Uninterested In Words

April 14, 202

There are many words that have changed meaning in recent years. Some we don’t pay much attention to because we are ambivalent (ambivalent is a great example of this, it doesn’t mean uncaring, it means holding two contradictory views or emotions). So, we are not ambivalent, rather we are disinterested. Other words may bother us (I will avoid discussing pronouns as their change is contrived) but people will often use the word “literally” to mean figuratively. “I’m literally dying” should be justification for calling an ambulance but instead it means I’m laughing.

If you have grown up using a word a certain way it can be difficult to accept a change. This is not just the case now, it has long been the case that people have been frustrated by changing definitions. In ancient Rome there were influential linguists who insisted that whatever a word meant in classical Greek was it’s meaning and they refused to accept any change. Some of these linguists published dictionaries in which they attempted to enforce an older meaning of a word. The name for these linguists is “Atticist” referring to their desire to enforce the Greek dialect spoken in the region of Attica or classical Greek. An easy way to remember this is they want to get their definition from the attic where the old relics are stored.

This has bearing on Bible study because you may want to look up a word and in your research come across someone writing in the first century AD but insisting on a definition from the 5th century BC.

Thankfully most of this work has been done for us so unless you are a Greek scholar working on a translation you can rely on sources that have already considered the source of ancient definitions and filtered out the Atticists. However, there are times when having this tidbit of background may help you. That is when a scholar has a bias. I know it may not seem like it but Greek scholars are human too. If they are advocating for a certain interpretation of scripture they are not above using an older definition if it helps make their point. One example of this can be found in the way some have attempted to define authority in I Tim 2:12 as “domineering” which is not the meaning at the time Paul wrote.

Why get into these details? Two reasons: first to remind each of us to be careful about definitions. James Lindsay is fond of reminding people that those who are pushing a progressive agenda use a common vocabulary but they don’t use a common dictionary they have redefined words like democracy, racism, freedom and many others. The second reason is to encourage careful detail oriented Bible study. Putting in a little extra work will often lead to great insights and helpful applications from the word of God.

~ Kevin Cleary

 

Christ Is King

April 7, 202

     If you follow Twitter “X” Drama at all you will know that the last week or so it has become somewhat controversial to say, “Christ is King.” To be fair there have always been and always will be those who find it problematic when people claim an allegiance higher than a human institution. In this case it has been labeled an antisemitic slur. It could possibly be argued that when Candace Owens tweeted it out recently, she did aim to upset her previous employer Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire. Ben being an Orthodox Jew of course does not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. In a few videos he has been confronted with the gospel. His response is usually to say that Jesus does not meet the Jewish expectations of the Messiah as a political and military leader who will restore the fortunes of Israel as a nation. Historically Jewish rejection of Jesus has been a source of ridicule my dad once recounted how as kids him and his friends would yell “Jews Killed Christ” at a local Jewish vendor before running away. I would suggest that when Andrew Tate a self-proclaimed Muslim shared the hashtag he was not truly claiming allegiance to Jesus (others would fall into this camp as well). 

     This current drama raises a couple of important questions. How should Christians view religious Jews who share some beliefs but who don’t accept Jesus? Second how should Christians respond when cultural trends interact with their statements of faith. 

The first question is fairly straightforward we should share the sentiments of Paul who loved his Jewish kinsmen and wished that they would accept the gospel which is now the only way to be right with God (Rom 9:1-5 and 11:26). 

     The second question is also not terribly difficult because truth remains true regardless of who may try to manipulate it to their political purposes. A good way to think this through is to use another recent example. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” came to prominence a few years ago. This phrase is obviously true as every person is valuable in the eyes of God. However, in this case the phrase was used by neo-Marxists to gain credibility for their subversive communist ideas. Those who saw through the ruse were able to say of course no human should be regarded as less than others but could point out that the phrase didn’t mean what it was claimed to mean. 

     In a similar vein as Christians of course we know that Jesus rules and we claim his as our Lord and King. However, we also know that when shared on social media as a way of sticking it to a particular group the phrase “Christ is King”  loses the meaning and devotion which it must convey. Further while I am glad that the name of Jesus is being given attention this is not the first time that the name of Jesus has been used to gain credibility by those who really don’t submit to his rule. 

     My prayer is that all in the household of faith submit to the rule of Jesus. Not only that but through our efforts many more learn about the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We don’t affirm that with a hashtag we affirm it with our lives each and every day as we take up our cross and follow Him. 

~ Kevin

 

Search

March 24, 202

     I have recently been working on a study pertaining to the social, economic, and political background of Corinth in 50-60 AD for a lecture presentation on the life and times of the Corinthian Church. I spent considerable time thinking of how to best approach this situation and decided to do something a little different. I had done a significant amount of research previously on the role that historical reconstruction plays or should play in our understanding of a text and that heavily influence my approach to the lecture. I decided that the first place I should go for my research was the book of I Corinthians. That may sound strange to say but think about this just for a second. If I am wanting to know about physical things pertaining to Corinth there are a number of sources that would help. I have five commentaries, three introductions to the New Testament, four Bible dictionaries, numerous Bible Encyclopedias, Study Bibles and of course Google. All of these could quickly and easily tell me things like location, political situation, population, cultural demographics, not to mention all about the author (Paul) and the themes and subjects of the book. However while these things may make life a little easier some elements would be missed. First I would be preparing to talk about I Corinthians in a way that would allow me to know about the book but not actually know the book. Secondly I am missing an even more important opportunity to know the God who inspired the book. Finally I am hurting my own understanding of the book by allowing third party instruction to possibly (maybe even likely)  bias my understanding of the book and make me more likely to misunderstand or misinterpret what the author (God) is wanting me to get.

     I am going to approach the book a different way and I would encourage you to do the same in your own Bible study. I am going to read through the book looking for background details. I will then make a list of all the things I can know about Corinth and the church that meets there just from the book itself. I won’t list them all here but you would be surprised how much you can learn by paying close attention to the book itself.

     I tell that story to relate an important principle of life and especially of Bible study. We live in a time when the idea of searching almost automatically brings to mind the brightly coloured Google home page. I was recently in a lecture in which the speaker asked a question about WWII which he didn’t know that answer to. Within a few seconds someone had pulled out a smart phone searched it and provided the answer. What if we lived in a world where when asked a moral or spiritual question everyone pulled out a Bible and searched it then came up with an answer? We have heard this passage before but it fits very well with our discussion. While Paul was preaching in Berea Luke records that “They searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” I want to encourage everyone who reads this to follow that example and start by searching the scriptures. It’s not wrong or even bad to search the library, a dictionary, or the internet but turning to these things before turning to scripture will diminish our knowledge of the word and of God. It may even diminish our ability to understand scripture when we eventually do turn to it. As Paul told Timothy Scripture is able to make “the man of God complete equipped for every good work.”

~ Kevin Cleary

 

Straw Man

March 10, 202

     I remember one day as a kid, my friends and I were watching WWF wrestling and decided to make a dummy that we could fight. We got some old cloths and rope and some hay from the field behind my friend Jeremy’s house. 

     Once we had our dummy put together we set up a make shift ring and began practicing our moves. Apparently, our work was too good because a neighbour looking out their car window slammed on the breaks and ran out yelling for us to “stop hurting that kid.” We had to explain that it was just a dummy not a real person. 

     We have been watching a discussion on the necessity of baptism during our Wednesday evening bible study. One of the things that we have seen in the discussion is one side mischaracterize the other in order to criticize their position. 

     We might offer a couple of examples: one common objection to Calvinism is that “Calvinists believe infants are going to hell.” This seems like the implication of inherited sin as taught by Calvin however, he didn’t actually teach this and I have not come across any Calvinist who believed or taught it either. Just like the dummy I made with my friends, it’s easier to beat up on a fake person you made up than to fight a real person. So, when we make up a position that an opponent doesn’t actually hold then attack that made up position we are not engaging in fair honest debate. This debate tactic is called making a “straw man.” (I should point out that this particular example didn’t come up in the discussion we are watching but it is a common talking point raised in objection to Calvinist teaching.)

     Another example of this which did come up in the debate is the common claim that Churches of Christ teach that you must merit salvation. That is you must do something to make it so that God owes you, such that he must save you, because you deserve it. This is a mischaracterization similar to the one made above about Calvinists. 

     This is not the only time that we see this kind of thinking. Often various political positions are treated similarly: Liberals beliefs, Conservatives beliefs, Socialists beliefs are all often followed up with an overly simplistic description which is then attacked and dismissed.

     Biblical truth can also be treated this way. Sometimes when we are faced with a difficult teaching of scripture we are tempted to oversimplify it so that we can dismiss it. 

     It’s important that we recognize this tactic when others do it especially those we agree with and point it out so that if a teaching is wrong, it can be accurately described and then exposed as error. We also need to be aware of when someone else is doing this to us and point out that they are not accurately describing what we believe or what the Bible teaches. This can allow us to do a better job sharing the truth in love. It’s always better to do this by asking questions and seeking clarification than by making accusations. 

     While it’s often emotionally satisfying to get a zinger on some position political or scriptural that we disagree with it is usually not helpful in reaching people with the truth of salvation. Lets make sure we are fighting the good fight no making straw men for our own satisfaction.

~ Kevin Cleary

 

Shrewd

March 4, 202

Much of the discussion in our evangelism class reminded me about this article I wanted to share it ~ Kevin

Each year, Apple hosts the WWDC (Word Wide Developer’s Conference) at which time they roll out their newest and coolest upgrades and gadgets. Since I love technology I’m always anxious to see what new gadget or tweak has been done to make my life and work easier, better, more productive, or simply more fun. Whether it’s a new operating system, a new version of the iPhone, or simply some application tweaks, this conference is the culmination of a year’s worth of dreaming, planning, research, and development by the people at Apple. And as a result, each year I am “wowed” at some the new technology and left wondering, “what will they come up with next?”

Could it be that “the world” dreams bigger, plans better, works harder, troubleshoots longer, and advertises louder for things that will perish than God’s people do for that which is eternal?

But now, here’s my point. Do you remember the parable of the “Shrewd Steward” (Luke 16:1-13)? Jesus commends this steward, not for his dishonesty, but for his shrewdness, and then says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). In other words, could it be that “the world” dreams bigger, plans better, works harder, troubleshoots longer, and advertises louder for things that will perish than God’s people do for that which is eternal?

What “wow” moments are we creating for the kingdom of God? What have we done to cause people to sit up and take notice? How much time are we spending as individuals or collectively with our congregations in dreaming, planning, and troubleshooting for the kingdom’s sake? Can you remember the last time you got together with fellow Christians for the purpose of brainstorming about the work of the church? Have you ever done that? Are you content to keep doing the same things in the same ways you’ve always done them? I’ll tell you this, Apple didn’t get where it is today by being content with the first generation of their products. They continually, dream, tweak, streamline, and enhance their product. Without changing the gospel, can we not; should we not; must we not tweak, streamline, jettison, and enhance how we do what we do as the church? Paul instructed Titus to “adorn” the doctrine of God (Titus 2:10). To adorn something is to make something more beautiful or attractive. What thought have we been giving lately to “adorning” the doctrine of God?

Friends, Jesus didn’t speak this parable for nothing. Don’t allow the sons of the world to be more shrewd than the sons of light. Don’t allow the sons of the world to work harder for that which is perishing than the sons of light work for that which is eternal. To borrow the words of Jesus, “Go and learn what this means…” One more thing. Don’t sit and wait for someone else to take the initiative. Don’t sit and blame your elders for having no vision. Don’t blame your brethren for being in a “rut.” If you understand what Jesus was saying in this parable, then get busy and obey it. If you understand the need to be shrewd, then take the initiative to pull people together and starting planning.

Just think how much more individuals and some congregations could do if they would just spend as much time thinking about the growth of the kingdom as they do planning their vacation or where to set the thermostat during worship.

Steve Higginbotham