Monday, September 26, 2011

Mary & Martha: A Lesson for the Church

38Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.  39And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word.  40But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.  41And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful [anxious] and troubled [disturbed] about many things: 42But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
                                                                                                – Luke 10:38-42 
This short passage reveals much about what is wrong in the church today.  It reveals that there are many who want to serve God, but that they want to serve him in their own way and in their own time.  Eventual frustration leads them to seek approval and recognition at another’s expense in an attempt to bolster their own importance: the idea being that what they’re doing is more important than what you’re doing; and so their suggestion to you is to drop what you’re doing and join them in what they’re doing.  But let’s have a closer look.

Martha was a very hospitable woman, and Jesus loved them all (Jn. 11:5).  But note that Martha tried to please our Lord but also note that she didn't know how.  There was nothing inherently wrong with what she was doing, but there’s a time to serve and then there’s a time to serve by sitting and learning; and on this occasion, Mary had made the better choice.  But Martha couldn’t discern this, and so she turned to Jesus for help.

But why didn’t Martha ask Mary herself?  She could have.  She should have.  Maybe she did.  She was sitting right there.  But Mary was so focused on Jesus that she either didn’t notice or thought that whatever needed to be done could be done later.  Martha may have asked, and Mary could have replied that she’d be there “in a minute” – only to have that minute last a little longer than Martha’s patience could endure.  But for whatever reason, it’s apparent that Martha was frustrated with Mary – so frustrated that she tried to get Jesus to compel her to stop listening and help.            

But Jesus’ response was immediate and corrective.  Martha’s request implied there was something wrong with Mary, but Jesus quickly responded that the only person in the room with a problem was her.  He told her that she was anxious and disturbed about many things; that she had a lot of “outstanding issues” and that she was a basket case with nothing but a head full of trouble – to put it in the modern vernacular.  The strength and candor of his response shows that he himself was perturbed with Martha’s actions – else it wouldn’t have warranted such a strong reaction.  It shows that the situation had been building.  Martha had in one way or another kept interrupting their conversation and Jesus had finally had enough, and so when she asked for him to get Mary to help her, it was the final straw; and he let her have it… and he did it in front of others.  

This of course wasn’t what she wanted to hear.  Scripture doesn’t record her response, if any, but it must have been one of stunned silence.  In appealing to Jesus she was hoping to have a respected authority acknowledge her good works; thereby implying that she was correct in all that she was doing, but Jesus wouldn’t have any of it.  Had he complimented her, she would have taken all the glory.  Many times preachers want to do all of the work themselves so they can receive all of the glory; but when their bodies start breaking down or their efforts seem fruitless, frustration invariably leads them to cry out and accuse others – all in the name of God of course.  This kind of restlessness is that of the heart and it cannot and will not be satisfied through achievement; so sometimes less is more.

Martha was a Christian girl but she was consumed by her problems – whatever they may have been.  This passage and others leaves one with the impression that Martha was overly concerned with the things of this world with little or no thought for the eternal; and that’s why she couldn’t perceive that Mary had made the better choice to sit at Jesus’ feet.  Martha lacked discernment.  So when Jesus told her that Mary had made the better decision, it must have come as a shock.

Martha wanted to serve, but she wanted to serve God according to her own understanding: she wanted to please God her way.  But her “good works” actually keep her from learning about God and how to please him.  So something can be “good” but not right.  She was “[en] cumbered” meaning that she must have been taking more upon herself than she should have.  Jesus said that his yoke was easy and that his burden was light (Mt. 11:28-30), but evidently she didn’t make it to church that day. 

Martha was probably the oldest of the three siblings,[1] but it seems that she may have crossed the line between being an older caring sister to one of trying to be the matriarch of the family.  As the eldest sibling this is somewhat natural, but it must also be tempered with the realization that she isn’t their mother – she’s only their older sister.  Jesus was friends with this family and so it leaves one with the impression that they were somewhat close in age.  This means that they were all adults, but it also seems that Martha was “mothering” over them. 

Mary, on the other hand, had decided to focus upon one thing and that one thing would NOT be sacrificed to accomplish the many other things that Martha wanted her to do.  Jesus told her that “one” thing was needful, not “many.”  But her busyness didn’t allow time for her to do the “one thing” that was needful, which was to sit and receive instruction. 

But did Martha ever learn her lesson?

About a year later, Jesus again visits Mary and Martha just before entering into Jerusalem for the final time.  When he arrives, Martha serves dinner.  She’s still serving.  But Mary takes some expensive oil and breaks it over Jesus’ head; thus anointing him for his burial; and once again her actions are called into question; but this time it’s the disciples who are mumbling: Judas Iscariot in particular (cp. Mt. 26:6-12; Mk. 14:3-9; Jn. 12:1-8).  Judas complained that the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor; but Scripture reveals that he was a thief and a robber and so he was only in the ministry for what he could get out of it: money – something of which we’re commanded to avoid (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Tit. 1:7, 11; 1 Pet. 5:2 etc.).     

But as a result of sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary has perceived what’s about to happen.  She understands that Jesus is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world and that he’s about to die upon the cross for our sins.  This in turn evoked a repudiation of all that was worldly in an attempt to bring honor to the Lord (pouring out of the expensive oil).  But she knows this because she’s been sitting at Jesus’ feet – learning.  (The disciples had been sitting at his feet too, but apparently they were slow learners.)

But do you see the progression here?  Mary’s own immediate family members couldn’t see that she was pleasing to the Lord nor could the disciples.  Worse, there was a false brother in their midst stirring them up by bringing about false accusation under the guise of piety and the care for others (2 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 2:3).  Judas was accusing them both of being wasteful and selfish.  Typical.  Man is always looking to find fault with God – for such is the weakness of the flesh. 

But if this happened to Mary, it can happen to us.  Often times it’s our close family members and the members of our churches who understand our walk with the Lord the least.  They’re often in leadership positions, they constitute the majority, and they’re busy doing the most things; but neither are they pleasing God – although in their self-deception they believe they are.  They can’t discern that their actions are wrong no more than they can discern that yours are right.  Neither can they discern the false brethren in their own midst.  Why?  Because they haven’t been sitting at Jesus’ feet! 

But did you notice how quick Jesus was to defend Mary?  Jesus said that one thing was needful and that it wouldn’t be taken from her; and this is true for us as well.  If we’re willing to sit at Jesus’ feet, he’ll reveal more of himself to us just like he did Mary.  But this is also where many falter.  We start sitting and then the persecution comes.  Our accusers are in the majority and they’re often prominent; but we all have to make a choice as to whether we’re going to endure the shame or succumb to the pressure (Mt. 19:27-30).      

But how does all of this apply to the Church?

I’ve already thrown out a couple of hints, but let’s briefly sum up Martha’s actions – bearing in mind that her attitude and disposition is representative of your average church and preacher.
§  Martha wanted to serve God but didn’t know how.
§  Martha was busy doing and caring about all the wrong things.          
§  Martha’s busy schedule didn’t allow time for godly instruction.  
§  Martha was encompassed and plagued by many personal troubles although she was doing many things. 
§  Martha couldn’t perceive or discern the work and will of Christ in her own life let alone his will and purpose for others.
§  Martha was completely convinced that she was doing the right thing and had no idea that she was in complete and full error.  Thus, she was spiritually blind and deceived.
§  Martha found fault in people who were doing the right things. 
§  Martha (and the disciples) also found fault with Jesus (uncaring, wasteful, selfish).
§  Martha sought vindication for her own actions at the expense of others.
§  Martha saw her own works as being more important than the work of others; i.e. pride.  She was up working while Mary was down (sitting at Jesus’ feet).  
§  Martha never seemed to learn her lesson. 

Most pastors know that if people are involved then they’re more likely to stay.  They don’t want to lose members ($) and so they want you to be actively engaged in some facet of the ministry as a demonstration of your faith – that’s the spin anyway.  This usually means submitting to whatever they want you to do and involving you in something of which God has no interest.  But their motives are wrong and so their efforts are ultimately doomed to failure; but in the meantime they can cause a whole lot of agony, grief, and sorrow.  They tried it with Mary; they’ll try it with you – even if Jesus is sitting right there!  They’ll try and get you to stop listening to God in an effort to get you to start listening to them because they think that they have the mind of God when they don’t; and if you “rebel” they’ll marginalize you.

Of course the assumption here is that you’re actually hearing from God.  The other side of the coin is that we’re to submit ourselves to authority; but submission doesn’t infer blind obedience, either.  Being different just to be different for difference sake is nothing more than a prelude to rebellion; and so this is not encouraging individualism; it’s encouraging discipleship.  So what churches should do with new converts is to have them "sit" instead of putting them to work.  (And when I say discipleship I’m not talking about some lame newcomers class!)  Unfortunately, this seldom occurs.                  

But, admittedly, getting caught up in the work of the ministry is easy to do no matter who you are.  This often occurs at the individual level, but with your average church the problem is systemic because they've embraced a corporate mentality that feeds into the religiosity that believes that “God needs our hands.”  No he doesn’t.  God needs nothing and wants us to do nothing except to sit and learn of him so that when the time does come to serve, we'll have something to offer.  Yes.  We will be led to do good works – not for salvation, but in appreciation and of a sincere desire to minister to others – in whatever capacity.  But to truly be productive we must first sit at his feet.  Selah. 

[1] They were welcomed into “her house” (38) and Martha is almost always listed first in other passages. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Church's Prophetic Self-Deception

The other day I received a newsletter from a sizable church that I used to attend, and in it they had a prophecy that read:

"The land has been plowed, the soil has been made rich through tears of intercession.  Now is the season upon this House for harvest.  Watch what I will do, that which has been prophesied from long ago - NOW IS THE TIME.  Watch I say, watch!" [emphasis theirs]

Now I have every confidence that the prophecy will come to pass, but not for the reasons that you might expect. Let me explain.

This church is your typical denominational church: it's an Assembly of God church to be exact.  And so they make all of the mistakes common to denominational churches plus those particular to the Assemblies of God.  They reject the qualifications of the elders by creating positions that don't exist while ignoring the ones that do.  They promote people who aren't qualified and shun those who are.  (You ought to read the Assemblies of God position papers on this.  They're so shallow it's almost comical.  They literally pick and choose the portions of individual verses that they want to believe.)

Women run the show despite the fact that it's mostly males who occupy the positions of leadership.  In fact, it was a woman who gave this prophecy.  But thinking back, it seems that almost every prophecy they publish comes from a woman.  Hmm.  That aside...

Tithing is incorrectly taught; and instead of falling forward in God's presence like the people in the Bible did, they fall backward.  As an Assembly of God church they teach salvation by works and believe that the Bible doesn't exist.  And being careful not to offend anyone, they're slow to protect the Body from false prophets and teachers but quick to get rid of those who try.  Ask me how I know.  Okay.  I'll tell ya'.

They had me kicked out in 2004 because I tried to warn them about the dangers of Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ.  I didn't go looking for trouble, it just happened.  Their response was initially one of silence, but instead of thanking me or taking the time to verify my allegations, they instead began to take Scriptures out of context in an effort to justify this wicked man and his Roman Catholic-ish doctrine.  I corrected them again, but now they're offended.  Seldom do God's people welcome correction, but in this case I was a much younger 35 year old correcting long standing members - many of whom were also Bible teachers in the church (and probably good tithers), and so there was no way my little diatribe wasn't going to go by unpunished.  And so they went and cried to the 31 year old "Executive Pastor" who basically kicked me out of church.  (Does anyone see the irony in this, or is it just me? BTW, at age 38 or 39, that 31 year old was just made the Senior Pastor of this 800-1000 member church.  The man he replaced is still there, but he's slowly stepping back.  Truth be told, once he leaves the church will fall apart because the identity of the church is wrapped up in him because he's their "Spiritual father" (their quote) and the new Senior Pastor just doesn't have the mettle to hold it together, IMHO.)

But I wonder how they feel about the movie now that Mel's had his breakdown?  But despite all of this, they're going to have a harvest???  Oh yeah.  I forgot.  They teach Jesus Christ crucified and the need for salvation and so that justifies all of their subsequent actions {rolling eyes}.

Now how about that prophecy!  What was the prophecy from long ago that we should compare this to?  How soon is NOW?  Of course you have to wonder what kind of harvest they're talking about because the Bible only talks about the great apostasy that's going to occur in the last days (2 Tim. 3:1-9; 2 Pet. 3:3-4 e.g.).  And when Jesus said to "watch" in the Bible it usually had to do with his return (Mt. 24-25).

Yes, this prophecy will come to pass, but not because it's a Word from God, but because they'll manipulate it's meaning.  It'll become self-fulfilling.  Probably what'll happen is that a few churches will close and the sudden influx of people will be hailed as the fulfillment of this prophecy.  Or maybe some catastrophic world event will temporarily draw people into the church from which they'll claim victory.  Or maybe nothing will happen and nothing will ever be said.  Of course there'll be no correction.  So if this prophecy is fulfilled it'll be because they saw to it.    

Yes.  It could happen.  I could be wrong.  But I don't see it.  Where they see soil that's "been made rich through tears of intercession," I see decades of flagrant rebellion and persecution.  It's hard for them to see this because they're stuck in the denominational mindset, and they're going to remain that way because the only people they allow into leadership or governing positions are those willing to toe the party line (2 Cor. 10:12); and so their discernment is based more upon their perception of good and evil, blessing and cursing, and not necessarily God's Word (Dt. 12:8; Pr. 12:15; 21:2, etc).  Anyone who exercises more knowledge and aptitude concerning God's Word is often seen as a threat and is quickly marginalized.  This is oppressive and abusive, but all done in the name of God, of course.

But I don't hold a grudge.  Many of these people were instrumental in my early development, and so I love them dearly and that's why it bothers me so much.  But then I grew; and I grew past many of them.  Many of them are God's people but they're trapped in a system that has jaded their understanding; and so my prayer is that the veil would be lifted from their eyes.  But for now they see nothing is wrong, and until they do nothing will change.  And it isn't like they haven't had the opportunity.  

But God wants our obedience, not our "sacrifices"(1 Sam. 15:22-23).  They're so busy doing the "work" of God that they don't have time to get to "know" him better as reflected in their lack of obedience (reminds me of Mary and Martha).  They've published this prophecy as if they've been moral and upright in the application of God's Word for many years when all I see is the perpetuation of sins common to you're basic denominational church.  They seem to believe that their size and budget implies God's stamp of approval upon their actions; but where they emphasize quantity God emphasizes quality; and where they see riches I'm seeing poverty (Rev. 3:17); and so it's in this context that I have to question the prophecy.

In short, they're deceived; and spiritual deception doesn't occur in a vacuum.  It's the result of purposely rejecting the Word of God (Hos. 4:6; Mt. 13:15).  These people think they're pleasing God when the bulk of their actions only betray him and his Word.  But despite this, and on top of this, they're also prophesying God's favor upon themselves.  But this should come as no surprise, false prophets and teachers do the same (1 Ki. 22:1-38 e.g.).  Selah.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Adultery and Human Trafficking in the Church

The other day a story was related to me about a local Christian woman who sold her eggs to a couple that was having fertility problems.  Her eggs were fertilized by the man’s sperm and then placed into his wife’s womb; and so the baby that his wife is carrying is not her own: it’s the product of her husband’s sperm and another woman’s egg; so for all practical purposes, she’s carrying her stepchild.  She will be the birth mother but she isn’t the biological mother. 

Under normal circumstances this would be called “adultery;” which is a married man having sexual intercourse with a woman other than his wife, and vice versa.  The penalty for this is, or should be, death (Lev. 20:10); and it matters not whether a child is conceived.  But medical science now affords man the opportunity to conceive a child outside of the womb and without the need for intercourse; but in principle it’s still adultery because anytime a third party is introduced into the marital relationship it is sin; whether it be in thought or deed (Mt. 5:27-28).        

Initially the couple hesitated; and fearing that the “deal” wouldn’t go through, the Christian woman went home and began to pray.  A few days passed, and then she got a phone call notifying her that the couple had changed her mind and had decided to go ahead with the procedure.  They did, and so now the couple has an opportunity to give birth to a child of their “own.”       

But did her actions meet with God’s approval?  In her mind they did because it was only after she’d starting praying that the doors began to open.  The “deal” was over and done until then.  Such an extreme reversal of fortunes could only have been the result of God’s hand at work; which in turn would have also implied his “stamp of approval” upon her decision, she must have thought. 

Many other professing Christians would agree – seeing this as a noble gesture: the giving of a gift of a child to an infertile couple: a fine example of Christian charity and an invaluable witness.  Hard to say exactly what was going through her mind ($ signs?), but I’m sure she had similar thoughts.

But despite her “answer to prayer,” what I do know is that this violates every major tenet in Scripture as it pertains to this subject.  Are we to believe that this reversal of fortune that was brought about as a result of prayer also portends the will of God?  She certainly does.  This casual analysis would be sufficient for most, but what does the Bible teach?   
When people had fertility problems in the Bible, instead of calling upon “modern medicine” they called upon God.  They knew that God was the giver of life (Dt. 32:39).  Examples of this include Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 25:21), Elkanah and Hannah (1 Sam. 1:1-28), and Zacharias and Elizabeth (Lu. 1:5-25).  I wonder if this couple called upon God.  I doubt it.  Worse, they’re probably not even Christians.  But thanks to science and this Christian woman, they can now enjoy the gift of a child apart from having to give any glory to God.  Oh I’m sure they thanked him, but only as an afterthought.   

Abraham and Sarah also sought an “egg donor;” and they found one by way of Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar.  Abraham then went outside of his marriage with Sarah and fornicated with Hagar – the product of which was Ishmael; and the Jews have been fighting with him and his descendants ever since (Islam).  Rest assured that God and Abraham both loved Ishmael.  But at the same time, Isaac was born as a result of the promises of God while Ishmael was conceived as a work of the flesh.  God never told Abraham to take a second wife and Scripture makes it clear that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, and so when Abraham slept with Hagar he was sinning.     

Interestingly enough, though, it was Sarah who concocted the entire scheme (Gen. 16:1-6); and for whatever reason(s), Abraham seemed all too willing to oblige (reminds me of Adam) when what he should have done was to reprove Sarah and then remind her of God’s promises.  But he didn’t and this one act of sin has caused the Jews – and now the rest of the world – centuries of grief. 

But Sarah earnestly believed that she was fulfilling the will of God.  God had told her that one day she’d give birth to a child of her own; but she also must have wondered how a post-menopausal woman and a woman who had never given birth give birth to a child at such an advanced age (she was 75 when she “gave” Hagar to Abraham and 90 when she gave birth to Isaac).  In this regard, then, Sarah was “doubly barren.”  She’d never given birth and was no longer ovulating, and so she had no reason to believe that she’d ever have a child of her own.  So when God said that she would, she could only laugh (Gen. 18:9-15).  Abraham did too (Gen. 17:15-17).  But by suggesting to her husband that he conceive with Hagar and then they adopt the child as their own, she saw a way to fulfill the promises of God.  Abraham would have his male heir and she’d in turn provide a way for God to save face because, after all, he had no understanding of menopause!  Or so she thought.    

But how did it all work out? 

Hagar gives birth to Ishmael and Sarah quickly grew to despise them both.  She was jealous of Hagar and Hagar in return mocked her mistress.  This invariably led Sarah to also despise the youth (cp. Gen. 16:4-5; 21:9-10).  It wasn’t her own, after all; and this is the same problem that the couple in our story may have to face.  All of the danger signs are there. 

Eventually Hagar and Ishmael were cast out (Gen. 21:11-21); and as previously mentioned, the Jews and now the rest of the world have been fighting with them and their descendants ever since; and this was all the result of one man’s sin: the result of allowing a third party to interfere with the marital relationship in a manner that contradicts Scripture.  Sin separates – it doesn’t draw closer.

Thus, marriage is, and has always been, between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:3-9); or, that’s the way it’s supposed to have been.  Only in the case of death or biblical grounds for divorce is having more than one spouse justified.  So this means that all those who had multiple wives in the Bible were sinning – including, but not limited to, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon.   

In essence then, being an egg or sperm donor is nothing more than a sanitized form of adultery: it’s a high-tech form of slavery – or, “human trafficking,” if you prefer the more politically correct term – whereby a woman’s eggs have been reduced to a cheap commodity to be sold for profit to the highest bidder.  These eggs were meant for her and her husband and no one else: so now someone else is raising the child that she was meant to have.  She’s robbing herself and her husband of their inherent right to propagate their own children so that others can do it instead, and the reason why they’re doing it is for money – all hidden behind some misguided notion of “Christian charity” and the “love of God.”  If they really believed that, why did they accept payment?  This would make her some kind of whore, wouldn’t it?  Evidently her husband doesn’t mind; Abraham didn’t mind it either (at least initially).  Selah.          

Unfortunately there were no mature Christians around to counsel her otherwise.  Maybe there were but she chose to ignore them.  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that she didn’t get a Word from God because the Word completely contradicts her testimony. 

What happens if the wife’s body rejects the fertilized egg because it sees it as a foreign object?  Could it now be construed as murder because the fertilized egg, a person, has purposely been placed into an environment of which it wasn’t intended?  As in purposely having been placed in harms’ way?  What happens if the Christian woman begins to wonder what became of the child?  She is, after all, the biological mother.  What happens if her own children find out and begin to ask questions?  How will she explain their half-brothers and/or sisters to them?  What will she do if her husband becomes jealous, etc.?  Then again, they’ve already made thousands and so it may not matter – there’s too much money to be made, you know.  I wonder if they tithed off of that!  

But as odd or as contradictory as it may seem, I have nothing but compassion for this young woman because I know that she has no idea what she’s gotten herself into – at least that’s what I like to think.  She doesn’t need to be belittled or scorned, but she does need to be corrected (her husband too!).  I can love and appreciate her as a child of God, but under no circumstances will I condone her sin.   

But this story provides us with a good reason as to why we’re commanded to prove all things (1 Thess. 5:21); but this can only be done if there’s some standard by which to measure.  In our case it’s the patterns, principles, and doctrines found in the Bible.  Unfortunately, Christians are frequently taught that doctrine doesn’t matter while the major patterns and principles in the Bible are largely ignored.  But the pattern in Scripture is clear; anytime you add a third party into the marital relationship it is sin: whether in thought or in deed (Mt. 5:27-28): anything else is a lie and a self-deception – a willingness to purposely ignore the Truth.  So this Christian woman is at least ignorant if not spiritually deceived – deceived by her own definition of what “Christian charity” is. 
So just because someone’s “prayed about it” doesn’t mean that they’ve heard from God or that he’s placed his stamp of approval upon their actions.  Clearly, this Christian woman didn’t hear from God although she probably believes that she did; and the reason why is because her actions – despite any pragmatic or emotional appeals – totally contradict the Word of God.  May we pray that we no longer do that which is right in our own eyes…Selah.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Was the Apostle Paul Single? Did He Ever Marry?

Updated Sept. 2014

From 1 Corinthians 7, many teach that the apostle Paul was a single man who never married.  But while the chapter seems to teach that very thing, such isn’t the case when read in its proper context.  In short, the Bible doesn’t teach that Paul never had a wife, it teaches that he was a married man who lost his wife and then chose not to remarry, and so it’s only in this sense that he’s single.  But let’s have a closer look. 

1Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman2Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

7For I would that all men were as myselfBut every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.  8I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I9But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

From these verses, Paul teaches that he’s single and that it’s better not to marry; but he also says that if we do marry, we’re not sinning (28, 36).  Marriage is honorable and ordained of God, and so it can’t be sin (Heb. 13:4).  But at the same time, each man has received his proper gift, and so some will marry while others will not (Mt. 19:12; 1 Cor. 7:7, 17-24). 

But in reading through the chapter, what quickly begins to emerge is the subtle and uncomfortable notion that marriage is good but that being single is better.  In fact, Paul says as much in v. 38 (So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.).   But here he says that it’s good for a man not to touch a woman and that it’s good for the unmarried and widows to be as he is.  And since he’s single and in the ministry, and since his example is found in the authoritative pages of Scripture, then logic dictates that it’s God’s desire for all his ministers to be single males (preferably).  But not everyone can control their natural desires, they can’t contain them, and so Paul counsels them to go ahead and marry – lest they fall into sin; i.e. fornication.  It is, after all, better to marry than to burn; and so the subtle inference here is that marriage is good but that being single is better.  Or, that a good man will marry but that a better man will not; or, that marriage is within the permissible will of God, but that being single is in the perfect will of God.  But there’s more. 

Paul then explains that marriage brings with it trouble in the flesh, which is why he’s counseling against it: he’s trying to spare us the hardship (28).  This realization leads him to deduce that marriage is a snare and distraction to serving God (35).  He explains that couples have their interests divided between serving God and pleasing their spouse whereas singles do not (32-35).  He explains that singles are focused on how they may please the Lord, but that couples care for the things that are of the world; and the things that are of the world of which he’s referring are marriage and spouses (32-34).  Thus we have a contrast where singleness is portrayed as godly and marriage as “worldly.”  And since it’s worldly, then by definition it’s limited in depth and scope as opposed to the more “divine” or “spiritual” status of remaining single (31).  So again, remaining single stands out as being the better of the two.  Marriage isn’t sin.  But from Paul’s comments, it would seem as though it isn’t far from it. 

This of course leads to the unenviable conclusion that, like Paul, singles are better suited for ministerial work; they’ll be able to learn and do more thus being of greater value to the Kingdom.  So if we want to be profitable for the Kingdom, we should selflessly remain single.  But if we want to give in to our natural desires thus becoming less profitable, we should selfishly get married – that’s the implication.  However, and unbeknownst to most, the context of the entire chapter hinges on v. 26:

26I suppose therefore that this is good FOR THE PRESENT DISTRESS, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.

With this verse, everything changes.  Paul isn’t weighing the advantages of being single or being married, or being single or being married and in the ministry.  He is single, and he does speak of his ability to control his natural desires.  But at the same time, he’s not teaching that it’s better to be single, or that it’s better to be single and in the ministry, he’s only teaching that it’s better to be single while being persecuted (nor is he teaching that we should divorce under such circumstances: 10-17, 27), and so it’s within this context that the entire chapter must be understood.  So when he speaks of the virtues of remaining single, it has nothing to do with the work of the ministry; he’s merely offering a practical suggestion based upon present circumstances.  Because of the persecution, all he’s saying is that now isn’t the best time to get married and start a family; he’s counseling them to wait until things settle.  He’s afraid that the added pressure of persecution will cause their marriages to fall apart, and of course he doesn’t want this to happen and so this is why he’s encouraging them to remain single, and it’s for only this reason.  But he does say that if they do marry, it isn’t sin, and it isn’t.  So in context, he isn’t establishing doctrine, he’s offering counsel!  He even admits that he’s offering his opinion, but it’s an opinion based upon Scripture (6, 36-40)!         
To put it another way, if you want to ignore this context, then you must teach that being single and working in the ministry is preferable to being married and working in the ministry, or being married at all.  And if you ignore this context, then you must teach that singles are spiritually and morally superior to their married counterparts.  And lest someone underestimate the importance of this “ignored context,” Rome’s priestly caste system is based upon this very logic. 

*     *     *     *     *

But this alone doesn’t teach that Paul never married, it only teaches that it’s better to be single while being persecuted.  So how do we know that Paul was married?  One of the first qualifications of the elders – qualifications that Paul wrote – was that you were to be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6).[1]  This being the case, if Paul were truly single, then why would God send into ministry a man who didn’t meet the qualifications that he himself wrote?  The answer should be obvious: Paul had been married but his wife had already died; and that in having become a widower, he chose not to remarry, which was well within his right (1 Cor. 9:5), and so it’s only in this sense that he’s single.  He’d become an “eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” as it were (Mt. 19:12).  Otherwise, you have to justify why God allowed a man to serve as an elder who didn’t meet the qualifications that he himself wrote!   

Second, and similar to the above, there’s absolutely no scriptural evidence supporting a celibate priesthood.  It wasn’t practiced by the Old Testament priests nor Jewish culture as a whole (Gen. 1:22; 9:7).  In addition, Scripture specifically teaches that Peter was a married man as were the other apostles – else they too weren’t qualified to minister.[2]  And so the real question isn’t whether he was married or not, but why wouldn’t he be?  Paul’s wife could have left him, but in his opening remarks he addresses the unmarried (singles) and widows and notes his preference that they remain as he is, single, with the implication that he’s single as a result of having been widowed. 

And finally, Paul spoke more about the marriage and family and Christ’s relationship to it than any other New Testament writer, and such wisdom and insight isn’t imparted to those who haven’t walked through it.  Just ask Hosea. 

*     *     *     *     *

But if all of this is true, then why are we being told that Paul was a unmarried single man?

(1) Man loves works-based religions.  Instead of relying solely upon God’s grace to save and sustain him, man always wants to prove himself worthy to receive God’s love through denial of self, and this is why people take poverty vows, flagellate, choose not to marry, etc.  But we can only love God or desire to serve him because he first loved us (Rom. 5:8).  This being the case, there’s nothing that man can do to merit or earn God’s love, he can only respond to the love that’s already been shown to him.  So if we decide to deny ourselves of anything, it should be done in accordance with God’s will and not our own.

(2) The pride of Rome (in particular).  Rome emphasizes the advantages of being single in an attempt to distinguish its professional clergy from the rest of God’s people (i.e. the “laity”).  This is done as a means of inferring spiritual superiority which is nothing more than the sin of pride and a continuation of the Nicolaitan heresy (Rev. 2:6, 14-15).  Rome doesn’t suggest that marriage is sin, as it would be foolhardy to do so.  But they’ve clearly adopted the view that being single and working in the ministry is better than being married, or being married and working in the ministry.  As proof, their priests are all single males and their nuns single females, while married people are relegated to “lay ministry.”  But in choosing to remain single “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” they sanctimoniously add that they’re now “married to the church,” and this they claim despite the fact that all of God’s people are figuratively spoken of as being part of the bride of Christ with Jesus as its “husband.”[3]  In other words, in claiming to be married to the Church, they’ve adopted a position for themselves that’s uniquely reserved for Jesus Christ!  They’ve replaced Jesus with themselves!  (More pride)

(3) To Destroy the Family.  Via the traditional interpretation of this passage, marriage is reduced to being God’s “second best” for man, which in turn implies that celibacy is preferred to monogamy.  It implies that sex is “dirty” – that God just kind of “winks” at it because there’s no alternative.  People, after all, have to come from somewhere.  Thus marriage and sex become a “necessary evil” in the eyes of both God and man, which is soundly unbiblical (Heb. 13:4 etc.).  But suffice it to say that the ministry has always been an extension of being a husband and father first and not the other way around (1 Tim. 3:5 e.g.).  God demonstrated this in that he didn’t allow Adam to go a single day without also providing him a wife; therefore by his own actions he taught the superiority of marriage over remaining single. 

(4) Singles Ministry.  Evangelicals possess Scriptural support in favor of excluding singles from the ministry, but choose to ignore it.[4]  They generally prefer married males, but privately they’re conflicted because they can’t reconcile 1 Corinthians 7 with the qualifications for the bishops and deacons found in Timothy and Titus.  So when it comes to singles, they adopt the same logic as Rome minus its celibacy.  Like Rome, they view singleness as a “special time” to focus on God and accomplish his will.  But this often comes from married ministers who never seem quite convinced of their own words.  But it’s all they know and so they just regurgitate what they were taught when they were single.  So if you’ve ever heard a lesson on the virtues of being single and walked away longing… there’s a reason for it: their doctrine is wrong.

*   *   *   *   *

But what have we learned?  To begin, that it’s only better to be single while enduring persecution.  Second, that Paul was a widower who chose not to remarry, and so it’s only in this sense that he’s single.  This is the only interpretation that satisfies all of the verses on the subject without forcing a person to accept one at the expense of another.  Third, that in missing the true context of this passage, both Rome and evangelicals have led God’s people into gross error.  Rome uses it as a justification for their celibate priesthood while evangelicals use it when ministering to singles.  Fourth, that God’s Word is a Living Word that we can learn to apply to our daily lives if willing.  Paul adapted it to address a local short-term problem, but the church has altered its context and turned it into a standard doctrine although this was never God’s intention.  And finally, it’s a good example of the difference between what Scripture says and what it teaches.  What it says is that it’s better to be single (and in the ministry) as opposed to being married; but what it teaches is that it’s only better to be single while being persecuted.  And what was the difference?  Four words in English.  Selah.  

[1] This alone, if none else, disqualifies every Roman Catholic priest.  There is no biblical evidence supporting a celibate priesthood although there is much evidence found in pagan cultures.  Selah.
[2] Cp. Mt. 18:14-15; Mk. 1:29-31; Lu. 4:38-39; 1 Cor. 9:5
[3] 2 Cor. 11:1-2; Rev. 19:7-9 etc. 
[4] 1 Tim. 2:11-3:13; Tit. 2:5-9  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Basic Difference Between Christianity and Islam

It’s Saturday Sept. 10th and the news media is gearing up for the 10th Anniversary of 9-11.  An interview I saw this morning hosted several religious leaders – all espousing the need for religious tolerance and reconciliation.  “Christianity” was of course represented by yet another illiterate theological fool; and so as your typical compromising “Christian,” he was very ecumenical in his comments.  And needless to say, there were no references to sin or the need for salvation – only the need for all faiths to come together and recognize their “similarities.” 

But there’s little similarity between biblical Christianity and Islam.  To demonstrate this we'll use a very simple but very effective illustration.  I've found that it's helped to clarify the argument for Christians as well as bring about conviction when dealing with the Muslims.   Here it is:  






Jesus Christ


From the illustration above, Sarah was Abraham’s wife and Hagar was Sarah’s handmaiden.  God told Abraham and Sarah that one day they’d have their own child.  But as time passed and Sarah’s impatience grew, she suggested to Abraham that he sleep with Hagar to produce a male heir.  They would then adopt the child as their own – thus fulfilling the promises of God.  Abraham evidently thought this was a pretty good idea; and so he sleeps with Hagar and Ishmael is born.

Of course this was all wrong because the Bible teaches that a marriage is to be between one man and one woman – unless of course there's a death or a biblical reason for divorce.  But in this case there were none and so the only conclusion we can draw from this is that Abraham was sinning when he slept with Hagar.  That aside…. 

After the birth of Ishmael, a few more years pass and then Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah.  This was a miracle because Sarah had never given birth and because she had long stopped ovulating.  (She was "doubly barren" you could say.)  And so any child born to her at such an advanced age would clearly be a miracle from God.  Ishmael was the sole product of man’s initiative apart from the will of God – a “work of the flesh,” as it were; and so we have a child by promise and a child of the flesh. 

Did Abraham love Ishmael?  Yes he did.  Did God love Ishmael?  Yes he did.  But still, one was born as a result of the promises of God while the other was born as a result of the flesh, and a child of the flesh will not inherit the promises of God and so they were eventually separated.

After the separation, the descendants of Isaac eventually led to the birth of Jesus Christ while the descendants of Ishmael eventually led to the birth of Mohammad.  Mohammed is in his grave in Medina (Saudi Arabia) where he can be visited today.  Jesus Christ is no longer in his grave; and so the question now becomes, Which would you rather serve?  The one who’s in his grave or the one who’s no longer there?  

The Muslim response to this is usually one of silence containing an enlightened grin – as if to say, Touché.  They never question me regarding the facts of the story because most of them already  seem to know it, and so it’s very easy for them to follow along.  What does throw them for a loop is the question at the end.  It forces them to reconcile the difference between the child born of promise and the child born of the flesh.  It’s a subtle presentation of the gospel.  And since it's a presentation of the gospel, then it is inherently powerful because we serve a living God and not one who’s still in his grave.   

Again, the story as I present it is very basic.  Sometimes I add a little more detail, but not much.  It just depends on what's needful at the time.  But the question at the end is always the same: Which would you rather serve?  The one who's in his grave or the one who's no longer there? 

There is no reconciliation here.  The two children form two different lineages.  One led to the birth of Messiah and the other led to the birth of yet another false religion.  Yet, today, there are many compromisers who are trying to reconcile the two based upon some sort of “common ground.”  We now even have a name for it; it’s called "Chrislam," and it's becoming very popular.  But theologically there is no common ground.  And so what God has separated, man is now trying to reconcile.  We are so foolish.  Selah.