What Are We to Make of President Trump’s Transgender Ban for the Military

President Trump is no stranger to controversy. This was true long before he became our nation’s 45th president. And now, President Trump has once again stepped into the firestorm. In three successive tweets on July 26, POTUS wrote,

After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow . . . . . .

. . . . Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming . . . . .

victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you

The political and media firestorm that has erupted from these tweets was to be expected. While the firestorm on this issue has since died down, a church member asked me how Christians should think about transgender individuals in general and about the proposed transgender ban in the U.S. military in particular.

First, it may be helpful to clarify what is meant by transgender. Here is a commonly accepted definition. A transgender person is someone whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. According to this system of thought, gender and birth sex are not the same. Indeed, according to this system of thought, gender is not even binary. Gender is fluid, and it exists along a continuum.

A related, and some say, synonymous concept is gender dysphoria. By definition, gender dysphoria is the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be different than one’s biological sex. This dysphoria would manifest itself with an “intense desire” to have a physical body that corresponds to one’s perceived gender identity. According to medical experts, this dysphoria would also be accompanied by feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and restlessness, so much so as to interfere with a person’s normal life.

As Christians, we should have compassion for those who struggle with gender dysphoria. We should acknowledge that these individuals did not choose this struggle for themselves. They are often deeply torn, and they are men and women created in the image of God. They deserve to be treated with love and compassion.

Furthermore, we acknowledge that mankind’s fall into sin has affected all of creation. This does not mean that every person struggles with gender dysphoria, but the fall has manifested itself in the lives of some people in this way. We may or may not struggle with gender dysphoria, but we have all been born into this world under the burden sin, and as Christians, we recognize that the gospel is the only answer for our sin (see Romans 6–8). So, we dare not cast stones, rather we show love and compassion and proclaim the gospel.

But also as Christians, we should not accept the current cultural thinking regarding gender identity. We recognize the inherent sinfulness in rejecting God’s good gift of gender and pursuing our own gender identity. We must not encourage people to be their “true selves.” We must acknowledge that God made us in the beginning male and female (Genesis 1:27). Gender was created by God, and God called his created order “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Now, what are we to make of the military ban? Let’s rehearse a bit of recent U.S. history.

The ban on transgender individuals openly serving in the U.S. military was lifted in the waning months of the previous administration’s term (specifically, June 20, 2016) so the practice of allowing transgender individuals to openly serve in the U.S. military has not been in place for a long time. This fact, in and of itself, does not argue for the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any policy decisions. This is mentioned only because some on the “progressive left” portray those on the “conservative right” as intellectual Neanderthals for disagreeing with the “new sexual norm,” when, in reality, this “new sexual norm” is a brand new development and even most of those who identity with the progressive left did not believe the things they are now saying just a matter of months ago.

As for a Christian response to transgender individuals openly serving in the U.S. military, arguments can be made on both sides of the issue.

Perhaps the strongest argument to allow transgender individuals to serve is the anti-discrimination standard. Our country is not a theocracy. While Christians desire men and women to live holy lives that honor God, we recognize that the only way to make this happen is through gospel-transformation. We do not keep people from serving in our nation’s armed forces just because they are sinning. For example, while adultery is a sin, we do not forbid adulterers from serving in the U.S. military. Since this is obviously true, why should we ban transgendered individuals from serving their country in the military?

If, however, the “sin” keeps the individual from properly carrying out his duties, then individuals could be banned from service in the military. It could be argued that by the very definition of gender dysphoria that transgender individuals are not suited for service in the U.S. military. Would it be prudent, for example, to give weapons to individuals (who by current medical definition) have strong psychological desires that include anxiety and depression?

There is a second argument that is often put forward against transgender military service. This second argument is a fiscal argument. The medical treatment (e.g., hormonal treatment and gender-reassignment surgery) and psychological treatment (e.g., counseling) for transgender individuals is often extreme. Two questions arise as a result. First, is it right to spend an inordinate amount of our limited defense budget to care for such a small population of individuals? And second, is it right to use taxpayer funds to pay for things that many find morally questionable?

These are questions that must be carefully thought through before reaching to a conclusion. May Christians allow the gospel to shape our hearts and minds, and may we have the wisdom to navigate these questions with clarity and compassion.

 

*** Albert Mohler posted an audio podcast discussing the current administration’s military transgender policy on August 25. See here to listen.

The Lord’s Supper

Different names are used, the Eucharist, Communion, the Table, or the Lord’s Supper, but all of these names point to the same reality. It is one of two ordinances that Christ left for his church.[1] And as there are many names for this ordinance, there are multiple times as many questions about it. For example,

Who is allowed to administer the Lord’s Supper?
How often should Christians take the Lord’s Supper?
Lords SupperIs the Lord’s Supper open only to church members or are all Christians invited to the table?
What is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper?
Why do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

And the list could go on and on. But this article will focus on one question.

When and where is the Lord’s Supper to be received? Is it for individual Christians to receive and celebrate or is a godly husband permitted to lead his family to take the Supper or is the Supper intended to be received and celebrated only when the church is gathered? In other words, is it an individualistic Christian ordinance or is it a corporate Christian ordinance?

To help answer this question, we will turn to the Scriptures. The longest sustained teaching on the Lord’s Supper is found in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34.

1 Corinthians 11:17–34
            17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

So, what may we conclude from this passage about the individualistic or corporate nature of the Lord’s Supper?

[Note: Epistemological integrity would demand that dogmatic conclusions not be reached. In other words, there are no “slam dunk” arguments about this question that can be made from this passage (or any other passage). There are, however, implications that strongly suggest the Lord’s Supper should be viewed as a corporate celebration and not as an individualistic celebration.

Argument

We will consider seven lines of argument from this passage that suggest that the Lord’s Supper is a corporate ordinance. These arguments are not listed in any particular order of importance. My arguments will be brief. This blog isn’t intended to be a treatise on this topic.

First, we must ask to whom this letter (1 Corinthians) was written. First Corinthians 1:2 clearly shows us that the letter was written to the whole church. If the letter was written to the whole church then those who “come together” (11:17, 18, 20, etc.) to celebrate the Supper are the church.

Second, the pronoun “you” in this passage is always in the plural. In this sense Greek is a more precise language than English. In English it isn’t always clear whether “you” is referring to an individual or a group of individuals. This isn’t the case in Greek. There are different words for a singular “you” and a plural “you.” In South Carolina we distinguish this by saying y’all when we mean plural—but I digress.

Third, five times in this passage the phrase “when you come together” is used in this passage and one time “when you come together as a church.” A honest reading of the text tells us that Paul here is speaking of the church gathering together corporately.

Fourth, Paul admonishes the Corinthians because he has received word of divisions existing among the believers and these divisions have surfaced around the Lord’s Table. Divisions can only exist in community, not individually.

Fifth, the Corinthians were taking the Supper in a way that promoted individualism rather than unity so Paul asked the question, “Or do you despise the church of God?” Again, this seems to suggest that the Supper is for the church.

Sixth, Paul asks another question, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” This question implies that the Supper is for our corporate gathering. If you’re just hungry do that at home.

Seventh, there is a self-examination that is done in conjunction with the Supper, but even that examination is not individualistic but it is done in conjunction with the corporate gathering. The church body helps to affirm that we are indeed walking in the faith.

Application

Given the teaching that the Lord’s Supper is to be taken as a church, what points of application may we deduce? Let me suggest two.

We ought not to take the Lord’s Supper as a Sunday school class or home group or biological family to the neglect of the church gathered. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance given to the church for the church. We shouldn’t celebrate it on our own. While this author is unsure of whether celebrating apart from the church should be considered sin, it surely is unwise to celebrate it on one’s own.

But what about faithful church members who are “shut-in” due to age or infirmity—would it be proper to serve the Supper to them in their homes (or nursing homes)? First, we must be careful to teach these shut-ins that there isn’t anything salvific in the Supper. In other words, taking the Lord’s Supper doesn’t guarantee one’s salvation and not taking the Supper doesn’t guarantee someone’s perdition. The Supper is a time to remember and celebrate what Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

But for these faithful Christians who are no longer able to attend, they, by nature of their infirmity, are no longer able to participate in this celebration. It would seem prudent and loving to allow the Lord’s Supper to be served to these saints under the following two conditions. First, again, the shut-ins (and the church) should understand that the Supper isn’t salvific. Second, the gathered church should be publicly informed and invited to participate as the Supper is served to these shut-ins.

Conclusion

In the Supper the Lord has given us a wonderful visual picture of gospel. As Christians we should not only rejoice in the gospel, but we should rejoice when we gather together to see dozens or hundreds or perhaps even thousands of others all confessing the same gospel as they take the Supper.

For His Glory,
Pastor Brian

[1] The two ordinances are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Some refer to these ordinances as “sacraments.” For a helpful discussion on the use of the terms “sacrament” and “ordinance,” see John S. Hammett, 40 Questions about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2015), 19–24.

Raising a Little Pharisee

Pharisee. The average evangelical Christian almost cringes at the very sound of the word. No one likes to be called a Pharisee. Why is that?

Pharisees were known to keep the Law of God fastidiously. While the Phariseeaverage Christian hasn’t even read the entire Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), Pharisees would have had the entire Pentateuch committed to memory—word-for-word!

But because they were so careful to keep the Law and because they were so interested in outward expressions of holiness, the Pharisees would often look down on those who weren’t quite as “spiritual” as they were. Consider the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18,

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”
Luke 18:11–12

Jesus had some harsh words for Pharisees (see, for example, his seven “woes” in Matthew 23). The Pharisees were often hypocrites. They thought they were better than others because they were so meticulous in keeping the Law. But they were themselves spiritually blind. They didn’t see that even they, like everyone else, were in desperate need of God’s grace.

While the institution of “official” Pharisee-ism no longer exists, the church is nevertheless full of many modern day Pharisees. So, how did the church get so many modern day Pharisees? In large part, the church culture has done a good job of raising them.

So, how does one go about raising a modern day Pharisee? Let me suggest four ways in which you can encourage your children to grow up to be Pharisees.

First, many Christian parents focus on externals rather than internals. We raise our children not to act like those “other children” who “have no manners or upbringing.” In so doing we focus our attention as parents on controlling the external behaviors of our children rather than focusing on our child’s heart—which is what ultimately controls our behavior.

This works fairly well as long as our children are in our homes and under our thumbs, but when our children leave the nest, their true heart begins to show. Paul Tripp writes of the “principle of inescapable influence: Whatever rules the heart will exercise inescapable influence over the person’s life and behavior” [Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002), 68, italics in original].

Tripp writes,

“This is what happens to the teenager who goes through the teen years fairly well under the careful love, instruction, and oversight of Christian parents, only to go off to college and completely forsake his faith. I would suggest that in most cases he has not forsaken his faith. In reality, his faith was the faith of his parents; he simply lived within its limits while he was still at home. When he went away to school and those restraints were removed, his true heart was revealed. He had not internalized the faith. He had not entrusted himself to Christ in a life-transforming way. He did the ‘Christian’ things he was required to do at home, but his actions did not flow from a heart of worship. In the college culture, he had nothing to anchor him, and the true thoughts and motives of his heart led him away from God. College was not the cause of the problem. It was simply the place where his true heart was revealed. The real problem was that faith never took root in his heart. As a result, his words, choices, and actions did not reveal a heart for God. Good behavior lasted for a while, but it proved to be temporary because it was not rooted in the heart.”
(Tripp, Instruments, 64)

A failure to trust in Christ in a life-transforming way can cause a child to abandon the faith of their childhood, as Tripp writes here, but it can also cause them to hold on to merely the externals of the faith (i.e., external behaviors) with having a true heart change. This latter problem is characteristic of the Pharisee.

If we want to avoid raising little Pharisees, we need to focus our attention on our child’s heart.

Second, some Christian parents also find their identity in their children and in how their children behave. This point is closely related to the first, but it is different. Here the parent desires to be considered a “good parent.” The parent either wittingly or unwittingly is seeking the parenting approval of others. Instead of finding her identity in Christ, she finds it in how her children are judged by those around her.

“My, my, aren’t Mrs. Smith’s children so well-behaved?”

“You’re children are so precious. They are always so well-behaved.”

These comments feed her sense of self-worth and so she focuses all the more to make sure her child is well-behaved. The parenting emphasis is increasingly on the external behaviors and never on the heart.

It’s not on the heart because heart attitudes are so much harder to see. The dad who receives his self-worth from how well he parents rarely hears, “Your child’s heart attitude is so Christ-like.” So, he focuses on the externals and he raises a little Pharisee.

If we want to avoid raising little Pharisees, parents need to find their identity in Christ, not in how well their children perform.

Third, parents often teach their children to compare themselves to other children. This is done in any number of ways—through athletic prowess, through academic achievement, through moral obedience.

“At least my child doesn’t drink and do drugs . . .” (see previous post). And so children are taught to look down on those children who have made “significant” moral failures. Some sins are counted as worse than other sins.

Remember the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18? “I thank you that I am not like other men . . .”

And so drinking, drugs, and sexual promiscuity are “worse” than ungratefulness, selfishness, and pride. Pharisee-ism is so insidious that we even teach our children to be “proud” that they aren’t like those other children. And then somehow we are shocked that we’ve raised a little Pharisee.

If we teach our children that some sins are “worse” than other sins, we’ve taken a large step in raising a little Pharisee.

Finally, some parents actually teach their children to become Pharisees by withholding love and affection from children whose behavior doesn’t measure up to mom’s or dad’s (often Pharisaical) standards.

It doesn’t take little Megan long to learn, “Dad only shows me affection when I’m a good little girl.” Megan, in turn, begins to perceive her self-worth from her external behavior and a little Pharisee has been born.

Being a parent isn’t for cowards. It’s hard work and sleepless nights. But we don’t want to raise “little Pharisees” who do the right things but whose hearts are far from the Lord. So, find your identity in Christ and focus on your heart and your child’s heart and you’ll go a long way toward stunting the Pharisee in your child.

To His Glory,

Brian

What Is the “Book of Jashar”?

Second Samuel begiBook of Jasharns with David learning of the deaths of King Saul and King Saul’s son, Jonathan. As David was lamenting their deaths, David quoted a lengthy poem from the “Book of Jashar” (2 Samuel 1:18–27). This mysterious book is also mentioned in Joshua 10:12–13. What is this “Book of Jashar”? And, should this book be included in the Bible?

What is the Book of Jashar?

We ought not to think about Jashar as a proper name. The word “Jashar” means “upright one,” so the Book of Jashar is sometimes referred to as the Book of the Upright One.

The Book of Jashar is thought to have been a book of poems and songs about various heroes of the faith. It is ultimately an unknown book, although some claim to have an accurate copy of the book. The book has been used by various cults and sects such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Should the Book of Jashar be included in the Bible?

If the Bible quotes the Book of Jashar, why isn’t it in the Bible? Just because a work of antiquity is quoted in the Bible, it does not follow that the work is on par with the Bible. In other words, in order for a book to be included in the canon of scripture, it must have been understood to have been inspired by God. The Book of Jashar simply does not reach that threshold.

There are indeed a number of extra-biblical sources that are quoted in the Bible that are not included in the Bible. One author wrote,

“There are other Hebrew works that are mentioned in the Bible that God directed the authors to use. Some of these include the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14), the Book of Samuel the Seer, the Book of Nathan the Prophet, and the Book of Gad the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29). Also, there are the Acts of Rehoboam and the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (1 Kings 14:29). We also know that Solomon composed more than a thousand songs (1 Kings 4:32), yet only two are preserved in the book of Psalms (72 and 127). Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, Paul included a quotation from the Cretan poet Epimenides (Titus 1:12) and quoted from the poets Epimenides and Aratus in his speech at Athens (Acts 17:28).”

We can know that everything included in the Bible is inspired by God and therefore truthful and without error, but this inspiration does not necessarily transfer to the remainder of the works quoted.

By way of analogy, we may write a brief essay that is without error and totally truthful. In the process of writing our brief essay, we may even quote from other sources. Even though our essay is without error and totally truthful, it would not necessarily follow that the sources from which we quoted were also completely without error and totally truthful.

In his sovereign wisdom, God guided the thoughts of those who wrote scripture and he protected them from error so that the Bible is completely trustworthy and it is completely without error. God may have inspired these authors to quote from additional sources, but that does not mean that these additional sources are in any way equal to scripture.

2 Peter 1:19–21
19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.
21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Timothy 3:16–17
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

For His Glory,
Pastor Brian

Did God really “hate” Esau?

Did God really “hate” Esau? This question was recently posed to me by a godly woman in my congregation.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the story of Esau, let me fill in a few details (Note: You can read the whole story for yourself in Genesis 25–36.)

Esau was the oldest twin brother of Jacob. Esau was the favorite of his father, Isaac, and Jacob was the Esau-and-the-bowl-of-soupfavorite of his mother, Rebekah. But even before they were born God told Rebekah,

“Two nations are in your womb,
And two peoples from within you shall be divided;
The one shall be stronger than the other,
The older shall serve the younger.”
Genesis 25:23

Esau would ultimately sell his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:29–34), and later Jacob would deceived his father so as to receive Esau’s blessing (Genesis 27). Did Esau get the raw end of the deal?

To the untrained eye this story reads like a transcript from the Jerry Springer show. But thankfully, for our sakes, God in his grace interprets the story for us.

In Malachi 1 we read these words,

“‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.’”
Malachi 1:2–3a

Those are strong words, but they still don’t, by themselves, help us understand what is going on. So the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote these words in Romans 9,

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Romans 9:6–13

Finally in this passage we begin to understand the reason why “the older shall serve the younger.” We begin to understand why God said, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” The context here in Romans is clear. The context is God’s free and sovereign choice in electing those whom he chooses to elect—not based on any foreseen merit in them, but purely based on his sovereign freedom.

This passage from Romans is part of a larger argument (Romans 9–11) on God’s sovereign choice of a people for his pleasure. There were those who thought that since not every ethnic Jew (i.e., an ethic Jew is a person who could trace his/her physical ancestry to Abraham) was being saved, God must have failed to keep his promises.

But Paul argues that they are not Jews who are only ethnic Jews, but they are Jews who have faith like Abraham. They are Jews only who are children of the promise.

Paul goes on to demonstrate this fact through two historical examples. One example is Isaac and Ishmael. Abraham fathered both Isaac and Ishmael, but only Isaac was the son of promise. The covenant blessings fell only to Isaac.

The second example is that of Esau and Jacob. Both of these men had the same father and mother. They were twins (fraternal, not identical). Yet before they were born, before they had done anything “good” or “bad,” God had chosen the one over the other.

The story is a story of God’s freedom in choosing (or “election”). Biblical theologian Thomas Schreiner writes, “the seed of Abraham are not the physical children of Abraham or the children of the flesh, but they are the children of Isaac and the children of promise. God never promised that all ethnic Israelites would belong to the true people of God. . . . [T]he children of promise are the true children of God” (Thomas Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 494).

New Testament theologian Douglas Moo writes,
“This brings us back to our original question: What does Paul mean by asserting that God ‘loved’ Jacob but ‘hated’ Esau? The connection of this quotation with v. 12 suggests that God’s love is the same as his election: God chose Jacob to inherit the blessings promised first to Abraham. God’s ‘hatred’ of Esau is more difficult to interpret because Paul does not furnish us at this point with contextual clues. Some understand Paul to mean only that God loved Esau less that he loved Jacob. He blessed both, but Jacob was used in a more positive and basic way in the furtherance of God’s plans. But a better approach is to define ‘hatred’ here by its opposite, ‘love.’ If God’s love of Jacob consists in his choosing Jacob to be the ‘seed’ who would inherit the blessing promised to Abraham, then God’s hatred of Esau is best understood to refer to God’s decision not to bestow this privilege on Esau. It might best be translated ‘reject.’ ‘Love’ and ‘hate’ are not here, then, emotions that God feels but actions that he carries out. In an apparent paradox that troubles Paul (cf. 9:14 and 19 following) as well as many Christians, God loves ‘the whole world’ at the same time as he withholds his love in action, or election, from some.”
Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, 586–87.

Once again Schreiner is helpful. He writes,
“Does the text suggest double predestination? Apparently it does. We need to remember that in the Pauline view predestination never lessened human responsibility (cf. Rom. 1:18–3:20; 9:30–10:21), and the correlation between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is ultimately a mystery that is beyond our finite comprehension. We dare not conclude that human decisions are a charade, insignificant, or trivial. But we must also beware of a rationalizing expedient that domesticates the text by exalting human freedom so that it fits neatly into our preconceptions.”
Schreiner, 501.

The story of Jacob and Esau is a story of God’s free and unconditional election. God’s “loving” Jacob was God choosing Jacob. God’s “hating” Esau was God rejecting Esau. As finite human beings we may not understand why God chooses to act in this manner, but we know that God is always completely merciful and gracious. I would like to close this blog article with this lengthy quote from pastor and author John Piper.

“One of the ways God makes this [i.e., his free and unconditional election] clear is that when Abraham fathered two sons, God chose only one of them—Isaac, not Ishmael—to be the son of promise. And when Isaac had two sons, even before they were born, God chose only Jacob, not Esau, to continue the line of his chosen people. In each case, God acts in a way that highlights his sovereign freedom in election. In Isaac’s case the child is born by miraculous, divine intervention when Abraham and Sarah are too old to have children. The point is to show that God’s purposes in election are not limited by human abilities or inabilities. He is free to choose whomever he pleases, even if he has to create a child by miraculous birth.

“This is the truth that John the Baptist had in mind when he warned the Pharisees and Sadducees, ‘Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham’ (Matthew 3:9). In other words, don’t ever think that God is obliged to choose you because of some human distinctive like your physical descent from Abraham. If God needs descendants from Abraham to fulfill the promises of election, he can create them out of stones. He is not boxed in. He is not limited to you. Beware of presuming on his electing grace. It is absolutely free.

“God makes the same point in the way he chooses Jacob and not Esau. In their case God choose the son who, according to all ordinary custom and human expectation, should not have been chosen, namely, the younger one. Thus he shows that God aims to undermine any attempt to limit his freedom in election. He is not bound or constrained by human distinctives. The apostle Paul stresses in Romans 9:10–13 that the reason for the election of Jacob, not Esau, and Isaac, not Ishmael, was to show that God’s election is free and unconditional. It is not based on Jewishness or primogeniture or virtue or faith; it is free, and therefore completely merciful and gracious.”
John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God, 114–15.

For His Glory,
Pastor Brian

Uncleanness and Bodily Discharges

As we are spending the year reading through the Bible, we sometimes come across passages that appear to not “make sense.” On this past Sunday at church, I Uncleanhad a couple of the women in my church ask me why an offering had to be made for a woman’s menstrual cycle. The text in question was Leviticus 15:19-30. Let’s take look at this passage.

Leviticus 15:19-24
19 “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening.  20 And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean.  21 And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.  22 And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.  23 Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening.  24 And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.

The first part of this passage deals with a woman’s “normal” menstrual cycle. During this time period the woman was considered “unclean” and anything she touched was also considered unclean. There are a number of lessons we can take from this.

First, since everything she touched was also considered unclean, this gave the woman a natural break from her household duties. In other words, she would not be cooking and cleaning during this period because in the process of doing so, she would be making everything she touched “unclean.” So, this was actually a time for the woman to rest from her normal household duties.

Second, the prohibition of sexual intercourse during this time was an indication that sex was not to be an obsession in life (either for the man or for the woman). Sex is a good gift given to a husband and a wife by God. It is to be used for procreation and it also has a unitive function (i.e., it helps the husband and wife to grow closer to one another). But sex is not an all-important activity as our culture wants to make us believe. So, God has a built in “break” from sexual activity between a husband and a wife.

Third, it is important to see that there is no special offering that needs to be made for a woman’s normal menstrual period. This is a natural part of a woman’s biology; no offering needs to be made. This period of uncleanness for the woman is similar to uncleanness experienced by the man when he has an emission of semen (see Lev 15:16-18).

Now let’s look at the remainder of the passage.

Leviticus 15:25-30
25 “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean.  26 Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity. And everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her menstrual impurity.  27 And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.  28 But if she is cleansed of her discharge, she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean.  29 And on the eighth day she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of meeting.  30 And the priest shall use one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her before the LORD for her unclean discharge.

A key phrase is found in verse 25, “not at the time of her menstrual impurity.” In other words, this a period of “abnormal” feminine discharge. This would be an indication that something was awry with the woman’s normal menstrual cycle. We need to keep in mind that some of the law codes given to the people of Israel were hygienic in origin. They didn’t speak to the worth of the individual, but they were designed to keep the spread of any potential diseases to a minimum.

When the woman was experiencing an abnormal discharge she was also considered unclean and she remained unclean for eight days after the abnormal discharge stopped. On the eighth day she would take an appropriate offering (verse 29) to the priest who would then offer these to the Lord.

If the abnormal discharge didn’t stop, she remained unclean. This helps us better understand the condition of the woman who reached out to touch the garments of Jesus in Mark 5:25-34.

It is important to stress three things. First, this offering was not for a woman’s normal discharge. The normal discharge is a part of her natural biology. These offerings were for “unnatural” discharges. Second, this is not a sexist part of the Law since this is the exact same process a man had to go through when he had an “unnatural discharge” (see Lev 15:13-15).

And, third, Moses tells us that the reason people to avoid the various issues that cause ceremonial uncleanness was so that they would not defile the tabernacle (15:31). But we live in an age of a new covenant, and we can look back on the old covenant and realize that the laws regarding cleansings has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus. He has entered the holy tent once for all to deliver redemption for all of us (see Hebrews 9:11-12).

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian

A Bridegroom of Blood

After God had appeared to Moses in the wilderness and revealed himself as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14), Moses set out to return to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and to tell him to let the captiveA Bridegroom of Blood Israelites go. Moses took his wife, Zipporah, and his sons with him on the journey. But along the way, something strange happened. Here is how it is recorded in the Bible.

Exodus 4:24-26 (ESV)
24 At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death.  25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”  26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.

This passage raises several important questions. Who did the Lord meet with in verse 24? Who did the Lord seek to put to death? And what had this person done that was worthy of death?

The most natural reading of the text is that the Lord was meeting with Moses to put Moses to death, but the original Hebrew language would allow for the Lord to be seeking to put Moses’ son to death. For our purposes, we will consider the more natural reading of the text, but before we do this, we will need to travel over 400 years into the past, to the time of Abraham.

When Abraham was an old man the Lord appeared to him to reiterate a covenant he had already made with Abraham. This event is recorded in the Bible as follows.

Genesis 17:1-8 (ESV)
1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,  2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”  3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him,  4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.  5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.  6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.  7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.  8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

The “sign of the covenant” that the Lord made with Abraham was circumcision. The Lord said to Abraham,

Genesis 17:10-14 (ESV)
10 “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.  11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.  12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring,  13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.  14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

This “sign of the covenant” was a sign that was to be continued “throughout your generations,” and 400 years later God chooses Moses to be his mouthpiece before Pharaoh, but Moses had not kept the “sign of the covenant,” not even with his own children.

With our 21st century sensibilities, we might consider it strange that God would take something this simple so seriously, but God is always honored when we obey. Moses had not obeyed what God had clearly taught and it nearly cost him his life. This incident serves as a judgment or as a warning about the importance for the children of God to keep the commands of God. God takes his commandments seriously.

This message is confirmed just a few verses later when in Exodus 5:3, Moses and Aaron said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”

God had already shown himself to Moses in such a way that Moses knew God was serious about his people keeping his commandments, so with a serious tone, Moses and Aaron say,  “Lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”

And God is still serious about his people keeping his commandments. In the new covenant we are no longer bound by physical circumcision since now our hearts have been spiritually circumcised (see Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:28-29; Colossians 2:11-12), but God is still concerned about his people following him in obedience.

Are you following the Lord in obedience? Here are just three questions to consider.

  1. If you’ve been born again, have you followed the Lord in obedience through believer’s baptism? See Acts 8:36, 38; 16:33; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 12:13.
  2. Are you a member of a local church? The New Testament knows nothing of a believer who is not ultimately affiliated with a local body of believers. The Scriptures here are too numerous to mention. A great resource to think about church membership is Jonathan Leeman’s little blue book, Church Membership.
  3. Is your life characterized by holiness? This doesn’t mean that you live a perfect life, but is your life characterized by a pursuit of holiness. Another great resource is Jerry Bridge’s book, The Pursuit of Holiness.

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian

 

 

Who Are the Three Men in Genesis 18?

Genesis 18:1-5 (ESV)
1 And the LORD appeared to [Abraham] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. abraham-and-the-three-angels
2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth
3 and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.
4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree,
5 while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on- since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”

Who are these “three men” from verse two who were standing in front of Abraham? We know that at a minimum in some way these three men represented the LORD to Abraham since verse 1 tells us that “the LORD appeared to” Abraham. These “men” weren’t human men as the text of Genesis 18-19 make clear. They were heavenly beings.

But could one of these men have actually been “the LORD”? John Sailhamer argues that this could raise difficult questions since the Pentateuch specifically forbids any presentation of God in any physical form.

Moses spoke to God’s people in Deuteronomy 4:15, “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire.”

This, of course, is a reference against idolatry, but does this mean that God would never appear in a physical form before man? The incarnation of the Christ in Jesus of Nazareth would appear to argue against that conclusion.

The second commandment (see Exodus 20:4) prohibits human beings from making an image of God. It doesn’t prohibit God from showing up in physical image. But, then again, God did tell Moses that no man could see God and live (see Exodus 33:20).

This, of course, brings us back to the incarnation. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, and we believe that he was God in the flesh (see John 1:1, 14; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-4; etc.). Jesus of Nazareth was clearly seen by others, even though he was (and is!) God.

Bruce Waltke argues that the three men of Genesis 18 are “actually the Lord and two angels” (page 266). He continues, “The later identifications of the ‘men’ (18:10, 13, 16-17, 33; 19:1) confirm their manifest difference. One man is none other than the Lord, as 18:2-3 and especially 10, 13-15 make explicit” (266-67).

This “Lord” would be none other than the pre-incarnate Christ, the second person of the Trinity.

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian

Context Is King

In my last post I addressed the “sons of God” from the perspective of Genesis Context is king6:1-4. But what about the phrase “sons of God” as it is found in other biblical texts. For example, who are the “sons of God” in Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7? This is an important question, but first a quick word about biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) .

One basic principle of biblical interpretation is to allow the clearer passages in the Bible to interpret the less clear passages in the Bible. In other words, as we saw in my last post about “sons of God,” the sons of God in Genesis 6 are not likely angels since the Scriptures explicitly teach that angels neither marry nor are they given in marriage (Matthew 22:30).

But there is a second principle of biblical interpretation that is also important. Context is king. Just as a realtor cries out, “Location, location, location,” so, too, when we read the Bible, we ought to cry out, “Context, context, context.” In other words, just because a word or phrase is translated or means one thing in one passage, it does not follow that the same word or phrase means the same thing in another passage. We must allow the context of the passage determine its meaning, and when the context isn’t clear, we allow passages that are clearer to help us understand. Allow me to illustrate with some English sentences.

“The board of directors voted to approve the new project.”

“We need to board up the windows before the hurricane makes landfall.”

These are just two simple examples of how the word “board” can be used in a sentence. No native English reader would think that these two uses of the word “board” were referring to the same thing. It’s the same word, but the context determines its meaning. Now, back to our discussion about “sons of God.”

The phrase “sons of God” is used a total of five times in the Old Testament and five times in the New Testament. Here are the verses (all verses are from the ESV). [NOTE: There is one textual variant in Deuteronomy 32:8 that is translated in the ESV as “sons of God.” All other major translations have “sons of Israel.”]

Genesis 6:2 “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.”

Genesis 6:4 “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”

Job 1:6 “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.”

Job 2:1 “Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.”

Job 38:7 “when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Luke 20:36 “for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”

Romans 8:14 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Romans 8:19 “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Galatians 3:26 “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

The context of some of these passages tell us straightforwardly that the “sons of God” are Christians (e.g., Romans 8:14 and Galatians 3:26) or at least human beings (Genesis 6:2, 4) while the context of other passages indicates that the “sons of God” are something other than Christians or humans beings (e.g., Job 1:6; 2:1). Job is clearly saying that these “sons of God” are a type of angelic being.

So, when reading your Bible, always remember! CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT! As D. A. Carson has said, “A text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof text!”

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian

 

Who Are the “Sons of God”?

Anyone who reads Genesis 6 will ask themselves the question, “Who are these nephilim‘sons of God’?” Most English translations of the Bible simply translate the Hebrew as “sons of God,” but some translations add to the confusion by not only translating the Hebrew, but also interpreting the Hebrew in their translations. Consider the following translations of Genesis 6:1-4.

English Standard Version (ESV)
1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

Contemporary English Version (CEV)
1-2 More and more people were born, until finally they spread all over the earth. Some of their daughters were so beautiful that supernatural beings came down and married the ones they wanted. 3 Then the Lord said, “I won’t let my life-giving breath remain in anyone forever. No one will live for more than one hundred twenty years.” 4 The children of the supernatural beings who had married these women became famous heroes and warriors. They were called Nephilim and lived on the earth at that time and even later.

The ESV and the CEV use different methods of translation. The ESV falls into the formal equivalence camp and the CEV falls into the dynamic (or functional) equivalence camp. (For more on the difference between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence see here.)

A close look at these two translations lets the reader immediately see the issue. Are the “sons of God” (ESV) really “supernatural beings” (CEV)? So who are these “sons of God”?

According to John Sailhamer, who is a recognized expert on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament, which includes Genesis), the “sons of God” have been understood three different ways historically.

First, the “sons of God” could be angels. This view is not widely held since it appears to contradict Jesus’ own words that angels do not marry (see Matthew 22:30). Second, the sons of God” could be royalty.  Or, third, the “sons of God” could be pious men from the line of Seth.

But Sailhamer writes,

All such interpretations, however, originate from the assumption that vv. 1-4 are an introduction to the account of the Flood and are therefore to be understood as the cause of the Flood. If, on the other hand, we read vv. 1-4 as the summary of chapter 5, there is little to arouse our suspicion that the events recounted are anything out of the ordinary. As a summary of the preceding chapter, this little narrative is a reminder that the sons and daughters of Adam had greatly increased in number, had married, and had continued to have children. The impression it gives is that of an interlude, a calm before the storm.
[John Sailhamer, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 2, 76.]

So, these “sons of God” are not “supernatural beings.” They are the extraordinary men (i.e., the men of renown) who lived from the time of Adam until the time of the Flood.

For His Glory,

Pastor Brian