of the body of Christ. (1Co 12:12-13 – Even as the body is one in spite of its many members, and all the many members of the body remain one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jew or Greek, slave or free we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 1Co 12:26 – If one member suffers, all suffer. If one member is honored, all rejoice.)
The conclusion: “Love, not light (knowledge), solves the problem.” Where the Word addresses moral matters, it is supreme. As to matters of indifference, “liberty is to be regulated by love.” This does not grant the narrow-minded a right to impose their legalistic desires on others. (Gal 6:12-13 – Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh.) Remain on guard against any such tyranny. “The strong are to yield to love’s appeal voluntarily, not because the weak demand it.” It is noteworthy that Paul does not appeal to the Jerusalem decree on these matters of fornication and idol-offerings, but rather ‘appeals to loftier spiritual concepts, which the Greeks would appreciate’. (Ac 15:19-20 – It is my judgment that we do not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but require only that they abstain from things contaminated by idols, from fornication, from what has been strangled, and from blood.)

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown (10/24/17)

As to that knowledge of the previous passage, this clarifies that while we may all have that knowledge in theory, some have it defectively. Some still held to old ideas in regard to the validity of these idols, and their effect on those things offered to them. The ‘until now’ implies a certain censure for their failing to have advanced further in their Christian knowledge. [That leaves open the question of who was receiving this censure, the uneducated, or their teachers.] We have now two variables. First, is the meat known to have been an offering, and second, does the eater still hold the idols to be valid? If the first answer is no, conscience is untroubled. If the second answer is no, there is still no issue of being polluted. But, when both answers are yes, there is a sin against conscience. (Ro 14:15-23 – If your brother is hurt because of food, you no longer walk according to love. Don’t destroy one for whom Christ died over food! Don’t let a good thing be spoken of as evil, for the kingdom of God is not established in eating and drinking, but I righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this fashion is acceptable to God and approved by men. So, pursue what makes for peace and mutual edification. Don’t tear down God’s work for the sake of food. Granted, all things are clean, but they are evil for that one who eats in such a way as to give offense. It is not good to eat meat, drink wine, or do anything else that would cause your brother to stumble. Have your faith as your own conviction before God. He is happy who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But, the one who doubts is condemned should he eat, because he does not act from faith, and whatever is not done from faith is sin.) The Jerusalem decree, touching as it did on matters indifferent, must be recognized as addressing matters of ‘Christian expediency’, which is to say, avoiding becoming a stumbling-block to one’s weaker brothers. (Ac 15:19-21 – Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles [note: Not predisposed God-fearers; but now turning to God due to the Gospel], but that we write to them to abstain from what has been contaminated by idols, from fornication, from what is strangled, and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath. [Is that final note simply cause to add no other commandment, or is it the reason for the few that are delivered?])
There are variant texts that reverse the conditions and results here, such that it is we are no worse for eating, nor any better for abstaining. Read that way, we are hearing the reasoning of the Corinthians. Read as usually found, that we are no better for eating, nor worse off for abstaining, we have Paul’s perspective, that this is a thing indifferent: Meat does not mark us as commended before God, nor does it mark us as disapproved. “It does not affect our religious status.” (Ro 14:6 – He who observes the day, does so for the Lord. He who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God. He who abstains, likewise does so for the Lord, and gives thanks to God. Ro 14:17 – For the kingdom of God does not consist in eating and drinking, but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.) So, then, they neither gain status in eating, nor do they lose anything by abstaining. However, by willingly limiting their own liberty, the save the conscience of a weak brother. The conclusion here is that the ‘but’ that introduces verse 9 confirms that we should take the first view of this verse, that which presents the Corinthians’ reasoning.
There remains a call to take heed as to your liberty, or more rightly, your use of it. Meats are indifferent, but that cuts both ways. If they don’t matter, your brother’s conscience assuredly does.
To lead one to act against his own conscience, even if your knowledge is correct, remains an offense, a crime against the one so led. For you have built up not his conscience, but his resistance to it; emboldening him to act against his own best advice. “You ought to build up your brother in good; but by your example your building up is emboldening him to violate conscience.”
“A single act, seemingly unimportant, may produce everlasting consequences.” If Christ died for this weakest of brothers, understand how precious that brother is to Christ. We, too, ought to be willing to die for their sake. (1Jn 3:16 – We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.) Yet, here we see professing Christians tempting their fellow believer to damnation rather than forego a bit of meat. “More is involved in redemption than man’s salvation: The character of God, at once just and loving, is vindicated even in the lost; for they might have been saved: So even in their case Christ has not died in vain.” God’s mercy is not rendered vain by man’s abuse. “Even the condemned shall manifest God’s love, in that they too had the offer of God’s mercy.” (2Pe 2:1 – False prophets arose in the past, just as false teachers will be found among you, who secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.)
To ignore their weakness is to smite their conscience, which aggravates the offense. It is ‘as if one struck an invalid’. Recognize the sympathy between Christ and His members, and consider the ramifications as to such an act against your brother. (Mt 25:40 – The King will answer and say, “Truly I tell you that to the extent you did this for one of these brothers of Mine, even the least one of them, you did it to Me.” Ac 9:4-5 – Saul fell to the ground, hearing a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” He answered, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”)
Meat can be taken more generally as food of any sort. Paul admits to a preference: He would choose to avoid meat altogether so as to ensure avoiding these idol offerings which might cause his brother trouble.

New Thoughts (10/25/17-11/03/17)

The Idol of Knowledge (10/27/17)

This letter, for all that I am on my second pass through it, continues to surprise me.  So often it reads as a series of disconnected thoughts, a mélange of concerns being addressed in seemingly random order.  But, then, as one dwells more on Paul’s answers rather than the questions raised, a few themes emerge.  What we are observing is not, in point of fact, a series of disconnected issues addressed by the Apostle in equally disconnected fashion.  The issues are actually one, and as such, the answers are likewise one.

Forgive me.  My wife and I have been reading through Genesis together, and the language of Joseph’s interpretation of dreams seems to have slipped into my own writing.  But, consider:  As to the questions, as varied as they are, they derive from one fundamental problem:  There is at least a contingent in Corinth, quite possibly a majority, which has made their sense of knowledge an idol.  We see that in the whole issue of factions.  On what basis were the factions forming, if not on the presumed superiority of knowledge in this teacher or that?  Look at the issue of sexual sins.  Why was this tolerated?  Because the idol of knowledge suggested to them that God being Spirit, these physical activities couldn’t matter much.  And now we’ve moved on to foods and partying with the idols.  We know they’re nothing, so off we go, and we’re so smart that if you disagree with us, we can simply discount your concerns and do as we please.  You clearly don’t have knowledge.

This, I should note, reflects somewhat of the thinking of the mystery cults, doesn’t it?  Knowledge equals advancement.  Knowledge is to be guarded, kept amongst the advanced members who have earned the right to know.  I can’t help but note that this mystery religion perspective on deeper, hidden knowledge is making a pretty significant comeback in our own day.  Think of all the nonsense espoused by the woke.  It’s really rather discouraging to hear the same sort of vacuous, self-involved language used by the social justice crowd entering into purportedly Christian teachings.  See, we have this hidden knowledge!  What the church has taught down through the centuries is all distorted and wrong.  You need our new revelation.  You need to wake up!  You need to recognize the conspiracy all around you.  The church, presumably, is as infiltrated with the Illuminati as is the government, and only we few, the proud, the woke, can sort you out on the hidden truth!

But, dear ones, the Truth is not hidden.  He has declared Himself to you, explained Himself, made Himself known!  What you have there is not the Word.  What you have there is an idol of knowledge, and that idol, like every idol, is vacuous on one level, but a tool of demons on the more serious level.  It is not, then, imparting sound, useful knowledge.  It is imparting half-truths, or truths so twisted and misapplied that they become lies in the mouths of those who speak them.

Honestly, this is not the direction I had in mind to go with these thoughts this morning, but it fits under the heading of ‘the Idol of Knowledge’.  It’s just a different aspect of the same problem.  In this text, we are addressing that particular form of knowledge which is intuitive knowledge, as opposed to experiential.  That is to say, you’ve read this and that, and putting two and two together, you’ve concluded this other thing must also be true.  And you’re so proud of what you’ve reasoned out!  Here come the factions again!  Only this time, it’s a bit different.  Your idol has told you that idols are nothing, but it has failed to mention that it is itself an idol.  So off you go with your superior understanding, and being so smart, if you give any thought so ever to your coreligionists, it is only to consider how benighted they remain.  Why aren’t they smart, like you?  They’re clearly ignorant, for they haven’t reached your conclusions.  Ergo, their views on such matters as joining in the feast over at Aphrodite’s temple can’t matter to you.

We may find the attitude more painfully familiar if we change the terms slightly.  After all, we are unlikely to be invited to some idol’s temple for a feast.  I guess it’s not entirely out of the question, but it’s nowhere near as likely for us as it was for the Corinthians.  But, try this on for size.  You assess the conflicting views before you and happily conclude that you (no surprise here), have taken the intelligent view on the matter at hand.  One of our favorite mechanisms for downplaying the opposition viewpoint is to insist they are simply dealing from emotions.  This may come up in husband/wife disputes.  The man clearly perceives by intellect, and the woman through a thick haze of emotions, so it’s pretty easy to discern who’s right, right?  Except that intelligent man has a heart just as deceptively wicked as the woman’s, and has almost certainly overestimated his powers of logic and intellect.  Likewise, the woman has a brain just as operational as his, and can in fact make logical, intuitive connections.  They just happen to differ from his.  Now, I would maintain that there is, in fact, a decidedly stronger tendency toward added emotional influence on the conclusions the woman will make, but it is a tendency, not a necessity.

What happens, though, when we decide those who disagree with us are not thinking clearly, but clouding their intelligence with emotions?  We arrive at the conclusion that we can simply discount their disagreement.  We don’t need to bother with their views, because their views are obviously ill-informed, emotional rot.  But, my friend, if we do this, we have just established our idol and begun worshiping it.  This is the issue that Paul is hammering away at here, without directly naming it.  After all, consider the nature of the thing.  If Paul just nails them between the eyes with the obvious truth, “You have made your knowledge your idol, and it is this you are worshiping, not Christ!” he’s not even going to get a hearing.  He will be shut off before he starts.  Rather, it seems to me, he is coming at this in a fashion that will allow the wise amongst them to recognize this for themselves, and take corrective action.

How much more effective, when we hear the truth and recognize our own error.  The dawning light within us is still cause for sorrow, but becomes also a stimulator of godly repentance.  It’s that moment of realization, that recognition that, my God, how could I have been so wrong?  How could I have acted so rashly?  What can I do to make it right, Lord?  Thank You for correcting me, for forgiving me, but help me to repent and repair.  That’s useful.  The head-on denunciation of your views, on the other hand, will only get your hackles up and put you on the defensive.  By this point, I am far into foreshadowing comments to come, so I should leave off and save it for its place, but I have to say yet again how impressed I am with Paul’s Spirit-filled capacity for compassionate correction.  If there is ever an appropriate object for envy, I think this would count.

Lord, I would beg of You that You would grant me even a portion of the steadfast resolve and compassionate wisdom of your servant, Paul.  How I need both!  I know too well my capacity for arrogance, and for making precisely the sorts of judgments about disagreement that I have been describing.  I know, too, that this is not the Way.  That being so, I ask that You would guide my feet and my mouth, and my thoughts which so often go off the rails.  I need You.  That’s hardly news.  But, I need You so particularly in the house, I think.  Show me Your ways, Lord.  Teach me to shepherd this dear one with the wisdom and compassion of Paul, which is to say in Your own compassion.  Grant that I might learn to bring correction by way of gentle realization, instead of the hammer I am inclined to wield.  Help me to stand firm in and for Your Truth, even when it may cause unwanted stress in the home.  Wisdom, Lord:  I need wisdom.

Poorly Instructed, and Who is to Blame? (10/27/17)

Here is a great problem we have, who hold the idol of knowledge:  We are inclined to suppose that the lack of knowledge in our fellow believers points to some fault in them, some incapacity to understand.  So, we are inclined to think them weak, perhaps weak in the head, perhaps weak in the faith, but weak.  Yet, if we consider Paul’s discussion here, their weakness is not a matter of insufficient capacity, it’s a matter of insufficient instruction.  Several of the commentaries make note of this.  Calvin, for instance, make clear that these are not without faith who are declared to be without knowledge.  Rather, they are poorly instructed.  Now who’s at fault?

If these ones you spite with your eating don’t understand that the idols are nothing, and that eating this stuff can’t possibly have any spiritual impact, why don’t they understand?  They lack proper instruction!  The JFB commentary suggests that here Paul is issuing a bit of censure.  These weak ones remain ‘accustomed to the idol until now’.  Why is that?  What’s wrong with their teachers that this has been allowed to continue?  The censure, in this case, does not fall upon those who have been allowed to remain ignorant for lack of teaching.  The censure falls upon teachers who fail to teach, instructors so full of themselves that they fail to instruct.

As I suggested above, that failure to instruct may represent past involvement with false religions just as much as the weaker brother’s continuing regard for idols.  The mystery religions, which were and remain a popular pursuit, reserved the deeper things for those more advanced.  Knowledge, as I noted earlier, was a thing to be guarded and kept amongst the inner circle.  Having spent more time than I care to examining the nature of Freemasonry, guess what?  It’s a mystery religion.  It has all the trappings and all the habits.  They can pretend to be a simple fraternity, but their own literature, liturgy, and apologetics make plain that they are anything but.  They are a mystery religion.  One must advance through the degrees to obtain the deeper secrets, and these must not be divulged to those less advanced.

I think this same mindset pervaded the Corinthian church, brought in from past association and practice.  This is what religion was supposed to look like.  So, as the Gentiles came to Christ, they came with their baggage intact, and this is what Paul must correct.  They are, in this regard, in the very same boat as their ‘weaker’ brothers who still thought the idols had some real power and needed to be acknowledged as such.  Whether this suggests that some from the Church were in fact heading down the street later to make offerings to Aphrodite with that as their intent, or were at least wondering if maybe they should, just to be on the safe side, is a question not readily resolved.  It seems the temptation was there, and Paul’s concern is that these self-involved wise ones might, by their example, lead one of such mind to just go ahead and try and worship both.  But, that way lies a sin far more clear than eating meats of questionable provenance.

Neither camp, it is to be stressed, are without faith.  Both, it would seem, suffered from a certain lack of instruction, or at the very least, had not learned from what was taught.  Now, the knowledgeable ones were bothered by the request to limit their liberty.  Why should we?  We know that what we’re doing is no issue, because God is One, and He is not in these idols.   Never mind that we fail to recognize the idol we just erected there.  WE KNOW.  We have liberty.  We have a right to eat without concern, right?

Well, look carefully.  The only reason there’s a problem here is because ‘not all men have this knowledge’.  Why is that, oh wise one?  Is it not because they need instruction?  Are you not their teachers?  If not, why not?  If so, why have you not instructed them?  You know, if only you would see to the edification of your brother as you should, then there would be no issue at all, because you would, in fact, all have knowledge.  Then, you can exercise your liberty freely.  But, as it stands, no.

I need to pause and turn inward, rather than settling for an assessment of the many ills and issues in Corinth.  As one set here to shepherd and teach, what am I doing?  How am I doing?  I have stepped back, for this season, from my direct involvement with adult ed at the church, but by office, I am required by Scripture to be ready and able to teach.  I am convinced (and this is again a bit of foreshadowing of later comments) that we teach whether we intend to or not, and that has to – or at least ought to – have a controlling interest in how we comport ourselves.  As a shepherd, I cannot simply allow the sheep to believe whatever doctrinal notions may have captured their imaginations.  Neither can I, assuming I’m even aware of those notions, simply tell them they’re wrong and insist they change their views.  No.  That won’t work.  What is hardest for me is filling this same role in the house.  Here, there are seemingly extreme differences in doctrinal position.  Where things are truly secondary and indifferent, the only right course is to allow conscience to dictate, even though that leads to some pretty sticky situations when applied to family dynamics.  But, where things are truly, seriously off the rails, conscience is clearly no longer operating as a safe guide.  I cannot allow the sheep to continue its wanderings.  That’s not shepherding.  That’s selfish desire for peace at all costs.  And yet, here, too, instruction must come in a fashion that will be received or instruction is worthless.

Back to our example, though, for I do believe the example we have here has the seeds of an answer, if we will but plant them and let them grow.  Consider again our knowers.  I have suggested that part of the issue is that they have brought past practice with them, and on this basis kept their knowledge guarded, as it were.  I get the sense that maybe Adam Clarke is seeing the same thing here.  He comments, “Though extensive knowledge is not given to all, yet it is given for all.”  Use it to edify all, or know that you rob others of their right.  This certainly applies the body ministry mindset to such knowledge.  I can’t say for certain whether he is in fact thinking they brought their past with them, and practiced Christianity after the fashion of the mystery religions.  Certainly, there’s much in Paul’s choice of terminology to indicate this was familiar stuff to them.  It should hardly surprise if they, like us, brought their past habits with them into the Church.

It should hardly surprise if, lacking clear and constant education to the contrary, they would see the similarities between this Christianity and their former religion, and suppose the similarities indicated similar behaviors were appropriate.  On the other side of things, these weak ones had a similar problem.  They came with a religious past, in which sacrificial meals played a big role.  This was, by some accounts, practically the defining feature of Corinthian life.  EVERY meal had a sacrificial aspect to it, else it wouldn’t be proper.  So, you come to the Church, and discover the love feasts, and more specifically, the Lord’s Supper.  Well, what is that?  In the mind of the pagan, it’s easy to see how this would be readily equated to the idol feasts that were so much a part of their life.  If, then, Christianity has its own form of sacrificial meal, doesn’t that lend credence to the idea that the sacrifices to these other idols had some real power and significance?  Is it really such a surprise that they might, on this basis, even recognizing that they now served God Who is One, have some serious concerns about eating sacrifices to these idols who are not God Who is One?

Here’s another aspect of the situation which may have more immediate application for us today.  Is it really any wonder that these false, idolatrous practices had certain commonalities with Christianity?  Much has been written of the similarities.  C. S. Lewis, for example, was caught up with the proliferation of ‘corn gods’, gods over fertility; and there are commonalities, to be sure, between these various gods and the true God.  Likewise, there are myriad religions that have at their core a god who dies and rises again.  One book I’ve been reading of late (not recommended, but somebody has to) seeks to suggest that all of these derive from an original false religion established by Nimrod’s wife back in the days when the Tower of Babel was a thing.  Maybe so.  Maybe all the false religions throughout history, or some significant subset of them do, in fact, trace back to this first prototype.  But, there is a question that goes unasked by those who find in these false religions evidence for corruption in Church practice.  That question is simple:  Why did false religions take this form?

There is a need to discern which was copying which.  I have commented often enough that Plato, who was no Christian, managed to espouse a fair amount that comports, almost directly with what Jesus said.  Does this mean Jesus was stealing material from Plato?  I should think not!  Does it mean Plato was a God-fearer?  No.  What it does mean is that all truth is God’s truth, and the fact that you don’t happen to acknowledge Him at present doesn’t mean you don’t know any truthFurthermore, if we accept, as we should, that all false religions are necessarily the product of the devil, shouldn’t we really expect that they’re going to bear a lot of similarity to the real deal?

Remember that all of these myriad mythologies formed when the Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ remained a far-distant promise.  What better way to mislead the elect, in that period, than to present them with these alternatives that appeared to have brought the future promise into the present?  If you were seeking a convincing lie, would you not clothe it in the trappings of the truth?  Think about the nature of camouflage.  How does it work?  It lays on the appearance of what is expected.  If you’re heading into the jungle, it will suggest a certain sort of camouflage so that the eye that passes over you will see what it expects:  Jungle, rather than what is there:  You.  Nature plays the same game.  Why are fish so often light on the underside (and birds, too)?  It is because when you look up, you expect light.  The white underbelly is less discernable against the bright sky than would be the darker colors of the topside.  Likewise, looking down upon the creature, the darker scales or feathers have more of the appearance of land than would the white underside.

It’s the same, I think, with these mythologies.  They wear camouflage.  They have much that appears like the real thing.  They present many of the same trappings:  Sacrificial meals, a god reborn, power to save, and so on.  They just aren’t the reality.  The fact that Christian religion still has those trappings does not – at least not necessarily – indicate that Christianity has allowed pagan practice to influence its own.  Yes, this has happened at times.  Yes, we, like the Corinthians, have a propensity for granting society the power to shape our faith practice rather than shaping societal practice by our faith.  But, to assume that every similarity is obviously an accretion from the pagan past oversteps.

Now, back to the problem at hand:  What are we to do in the matter of weakness?  Well, we can start with what we are not to do.  Clarke points out that we are not likely to cure ignorance by employing ridicule or wrath.  I hate to say it, for fear that I am alone in this, but that seems to cover my usual toolkit.  Such is the idol of knowledge.  You believe that?  Why, you are a silly one, aren’t you?  Or, if it’s closer to home, wrath may be the tool of choice.  Why?  I can only answer for myself that it is because the issue is at once so serious and so seemingly intractable.  Nothing angers a man more, I think, than seeing no ready way to fix the problem.  And this is just exacerbated by the dearness of the one with the problem.  It’s too close to home, and powerlessness is just unacceptable, and yet powerlessness is what you’re feeling, and next thing you know, it’s, “Hulk Angry!”

So, I’ll offer a couple of bookended remarks from the Wycliffe Commentary to segue us into the next section in which we will begin to explore Paul’s answer.  That commentary concludes, “Knowledge will not solve the problem.”  Allow me the counterbalance that stripping knowledge from the equation entirely will likewise fail to solve the problem.  Ignorance, even studied ignorance, is no answer any more than it will serve as an excuse.  So, the commentary concludes, based on its reading of Paul’s argument, “Love, not light (knowledge), solves the problem.”  Again, I feel I must counterbalance this somewhat.  Love alone is no better an answer than ignorance.  Love without knowledge is not a thing you will find commended by Scripture.  We cannot even rightly say that love trumps knowledge.  Rather, the two walk hand in hand as equal partners.  And with that, I will leave off until tomorrow, when we pick up that thread, Lord willing.

Love and Knowledge (10/28/17)

The point is made.  Love and knowledge require one another.  We cannot walk well if we walk in absence of either one.  Knowledge informs us of our liberty in Christ.  We are free indeed, as He has told us (Jn 8:36).  But, liberty permits a course of action.  It does not demand it of us.  As such, the liberty that knowledge permits us ought to be made subject to love, as Calvin advises.  Taking further advice into account, it ought to willingly subject itself to love, and love particularly of the sort God has demonstrated towards us.  Love will not let us look on the less assured, less doctrinally knowledgeable brother with contempt.  Knowledge that puffs up most assuredly will.

Which sort of knowledge have you attained to?  If you would know your own knowledge, a good measure might be found in how you address those who have less of it, or how you think about them, if your knowledge suffices to rein in your tongue somewhat.  Here, I expand beyond the relatively simple matters of liberty.  Dear Calvinist, how do you react when encountering an Arminian?  Dear Arminian, what is your mindset toward your Calvinist brother?  Or, if those debates are too far removed, try another, more current and popular divide.  Dear Charismatic, tell us what you think of your Conservative brother.  Do you question whether he is even born again, as he does not hold to the gifts?  Do you suppose he is, if a believer, a rather sorry and ill-equipped one?  Dear Conservative, when you look upon your Charismatic brother, do you immediately tend toward putting him in the probable idolater category?  Do you take his faith to be a fluffy, non-serious sort of emotionalism?

Well, in all of these, we would be well advised to ask, after an honest answering for our own part, if our knowledge were truly submitted to love, tempered by love, as we had it in the last study, would my answers need to change?  For my own part, I think the answer is yes.  I have become somewhat reactionary in reacting towards many of the Charismatic practices.  In some cases, perhaps even many, that reaction may be justified, at least towards those promulgating whatever latest fancy are concerned.  But, as applied to those who find their message intriguing and even convincing?  No.  Ridicule is a first reaction in me in these cases, in part because the purported teaching is ridiculous.  But, ridicule is not love expressed.  Ridicule is arrogance granted free rein.  Even if my knowledge is right, I must recognize that my response is wrong.

I admit quite candidly that I struggle greatly with how to provide edifying counterbalance to such things, and the need is great.  This is, perhaps, the gift of the apologist, that he or she can bring both knowledge and compassion to bear in answering those with other perspectives.

I continue, Lord, to wrestle with this.  I thank You for the example that You have given us in Paul’s own work here.  But, You know me.  You made me, after all.  That is not to lay blame, but merely to remind myself that You most assuredly do know me, and far better than I can say I know myself.  I ask You, Holy Father, to help me not merely learn how, or see how one may instruct and edify in a caring, loving fashion, but to actually put this into practice.  You know the need, again, far better than do I.  You know – and here, I would plead that You might make me aware of my own misunderstandings – the Truth of the matter, whatever the particulars of the topic.  You know the seriousness of these things.  I have tried in times past to bring a word of correction, but it has come out a word of angry, arrogant frustration, which is not merely valueless, but counterproductive in the extreme.  How, Lord, when the matters are so close to heart and home, do I respond after the fashion of Paul?  How do I pursue the course of Love?  How do I cast aside the arrogance of self-assurance?  How do I lean rather on You than on my own understanding?  I know these things, but it seems the doing of them remains beyond me.  I lay myself at Your feet, therefore, and ask that You would bring aid.

Here, I turn to a point I made in my prior trip through the passage, because it seems I have yet to fully internalize the thing.  “Knowing what is right is only of value if it leads to doing what is right.”  In traditional church language, this is the principle that orthodoxy must result in orthopraxy.  So, it’s not as if I’ve come upon some amazing new insight.  I merely state what has long been known.  Knowing isn’t enough.  Knowledge, as the Wycliffe authors stated, isn’t the answer; not when it is alone.

Returning somewhat to the immediate matters of this passage, knowledge of your Christian liberty is only the smallest portion of the picture.  It is well that you know your liberty in Christ.  But, is it valuable?  It can only be of value if we have learned, as I said at the outset this morning, that permission is not the same as necessity.  You can.  You don’t have to.  In an age of ‘just do it’, we are called to be wiser.  We are called to tether our liberty to love, and let love, which is far wiser than knowledge, have the lead.

Conscience as Guide (10/28/17)

Now, I would turn my thoughts to this matter of conscience.  It would be hard to touch on the subject without being reminded of Martin Luther’s great declaration when on trial for his beliefs.  “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”  Marvelous, isn’t it?  What power of conviction!  But, of course, these are words that could just as readily be applied to Arius, or to the most militant of imams in our own day.  Do the words continue to inspire us, if we set them in the mouths of such men?  Clearly not.  It would seem likely that Martin Luther forms his view on this very passage.  After all, if it is sinful in us that we lead another to act against his conscience, it is assuredly sinful for us to so act ourselves.

If we begin to settle on the rather vapid aphorism, “let conscience be your guide,” we step into a dangerous morass.  We are but a step away from, “just do it.”  At best, we are making assumptions about the one we advise, that he a) has a conscience, and b) said conscience is in fact informed by godly counsel.  It would be well for us to remember the lead up to Martin Luther’s stand.  Hear what precedes.  “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other-my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”  I would stress the beginning and the end of that, far more than the stand on conscience.  For that stand to be meaningful requires it.

“I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason.”  How glad I am that God so guided his remarks as to set these two together!  Too many prefer to be convicted by Scripture and flights of fancy, as we have been discussing.  But, no; Scripture, rightly understood, is understood in the light of plain reason.  It is, after all, the revelation of God Who calls Himself Logos – Reason.  The closing point is just as critical, if not more so.  “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”  If we would advise our brother to follow his conscience, this is a necessary prerequisite.  If his conscience is not in fact captive to the Word of God, then it is a miserable and wholly untrustworthy guide.

I worry over this matter at length because so much of what we are dealing with, both in this letter, and in the life of the church, are what we term matters of indifference, matters of conscience.  That’s rather the point here, isn’t it?  If your conscience leaves you free to partake, and you can do so in a fashion which you can be assured will not touch upon another of different viewpoint, go for it.  If your conscience leaves you questioning the propriety of such an action, by no means proceed!  But, consider:  The conscience of the pagan idolater had no qualms about participating.  Does that render him innocent in his actions?  By no means!  He is an idolater practicing idolatry.  This cannot be done without incurring the guilt of sin.  The instruction Paul is giving here requires the underpinning of a conscience informed by and captive to the Word of God and the God of the Word.  It is only on this basis that his advice can make sense.

The same, I must say, applies to the comments made on this passage.  Matthew Henry, for example, writes, “Wounding their conscience is wounding Him.”  This has some underlying assumptions, assumptions admittedly well supported by the passage.  It assumes we are discussing a brother, and not an unbeliever.  That assessment is made explicit in verse 11.  I would note that Barnes, at least, sought to widen the application of the concern expressed in verse 10, suggesting that your partaking of the feast, apart from its impact on a less-informed believer, might well prove a deterrent to an unbelieving observer coming to faith.  After all, they know you are a Christian, and you’re here, so apparently, either your God is no different than the others, or at the very least, it’s fine to keep on worshiping those others.  I think the application Barnes makes is fine, but I don’t think it does justice to the contextual setting here.  It’s pretty clear that Paul is addressing conduct between brothers, not matters of outreach.

So, I say again that conviction as to our beliefs is insufficient.  I don’t thereby advocate lacking conviction, and would in fact suggest that if we lack conviction, that might be considered good cause to question if we have beliefs.  We may just have some nice intellectual curios, or fine ideas.  Belief requires conviction as to the belief.  But, it’s insufficient.  The Hindu down the street has conviction as to his beliefs, too.  That doesn’t render his beliefs correct.  It merely renders him committed to them.  The New Ager, the Universalist, the new Pagan, they are all committed to their beliefs, such as they are.  The Satanist is actually pretty solidly committed to his beliefs, too.  But, this does not render them correct in their beliefs, nor does it somehow make their conscience a safe guide.  I risk the Biblical equivalent of the Hitler argument, but even Pharaoh was firmly convicted as to his beliefs, so firmly that he followed them right on down into a watery grave, taking his army with him.  His conscience, hardened as it was, served as his guide, and as a guide, proved wholly insufficient to preserve him.

So, then, let us recognize the necessary prerequisite of a God-fearing conscience, captive to the Word.  This does not indicate or require perfect understanding of everything God is and everything He requires.  Neither does this demand from us an absolute conformity as to every belief and practice.  Many things do in fact remain matters of conscience, having no direct bearing on salvation, nor even on sanctification.  “Food will not commend us, nor abstinence condemn us.”  Food isn’t the point.  It’s not that actions on our part have no consequences.  Far from it!  In fact, Paul is turning our attention to those consequences.  But, it’s not the actions themselves, it’s the heart, the mindset that led to those actions.

We might well ask, for instance, how it is that if eating these meats was not a sin, not an act that could defile, how is it that this one of weak conscience would be defiled by the act?  Where’s the black and white in that?  Either it’s permitted and acceptable for all, or it’s not, right?  Wrong.  Again, given our assumption of a conscience informed by God, the question is not what did you do, but why.  For our weaker brother of this example, the why comes down to imitation.  He has, in effect, listened to you rather than God, which can hardly be thought safe.  In acting against the dictates of his own conscience he has, in fact, acted from evil conscience, as Calvin terms it.  This is the stance we hear from Martin Luther.  If my conscience, formed as it is by my best understanding of what Scripture has to say on the subject, has not been convinced, then I dare not act.  That ought to be our conviction in all things!

Calvin actually takes it a step further.  “God would have us try or attempt nothing but what we know for certain is agreeable to him.”  Note what happens with that.  The least hint of uncertainty becomes a no.  That may sound overly severe, but is it?  How much energy do we expend in seeking loopholes in God’s direction?  How often are we, either consciously or subconsciously, trying to figure out how much we can get away with?  We are all little children when it comes to this walking with God.  Like little children, we are forever seeking to test the boundaries, expand our little fiefdoms, and assert our independence.  And all the while, God is saying, “You have no independence.  Apart from Me, you can do nothing (Jn 15:5).  This is sort of the obverse side of the coin which David presents in Psalm 139“Where can I go from Thy Spirit?  Where can I flee from Thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there.  If I lie down in Sheol, You are there” (Ps 139:7-8).

You can’t evade Him, however much you may seek to blind yourself to that fact day to day.  And here is that advice again:  Do nothing but what you are certain is agreeable to God.  We might well say, if you have to ask, then don’t bother.  Just stop right there.  If I might borrow and correct the Nike tagline for this purpose, “Just don’t do it!”

The Idol of Rights (10/29/17)

Thus far, we have seen two idols in this passage.  The first is the one which Paul addresses directly; the idol to which meat was being offered which we can reasonably assume represents one or the other of the Greek gods of mythology.  The second idol we have identified is that of knowledge, which is not to say that knowledge is bad, only that knowledge raised up as the be all end all is.  Now, we observe a third idol, that of rights.  This is not to suggest that rights are inherently evil, or wrong.  It is when we insist on our rights at all costs that we run into trouble.  When such insistence rises up in us, we do well to remember that title I’ve brought out so often:  “You have no rights.”

Well, you do, actually.  In America, we have them practically enshrined – which probably ought to be a warning of sorts to us already.  But, we recognize certain, as they are termed, inalienable rights.  They are inalienable for the stated reason that they are derived from God Himself.  These rights are said to include (it is not an exhaustive list) life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  The later Bill of Rights, which amended the Constitution, adds a number of other rights, perhaps not quite as inalienable, but worthy of being construed as such.  The best known from this list would be those near the start:  The right to speak freely, the right to worship according to one’s own conscience, the right to bear arms, and so on.  Certainly, by the time we arrive at bearing arms, I would have to say we have moved away from matters deriving their authorization from God.  But, the rights are stated, and even with said Bill in place, the list is not intended to be exhaustive.

All of these rights which we may claim are just that:  They are rights.  So, what’s the issue?  Well the issue is this:  A right is not mandatory as to its exercise.  We might reasonably say that you must grant me my right.  But, we cannot reasonably insist that I must avail myself of my right.  The problem is that rights are soon seen as matters of demand.  I demand my right to do this or that, with total disregard for you.  But, you see, such use of my rights must eventually lead me to infringe upon yours.  At bare minimum, at some point my pursuit of my happiness is going to come into conflict with yours.  In the setting of the church, we might prefer to speak of that as pursuit of blessedness, I suppose.  And there, we are zeroed in on the matter before us in this passage.

One pursues his blessedness in exercising his right to eat what and where he pleases.  The other is pursuing his blessedness by seeking to honor God by worshiping Him exclusively.  Unable to view the stuff associated with the temples of his former life as any less religiously involved now, he cannot give himself clearance to participate and retain his blessedness in God.  The first may, as we discussed, feel a certain disdain for the latter, given the lack of understanding, but we are on to a new point.  If my brother doesn’t understand and yet I have the right, does not that right mean I can proceed?  And Paul’s answer is very plain.  “No, it does not mean you can proceed.”

Well, why not?  Wouldn’t my actions help to educate this one, so that he can understand as I do, and enjoy the same right?  No, your actions do nothing of the sort, for they come with no explanation.  Rather, they act against him, tempting him to do something which remains a thing he knows to be wrong, so far as his understanding has developed.  You are, in effect, allowing your right to be the cause of this one abandoning his faith.  Now, we need to be exceedingly careful in how we treat on this matter.  God remains sovereign, and His redemption is not subject to failure, certainly not due to your puny actions.  Yet, the fact remains that you have, at least potentially, led this one into sin, and sin, so long as it persists, remains a sort of living death.  That, I think, is the right understanding to have in regard to verse 11.  Through your knowledge, through your insistence upon exercising your right come what may, this weaker one is continually perishing.   He is dying inside because your example has led him to act against conscience and partake of something he yet counts as wrong.  You have made your right an idol.

How can I say this?  Quite easily.  You have demonstrated by this insistence upon your rights, that your brother’s life is less important to you than your own pleasures.  Matthew Henry has the right of this when he writes that the one who would prefer his rights (or pleasures) to his brother’s life ‘has very little of the spirit of the Redeemer’.  One might even question whether he has any.  But, then, we might very well find ourselves having to condemn ourselves with the same judgment.  God is greater.  It is as true for this brother and his admittedly inadvertent influence as it is with us.  We all have our rights which we will insist upon exercising.  We may, if we think our activity might cause another to have misgivings, consider pursuing it where we are comfortable that we shall not be observed, but we may well find ourselves surprised by the appearance of the very one we were trying to avoid upsetting.

Understand, then, that there is no malicious intent being exposed here.  This one who goes off to the feasts is not doing so with the express purpose of bringing his brother down.  No.  He is just not giving the matter the least bit of consideration.  And, given that the question has apparently come up and made its way to Paul, it seems pretty clear that some scenario such as he describes has in fact transpired.  You did go eat at the temple.  You were seen.  And now, questions are swirling.  You insist it’s your right to do as you did, and have no intention of stopping.  Your brother continues to see it as a moral issue, and thinks you should stop.  He may not, as Paul proceeds in his explanation, have been tempted to join you.  On the other hand, maybe he is so tempted.  Maybe he’s given in already.  Maybe he hasn’t, and your continued participation is a source of constant torment to him as he wrestles with his sense that you are spiritually solid, and yet your actions seem to demonstrate a spiritual void.

We generally have no malicious intent as we pursue our days.  We are just less than deliberate as to our actions, and less than conscientious as to our decisions.  For the case at hand, the JFB points out that the indifference of meats, to which these right-demanders subscribed, cuts both ways.  If it doesn’t matter that you ate, it likewise doesn’t matter if you don’t.  If it’s indifferent, then where exactly is the harm in abstinence?  We might apply this to matters of tobacco use, or the occasional glass of wine or some such in our day.  Or, we might apply it to participation in certain holidays.  Some view Halloween as a matter of indifference, or Christmas.  Others perceive the roots of what lies behind these holidays and question whether a Christian can, in good conscience, participate.  Well, whatever one’s view on the subject, historical fact indicates that many a good and earnest Christian has, in fact, observed both with clear conscience, and New Year’s Eve to boot.  Many a good and earnest Christian remains in the Roman Catholic Church, with all its odd idolatries and feasts, and does so with clear conscience.  They may very well be incorrect in their perceptions and understanding of the seriousness of the matters involved.  In regard to those holidays, and I would say particularly in regard to Christmas – and we can throw Easter in here as well – it is just as likely that the one who scruples at the developments which led to those two established markers of the Christian annual cycle are the ones with weaker understanding, and a weaker view of God.  Yet, this does not grant the right to simply blow off their concerns, or laugh them away.  It does not grant the right to insist on our observance and their conscience be damned if they can’t get it.

Yes, that’s rather strongly worded, and intentionally so.  Because, whether we are willing to think of it in these terms, that’s the reality of our response.  If it’s a matter of indifference, then it won’t hurt you to abstain.  If you can’t abstain, perhaps it’s not so indifferent a matter to you as you supposed.  Oh, dear.  Meats offered to idols, I don’t mind applying that.  Not an issue in our day, really.  Tobacco and alcohol, sure.  I can see that applying.  The one I’ve given up (praise God!) and the other, well, while I do enjoy a glass of wine with dinner when we go out, I don’t need to insist upon it.  And, should I feel the need, that is, as I suggest, a warning sign in itself.  Caution!  Idol ahead!  But, holidays?  Holy celebrations of our Lord’s birth and resurrection?  This is more difficult.  On the one hand, as to the traditional trappings that accompany both, sure.  I don’t particularly care if you don’t wish to decorate eggs and buy new clothes for Easter.  I don’t care a great deal if you don’t wish to have a tree decorated, or to put out a bunch of garish light displays.  I’m sure National Grid would appreciate the extra income that generates, but none of this has to do with Christ, and these days were established for that purpose:  To honor Christ.

Contrary to much of the current argument (sorry to have to keep coming back to this), I don’t need to deny the origins, the selection of dates to make it easier for pagans to come to Christ.  I don’t need to deny Constantine’s intentions.  Neither do I need to denigrate the character of those bishops who gathered at Nicaea or other such councils.  The idols are nothing.  That remains true.  Contrary to the strawman arguments that come our way, it doesn’t require that we acknowledge how Mithras worship got mingled with Christianity, or how this all goes back to Babylonian practice.  Rather, we discover in Matthew that the Babylonian practitioners were among the earliest to come bow down to the Christ.  Their arts, such as they were, pointed them to this One arising in Israel, and they came to submit to Him.

The problem lies not with the holidays and the dates chosen for them.  The problem lies with our innate tendency towards idolatry.  That issue looms as large in the lives of those caught up in this new rejection of said days in favor of the some other set of traditions as it does for those who recognize the history and recognize as well that quite frankly, God is the Redeemer of days as well as of men.  I don’t need to go rejecting this terminology or that because somebody back in the earliest days of history dedicated the day to some meaningless god or other.  I don’t need to stop calling a Caesar salad a Caesar salad because some promoted Caesar as god back in the day, nor do I hear of anybody suggesting such a thing.  Why?  Because it’s pretty clear we don’t eat the salad as an offering to Caesar.  Neither do we wake up every Thursday and dedicate the day’s activities to Thor.  Nor do we arise of a Sunday and think to worship the sun.  Quite frankly, Christmas and Easter are no different in this regard.  Yes, there are aspects of how the day has developed which need to be considered by the one who wishes to honor God by his observance of the day.  But, the day itself?  It is utterly indifferent.  For my own part, I would rather that we kept the reality of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Incarnation, His Atoning death, His Resurrection, and His Ascension clearly before the public eye.  I would see Christ, and Him glorified.

I arrive, at least at this juncture, at the conclusion that these two days are not, in point of fact, matters of indifference.  What are matters of indifference are some of the historical trappings.  Do you want a tree?  No problem to me.  You’re not planning to take up Druidic practices.  Do you want to burn a log?   Not that I’ve known anybody who recognizes that tradition as anything more than a line in some carol heard maybe once or twice a year.  But, hey!  Go for it.  A log is just a log, whether it’s December 25th or October 29th.  It doesn’t matter.  You don’t want a tree or a log?  Nobody’s requiring it of you.  You prefer to give gifts some other day, lest it detract from the holiness of what is observed?  Fine.  You wish to stop observing it altogether because you’re pretty sure we got the date wrong?  Well, I’m not so sure that’s fine anymore.  That feels rather like a bit of reverse accretion.

It’s funny, in a sad kind of way.  This book wishes to make the point that one of the attacks of the antichrist will consist in an attempt to alter time itself.  She sees evidence of this in the calendar as it has developed.  She sees it in the shift from Saturday Sabbath (I’m sure she can’t bring herself to speak of it as Saturday because, after all, that refers to Saturn, which leads to Saturnalia, which leads to Christmas; sigh), to Sunday as the day of worship.  She sees it in the use of Before Christ and Anno Domini as the markers applied to our notation of years, preferring, oddly enough, the utterly secularized, yet essentially unaltered markings of Before Common Era and Common Era.  Really?  What marks the transition?  Oh, look!  It’s still the Birth of Christ.  Why, isn’t that something?  No matter how you try and take Him out of the picture, He’s still there, right where He was before.

But, look at all this and one might reasonably ask the question:  Who’s trying to alter time, now?  Who’s trying to take Christ out of the picture?  I don’t think it’s the Church, with its continued observation of the critical junctures in history that gave rise to our hope of salvation.  I find it, quite frankly, rather odd that one might suppose that the goal of purifying one’s practice of faith would consist in removing the bulk of its reference to the One, the only One, in whom faith can rightly be established.  Rather, this reeks of the same socialist mindset that expends so much energy trying to erase history as it is, to denounce all that has ever been pronounced honorable.  Why does this happen?  Because if we can remove the memory of goodness, we can promote the evil as good much more readily.

No, though I must, I suppose, continue to read this sorry text, and attempt to do so with an unbiased mindset, it becomes very hard to see it as anything to do with the Spirit of God.  It seem much more a product of the spirit of the age.

Sinful Self-Centeredness (10/29/17)

We continue on a related point; related, that is, to the matter of idolatrous insistence on rights, or idolatrous response to knowledge.  What lies behind this?  I think it’s probably the same thing that lies behind the vast majority of our idols:  Self-centeredness.  What makes us unmindful of our brother?  Self-centeredness.  What causes us to insist on our way or the highway?  Self-centeredness.  What makes us forcefully assert our approach to worship no matter how uncomfortable it may make the folks next to us?  Self-centeredness.  Here, I think, we hit something which cannot be anything but sinful.  And, it is this sin of self-centeredness that leads us to so readily sin against our brother.

What makes the whole thing unavoidably sinful is this:  It leads us to act against the fundamental Law:  Love your brother as yourself.  You can’t do that if you’re entire focus is on yourself, on your own gratification and your own ego.  Barnes makes the point with sufficient bluntness.  If the Law requires that you love your brother (and it does), how can such an action as we are considering here not be sinful?  Calvin adds his voice to the chorus.  “That man who, for the sake of a very small portion of meat, hurries back again to death the brother who has been redeemed by Christ, shows how contemptible the blood of Christ is in his view.”

How much differently would be behave, I wonder, if we would keep this perspective that our willingness to let our brother suffer while we pursue our selfish course is clear evidence of our own contempt for Christ and His redeeming work on our behalf?  We can rationalize our behavior any way we choose.  We can even be correct, so far as our reasoning goes.  Yes, it is a permissible action.  But, while the activity may not be sinful, yet it is made sinful when we allow it to become a cause of our brother’s sin.  We sin against him, and in so doing, we cannot but sin against God.  Again, the Law of Love requires better of us.  That agape love we are to demonstrate toward God and brother alike is not going to be thus demonstrated by an ego boost.  It is not demonstrated in insistence on our prerogatives no matter the damage.  If this is our view of agape, we don’t know it as we must come to know it.

I’ll say this.  If this is our approach, and if our brother is convinced to act against conscience because of our self-gratifying insistence on doing as we please, we have not only identified a fourth idol; we have become that fourth idol.  We have made ourselves an idol in the eyes of that weaker brother.  How do I say this?  I say it because what is demonstrated here is that he has begun to listen to you as more authoritative than the Spirit of the Living God.  Now, tell me you haven’t led him into sin! 

The utter egregiousness of our behavior is brought out by a comment the JFB makes in regard to our willingness to lead our brother to his downfall by our demanding example.  It is, they write, ‘as if one struck an invalid’.  How would you react to somebody who did such a thing?  We get enough examples of it in the news anymore that I think we know how we would react, because we have reacted that way.  We are disgusted with those who would do such a thing.  Whether we are of sufficient character as to step in and prevent the action if we are witness to the event, at minimum we are disgusted with so reprehensible a deed.  This is part of our response when we read of able-bodied teens abusing a weakened homeless person.  This is part of our response when we read of powerful men abusing their power to force themselves upon weak women.  No, those women are not invalids, but it’s the same dynamic.  It’s only made worse in the case, say, of one confined to a wheelchair, or incapable of so much as moving their arms to defend themselves.  What sort of sicko does such a thing?  What warped sense of self allows it?  This same utter disgust ought rightly to apply when we consider the one who willingly, insistently acts in such a manner as leads his brother to sin.  Arguably, it applies even when the outcome is not so certain, but that one’s insistence on acting might lead to such outcome. 

And then, I fear, we must once more look to our own house.  Where are we insisting to the potential detriment of another?  Is there anybody who can find themselves innocent of such a charge?  I rather doubt it.  But, once again, there is a God who is greater.  Thanks be to Him that our salvation does not depend on our compliance, but upon His mercy.   May we express that thanks more and more each day by our desire to comply, and our increased efforts toward that end, but not – I must stress – as fearfully pursued lest we discover ourselves amongst the condemned, rather as a thank offering to the Lord Who has already saves us to the uttermost.

Edifying Sinfulness (10/30/17)

“We should be careful to do nothing that may occasion weak Christians to defile their consciences.”  There is Matthew Henry’s advice for the strong.  It’s hard to argue with, isn’t it?  And yet, as we think about it, we may begin to wonder, how much is enough?  If there are boundaries on my liberty are there no boundaries on his scruples?  In this case, no.  We are not discussing something that just bothers your brother, maybe irritates him.  We might take the example of how you opt to worship.  You may be more exuberant than another, and that may prove a bit of an irritant to them if they tend more toward the quiet, contemplative approach.  But, you’re not, in that case, encouraging your brother to act contrary to faith.  You may, it is true, provoke him past irritation into anger, but that is at least a somewhat different matter.  Here, the situation is that of pursuing an indifferent matter even though it may lead your brother to sin.  In such a case, you cannot continue in your course without violating the law of love.  Said in the obverse, the law of love requires self-denial of you in this instance.

We can return to the reason this proves necessary.  In this instance, let us say it is baggage.  We call come with baggage.  This person’s baggage consists in a lifelong familiarity with the temple down the street and the idol within said temple.  A lifetime of learning has taught this one that there’s something to this idol.  Surely, there is a reason we were taught to make our offerings to them, seek their approval, or at least appease them so their fickle attitudes would not tend to our detriment.  Such a one, though having turned to Christ, and even having accepted that God alone is truly God, may yet assign a certain degree of power to these idols.  God is working on them in this matter, slowly bringing the Truth to bear and dislodging the superstitions.  But, now, this young convert sees you.  You are at the temple.  You are eating the idol’s sacrifice.  You are, by all appearances, worshiping said idol just like old times.  And you, sir, as you so readily admit, are far more advanced in your Christian faith.  What is he to make of this?  Clearly, if one so much more advanced in faith still attends to the idols, he had best do so as well.  Now, your superior grasp of doctrine has caused this poor man to replace sound doctrine with superstition once more!

I will insist that if this one is a believer, you have not, could not if you tried, cause him to fall away from faith entirely.  You are, however, causing him to suffer a serious setback.  You are, at barest minimum, laboring in opposition to Christ.  It’s a losing labor, but that doesn’t render it any less evil an act, or any less a violation of the law of love.  In fact, it amplifies the sinfulness of your sin.  Understand that whatever your views in regard to your actions and the indifferent nature of that in which you have participated, your example has not altered this brothers own opinions.  He thinks no differently than he used to about the matter.  What he does experience is the temptation to disregard his opinion, to cast off conscience and join you.  If this has happened, what, we must ask, has been built up?  What has been strengthened?

I arrive, at long last, at the main point of this heading.  You are always edifying your brother.  You are always building up.  That is not to suggest by any stretch that you are always intentional about it.  But, intentional or not, it’s happening.  I would offer a pair of exclamations offered on this point.  First from the Wycliffe Commentary:  “Fine edification this is; it builds up to sin!” Indeed!  This must serve as a serious warning to us, that however lofty and correct our doctrine, if by its application we present a brother with temptation to sin against his own sense of holiness, we are building up sin, not righteousness.  We are serving Satan, not Christ.  Do you still wish to continue your course?

Calvin offers what I think is a very necessary corrective in his comment on this.  “Now that is a ruinous kind of building, that is not founded on sound doctrine.”  Thus far, we have not really considered the accuracy of that doctrine the ostensibly knowledgeable one presents in his defense.  Paul has, by all appearances, given it the nod, hasn’t he?  If he has, I have to say he has only done so in part, and even that part must be deemed a questionable, so far as it being insisted he is agreeing.  He may, just may, grant that the food from the market is a non-issue.  After all, its provenance cannot be determined.  Maybe it’s from a sacrifice, maybe not.  It doesn’t affect the quality of the meat, and it does not somehow represent itself as sold in honor of this godlet or that.  What he assuredly does not condone, regardless of the potential presence of a less-informed believer, is going down to the local pagan temple to join in with the festivities.  We have only to proceed another couple of chapters to see that established.  These idols are powerless, to be sure.  Yet, they tools in the worship of what are in fact demons.  You can’t go down there and participate without participating in that worship of demons, and it is not even thinkable that God, Who shares His glory with nobody, would be OK with sharing you with these demons.

We have to be careful.  I think there’s a large part of us that wants to see our liberty certified by this passage, and to expand that liberty to cover things that we quite frankly know are wrong.  We, like our forebears, would just as soon be a law unto ourselves, albeit with God’s blessing.  But, that cannot be.  We are either a law unto ourselves and still fully under the curse, or we are servants of the Most High God, and thereby bound to subservience to His laws.

Our every action, our every casual comment or word withheld, edifies.  That’s a daunting realization!  It ought rightly to have us on our knees, praying with all our energy that God might prevent us from edifying sin rather than righteousness.  We servants of this most holy God are horrifyingly apt to edify the wrong thing.  We know God is forgiving, and so we become forgiving in the extreme, countering every sin in our brother with such edifying statements as, “Oh, it’s OK.  We all sin.”  Well, yes, that’s true.  It’s hardly edifying, in any good sense.  We may as well just tell him to go on and keep doing as he’s been doing.  God won’t mind.  Well, of course God will mind.  I don’t suggest that we actually think about these implications and outcomes when all we’re trying to do is comfort and encourage a brother.  But, I do suggest maybe we’d better.

Ask before you speak, ask before you act:  Will this edify my brother in righteousness, or build up his sin?  Will I improve his consciousness with this example, or encourage him to ignore the still, soft voice of conscience?  Ask constantly, “What am I building?”  That, I have to say, is one of the constant themes of this letter.  “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it.  But let each man be careful how he builds upon it” (1Co 3:10).  That word was delivered to the self-styled teachers of the Corinthian church, but recognize:  We are all teachers one of the other.  We may not serve in that office, but we all serve in that capacity, and we do so constantly, whether or not we do so consciously.  What are you building?  It’s a question to ask in regard to your own course of sanctification.  It is also a question to ask in regard to your example, by which another is being taught.  I wanted to identify that as your inadvertent teaching, because too often, that’s exactly what it is.  But, for that very reason, I would prefer instead to advise us to seek that we might put an end to inadvertent teaching, and become intentional about it.

Right Use of Liberty (10/31/17)

We return to the theme from the previous passage:  Liberty has limits.  Those limits are established by Law – the Law of Love.  Love for God necessarily produces in us love for our brother.  Love for our brother just as necessarily requires us to consider his spiritual well-being.  In every situation, but particularly where we begin to feel the fierce urge to defend our liberty in the face of disagreement, we do well to ask:  What will best serve my brother’s spiritual health?  That, then, is the course of action we ought to take.  Clarke says much the same thing.  “Every man should walk so as either to light or lead his brother to heaven.”  How much of my own behavior, and I think particularly about behavior in the workplace, which tends to bring out my cynical side, would be exceedingly different were I to hold this advice before me?  Walk so as to lead another to heaven.  That’s going to be hard to do by grumbling and complaining about everything.

It’s a bit of an aside, but one I need to set down for my own benefit:  At work last week I was not exactly in the best frame of mind.  As I say, this particular contract has been a greater challenge than usual for my disposition.  At any rate, one of my coworkers asked the rather traditional question familiar to all:  How’s your day going?  My response was not terribly positive.  This gentleman’s response was to the effect of, “How can you say that?  Today is, literally, a gift from God!”  Now, to honest, I can’t tell you if this is my brother speaking of God, or a pagan with entirely different ideas as to what or who God is.  But, the truth of that statement convicted me regardless.  Whatever he may be wrong about – and again, I don’t know that he is – one thing is certainly right:  Today – every day – is a gift from God.

It’s not a coincidence, I dare say, that Table Talkoffered its weekend devotional this last weekend (10/28/17) on the very same point.  Let me just quote a bit.  “Every morning, the Christian should be like a joyous child waking to balloons and presents.  For another day, the Lord has renewed His mercies and surrounded us with a smorgasbord of gifts and graces.”  Seriously, I need that on a poster or something, to remind myself daily, hourly, moment by moment, just how utterly blessed I am to be counted amongst His children.  Here is the thankful heart expressed!  Lord, You shouldn’t have!  Thank You so much!

Now, to return us to the subject at hand, liberty is assuredly to be accounted amongst those gifts and graces that God has showered down upon us.  So is conscience.  As that article also noted, these gifts are not given for us to compete with one another, but so as to serve one another or, as Paul repeatedly emphasizes in this letter, to edify one another; build each other up.  Consider, then, this gift of liberty in relation to your brother’s conscience, and what must arise?  Let me quote Matthew Henry, who it seems is ever quotable.  “Liberty is valuable, but the weakness of a brother should induce, and sometimes bind, us to waive it.”  Here is a proper perspective on this gift you have been given.  It isn’t given to you so that you can demand its exercise.  It has been given to you so that you can exercise it in a fashion that aids your brother, as Clarke was saying, by serving as a light to lead him heavenward.

If this is how we use the gift of liberty, then most assuredly we cannot think it good to claim our right of liberty to the hurt of our brother’s soul.  And this must be the result if we, by our insistence, cause that brother to yield to temptation so as to act against the conscience which is his own gift from God.  How does this not injure our Redeemer?  I don’t suggest we cause Him physical harm, nor that we somehow threaten His spiritual well-being.  He is God!  But, do we cause Him offence?  Assuredly!  Do we sin against Him?  Listen!  You have just acted in clear violation of the Law of Love which is arguably the sole Law of Christian faith.  As the popular meme has it, “You had one job…”

I don’t know if it’s American heritage, or simple, bull-headed pride, but it is very hard for us to hear of liberty being so constrained by any consideration as to bind us, as Mr. Henry says, to waive our right.  Waive our right?  Perish the thought!  But, rather, surely we should give thought to the perishing.  Our right may be ever so real, our contemplated action fully compliant with law, both civil and spiritual.  And yet, because that action would serve as a stumbling block to another, pursuing that action would in plain point of fact be a sin.  It is not the act, we must note.  It is the pursuit of it in spite of the spiritual harm done to another – another whom I am called to love, to consider as far more important than myself.

We have this high view of our rights, and yet, if we would but compare that right with its impact, surely we must recognize the pettiness of our insistent demands.  Paul is actually rather kind in his presentation of this fact.  He is just showing them the logical fallout of their own opinions.  If meats are indifferent, then your partaking can’t be of any real spiritual significance to you.  But, if meats are indifferent, then your abstaining can’t be of any real spiritual loss, either.  If it’s indifferent, it’s really indifferent, and it cuts both ways.  Barnes, to my thinking, brings the contrast into sharper focus.  Compared to your brother being led into sin, your liberty to eat is of no importance.  Well, sure, when you put it like that, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

Well, then, there’s another question to be asked.  If these are your options:  Act as you desire with the potential of doing serious spiritual harm to your brother, or refrain from acting with no harm to yourself; then why, Why, would you choose a course that has even tends toward the destruction of your brother’s soul?  I borrow the emphasis on tends from Barnes, because this comes in reaction to an Arminian take on the passage, as indicating that the Christian can in fact fall away permanently, that the destruction, the perishing that Paul puts in view is a final and irrevocable, necessary outcome.  It’s not.  But, I’ll get to that later.

If we are in fact at liberty, then we are at liberty to abstain.  We are not constrained to so abstain, except it be by our own conscience as it is informed by the Holy Spirit indwelling us.  We are at liberty to abstain though.  We can willingly choose to set aside our right in order to better aid our brother in his progress.  We can choose to love our brother more than ourselves.  To borrow a great line from Mark Heard, “Go ahead, ain’t nobody looking but God!”

Now, there’s a counterpoint to this harmonious course we contemplate.  Our liberty to abstain does not, it should be understood, grant the weak brother a right to demand our abstention.  Abstention on that basis is not liberty exercised in love.  It is tyranny exercised by another, and tyranny is assuredly just as unloving when it insists on another’s restriction of his rights as it is when that other insists on his rights.  Again, the law of love cuts both ways.  The Wycliffe Commentary offers the thought that, “The strong are to yield to love’s appeal voluntarily, not because the weak demand it.”  Now, I confess I think the dividing line is going to be very hard to identify, but identify it we must, and if we find our brother seeking to impose a legalistic system of his own devising upon us, we are not required to comply.  We are, however, still constrained by the law of love.  How does love respond?  I’m just going to leave that hanging there.  I’ll suggest, perhaps, that this is a far more useful question for the Christian to keep asking himself than the “WWJD” business.  Jesus is God, and acts perfectly.  I am not, and cannot.  I can, however, choose to love.  In every situation, I am set at liberty to love by the Law of Love.  How can I love my brother, my sister, in spite of their current understanding?

I might very well ask the obverse, because there I find a truly astounding thing.  How can they love me, in spite of my cranky, oft-times arrogant attitude?  Perhaps they’ve already been asking themselves the question I proposed, about how to love me.  Perhaps it’s time and past time that I take that question more seriously.  Today, I shall return for what is likely the penultimate time to that same workplace that has been such a challenge.  Can I, perhaps just for this last day or two, manage to set aside the frustration, the complaints, the denigration of everything and anything, to simply live out a loving thankfulness for this day that the Lord has made, this day that the Lord has set before me as a gift?  And, supposing I can, will I?

Before I turn to other matters, I wanted to note something further from the Wycliffe Commentary because it touches back on some of this whole holiday propriety business.  Yes, I’m sorry.  That’s likely to be a bit of a recurring theme for a while yet, much as I would prefer it to be otherwise.  Much is made of the Jerusalem decree by that anti-holiday text; much more than is reasonable, in my opinion.  But, said decree is in fact a repeated statement in Scripture, and not to be discounted, either.  That decree certainly cuts to the heart of the dispute that Paul is addressing in Corinth.  In short form, that decree is pretty simple.  (Ac 15:19-20 – It is my judgment that we do not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but require only that they abstain from things contaminated by idols, from fornication, from what has been strangled, and from blood.)  Seems clear enough, doesn’t it?  Couldn’t Paul have simply reminded the Corinthians of this?  After all, it was written for them, or at least as including them in its thoughts.

Yet, Paul doesn’t even make reference to this at all.  He didn’t turn to this when addressing the issue of fornication.  He doesn’t refer to it now when addressing idol-offerings.  Rather, as the Wycliffe authors again point out, he ‘appeals to loftier spiritual concepts, which the Greeks would appreciate’.  Now, let me set a limit to this, which I believe I have already made note of:  Paul does not speak contrary to that decree.  It is, after all, every bit as much God’s Word as are his own instructions.  That being the case, the Holy Spirit is hardly going to grant that these two Apostles, James and Paul, should teach as sound doctrine things that are wholly opposed.  This has to color how we understand Paul’s message here, and if that message seems unclear, or appears to run contrary to the decree, remember that Chapter 10 lies ahead, with its admonition that dining with the idols is dining with demons.

But the reason this point has such resonance with me at present is simply that Paul is not appealing to Jewish practice whatsoever in his exhortations here.  He is speaking to Greeks as Greeks.  He is giving them the Truth in their own language, their own terms, their own approach to thinking.  There has been this sense, in certain corners of the faith, that Hebrew and Greek approaches to learning are akin to good and evil.  The Hebrew way is good, and bears God’s seal of approval.  The Greek way is corruption, and represents nothing but man-made tradition.  Scripture, however, will not support this.  Rather, in spite of the Hellenists and their corruptions, God has clearly embraced both.  Why, we might think to ask, did He choose that particular point in history for the Incarnation of Christ?  Why did He choose Greek as the language in which this new covenant would be written?  Why, for all that, did He cause His Son to be born in the heart of a region notorious for its admixture of Jew and Gentile?  To suppose the Greek influence is necessarily bad and wrong is necessarily to accuse God of blowing it rather badly.  I, for one, am disinclined to think that possible.

To keep with our theme of liberty, we are at liberty to learn by both modes.  We are at liberty to appreciate the logic and philosophical inputs of the Greek alongside the figurative, parabolic stylings of the Hebrew.  God uses both.  We would, it seems, be well served to make use of both.  I assume He had His reasons, and if He had His reasons, rest assured they are very good reasons indeed.

The Boundary of Legalism (10/31/17)

Alright, then, if my liberty has boundaries, do not my brother’s scruples likewise have boundaries?  Yes, they do, although they will be difficult to discern and enforce.  But, start here:  Our call to lovingly limit our liberty does not grant that narrow-minded legalist next to us to impose his views on us.  Remember the Law of Love, and that it serves to constrain both.  It may be that the Law of Love as you consider your own course will willingly choose to accept the limitations they insist upon.  It may be that somehow you manage to make clear that it is a matter of loving concern for their own development that moves you so to act, and not agreement.  Love, I think Paul would tell us (and effectively does), would instruct.  Love would find opportunity to edify.  Love would not, however, demand acknowledgement of liberty.  It would gently, as slowly and repeatedly as necessary, seek to explain liberty to that brother in hopes that he, too, might enter into the fullness of that liberty which God has granted him.  But, until such time as he willingly, of his own accord, comes to acknowledge liberty, the question remains for us:  What does love look like here?

Clarke, in this case, is somewhat more severe in his assessments.  I’ll set them before you in two quotes for our consideration.  First quote:  “We are called to walk by the testimony of God; not according to the measure of any man’s conscience, how sincere soever he may be.”  This is assuredly true.  This is to say, as Paul does, as Luther did, that it is never safe for us to act in violation of our own conscience, supposing said conscience is scripturally informed.  It is to set doctrine over against tradition and declare that doctrine wins, hands down.  But, there remains the question:  What does love do with this situation?

The second quote:  “Many persons cover a spirit of envy and uncharitableness with the name of godly zeal and tender concern for the salvation of others; they find fault with all; their spirit is a spirit of universal censoriousness; none can please them; and everyone suffers by them.”  Again, I must grant the truth of this premise.  Yes, many do indeed put on their mask of Christian perspective as disguise for a seriously damaged heart.  In fact, I could go so far as to suggest we all do.  The masks may differ and the damage those masks disguise may vary, but human nature is human nature.  Ask the casual acquaintance how it’s going, and it is unlikely in the extreme that you’ll get an honest answer.  It is unlikely in the extreme that you wanted one.  No, you’ll get, “Everything’s fine.”  Your question is recognized as a politeness and responded to with another.  Neither of you, quite frankly, is particularly earnest or transparent in that exchange.  Masks for all!

I can think of some fairly extreme cases from my experience.  I know there are many who feel it would somehow demonstrate a weakness of faith to confess the negative, as they might term it.  I know far too many who think it somehow spiritually correct to insist they are perfectly healthy and doing fine when it is patently obvious to one and all that they are sick as a dog.  This, to explain, is suggested as confessing in advance what faith is assured God will do, and is therefore the righteous way to address illness.  Personally, I have found that God is pretty comfortable with the truth of the matter, and I’m not sure it’s anything but presumption to insist you know how He’s going to address your present condition.  I mean, if it’s a cold or something like that, yes, you can be pretty confident of recovery, and I can accept that any recovery is rightly to be attributed to God.  Of course, so is every breath you take.  So is the fact that you remain alive for the next moment or two.  The list goes on.  Yet, this does not stop the sense of foreboding when we feel either life or breath threatened.  Put whatever face on it you like, the interior life of the mind is going to be much the same.

Where am I going with this?  Sorry.  Back to the quote.  Many do indeed cover their envy with a pious pose.  Many want nothing much more than the power to direct others, and clothe that in whatever they deem a more representable visage.  “None can please them; and everyone suffers by them.”  This is true.  But, the question remains:  How does love respond?  Do we cast them out as vile unbelievers beyond any possibility of redemption?  Is their legalistic tyranny the sin unto death?  If not, then I have to think love may very well require that we acknowledge their weakness and accept some further limits on our liberty until such time as we can help them to grow out of it.  Again, I think we find a loving way to express that our willingness to self-limit does not indicate agreement, but rather loving tolerance.  And, whatever you do, don’t let that loving tolerance become condescending tolerance.  Condescension is not loving.

The Intentional Christian (11/01/17)

Now, I have mentioned already that we are, whether consciously or not, constantly serving to edify others in some fashion.  We either build them up in righteousness or in callousness.  We either promote their piety or their sin.  This does not imply intent; certainly not an intent to wrong.  But, intentional or not, the risk of wrong result is there.  We are, I think, more often accidental mentors than mentors by intent.

I can take the example of a conversation had at work just yesterday, in the course of wrapping up my work for this particular client.  My team lead tells me she has learned quite a lot from working with me this last year and change.  Now, my perception is that she has saved me from egregious error on any number of occasions, and consistently demonstrated a grasp of the project details that leaves me mildly stunned.  But, there it is.  I have not been out to mentor her or anybody else.  I have simply been doing the job in some combination of the best way I know how, and with a certain disregard for schedule in favor of improvement.  I bring this up for one reason, other than the freshness of the event.  It may, probably should, set us back a bit when we hear such a thing said of us.

There are two possible responses that come to mind.  I’m sure there are more I could come up with should I care to do so.  But, we have these primary options.  We may respond from ego, as it were, and enjoy the praise given us.  This will likely lead to an uncritical acceptance of the intended compliment, and to a degree, this is the right, modest response:  A simple thank you.  It is not really a time to insist that no, my example has been nothing, and you are quite wrong in your assessment.  On the other hand, it really should give us cause for a bit of introspection.  What have I exemplified by my example?  Which bits has she learned, and will they in fact improve her work and, more critically, her character?  Because frankly, while it can hardly be expected to be the primary concern of my employer, it really ought to be a primary concern for me.  Character counts.  It counts far more than profits.

If I review my character mentoring, however unintentional it has been, I cannot say it has always been the best.  I can tend toward a rather sour, cynical disposition.  OK.  That’s probably a serious bit of understatement.  It is my standard setting, at least when my focus is not on the Scriptures as it ought to be.  That reminder last week that today is a gift from God struck home for exactly this reason:  My example so rarely demonstrates this perspective.  So, yes, perhaps my attention to improving what we inherit from prior projects, and my techniques for remembering what’s going on in multiple workspaces when tasks have durations measured in days and weeks are worth learning.  But, have I been godly?  That’s the question we really ought to ask.  Have I mentored good character?  Here, I fear, I fall short too often, and the idea of somebody finding my example worthy of emulating is cause for concern rather than rejoicing.

Now, bring that back to the Church, not that the two are as separate as we tend to treat them as being.  Whether purposeful or inadvertent, our example builds up something in our brother.  Grant me to use the wider sense of brother here, and you can readily see that yes, this really does encompass the workplace just as readily as the house of worship.  Every encounter we have is with a potential brother, if not yet a brother in realized fact.  We don’t know.  We are ever on mission.  We just tend to forget about that in the business of the day.  But, the reality is that nothing has changed other than the venue.

At church, at home, at work, it makes no difference.  “A single act, seemingly unimportant, may produce everlasting consequences.”  I take that from the JFB, but it’s something I’ve heard R. C. Sproul say, as well.  You don’t know what off-hand comment, what unguarded gesture may be heard or observed with far greater impact than was intended.  As a parent, I would insist that you don’t know what exactly you have imparted to your child until they grow up and you see the result.  You know what you were trying to impart.  You know the effort you put into ensuring those lessons were heard and received.  But, you don’t know.  It’s generally the case, I suspect, that what we do deliberately in this regard is of little consequence compared to what we impart by our unguarded example.  Our children are far more interested in the question, “But what are you really like?”  By and large, I would say our children really do desire to emulate us, periods of rebellion aside.  Those inclined toward belief in generational curses might go so far as to say they are rather doomed to emulate us.  It does seem as though our kids have an uncanny capacity for choosing our worst traits to emulate, and leaving the better part behind.

Sadly, the situation is not likely to be much different when it comes to our brothers and sisters in the church.  It may not be the example we are trying to set that takes hold, but the example that is observed in us when we’re not trying.  What is the solution?  Well, you could try always trying, but I suspect that would be found too trying by far.  You can’t keep it up.  You could try, perhaps, just perhaps, being yourself.  If you are acting the mentor, perhaps the issue is that you are acting.  And, if you are, rest assured that your act will be found out, and the real you observed.  The real you, whatever face you put on the mentoring task, will be the model that provides the takeaway.  Pay heed to that.

Now, let us suppose that you have all that sorted with yourself.  You’re doing well, living a consistent life.  Praise God!  You are, as part of that consistent life, serving as mentor to one or more of your younger brothers in the church.  Again, praise be to God!  This is as it should be.  But, as you mentor, you are perhaps somewhat dismayed to learn of certain of this younger one’s beliefs.  How could he be so wrong about this?  What is the mentor to do?  Surely we can’t let his misunderstanding remain, can we?  This is something of the dynamic on display in this matter of foods that Paul is addressing.

If you are the mentor, and your mentee is just not up to your level on this stuff, well first off, that should hardly come as a surprise, should it?  After all, if you are a mentor to him, it is presumably because he has need to learn, not because he’s already got it all down.  But, you are trying, as best you may, to help him grow in faith, to encourage his pursuit of righteousness.  You see what seems to you to be a fundamental misunderstanding.  Oh, let’s be brave and call it error.  It may be a secondary matter.  It almost certainly is.  But it’s one you deem important, and in your advanced state of development, you’ve seen how this informs other, far more serious matters of faith, and if he’s wrong down here in the secondary stuff, it’s going to weaken his grasp of these deeper things you would have him to know.  What to do, what to do?

Well, here’s what not to do:  Don’t go forth intent on correcting every last misunderstanding or misconception that arises.  In plain point of fact, if we return to the fundamental question – what would love do in this situation – we may very well discover the answer is, “nothing.”  Love may not try to correct, not by words and argumentation at any rate.  There’s a time and a place for that.  But, I can tell you this:  If your mentoring is a constant barrage of correction, you won’t have to worry about the results for long.  Your mentee will find somebody more tolerable to follow. 

Consider your Mentor.  Does Jesus constantly beat you over the head with your errors?  That has not been my experience, nor is it the model I see presented to us in the Gospel accounts.  Does this suggest God doesn’t care about our errors?  No.  He is, however, wise enough to know that seeking to correct everything all at once will destroy us rather than build us.  We need to be aware of the same thing.  We need to learn patience.  We need to learn the admonition that love covers a multitude of sins (1Pe 4:8).  In fact, it would seem likely that Peter has Proverbs 10:12 in mind with that statement, and there, God has caused it to be written that, “Love covers all transgressions.”

And, contrary to attempts by this current, least favorite author of mine, that is not spoken as cutting both ways, as though the love of God, even in the hands of fallen man, can rightly be supposed to wink at sins.  That is not Peter’s point and it is an egregious error to try and wedge that in there.  “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”  There is nothing there about winking at sin.  There is no other side of the sword.  There is only the exertion of love in the course of edification, or if you prefer the exertion of edification in the course of love.

If you are sensible of your mentee’s capacities, as God has been sensible of yours, you will very often find that love does not choose to attempt correction at this juncture.  There are, perhaps, other matters that are more seriously in need of attention.  Or, perhaps it’s just a season for strengthening what is there, a time of healing.  Think of it in terms of an exercise regimen, and I believe you will recognize that periods of serious exertion require periods of rest to follow.  Or, take the example of healthcare.  Surgery will require a period of recuperation to follow.  It is the way of things.  Further surgeries may be necessary.  Further exercise may be called for.  But, not immediately.  You need time to catch up, as it were, with what has already been done.  Love covers.

We are all of us called to live as testimony to the goodness of God.  This is a universal for the Church.  “Go and make disciples.”  This may be done through preaching.  It will assuredly be done through example.  What is your example saying of God’s goodness?  What is it exemplifying to those around you?  Take care!

And here, I will reiterate a point made to myself a year or so back:  The shepherd, more so than others in the flock of Christ, must take great care of his example.  If there is a general need for intentional mentoring, intentional edifying, it is magnified in this role.  If your casual word to your peer may bear far more significance in his mind than you expected, more so the elder in his office.  Whether you would account yourself sufficiently wise for the office or not, whether you are prepared for the sorts of questions that come your way or not, you are going to be heard as one who is sufficiently wise and prepared.  Whether you are trying to walk as a godly example or not, you will be supposed to be doing so.  Whether you are seeking to lead by example, or not, they will take their lead from you.  How do you feel about that?  I would hope there is at least a tinge of concerned worry creeping in, if not outright dread.  I don’t suggest allowing that to cripple you, but it surely ought to drive you to your knees on a regular basis to seek the aid of God Who is Wisdom, God Who is prepared to answer.  Don’t let ego get you answering off the cuff.  You don’t know which of your words will be received with greater authority than they deserved.

I think of the question that faced me just a week or so back.  “What would you do in this situation?”  It was a very real situation, with very real implications.  You, sir elder, in your wisdom, advise me.  God help me, but I hope the answer I gave meets with His approval.  I do believe it was the right answer.  I also believe, if in fact it was taken to heart, the ramifications for the one asking are potentially huge.  I would have to say that the ramifications are just as potentially huge, if not more so, if he does not.  Is it life or death?  Probably not.  Is it a matter of serious import as to spiritual growth and health?  Probably.  Did I answer as I ought?  I sure hope so!  I have not had a sense of error or regret in terms of the answer given, but yes, such things give you pause, and a desire for reassurance from your own mentors, or from God Himself, should He be so inclined.

In What Way Perish? (11/02/17)

As we consider verse 11, with its implications as to the impact of liberty abused, it seems that many of our translations seek to soften the blow somewhat.  The NASB, for example, ‘he who is weak is ruined’ as a result.  The ESV is a little stronger, saying that he ‘is destroyed’.  But, the terminology Paul uses is stronger still.  The NKJV lets it come through.  “Because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?”  I might note that they have also opted to take this as a question posited as opposed to a verdict stated.

The question that apparently arises in the minds of many is how, given this bold declaration that your brother may perish for his sins, we can hold that the saints persevere?  Clarke, in particular, being my input from the Arminian camp, sees this passage as conclusive.  Salvation can fail.  See?  Paul says so right there!  And he turns our attention to Origen for support of his view.  Origen writes that ‘the souls of them that perish by us [will be] required of and avenged upon us’. 

Having once shared his perspective on this topic, I can say I get it.  I cannot say I agree with it.  The overall message of Scripture has convinced me that this view is incorrect, and misses Paul’s meaning and Paul’s doctrine.  I have to say it also fails to take Jesus at His word.  When He says, “no one can snatch them from My hands” (Jn 10:28-29), which I note is preceded by this assurance, “I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish,” was He mistaken?  Did His ‘no one’ somehow exclude our own involvement?  We can add His final declaration from the Cross.  “It is finished” (Jn 19:30)!  Was He only concerned with Himself in that declaration?  Did John misremember what He said, perhaps?

Here is one thing we can be certain of:  Paul and Jesus are not speaking to opposite ends, nor can we suppose either John or Paul to have been in error in what they wrote, being as the same Holy Spirit inspired both, and He is not going to contradict Himself.  How shall we harmonize the two?  We can start here.  Jesus speaks of perishing as an Aorist Middle Voice possibility – or more rightly, impossibility.  Paul indicates a Present Tense Middle Voice perishing.  What is the difference here?  What Jesus speaks of is more readily to be seen as a completed matter.  The Aorist Tense is taking in the whole scope of the action, start to finish.  We might, then, reasonably interpolate a ‘finally’ into what Jesus says.  He will have eternal life.  He will not finally perish.  He can’t, I suppose, given that perishing in finality would necessarily terminate life.  Ergo, the life that Jesus gave, were perishing a possibility, could not rightly be said to be eternal.  Paul, on the other hand, is indicating a continuous activity.  The Wycliffe Commentary makes note of this, saying, “The process of perishing is going on as long as he persist in eating.” 

That is a point we do well to take away from this passage.  It does not necessitate a fear that we might discover our salvation has been revoked.  But, it stands as warning to us as to the course of our days.  Perishing is not a single moment.  It is an ongoing process.  This should have been pretty evident from the fallout of Adam’s sin, and in part, that sin hinges on a similar failure to understand terms, doesn’t it?  What did God say?  “In the day that you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die” (Ge 2:17).  Lo and behold, His words present us with perishing in the Imperfect, which my references tell me focuses His meaning on the kind of action, not the time.  This tense remains through the discussion between Eve and the serpent.

Now, we may look upon the fallout and say, but they lived!  Look Adam went on for many years after that event, as did Eve.  Was the serpent right?  They did not die – not immediately.  But, you see, that supposes the termination of the physical body is the death to which God refers.  This tends to get our focus, doesn’t it?  As much as we are given to understand there is an eternity beyond this life it remains this life that has our attention.  This is, in the most concrete sense, all we know.  Is it any wonder, really, that we are so fixed on preserving what we see as life on earth?  Is it any wonder that so much effort goes into extending life expectancy, deferring the grave as long as possible?  For many, the perspective is that this is all the life we get, so we’d best make the most of it.  For others, there is an entirely reasonable dread of what comes after that.  Those whom the Son has not called have every reason to be concerned.  Sadly, their concern does not lead them to repentance, only to impotent attempts at deterring the inevitable.  What is curious is the degree to which this same mindset infects the Church.  We, of all people, should realize that the grave holds no cause for fear.  “To live is Christ.  To die is gain” (Php 1:21).  The only good reason to cling to life is because God still has work for us to do before we go to Him.  Health, wealth, and legacy don’t enter into it.

But, my point here is that the perishing that is in view is as eternal, for those who are not among the elect, as is the life given to those who are.  But, Paul is not looking at eternal outcome here.  He’s looking at present experience.  Sin, after all, is not an eternal issue for the elect.  It is a temporal issue.  It is an issue now, so long as we persist in this fallen life – fallen, though redeemed.  What Paul is discussing is present experience.  Isn’t it interesting, if I may veer off for a moment, that he doesn’t seem to show much of any interest in matters of health and wealth – could really care less about such things.  What he finds interesting is how you are experiencing the life of the redeemed?  He’s not looking for you to live your best life now.  How could this be best when an eternity spent free of sin and temptation, bathed in the Light of Christ awaits?  No, but what he is looking for is for you to have the best possible experience of your redemption that can be hide while you remain here.  To that end, he is constantly advising a life lived with the Law of Love in view.  He doesn’t speak of it so much in those terms.  But, this is the principle he imparts.

Look, he says:  Your actions may (and again, it remains a hypothetical may) be fine and dandy for you, and your experience of this redeemed life is not suffering for it – at least not directly.  But, look at your brother over there.  Your actions, because of their impact on him, because they are edifying not righteousness but callousness in him, are causing him to experience a living death, a return to the state he was in before he was called by our mutual Savior.  No, it’s not permanent, because you are not sufficient to thwart God’s purpose any more than Satan is.  But, it causes your brother harm nonetheless.  At minimum, you are contributing to a growing body of regrets which he will carry with him to the gates of that heavenly city.  And here’s the rub:  If he arrives with regrets because of your actions, rest assured your regrets, when you arrive will be many times greater.

The thing is, the whole thing remains a hypothetical in this regard.  There is an if / then relationship throughout the whole argument.  Paul is pointing out a logical flow of events.  Here, I really appreciated the example that Barnes brought to bear on the subject.  You are in a canoe on the Niagara River, and the Falls are ahead.  If you continue on your course unabated, then the result is certain.  Your canoe is tending toward the Falls.  Does this tendency necessitate that you plunge over the edge to your demise?  By no means!  One may call to you from the shore and warn you of your danger, and you may indeed heed his warning and paddle fast and furious for the safety of that shore.  If you do, as Barnes observes, that was an effectual call!  Now, does the lack of necessity in your outcome give that one on shore any less cause to be concerned for your welfare?  Not if he is one with the gift of God’s love in him.

This is where Clarke seems to have got lost.  From his perspective, if that threat of perishing is not a real and necessary, final sort of perishing, then Paul’s argument has no weight.  If my eating cannot in fact cause my brother to fall away permanently, but God has him safely in hand in spite of my behavior, then why should I restrict myself on his account.  He’ll be fine.  So, Clarke says, that one will reason, and so he will act.  Perhaps so.  But, his actions do not define the outcome, either.  Furthermore, the perishing of your brother, whether permanent, or merely the kind of experience he shall have until he either ceases and desists or grows in knowledge, is an appeal to that Law of Love.  If you love your brother (which you surely ought) then whatever tends toward his harm you will surely avoid, and whatever tends toward his benefit you will surely seek to promote.  Here, beloved, is the essence of “Thou shalt not kill.”  Don’t even start down that road.  Don’t even contribute to anything that trends in the direction of death.  But, trends are not necessities, and the potential fact of present tense experience of perishing does not necessitate a finality of perishing to the loss of that eternal life which the Son purchased and the Spirit sealed.  How could it?  Does God’s word return to Him void after all?

We must also recognize that this is not the real argument Paul presents.  It is an appeal to conscience, to love.  The real argument comes in verse 12.  You are sinning!  You are sinning against your brother, because you have indeed violated that Law of Love.  And, if you are sinning against your brother, one for whose sake Christ died, it cannot be otherwise than that you are sinning against Christ.  If the appeal to love will not sway you, surely an appeal to enlightened self-interest will!  Even your swollen ego must concern itself with your own sin.  If your eating is innocent, your utter disregard for your brother is not.

Now, it is not just perishing that we tend to misunderstand and reduce to the earthy terms of earthly existence.  We also tend to misconstrue the nature of that love to which God calls us.  This, too, is tangled up in our understanding of what is set before us.  For reasons not entirely clear to me, it seems that the perspective that sees the potential for us to remove ourselves from Christ’s hands also finds it untenable that God, who is, after all loving and merciful and so on, could insist that the lost be lost.  We are troubled in spirit when we hear Him say that He hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  How can this comport with God is Love?  How can this comport with free will?  Well, as to the latter, it can’t, can it?  If your will is free, and I will accept that within the bounds set by God it is, His will is freer, and His will wins.  Pharaoh freely chose his course of action.  He could not do otherwise.  Both hold.

Does this, then, suggest that God is unloving?  Do events like hurricanes and tornadoes, or earthquakes, or tsunamis, or raging wildfires indicate that God is unloving?  Do they reflect injustice on His part?  Do they in any way demonstrate a character flaw in His perfect being?  If they do, then we have a major problem, because what this would indicate is that God is not God after all, but just another fickle power like the gods of Greece, Rome, and the rest of the pagan world.  This is exactly why an unbelieving populace seeks to lay such accusations against Him.  If they can discount Him once for all, then they need not answer to Him in the end.

The reality is that these arguments reflect a failure to understand any of God’s character.  It assumes the right to define terms, rather than to learn their definition from the Creator of terms.  We have our view of what love is, but it is generally not love as God defines it.  It tends more toward the sappy, emotional variety promoted by modern marketing, if not the purely carnal fulfilling of lustful desire.  God’s love is something else.  God’s love, as has been said often in these pages, is such a love as does what the loved one needs regardless of that loved one’s lack of desire for said boon.  God’s love sent Jesus, His Son, to die for us, be it noted, while we remained His enemies!  We didn’t want saving.  We needed it.  He didn’t give us what we wanted, because He loved us.  He gave us what we needed.

The JFB forces me to expand my sense of God’s love even further.  I will offer two quotes from that commentary, but in reverse order.  “Even the condemned shall manifest God’s love, in that they too had the offer of God’s mercy.”  That is a challenging conclusion, don’t you think?  Can we rightly say they had the offer if, like Pharaoh, God had predetermined from before Creation that they would not accept the offer?  Is this some sort of sleight of hand on God’s part?  No.  As I said before, we act with freedom of will within the bounds.  God determined the course, but man freely, gladly chose to pursue the course.  Pharaoh could not choose otherwise, but neither would he have if he could.  His choices were in accord with his nature and his will.  How nice for him.

So, then, God showed mercy even to those who would not and could not choose to accept it.  Yet, this did not render God’s mercy vain.  It did not cause His word to return to Him without accomplishing its purpose.  This was its purpose.  Let me bring in the other quote.  “More is involved in redemption than man’s salvation:  The character of God, at once just and loving, is vindicated even in the lost; for they might have been saved:  So even in their case Christ has not died in vain.”  Again, I have a problem with parts of this.  “They might have been saved”?  Perhaps my Calvinism has gone off the rails, but I have to conclude that no, they could not have.  That is not to say that Jesus’ Atonement was insufficient for their case.  What it is to say is that Jesus’ Atonement was not intended to save them.  They were not given to Him, drawn to Him by the Father.  They were vessels designed to glorify God in another sense.  I find, then, that what needs expansion here is not my view of God’s Love, but rather of His glory.  It is not that these manifest His love in that they could have been saved, could have opted to accept His merciful offer.  I would, in fact, argue that if He had indeed extended that offer to them, they could not have refused it.  Rather, the case is that His glory is made manifest both by the mercy shown to the elect, and the wrath shown to the reprobate.  God is, as that quote said, ‘at once just and loving’.  It is so!  This is the reason we required the God-man, the only begotten Son of God, as our Atonement.

Go back to Romans 3“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Ro 3:23-25a).  Oho, says the Arminian.  It was for all, see?  All can have it.  Some choose not to.  But, no.  All indeed have sinned, and yes, a degree of common grace is indeed shown to one and all, elect and reprobate alike, in that they are granted light and water, sustenance and shelter for a seasons.  But, the extent of justification is not so universal.  Experience and the full testimony of Scripture will not permit us to suppose such a thing.  So, then, what is Paul on about here?  He is explaining why the God-man.  “This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time,” and here’s the key bit, “that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Ro 3:25b-26).  God’s justice is upheld.  Sin has been punished for the universal all.  For the elect, that justice has been punished in the God-man, His penalty paid on our behalf, our eternal debt paid for in eternal blood.  Justice is served, and because justice has been served, we are justified, declared free of legal penalty.  For the reprobate, the unelect, justice will still be served out in that eternal punishment due for sin against an eternal God.

He remains just.  He remains Good because He is Just.  He is demonstrably merciful in that He saves any.  He remains Love because He poured out His mercy upon us even when we wanted nothing to do with it.  He saved us in spite of ourselves, lifted us out of the mire of our sins, and adopted us into His own holy family.  Such generosity is unmatched and unmatchable.  We did not deserve it.  We cannot earn it.  We cannot somehow purchase an added measure.  We can, and must, demonstrate our gratitude by willing obedience to the demands of His Law of Love.

The Whole Gospel Answer (11/03/17)

At this point, I will be addressing the matter of this book I keep mentioning somewhat more directly, since the passage at hand, and what follows in the next few chapters of the text bear on one of the main arguments being made.  The author points back to Acts 15:19-21 along with its restatements as establishing s sort of Law of Minimum Compliance for the Gentile Christian community, the assumption being that the Jews would already be observing the bulk of the ceremonial law.  So, we have the Jerusalem Decree.  “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.  For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (NASB).  Thus does Luke record the result of their deliberations.  This was relayed to the church in Antioch as follows.  “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials:  that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well” (Acts 15:28-29).  I should note the cause of writing which they assign here.  “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls” (Acts 15:24).

This is interesting, isn’t it?  The issue was not so much with the behavior of the Gentiles as with those ‘of our number’.  They were off teaching things that were not authorized, insisting on a legal compliance that was not required.  What all did that include?  Well, we know with certainty that it included an insistence on circumcision for the males.  Given the limited slate of concerns promoted by the council, we could surmise that much more was advocated, perhaps including participation in the feasts according to Mosaic Law.  We can’t say that with certainty any more than one can say with any real certainty that the earliest Gentile church was made up primarily of God-fearers, as the Jews would have called them, and therefore a group already inclined toward Judaic practices.

This is one of the things this book I’m reading chooses to aver, although I’ve not seen any particular evidence of it offered.  It is just there.  It seems to me most unlikely, quite frankly, given the extent to which these Judaizers seemed to be actively looking to impose upon them what they would have already been looking to impose on themselves.  If this was already their inclination, why would the instruction from these unauthorized teachers have troubled them at all?  Further, the idea that they would most typically have been found worshiping in the synagogue alongside their Jewish brothers is laughable.  A brief overview of Paul’s career would make that pretty plain.  Yes, he tried to bring word to the synagogue first.  And it would seem it was a pretty universal reaction that he got tossed out on his ear.  The only place I can think of that we find the church attempting to remain within the temple/synagogue setting is in the initial phase of establishment in Jerusalem itself, and even that didn’t last very long, given the stiff opposition from the temple authorities.

So, let’s put that aside, shall we?  The early church, for all that it had a significant contingent of Jewish members was so far from being just another sect of Judaism as to all but require it to distinguish itself.  Judaism would not have it, and it did not need Judaism.  This doesn’t require assumptions of animosity between the two.  It doesn’t require a permanent dividing wall.  How could it, when the Gospel so loudly proclaims that said wall has been torn down?  But, those who promote home churches as the realistic continuation of early church practice have a much better leg to stand on than this idea, and that leg isn’t all that solid, either.

Well, then, what are we to do with this Jerusalem Decree?  One thing we will need to do is to recognize that Paul’s message here cannot be supposed to counter it.  We can come away with that sense if we are reading only the current chapter.  He has, at least by appearances, fully embraced the Corinthian premise that these idols are nothing, and therefore the food associated with their sacrifices is no big deal.  Granted, he points out reasons why the nothing becomes a major something because of the perceptions of others and the impact on their conscience, but the thing itself remains nothing, right?  It would sure seem that Romans 14 drives home this very point.  One eats whatever he pleases in faith, another (who is weak) eats only vegetables (Ro 14:2).  Why the latter?  It’s the same issue.  We don’t know where that meat came from.  It might be associated with idols, and we’d as soon have nothing to do with it.  So, vegetables it is.  We proceed to days.  Maybe we’re talking about the holy days of the Jewish calendar, or maybe those of Rome.  It’s left ambiguous, and I suspect it is left that way intentionally.  Paul’s response would not differ.  One observes, and does so for the Lord.  One counts all days equal because all days are the Lord’s (Ro 14:5).  Paul is effectively saying that there is no right or wrong in these views.  Note his conclusion, and here, there is no doubt but that he is offering his own viewpoint.  “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (Ro 14:14).

So, then, how are we to harmonize what comes in 1Co 10:20?  We’ll look at that more thoroughly in its place, but take it briefly here.  I’ll back up just one verse to set the tone.  “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?  No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons” (1Co 10:19-20).  Well, that settles it.  Paul is not merely ceding a point for the sake of argument here.  He is convinced.  Idols are in fact nothing.  It’s not the idol that’s at issue, and it’s not even the meat.  It’s the act, and the reason for the act.  What they are doing, however and wherever it is done, is sacrificing to demons.  It’s not because they used goat meat.  It’s not because of the particular bit of stone upon which they made the offering.  It’s there intent.  You cannot participate in the intent, and while that may not be what you think you are doing by your participation, it really can’t help but be what you are doing, or at the very least, what you are perceived as doing.  That brings you right back here to Chapter 8.

And yet, the fact remains.  Paul cannot be thought to be preaching a different truth than is reflected in the Jerusalem decree.  We have a challenge here.  My own view has been swinging back and forth as I wrestle with how this all fits together, but that may be because I have been primarily concerned with aligning Chapter 8 with Chapter 10.  If all I look at is verse 20, I am inclined to conclude that Paul is merely working in hypothetical agreement here.  That is to say, his argument is to be heard as if he said, “Suppose you are right,” as opposed to agreeing, “Indeed, you are right.”  But, backing up to verse 19, it’s certain that the latter is correct.

So, now the question is, how ought we to understand the Jerusalem Decree?  Is it, as this author insists, a perpetually applicable minimum compliance to code for Christians?  Here, I’m going to turn to the JFB for offering what I admit at first seemed a bit of a stretch, but on further reflection appears to undo the knot rather nicely.  The Jerusalem decree, they note, touches on matters of indifference.  The introduction James offers, as to how Simon Peter had already brought news of God taking His gospel to the Gentiles confirms this, because we know the story of that vision.  Peter was informed in no uncertain terms, “All foods are clean.”  Done.  That part of the law is explicitly, incontrovertibly dispensed with.  Well, squire, if all foods are clean, what’s with these restrictions the decree is seeking to establish?

Ah, now that’s interesting isn’t it?  Can I also draw attention to verse 19“It is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles.”  That would seem to at least suggest that they were not doing so beforehand.  They were not, in fact, drawn from the preexisting body of God-fearers, but were coming to the call of the Gospel.

Then, we have this relatively brief list of things from which to abstain:  Thing contaminated by idols, later clarified as things sacrificed to idols, which would be your meats again, since that was the offering made; fornication; things strangled, that being a favored form of sacrifice amongst the pagans; and from blood, which we might suppose separated you rather nicely from the practices of the Mithras cult and their like.

OK, but why?  Granted, we do not participate in the worship of idols, but notice:  That is not what is expressed here.  That much is already assumed.  It’s a given.   There is only one God, and you, as a Christian, already know this.  Corinth knew this.  Paul agreed.  Everybody’s good with that part, even though some have not fully internalized the significance.  Food is clean, period.  We’ve established that.  So, why this concern for its preparation?  The concern is not, dear friend, for the food or the means of its preparation.  The concern is the exact same concern Paul has expressed here.

Let me briefly interject a corrective note.  Not all that is addressed in this list can be accounted as matters of indifference.  It is abundantly clear that fornication is not by any stretch a matter of indifference, and assuredly, true and intentional worship of idols is no matter of indifference either.  What we may see as tying these four restrictions together is that they are acts associated with idolatrous worship.  Fornication, for example, was a common feature both of Canaanite rituals of old, and of such temples as that of Aphrodite there in Corinth.  This is not to suggest that consensual, casual sex is acceptable if it is not done with an eye to the idols.  It cannot be, for such behavior is in fact establishing sex as an idol already.  This, however, does not require us to acknowledge that meats offered to idols, or whatever we may see as the modern-day equivalent, are any less indifferent than they are declared to be explicitly and repeatedly.

Look at verse 21“For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Ac 15:21).  Why is that there?  Remember, here we are looking at the deliberations of the council, not the wording of the decree itself.  Is it because of this preaching of Moses, that the directives now given are deemed applicable?  But, the Church is not established upon Mosaic Law, but upon new and better Covenant.  Why, then, turn to Moses to establish matters that we have established are indifferent?  This is, I think, the key to harmonizing the whole message.

You see, this is not given as the authority for establishing these few rules.  It is given as the reason why the Gentiles ought to comply.  It is given as describing the Gentile Christians’ weaker brothers.  Look, dear Gentile.  Your Church is not Gentiles-only.  You have many brother Jews among you, your Apostle Paul not by any means least among them!  You have your baggage to shed, having been raised amongst the pagan rituals.  They, too, have baggage to shed.  Every Sabbath from their earliest childhood they have been hearing Moses preached.  Every Sabbath they have had the rules of the Mosaic Covenant drilled into them, both the ceremonial and the moral.  Out of concern for their sensibilities, you ought willingly to accept these few restraints upon your rightly perceived liberty.

We see, then, that Paul is not in any way speaking counter to the Jerusalem Decree, although he does not directly appeal to it.  Rather, he is actually applying its principles.  James explains the need in terms of maintaining peace between the Gentile and Jewish components of the Church while they all of them grow in sanctification and continue to shed past practices.  Paul is taking the exact same principle now, and applying it to the issue between what we have no reason to see as other than Gentile and Gentile.  Yes, it may have been the Jewish component of the Corinthian church that had scruples about the meat, but this is not explicitly declared, and there’s no reason to suppose that some over-zealous converts from amongst the Gentiles felt the need to so thoroughly reject any semblance of continued connection to their past practices.  As Paul’s statement in our present passage indicates, many of these former pagans had not yet been discipled sufficiently to recognize the nothingness of those gods they had known before.  They still thought there was something to those other temples, and the worship offered in them.  That being the case, they needed to stay away.  But, you!  You know better.  You don’t need to stay away for fear of participating in idolatrous worship.  You need to stay away for love of your brother.  It is not the Law of Moses, nor even the Jerusalem Decree that guides you in this.  It is the Law of Love that Law God Himself has written on your heart.

I have to say that neither contingent comes off looking particularly good in this debate.  The knowledgeable ones prove less than wise in their knowledge.  They get their liberty but not their responsibility.  They promote their wisdom and demand their rights, and have no regard for their brother whatsoever.  That can hardly be seen as praiseworthy.  The weak ones, while they would quite likely declare alongside the others that there is no God but One, still see something real, something powerful in the myriad other gods.  This can hardly be said to reflect well on their learning.  Or perhaps it speaks more to their teaching.  I’ll go out on a limb and suggest it is both.  If we have those who are saying that ‘everyone knows this’, that would seem to suggest that it was a point commonly made at church, and there was no reason to suppose anybody in their flock was unaware of this most basic premise of the faith.  But, awareness and understanding are two different things.

I will also say that regardless of the nothingness of those idols, to suppose you could go on down and join the feast without in some fashion participating in the idolatry seems to me to overstep.  I’m sorry.  I don’t see how you could, for example, head down to the local mosque and join them for service without in some small way demonstrating that you acknowledge the validity of their false god.  This has to apply to things like yoga, as well, or the various other aspects of eastern religion that have crept into western life.  It has nothing to do with cultural appropriation, which is atheistic legalism at its worst.  No.  It has to do with performing acts that are in plain point of fact acts of worship to idols.  That is their design and intent.  Whatever health benefits might be perceived as coming of them, this does not alter their purpose.  You may not give thought to the gods so served.  You may not attach spiritual significance of any sort to your actions.  However…

So, how does this play out in the matter of Christmas and Easter?  I cannot deny that there are challenges to be faced here.  There are, most assuredly, aspects of the holiday, particularly as popularly celebrated, that are pagan at their roots.  Do these need to be ripped up wholesale?  Are we at risk of representing as though we still subscribed to these ancient pagan practices?  I really don’t think so.  Does that suffice to permit their use?  Harder to say.

As to trees and lights and baubles, I think we clearly arrive at matters of indifference.  As to the choice of dates for observance, I would hold much the same.  It’s not what or when.  It’s why.  Are you observing and honoring the Incarnate and Eternal Son of God?  Are you observing, acknowledging, and giving thanks for the incredible Atoning work of His Death, the great good news of His Resurrection, the Lordship evident in His Ascension?  Then, praise God with all that is in you!  I don’t care if you call it Christmas, or Christ’s birthday, or what.  I don’t care if you call it Easter, or Resurrection Day.  It is to God’s glory, and keeps His majesty in view of a populace deeply in need of Him.

As to the tree, the question is why?  As to the gift-giving, the question is why?  If you’re putting up trees to satisfy some urge to appease the dark spirits of the forest, well, you’ve got bigger problems than Christmas.  If you’re trying to get in touch with your Druidic roots, or, to take the books premise, trying to get back to Babylon, then frankly, the trappings by which you make your regress don’t particularly matter.  If, on the other hand, you are rejoicing that unto you a Savior has been born, I’m going to be hard pressed to fault you on that.  If, on the other hand, you are wholly caught up in rejoicing in the great good news that He is risen indeed!  Let nothing stop you!

Gifts?  I honestly don’t care.  Give them if you like.   Receive them with grateful heart if they are given to you.  But, I have to say, love cannot possibly be expressed by rejecting your brother because you happen to disagree.

When we come to things like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, I think the issues are a bit more distinct.  Santa Claus cannot, in any way, shape, or form, be bent into a Christ-honoring form.  Yes, I know we have a real Nicholas back there who did some real nice things.  He is not Christ.  He is not to be worshiped.  We might honor his memory, give a nod to his deeds.  But, annual fetes to his name?  No, I think not.  And bunnies that lay eggs?  Never mind the inanity of it.  It has nothing so ever to do with Christ, and we do rightly, I think, to entirely dispense with that nonsense.  But, Easter itself?  Not so fast.

We can wander further into this purgative effort.  The urge to drop Anno Domini and Before Christ along with the rest of the atheists because they were sullied by Augustan tinkering with the calendar is foolishness.  I cannot see it otherwise.  Why would we join the godless hordes in removing all mention of Christ from civil conversation?  Why would we join them in the rush to erase history which is taking place all around us?  It does not render one any more godly to use CE/BCE.  It does not render one any less to insist upon the AD/BC distinction.  Frankly, whichever you choose, I would note that the numbering, and the point at which one shifts from one to the other stand unaltered.  Whether by name, or merely by suppressed understanding, it’s still going to point to Christ’s birth as the singular, utterly transformative point of all human history.  Why should we not acknowledge that Truth rather than suppress it?  And who, I might ask, do we serve by that suppression?

Enough for now.  God give us grace to assess our own beliefs, and to have all necessary patience with our brothers.  God give us the wisdom to discern and apply truth, and the love we need to care for and edify one another.  And, God save us from our own legalistic tendencies as we seek to avoid the legalistic tendencies of others.