Forgiving the untrustworthy or trusting the unforgiving

the secretary

One of recurring themes of the Older Testament or first part of the bible (written before the time of Jesus) is found in the way the writers and speakers referred to Moses’ character creed of God found in the book of Exodus 34:6-7.

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Both supporters and opponents to the Bible have said much about what this means and implies about the character of the God of the Bible. One thing both will agree upon is that this is a particular reference to the unfolding story of the nation of Israel. As Israel’s story develops, forgiveness is one of the major features displayed by God towards the people he rescued from slavery in Egypt. Also, as a people group or nation, they were held to a higher standard of accountability as the ones who represent God.

When Jesus arrived on the scene, he taught how this applies to all people who follow God. If they represent him, they will experience his forgiveness, but will also have to live by a standard of justice and fairness. A standard, when they become mature enough, they will be expected to apply to each other. If you are going to be a God follower and enjoy the benefits of forgiveness, then you need to lead the way in integrity and honesty.

Jesus is quoted as recommending his people be indiscriminate in their forgiveness towards each other. He is also quoted providing a summary of how to be fair in addressing and dealing with each other’s failures and indiscretions. (mentioned in the last two posts.) Both of the quotes are simple and brief. They aren’t meant to be exhaustive processes but provide overarching principles.

Integrity requires that indiscretions be dealt with openly and publicly, not ignored or handled secretively. Forgiveness does not equate to fully entrusting someone who has not proven trustworthy. But how does this framework deal with trusting people upfront, i.e. those that haven’t (yet?) knowingly wronged you? Should you trust them? Is everyone to be trusted until proven untrustworthy along the same line of innocent until proven guilty?

This is especially relevant in a Church or Christian context. Is it healthy to have a slightly cynical attitude or suspicious concern towards a Christian leader until you get to know them better? For many people who have been hurt and betrayed by ruthless, dishonest leaders slight cynicism becomes overriding bitterness and hatred. This kind of distrust is found in other areas of life as well, for instance the endemic hatred of politicians or disrespect for police. Trying to come up with some superficial version of a solution only entrenches people in their bitterness and pain and makes others vulnerable to being exploited by the next corrupt leader. But there might be an indicator that can warn you off and help you avoid a dangerous situation.

This is found in a quote from Peter, one of Jesus’ followers. When describing trustworthy leaders who represent Jesus, Peter mentions they are “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock”. He goes on to mention “God opposes the proud.” There’s the warning sign. If you encounter a leader who thinks he’s above everyone else, then, as I’ve said before, “Get out of dodge!

In an interview to become pastor of a church, the leader (or secretary) of the group said to me, “My name is *Barry, I’ve been a Christian longer than you’ve been alive. What are you going to teach me?
At the time, I was a little nervous about the interview, but it did cause some alarm bells to start ringing. I should have run away from that job as fast and far as I could!

Sometime later, when, as the Pastor of that Church, I was explaining why I had ‘told the church‘ about the sinful actions of an ex-member who had been harassing and threatening my family, that same leader shouted, “You should have asked me first. I am the secretary and I am more responsible for the welfare of this church than you or any other pastor.

The alarm bells were screaming! But it was too late. This leader was being the opposite of what Peter was describing. In his mind, he, not God, was the most important person. He epitomized the reason that many people continue to leave Churches with hurt, hate and distrust of proud, arrogant and dishonest leaders.

He displayed the opposite kind of character Moses recorded in Exodus. He was a roaring lion seeking to devour anyone who stood in his way. So while I may forgive him, I certainly cannot and will not trust him. His behaviour and actions do not represent God and I do not need to allow him to affect my view of God’s character. I can take the anxiety he caused through his actions and commit that to God, who will not hold him guiltless for his injustice. The lion will become impotent.

wetsecretary*not his real name

Benefits of Leviticus

I am about to end a 7 week study of the first 7 chapters of the Old Testament book Leviticus. This section of the book deals with the sacrificial system of worship used in Israel from 1446BC when they left Egypt up to about AD70 when the last temple was destroyed.

This book has been ridiculed and attacked because of the strong indictments it makes against purification and ceremonial behaviours that Israel was to abstain from. These seem too harsh for the post modern sensitive eclectic spiritualists and anti-theists. Many Christians have shied away from the book instead of engaging it head on to deal with the counter cultural precepts it has.

My 7 week study didn’t get to the controversial personal purity laws – that comes later on, maybe next year 😉 Instead, I focused on the ritual sacrifice ceremonies introduced at the beginning and sought to understand how these fit into the overall story of the Bible and, what, if any, instruction or relevance they have for anyone today.

Why not teach something easier or a little more directly applicable to a modern hearer? Why not emphasise Bible stories or passages that have universal appeal on matters of peace, harmony and personal fulfilment? To answer that, a few months ago, before starting the series, I jotted down a few of the benefits of studying Leviticus. Some of these apply to any book of the Bible and some are specific to Leviticus.

1. All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable. Full stop. Period. c.f. 2 Timothy 3:16-17. If the reliability and authority of the Bible is impugned by Leviticus than the rest of it is worth kindling. So, it is a worthwhile exercise to wrestle with this book, in an honest way, to understand it through historical and grammatical interpretation to find the original authorial intent and the original audience expectation (as much as may be possible with available internal and external evidentiary sources, references and support).

2. Psalm 119:130The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” i.e. through the reading and study of one part of the Bible we will improve and increase our understanding of other parts of the Bible. Instead of quoting one or two selective verses from the book of Leviticus and making a biased criticism about how it is out of date, irrelevant, oppressive, sexist, discriminatory and contradictory, why not read all of it and see how it integrates with the rest of the Bible and perhaps resolves some of those concerns about the way some controversial topics are handled.

3. Leviticus provides an example of liturgy and right worship (by ‘right’, I mean both worshipping rightly and worshipping the right object). Leviticus shows that worship includes fear, confession of sin, death of a substitute in the place of the sinner, rescue and redemption of the sinner, praise and thanksgiving.

4. Leviticus reinforces the covenantal patterns of how God relates to his creation. In the process of creation, destruction and recreation we have vivid instruction that leads to a fuller understanding of life, death, resurrection and glorification.

5. Leviticus fills out our understanding of many of the theological terms used in the New Testament. e.g. sacrifice, atonement, forgiveness, sin, guilt, offering, peace, priest, purification, holy, unholy etc.

6. In contrast to Israel who approached their worship with trepidation, we enter God’s presence boldly through Jesus who has perfectly completed all the types, symbols and ceremonies of the Law. He is our righteousness, peace, sanctification, sacrifice, atonement, heavenly bread, high priest, scapegoat and retribution for our sin.

7. Leviticus points us to Jesus as the ceremonies and rituals anticipate one who is greater that will forever satisfy the justice and share the mercy of God.

What other benefits have you enjoyed from studying the book of Leviticus?

The light was on, but…

The account of a blind man being healed in John’s gospel seems to be a chiasm.

A chiasm is a mirrored literary structure where the use of words or images compliment or contrast each other in a definite sequence. It typically follows an ABCBA type pattern. Which places a climax point in the middle as well as at the end. Back when scrolls were in popular use the pivot point of the story was in the centre of the scroll as it opened.

In the case of John chapter 9. The words and images are all connected to sight and light and contrasted with darkness and blindness.

In this case the chiastic outline I’ve used has 7 steps.

1. The power of the (spoken) creative Word of God

vv.1-7 (characters: Jesus, disciples, blind man)
c.f. v.5 – “I am the light of the world” with Gen 1:3-5let there be light” & Psalm 119:130, “your words give light
The man blind from birth is “sent” home seeing

2. A division occurs between those who “see” and those who don’t

vv.8-12 (characters: Neighbours/Jews, blind man)
Where is this man?” They can’t “see” him and they refuse to “see” the wonder of the miracle that a blind man has been healed. Their eyes are behind a veil as it were, preventing them from seeing. c.f. 2 Corinthians 3:13-18

3. Debate about the purpose of the sabbath

In the law (Ex20:8-11, Deut 5:12-15) the sabbath was an occasion for resting from work for the purpose of drawing near to God in public worship. A blind man would have been ceremonially unclean and excluded from most of the festivals and sacrifices that made up Israel’s worship. Being healed meant, he could rejoin and fully participate in the community.
vv.13-17 (characters: Jews, Pharisees, blind man)
This man is not from God…” or “… he is a “prophet” Which is it? He can’t be both.

4. The test – will the testify accurately about his experience with Jesus?

vv.18-23 (characters: Jews, parents)
He is our son… he will speak for himself” – The parents trying to avoid persecution provide an opportunity for the formerly blind man to speak on behalf of Jesus. This is a climax point. Will he ratify his account and invite ridicule, mockery and social exclusion or will he remain silent in order to not to offend the religious zealots?

5. Those who “get it” are truly mature because they ‘do his will’

vv.24-34 (characters: Jews, blind man)
The debate intensifies about what it means to understand and apply God’s word. The Jews make an appeal to Moses (v.28), but they still can’t see the wonder of what has taken place. They start by saying, “give the glory to God“, but when the man does (v.33) they are offended at the prospect that God would act in this way.

6. The one who believes, conquers and is co-judge

vv.35-39 (characters: Jesus, blind man)
When the healing first occurred the Jews asked, “Where is the man“, but they aren’t prepared for the answer. Now Jesus returns to the conversation by addressing the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He is “the man” in more ways than one. Because the healed man places his trust in Jesus and worships him he enjoys the victory of true sight (v.39). As a result the healed man is now, by his testimony of faith, a co-judge against those that refuse to see and worship Jesus as the fulfilment of the Messianic promises.
c.f. Isaiah 35:4-5, Isaiah 42:6-7

7. The one who disbelieves is not glorified (does not receive God’s rest) but remains in guilt

vv.40-41 (characters: Pharisees, Jesus)
Are we blind too?”
The Pharisees are claiming to “see” without the aid of the “light of the world“. Their insistence is going to exclude them from sharing in the forgiveness, healing and life that God brings with his light. Compared to the healed man who was “sent” home freed from his blindness, the Pharisees “remain” in their guilt – i.e. they are culpable before God for what they claim to understand from Moses and the law.

Other articles related to Chiasm’s:

Jim Hamilton’s ‘Chiasm’s on the brain
Mike Bull, Bible Matrix

Mike’s book explains the significance behind the recurring 7-fold pattern I’ve used above to outline John 9. It starts in the 7-day creation story, continues with the 7 festivals of Israel and the 7 key elements of the tabernacle.

A. Creation

B. Division

C. Ascension

D. Testing

C. Maturity

B. Conquest

A. Glorification

Heaven on Earth?

An idea often found in Christian devotionals is to equate the entry heaven with occupation of Canaan by Israel under Joshua. This creates a very confusing image of heaven. Surely heaven is not a place of conflict but a rest from all conflicts? This type of interpretation misses the point and purpose of the book of Joshua.

Drawing from my notes taken during my Bible College Old Testament History class way back last century I offer the following thoughts about the significance of the story of Joshua.

The occupation of Canaan is not representative of the believer entering Heaven. Canaan is inherited through testing that results in maturity and conquest leading to rest. Canaan is the picture of the believer’s present position and possession in Christ (Heb 3:1 – 4:16).

A Christian is not given a ticket that allows them to escape the singe of hell before they enjoy a free ride to heaven. Those who enter into covenant with God have received the Word of God, are called to obey it, or be rejected by it. The life of persevering faith will involve an active, intentional fight against sin as you strive towards holiness to appropriate what God offers you in Christ (1 Cor 10:1-14, Heb 12:14-17, 2 Pet 1:5-9, Phil 2:12-13, 1 Thes 5:24).

What should the Christian take away from the book of Joshua? We live and work from a position of victory, but we must not surrender to apathy and presumption (Rom 6:1-23).

Welcome to the feast

The greatest story ever told has a scope and complexity in its narrative and characters that exceeds all known literature. To some, it is a mysterious volume of allegorical myths. To others, it is a mass of contradictions. It is the story of God and his creation, involvement with and salvation of man. It gets messy, because people are messy, but God’s purpose is not thwarted. The greatest story ever told is not great because man figured out how to salvage himself. It is great because God, driven by love, has, through patience and mercy saved men.

Welcome to the Feast

In the Bible, we are guests at God’s banquet. A modern reader struggles to make sense of this story written so differently to our modern texts and popular novels. The structure of the Bible story is based upon Israel’s festival calendar (detailed in Leviticus 23). Consider the pattern or process you might follow when hosting a dinner party. Our to-do list is arranged to illustrate its parallel structure:

A. You send your invitations

B. You cover the table with a cloth

C. You lay out place settings & cutlery

D. The guests are seated

C1. The food and wine is served

B1. The feast is consumed

A1. You recline, full & satisfied with an digestif

The invitation (A) anticipates the satisfied diners at the end of the party (A1).
The table cloth (B) dedicates the table for the dinner (B1).
The placement of the cutlery (C) is matched with it’s use to eat the food (C1).
At the center of this event, the guests (D) are seated. Will they partake of the meal? Will they enjoy the party? It’s a simplistic example, but hopefully you see a parallel cycle of forward movement.

The Bible story is similar. God has given us an invitation, he has prepared life for us, he has called us to himself, he has given us his Word. Will we receive it? Will we make it a part of ourselves? When we do, we have “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (c.f. 2 Peter 1:11).

From the beginning of the Bible God has purposely laid the table for us so that we can read, follow the pattern and enjoy feasting on his Word.

The pattern starts in Genesis 1, continues through the Old Testament, and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The exact details of the pattern will vary using different motifs, allusions and imagery, but the goal of the process is the same.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. … And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. ~ 1 John 5:13, 20