Martin Luther: What does it mean to have a god?


People talking today about the 10 commandments often loosely quote* the reformer Martin Luther saying, breaking any of the commandments is always a result of breaking the first – i.e. in other words, idolatry – or trusting in and worshiping someone or something other than the personal God who gave Israel the 10 commandments.

Background to the 10 Commandments

The first time the 10 commandments appear in the Bible is when God gave them to Moses. Israel had just dramatically escaped 400 years of slavery in Egypt. The introduction to the first commandment mentions this, even though it is often left out.

Continue reading “Martin Luther: What does it mean to have a god?”

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

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

Tripped up in the journey to holiness

The period covered by the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy is a time when God separates Israel from the world, to himself. He makes them a holy people.

What does it mean to be a holy people?
To have a higher view of God than I do of myself and to live in obedience to the good news of God’s Word in such a way that God’s purity & purpose is seen by others to be higher and bigger than me.

This separation or distinction (holiness) is marked several ways:

On Day 2 of the creation week, the division of sea and sky created an atmospheric cover for the earth (Gen 1:6-8). The waters (clouds) cover the earth and protect it. During the 1st passover Israel was protected from death under a covering of blood as God passed over the land of Egypt (Ex 12:13, 23).

When Israel prepared for the first night of passover, a veil of blood was painted over their door (Ex 12:7, 22). This veil served to divide Israel from Egypt (Ex 12:13, 23, 27, 42, 51). The veil also features in the tabernacle to separate the most holy place (Ex 26:31-35). That veil is decorated with angels who guard the entry to God’s dwelling place just as an angel guarded the door to Eden.

Ten Commandments
The terms of God’s covenant are summarised in the ten commandments. (Ex 20:1-21, Deut 5:1-22). To breach the ethics of the covenant makes you liable to the sanctions of the covenant. In this way, the law reveals the righteousness of God and it also reveals our unrighteousness. It is our schoolmaster, teaching us what sin is.

The Tabernacle
When the Lord makes a new Covenant in the Bible, it is spoken of as a New Creation. The instructions for the Tabernacle (Ex 25-31) are seven speeches which follow the pattern of the Creation Week. The Tabernacle was a miniature “clean” world, a micro-cosmos. It was the DNA for a new Creation.1

Leviticus presents many pictures of Christ and His work of redemption on the cross. Hebrews 10:1–14 makes it clear that in Christ we have the complete fulfillment of each of the OT sacrifices. In return we can still offer sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving and devotion to Jesus and the gospel.

The festivals involved eating and drinking. We are reminded that the Son of Man came eating and drinking (Matt 11:18-19, Luke 7:33-35) and each of these not only point us to Jesus, but call us to celebrate God’s work of redemption. When we observe communion today, with bread and wine (eating and drinking!) we are celebrating Christ and anticipating the full and final feast at the end of history (1 Cor 5:6-8, 11:23-26, Rev 19:9).

All of these gifts are meant to provide Israel with vivid, tangible demonstrations of the greatness and glory of God.

The four books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy cover a period of 120 years.

When Moses is 40, he is set apart as a Judge and Deliver. He is rejected by the people and they are condemned to another 40 years of slavery while Moses goes into the wilderness to receive God’s Word. A new (2nd) generation will inherit God’s promise of deliverance.

After that time, Moses returns, God judges Pharaoh and Egypt and following the first Passover, God delivers his people as he promised.

They are a holy priesthood divided from the world by the water of the Red Sea and will be tested and refined (threshed) so that they can inherit the land given to Abraham.

In the first passover, their faith is tested at the Red Sea, their commitment is tested and during their travel in the Wilderness, their obedience is tested.

When presented with the opportunity to enter and occupy their inheritance from Abraham, the 2nd Generation also fails to trust the judgement and deliverance of God. As a result they are condemned to another 40 years of wandering in the wilderness so that the next (3rd!) generation will receive and benefit from the promises.

How did that happen?
Compare the people’s behaviour in Exodus 15:13-18 with their attitude in Numbers 14.
In Exodus 15, they are focused on what God had done and would continue to do.
In Numbers 14, they focused on what they could not do and looked away from God and to themselves.

They allowed unbelief to cloud their vision of God and the purpose he had called them to.

Biblical faith abides in  (lives, rests, tenaciously clings to) the promises of the Word of God and yields an faithful and fruitful life.

Holiness and obedience is based in the Word of God. When we act independently of scripture we do not enter, we do not overcome and we do not occupy the place God calls his people to be. So often, Christians trip up in their pursuit of holiness because they seek something outside of scripture. Whether it be an experience, feeling, or some other “sign”, it moves our focus away from God to ourselves. We are not the centre of the universe.

Fear (of man) leads to… suffering

Yoda might have been onto something with his proverb of how fear leads, inevitably, to suffering.

Moses judicial execution of the Egyptian is often interpreted as a failure. However, Moses had the authority to pass judgment and execute the sentence, and he later became the judge of his people. “Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22). However, he feared Pharaoh’s unjust reaction to his just deed. In every other instance, the shedding of innocent blood requires the blood of the murderer to be shed. However, in this case, it was the Hebrews’ rejection of Moses as their judge that condemned them to 40 years’ more slavery. Like those whose bodies fell in the wilderness, it was the next generation who would be delivered.
~ Mike Bull, The Bible Matrix, p.117

As a leader, do you lack confidence to be decisive? What are the consequences of that in your life, family, career, ministry?