Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Reaping Bountifully: 2 Corinthians 9:6

A question came up recently about whether or not God promises to bless those who are generous. The answer is a resounding "Yes!", but it may not be in the way expected by the contemporary American church.

I believe the New Covenant perspective is that God promises to provide all of our basic needs on earth while we store up and reap spiritual riches in heaven. I don’t see a direct promise in the Bible that God will bless you with greater material goods if you give more. I’m also not saying he won’t do that, for God is sovereign and equips us each according to his will (Job 1:21), and I believe he often chooses to give wealth to people who will bless others. But no such quid pro quo is promised in Scripture as far as I’m able to discern.

Regarding the first concept that God provides for his children’s needs, you see it when Jesus preaches his Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:19ff). In Matt 6:33, The “these things” that are added to you are daily needs: food, water, clothing. [See how this happens.]

I do not think there is an automatic correlation between personal generosity and material prosperity. If you look at a few cases, you can see where the giving and blessing correlation breaks down. For instance, Paul, who wrote the book on generosity, was sometimes well off and sometimes poor (Phil 4:12). I doubt his heart to be generous ever changed. The church in Smyrna in Revelation (2:8-11) was poor though it was one of only two churches in Revelation who were not rebuked by Jesus. And finally, the most generous giver recorded in the Bible (excepting God) was the widow in Mark 12:41-44. She gave everything she had and was dirt poor. She was far more faithful than the rich who gave out of their abundance.

That church in Smyrna seems to be the key to understanding what the Bible says about this concept. Even though Smyrna was poor, Jesus called them rich (Rev 2:9)! God has a different bank account. You can see it in Matthew 6:20, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” When we are generous, we’re depositing into our heavenly account, and it’s there we will be richly blessed.

This helps us understand the paragraphs of 2 Corinthians 9:6ff, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” On the face of it, it seems that Paul is saying that the more you give, the more you’ll receive—and it’s true. But he did not say what you’ll receive in that verse. I believe the treasures you reap are mentioned in verses 8-10: abounding grace, sufficiency in all things (we’re back to the idea of met needs in Matt 6), abounding good works, and an increase in the harvest of your righteousness. What you reap are spiritual blessings, which are incorruptible wealth.

Would God turn our hearts to covet the things of true worth.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Epic Miniseries Review: The Bible

My wife and I watched The Bible on the History Channel leading up to Easter this year, and we thought it was going so well that we pre-ordered it on Blu-ray. Though I would not make the purchase so eagerly now, I still think the program can be helpful in two regards. The first is as a means to doxology; I believe a born again Christian can watch the show and praise God for his work throughout human history. The second way this miniseries can be helpful is to expose a non-Bible-reader to some biblical themes. And though the series may be a good start, but it is by no means sufficient to understand God's redemptive plan, nor is it a suitable substitute for actually opening God's Word and personally reading it.

There are many incorrect details and very much artistic license taken on biblical history. Others have detailed the many flubs, including Andy Naselli, a blogger I enthusiastically endorse. I jokingly offered a bounty of $1 per identified error to men at church. If I had actually been serious, many could have used the prize to purchase their own copy of the show and had change left over for snacks. Despite these issues, some of the extra-biblical interpretation was moving. For instance, I found myself weeping when Jesus called Matthew, even if Matthew 9:9 wasn't the final screenplay (that one scene makes the purchase worthwhile to me).

My hesitation in endorsing The Bible Miniseries comes from two problems that I consider gravely serious:

1. After the resurrection, both Peter and Stephen say that Jesus "did not die."

It felt as though the bogeyman came and punched me in the gut as I heard these pillars of the church misspeak on an important theological truth. Producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett severely missed par when they allowed those statements. Jesus did die, and he had to die. Romans 6 shows what Jesus accomplished with his death: that sin would die and that death would die as we are buried and raised with Christ. If Jesus did not truly die, then he did not truly conquer sin and death and hell. In the same vein as Paul in 1 Cor 15:17, "If Christ [did not die on the cross], your faith is futile and you are still in your sins."

Perhaps the scripting can be forgiven since Jesus was shown to have actually died. But since there is so much biblical confusion and actual heresy that has followed this train of thought (saying that Jesus did not actually die), hearing an apostle and deacon say those false words is a deadly blow to the veracity of this show. This issue is overshadowed, though, by a far more egregious problem:

2. The story-line misses the point about WHY Jesus had to die

In reflecting back on the portrayed life of Jesus, what is made clear is that Jesus died to calm political tensions. Even if the interpretation isn't strictly from the pages of Scripture, they're probably true reasons and a part of the process that led to Jesus' death. Acts 2:23 shows that man played his part in the death of Jesus, but we're left wondering, "What was the point of all this?" If the television series answers for itself, it seems as if the vague answer, "Change the world." But how?!

The real answer, the point The Bible Miniseries missed, is that Jesus changed the world in his death and resurrection by being a ransom, a propitiation, an atonement. Man is wicked. The series showed this graphically, and it's one of those biblical truths we know deep in our hearts. We deserve God's wrath. But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, absorbed the wrath of God on the cross, satisfying justice and clothing us in the perfect righteousness of Jesus' life.

Jesus didn't change the world so that billions of people would run around on this planet to be his Facebook Friend. Jesus changed the world by changing hearts--by breathing life into the spiritually dead soul and giving Christians a hope of the resurrection and an eternity in loving relationship with God our Creator.

So, it's okay to watch this TV miniseries. And if it promotes discussion around the Bible and encourages people to actually dust off and crack open the holy book, then I might even consider this show a success. But it can't stop with the television screen. It needs to move to the pages of God's Word, and then that truth needs to move into our hearts. My encouragement would be to open up and read the gospel of Mark, and then find a Christian to discuss it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Answer the fool--Proverbs 26:4-5

These verses are the source of head-scratching, double-takes and careful rereading. Hopefully that was the intent of the author.
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5, ESV)
At first glance, these verses appear to teach the exact opposite principle. Surely the author or his scribe would catch this contradiction since the verses sit next to one another. A perusal of Study Bible notes and commentaries feels like an exercise in vindication. Here are a few published thoughts, which may be helpful:

  • Taken together these verses illustrate the point that no proverb is intended to cover every possible situation.1
  • The apparent contradiction with the last verse has troubled commentators for some time. The Rabbis solved it by saying that v. 4 referred to secular things, but v. 5 referred to sacred or religious controversies.2
  • These twin sayings, which would have invited the charge of inconsistency had they not stood together (and did incur it, even so, from some Rabbis, who thereupon questioned the canonicity of the book), bring out the dilemma of those who would reason with the unreasonable.3
  • These two proverbs seem to contradict each other. The first one warns not to answer a fool according to his folly, while the second encourages answering a fool according to his folly. However, the book of Proverbs is not a list of rules; it is a collection of general principles for life—principles which must be applied carefully to relevant situations.4
Points taken. However, what if the proverb were a play on words? Why must the phrases be taken the same way? The proposal is that "according to his folly" is meant in two senses. Here is a paraphrase that shouldn't violate the grammar of the original:

4 Do not answer a fool using his foolishness or you will be like him.
5 Respond to a fool because he is foolish or [by your silence] he will consider himself wise.

What Proverbs 26:4-5 appear to be saying is, "Make sure you answer a foolish man so he is not self-justified, but don't stoop to his level."

Oh how often we err on either side! Thankfully God gave us Proverbs to encourage our growth in wisdom.

1 The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version. 2005 (R. C. Sproul, Ed.). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
2 Biblical Studies Press. (2006). The NET Bible First Edition Notes. Biblical Studies Press.
3 Kidner, D. (1964). Vol. 17: Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
4 Barry, J. D., Grigoni, M. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.