Saturday, April 4, 2020

The gifts of the Spirit

Ever consider how most "churches" function? One man preaches and does most of the teaching. Nearly everyone else sits and listens. An elder with a true heart for the Lord will prayerfully seek brothers and sisters who desire to serve the local body of Christ in any way. But sadly, that is uncommon.
How do the majority of "churches" deal with the reality we read here?
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (HCSB) 4 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person. 7 A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial: 8 to one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit, to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit, 9 to another, faith by the same Spirit, to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another, the performing of miracles, to another, prophecy, to another, distinguishing between spirits, to another, different kinds of languages, to another, interpretation of languages. 11 But one and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as He wills.
Note that last sentence: It is God who gifts everyone as He desires. How do mere men think they determine where others will serve, without taking into account evidence of true gifts and the desire to be used by God? We each will give an account to the One Who will judge all flesh. Let us walk in humility and love for another, not being jealous of where each serves.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Look at Reformed Rules for Rightly Understanding the Ten Commandments

Chapter 4 of John Colquhoun's book, A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, is a review of what he and other Reformers term Rule for Rightly Understanding the Ten Commandments.

These rules are required only if you have the view Colquhoun has: that the Decalogue is much more than tablets testifying of the law covenant given to national Israel and are a universal law of some sort. If one rightly discerns the covenant structure of Scripture, accepting that an unchangeable God DOES have different laws for different people under different covenants, it is easier to accept what the Bible plainly teaches about the tablets of stone.

RULE 1. Where a duty is required, the contrary sin is forbidden (Isaiah 58:13); and where a sin is forbidden the contrary duty is required (Ephesians 4:28). Every command forbids the sin which is opposite to, or inconsistent with, the duty which it requires.

Rather than being a categorical teaching on forbidding the contrary sin, Isaiah 58:13 is a very specific rebuke to national Israel for their long-standing, continual abuse of the Sabbath that was given to them as sign to them and no other people (Ezekiel 20:9-20). Where are those in the New Covenant told to keep the weekly Sabbath? Likewise, rather than being a categorical teaching that the contrary duty is required, Ephesians 4:28 is a very specific doctrine wherein one should work with hands to provide for himself and he should be willing to share with others. Telling a thief to stop stealing and to work for his food is not a sweeping command for everyone being rebuked for any sin is to stop that sin and do the contrary duty. Do we see such teaching in the epistles written to the saints? To develop such rules as if they were Scripture puts the teaching of men equal with Scripture.

RULE 2. Where a duty is required, every duty of the same kind is also required; and where a sin is forbidden, every sin of the same sort is prohibited. Under one duty, all of the same kind are commanded; and under one sin, all of the same sort are forbidden. ... When He commands us to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” He requires us to engage in prayer, praise, hearing the Word, receiving the Sacraments, and all the other duties of that holy day.

The Sabbath command has NO instruction anywhere in the Old Covenant law requiring "prayer, praise, hearing the Word, receiving the Sacrament, and all the other duties of that holy day." Reformers have invented a new Sabbath which includes these duties, but the command given to national Israel knows nothing of them.

Colquhoun continues: "Where the duties of children to parents are commanded, not only are all the duties of inferiors to superiors in every other relation required, but also all the duties of superiors to inferiors. On the other hand, when the Lord forbids us to kill, He forbids us also to strike or wound our neighbor, or to harbor malice and revenge against him (Matthew 5:21-22)."

He makes no effort to support the first point, but you will search Exodus 20 in vane looking for it. We do see in Ephesians 6 teaching on children obeying parents (vs 1-3) followed by teaching for slaves to obey their masters (vs 5-9). But Ephesians 6 does not posit the instructions to slaves as being the same command as given to children, but both commands are given in light of who God is in each situation. The basis is not the law given through Moses; it is the revelation of who God is given through the apostle.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not teaching the true meaning of the law given on Sinai; He is contrasting temporal Israel law with kingdom of God law. There is no teaching in the Old Covenant what we read in verse 22; this is a higher law given to those with the Holy Spirit.

RULE 3. That which is forbidden is at no time to be done; but that which is required is to be done only when the Lord affords opportunity. What God forbids is sin, and is never to be done (Romans 3:8); what He requires is always our duty (Deuteronomy 4:8-9), and yet every particular duty is not to be performed at all times (Matthew 12:7).

In general, this rule is not objectionable. There are some things, however, that are sin in one covenant but not in another. For example, Jews were forbidden from eating many foods; part of the law given them in the Mosaic Covenant to set them apart from the other nations. Generation before that law was given on Sinai, the covenant given to Noah and all creation gave similar but different regulations on food: Genesis 9:3-4 (HCSB) "Every living creature will be food for you; as I gave the green plants, I have given you everything. However, you must not eat meat with its lifeblood in it." Many creatures were forbidden to the Jews. Peter was adamant that food forbidden by that covenant was unclean for him, a Jew. Yet in the vision given him and in the instructions given through Paul, we see that "everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:4).

Again, a proper understanding of the covenant structure of Scripture is essential in rightly applying the Decalogue and Colquhoun's rules.

RULE 4. Whatever we ourselves are commanded to be, do, or forbear, we are obliged to do all that it is possible for us to do, according to our places and stations in society, to make others around us to be, do, or forbear the same. We are strictly bound, according to our different stations, to endeavor that every duty is performed, and every sin is forborne, by all to whom our influence can extend (Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Leviticus 19:17).

This rule not only puts a heavy load to perform everything possible but it also takes being your brother's keeper to more than a full-time job. And none of the Scripture passages cited bear this rule out. Now we are to do all for the glory of God, whatever we put our hand to. How does one determine if his "places and stations in society" make our performance possible or "to make others around us" to do everything possible? I heartily agree we are to influence our neighbors and the world for God's glory; but is it our place "to endeavor that every duty is performed, and every sin is forborne, by all to whom our influence can extend"? Where is that taught?

RULE 5. The same duty is required and the same sin is forbidden, in different respects, in several and even in all the divine commands. The transgression of one precept is virtually a breach of all. They are so intimately connected together that if the divine authority is disregarded in any one of them it is slighted in all (Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:10; James 2:10; 1 John 4:20).

Here I think Colquhoun sees a truth (to break one law is to break the whole law) and stretches it to cover what it does not. The law of Moses is like chain - break one the chain, the whole law, is broken. Nowhere is it written that breaking one law is breaking all of them. And while the character of God is revealed in all law He has given His creatures, not all require the same duty nor forbid the same sin. If this was true, there would be but one law - kind of like in the New Covenant, where we are not bound by the legal code given to national Israel, but bound BY the Law of Christ.

RULE 6. Where a duty is required, the use of all the means of performing it aright, is required; and where a sin is forbidden, every cause, and even every occasion of it, are prohibited. ... when the Lord forbids the profanation of the Sabbath, at the same time He forbids all the employments and recreations by which men profane that holy day.

This rule is another that, on its face, seems good -even though he has no Scripture references to check. When we see the examples Colquhoun uses, we see the consequence of conflating the covenants in Scripture AND conflating ones confession with Scripture.

The Sabbath command in Scripture does not forbid recreation on that day. The command for the weekly Sabbath was to rest from work, in your home. You, your animals, your slaves. The Westminster Confession of Faith has a different Sabbath command, which forbids recreation and commands worship - things not touched on the weekly Sabbath given to national Israel.

Colquhoun also asserts, "Where He forbids murder, He also prohibits the wrath, malice, and revenge which prompt men to commit that crime (Matthew 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15)." Note how he has no Old Covenant reference to support this rule for interpreting the Decalogue on this item? The Old Covenant did not forbid anger within the law against murder. In the New Covenant, we see that our attitude towards a brother is as important as our actions. 1 John 3:15 doesn't forbid anger; it reveals anger as murder in embryo form, if you will allow that word picture. It's part of the teaching that love is contrary to evil and if we are in Christ we will love one another and not be angry with each other but seek reconciliation.

Life in the New Covenant is not a matter of keeping the law - any law - rightly; it's about loving one another as Christ has loved us; loving God because He first loved us. Natural man needs a legal code so other men can punish him for doing wrong. We have the Spirit of God within Who convicts us of sin and guides us in righteousness.

RULE 7. No sin is at any time to be committed in order to avoid or prevent a greater sin. We must not “do evil that good may come” (Romans 3:8)

Again - in general, I am in violent agreement. But - Rahab was never rebuked for misleading the soldiers of Jericho in order to save the lives of the spies Joshua had sent. As a rule, this one is good - but I don't see how it relates to the Tablets of Stone per se. It does relate to our walk as saints in a very comprehensive way. All three of Colquhoun's Scripture references in this section are from New Covenant passages.

RULE 8. The commandments of the second table of the law must give place to those of the first when they cannot both be observed together. Our love of our neighbor, for instance, ought to be subjected to our love of God.

One thing to note in the way he has phrased this rule is his belief that the first and second great commandments given by Christ are the summation of the Decalogue, as is commonly taught by Reformed preachers, even though the passage in Matthew overthrows this error as Jesus says all of Scripture hangs on or depends upon these two commandments. This is why loving God and others is the fulfillment of the law - all of it! It's not required that a saint keep the law; it's required he love God and the brotherhood. This fulfills the law, which is why we are dead to it.

Now then, Colquhoun is right when he reminds us our love of God must outweigh our love for other people. Jesus made this clear when He said He came to bring division, mother against daughter, etc. (Matthew 10:34-37)

I would add, that one's view of love for God and man would have to be very low if the Tablets are your standard. Consider: Don't have other gods; don't worship an idol, don't blaspheme, rest in your home, honor your parents, don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, don't covet. Jesus said to love one another as He loved us. We have a very graphic, specific revelation in Scripture as to how He loved and still loves us. We are taught to love our wives as He loves His own people. If a man loves his wife, he will not be tempted to adultery. The last word on the tablets was one not punished by the leaders of Israel - this was for YHWH to identify and punish. So every command on the tablets save the last has to do with BEHAVIOR and is easy for man to check. This is why law-keeping so appeals to our flesh. But love as Christ does - cannot be verified by man, cannot be measured by man. Natural man hates this law.

RULE 9. In our obedience, we should have a special and constant respect to the scope and final end at which the Lord aims by all the commandments in general, or by any one of them in particular. The great end at which God aims in general, in subordination to His own manifested glory, is perfect holiness of heart and life in His people, even as He Himself is holy (2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 1:15).

This is another rule that has no apparent attachment to understanding the Decalogue, but is a most excellent reminder at how we are to live, keeping our focus and heart's affection on the Lord Jesus and His glory. AMEN!

RULE 10. The beginning and the end, as well as the sum, of all the commandments is love. “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). “The end of the commandment is love” (1 Timothy 1:5).

If the right love of God and our brothers is the fulfillment and end of the law, why the focus on law-keeping? The proper focus for the child of God is to love Him and to love those He has purchase as His own. It's far easier, as 1st century Jews knew, to drum up a few hundred rules to follow and convince yourself and other that THIS was the way to walk. Living by sight - focused on religious rites and religious piety - leads people to reduce faith in Christ to faith in checking off their obedience. That is not the way to walk, do not be led down that path, for it is dangerous to your soul.

In his conclusion to this chapter, Colquhoun gives wonderful praise to the Holy Spirit for the work of regeneration and conversion. And claims that He writes the same ten words He supposedly wrote on our hearts before we were converted on the new heart of flesh He gives. No, saints. The Decalogue was only written on stone tablets, given to people with stone hearts, who worshiped God in a Stone temple. In the New Covenant, people with hearts of flesh have the law of Christ written on fleshly tablets, and they are the temple of God!