Sunday, 5 July 2020

Killing the Passion - Photini

If you want to know what this series is about go to my first post here.

The more I look at Brian Simmons the greater my concern. Follow him and down the rabbit hole you go to a world so unfamiliar to the keenest Bible student you simply must take his word for it, and that is troubling.

In a 7 minute video he tells the story of the woman at the well. The familiar story is related, along with some Brian Simmons flourishes, then he says, ‘The Lord, when I was translating John 4, said, ‘Well, she has a name. Would you like to know her name? Her name is Photini.’

There is already a question mark over his claim to be a Bible ‘translator,’ his work sounding more like an act of channelling than translating, as he ‘shares the heart of God.’ Having related this revelation from God about the woman’s name, he goes on to relate what happened next to Photini. You might be forgiven for thinking he is continuing to relate what God told him. After all, he begins by saying God told him her name. However, he tells us you can check what he is saying on Wikipedia and assures us what historians affirm.

The story of Photini, as he relates it, comes from a long-standing Eastern Christian tradition and can, indeed, be checked out on Wikipedia. How much credence we are to give it is another question, but we can be sure that all we know from the Bible is in John 4. The problem I have with this is how God apparently told him her name, and he looked it up on Wikipedia, from which he, seemingly, gets the rest of her story. Did God say, ‘If you don’t believe me, look it up on Wikipedia?’ I must be frank, my first instinct is to reach for my Bible, but that’s me. Of course, if he started with Wikipedia and then...let’s not go there.

He mentions ‘Sod,’ and ‘the land of Sod,’ several times in this story and this is apparently key to his flights of fancy. It bears investigation and I will come to that in another post, but the point here is Brian Simmons is not translating the Bible, he is rewriting it, using any and every resource that comes to hand and calling it ‘revelation.’

Today's text for comparison is Romans 12:2

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ ESV (35 words)

'Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.' NIV (37 words)

Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.’ TPT (47 words)

Twelve more words than the more literal ESV, Ten more than the dynamic equivalence NIV. I do wonder, at the rate he adds words to Scripture, how heavy his finished Bible is going to be, and will I be able to carry a printed edition to church?

Of course, this is not translation so much as exposition. This is Brian Simmons ‘preaching’ the passage in the passage. Now we can test what Brian Simmons thinks against what we know the Bible tells us. In his verbose way he does bring across the meaning quite well, but notice the focus of his exposition. Resisting the pattern of the world, seeking a renewed mind, is to the end we should know and live out God’s will.

What, in legitimate translations, is the ability to test and know God’s will, for Brian it is ‘power,’ to ‘live a beautiful life.’ The focus has changed, subtly, but clearly enough, from the perfect will of God to the beautiful life of the believer. These things are not, of course, mutually exclusive, You may believe they relate one to another, but they don’t stand side-by-side in the text. Discerning and following the perfect will of God may, or may not, lead to a beautiful life, but that is exposition, not translation.

In the previous verse Paul writes, ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.’ ESV

We seek to discern God’s will so we can offer our lives as living sacrifices, to the one who made us and remade us, offering up spiritual worship. We discern and offer up what is ‘holy and acceptable to God.’ This may be beautiful but the focus is God and not me.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Killing the Passion - Witnesses?


If you want to know what this series is about go to my first post here.

Brian Simmons claims 'the anointing' on him was strong such that people in a local supermarket fell around him as he walked the aisles with his shopping trolley. People simply couldn’t keep their feet while he was around. He insists his ‘staff’ were often witnesses of these events, especially the raising of a child from the dead.

In an interview with Sid Roth, Brian Simmons reveals this and tells how Jesus appeared to him, telling him he should write a new translation of the Bible.

He paints a picture of his having such anointing his ’staff’ asked, on his simply entering a room, ‘What happened to you?’ The dramatisation on the Sid Roth show leaves no doubt many witnessed the most spectacular events marking this man’s life. From his time as a young man in the army to raising the dead in India, nothing about him seems ordinary.

What is interesting is that he doesn’t bring any witnesses of these remarkable events that, he claims, happened before witnesses. This is important because the New Testament offers us extensive witness reports, both to the miracles and ministry of Jesus, and to his resurrection. Indeed, Paul tells us Jesus appeared to more than 500, most of whom he assures us were still alive at the time of writing. Luke bases his whole gospel on thorough-going research and eye-witness accounts. (Lk.1:1-4)

The one time any eye-witness of any of Brian Simmons' claims is found the report goes disastrously against him. In his talk on YouTube, Exposing the Agenda and Origins of ‘The Passion Translation,’ Mike Winger tells us he spoke to someone from New Tribes/Ethnos 360, the group with which Brian Simmons worked among the Hakuna people in central America. Simmons claims he was directly involved in translating the New Testament, working with Wycliffe Translators.

The witness, Jerry McDaniels, who had worked among these people for thirty years, emphatically stated Brian Simmons was not involved in translation, but was a church planter. Simmons goes to lengths to feign humility, pointing out he was a ‘co-translator’ but witness evidence states he was nothing of the sort. Indeed, his account is full of holes and the only thing we can be certain of is he was there.

You can find the relevant information about 25 minutes into Mike Winger’s film, although the whole film is well worth your time and attention. I had some difficulties with audio/video synch but treat it as a podcast and it’s fine. A full transcript can be brought up to the right of the screen and that’s helpful.

In the film, Mike Winger promises to find statements from New Tribes/Ethnos 360 distancing themselves from Brian Simmons, his claims, and work. That can be found here.

What is tragic, indeed criminal, is that people are reading this man’s Bible ‘translation’ thinking it is the Bible. It is not! I would recommend the New World Translation before I would this. His account of it sounds like something Joseph Smith would have said, the whole thing appearing to have been channelled like the Book of Mormon. This is emphatically not the Bible but Brian Simmons appears to be making an awful lot of money out of it.


Today's text for comparison is Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.’ ESV

Now may God, the inspiration and fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in him. And may the power of the Holy Spirit continually surround your life with his super-abundance until you radiate with hope!’ TPT

So many words again, and not in the text. He reminds me of people who will tell you, ‘this is how I like to think about God.’ So it is this is what Brian Simmons likes to think this verse means, indeed what it might have said if only Paul had Brian Simmons to guide his hand and not just the Holy Spirit.

Three key words in his ‘translation’ stand out: fountain, uncontainable, and radiate. None are in the text. He clearly wants to impress upon us the idea of ‘outpouring,’ speaking to the popular NAR teaching of God’s pouring power into us and us in turn overflowing with power that will take over the church and finally the world.

The key word in the text is ‘hope.’ It is a link word back to verse 12 which takes us back to Isaiah 11, a text that speaks of the nations inquiring about Jesus, ‘the shoot from the stump of Jesse.’ Jesse is King David’s father, the shoot is Jesus, and the Gentiles will hope in him. Not in a supernatural church but in a supernatural Saviour.

The hope, joy, and peace Paul writes about come from knowing we are experiencing the fulfilment of prophecy and our inclusion in God’s great purposes in salvation. There is hope in none other and now we know that hope and rejoice.


Monday, 1 June 2020

Mormon Monday. The Mormon 'line of authority.'

The Mormon missionary manual, Preach my Gospel, teaches:

"The Church of Jesus Christ is built on the foundation of apostles and prophets (see Ephesians 2:19–20; 4:11–14). These leaders have divine priesthood authority. Through revelation they direct the affairs of the Church. They maintain doctrinal purity, authorize the administration of ordinances, and call and confer the priesthood authority upon others"

This is about the classic Mormon argument that, either there is a continuity of authority from the days of the apostles, in which case the Catholic Church has prior claim to supreme authority, or there has been a break in continuity from those days, an apostasy, therefore the Mormon claim to be a restoration stands true.

When a Mormon male is ordained an elder in the church he is given a document known as a 'line of authority,' showing an unbroken line of ordinations, from the one who laid hands on him back to Joseph Smith, and then to Peter, James, and John who, Mormons claim, ordained their founding prophet.

How would you address this challenge?

Is there a case to be made here for Restoration doctrine?

Is there continuity from the apostles to today within the Protestant tradition and, if so, where is it to be found?

Sunday, 24 May 2020

New World Translation Abuses


I am going to stick my neck out here and assume I am not by any means the only one to recognise a distinct lack of beauty and poetry in the New World Translation. I would go further and suggest utilitarianism is the guiding light of its ‘translators.’ In short, they abuse the language and the label 'translator.' Are they so incapable of appreciating the higher arts that clunky and mechanical seems to them to be art?

Blessed are the Meek

I am thumbing through their Examining the Scriptures Daily, 2020 edition, and verses jump out at me as I think, ‘My Bible doesn’t say that!’ Here is an example from January 17:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’ Mt.5:5 ESV
Happy are the mild-tempered, for they shall inherit the earth.’ Mt.5:5 NWT
Meek’ here is the Greek praus (prah-oos) and is variously translated ‘meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, mild, benevolent, humane, humble, considerate.’ It identifies the positive moral quality of dealing with people in a kind manner, with humility and consideration. In our disposition towards God it means a trusting that his dealings with us are for our good.
I am sure such a person might be described as mild-tempered, but such a term comes nowhere near describing what Jesus is saying here. What’s wrong with meek anyway? It does the job, it is the choice of Bible translators across the generations. So much so it makes the verse familiar to us, and it is a beautiful word.

Every Perfect Gift

February 3 gives us:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…’ Js.1:17 ESV
Every good gift and every perfect present is from above, coming down from the father of the Celestial lights…’ Js.1:17 NWT
The first ‘gift’ is the Greek dosis and describes the act of giving, while the second ‘gift’ is dōrēma and is the gift given. Perhaps they used ‘present’ to make the distinction, but gift and present are the same in every-day usage. The idea here, however, is that every act of giving, every gift from God is undeserved and free, indeed the opposite of what we do deserve. It should be received with a sublime gratitude that transcends the every-day, ‘Oh, thanks, you shouldn’t have.’

An Excellent Wife

Finally, January 4 gave us the familiar:
An excellent wife, who can find? She is far more precious than jewels’ Prov.31:10 ESV
Who can find a capable wife? Her value is far more than that of corals…’ Prov.31:10 NWT
Proverbs 31:10-31 is a wisdom proverb written as an acrostic, each verse beginning with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The word translated ‘excellent’ in verse 10 in the ESV and ‘capable’ in the NWT is chayal, and carries a range of meaning, including strength, efficiency, ability, but there is so much more to this woman than being capable.
In verse 12 she is diligent
in verse 13 she is skilled
Verse 14 making provision for her family
Verse 15 a hard-working manager of her household
Verse 16 financially independent and wise in trade
Verse 18 turning a good profit
Verse 19 skilled in practical crafts
Verse 20 describes in her the cardinal virtue of compassion
Verse 21 more than prepared for sudden change
Verse 22 sees her excellence in good provision for herself
Verse 23 sees her excellence contribute significantly to her husband’s reputation
Verse 24 has her combine skill in craft with skill in commerce
In verse 25 her character is such she is dressed in dignity
Verse 26 describes a wise woman, kind in teaching others
Verse 27 focussed and diligent
Verses 28-29 praised and honoured by her family for her so many virtues
Verse 30 reveals the secret of her many virtues, the fear of the LORD
The proverb ends with public honour for such an excellent woman.
This is excellence not just capability. This 'virtuous woman' (KJV) does not simply have a capacity but excels in all she does. Why is all this important?

Translators?

First, it is an insight into the capabilities, or otherwise, of Watchtower ‘translators.’ We all know the Watchtower Society doesn’t publish their names. This is from humility, they claim, so the glory goes to Jehovah. However, in the real world of Bible translation it is essential and good practice to make this information known. For those of us who don’t read Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek it is vital to know our Bible comes from a reputable place.
I also wonder if they use alternatives to what are almost universally accepted translation words just to be contrary, so they are not like ‘the whore of Babylon.’ This isn’t me being petty but my recognising their well known pettiness.

Missing Poetry

Secondly, in the original languages, the Scriptures are filled with poetry, song, and wordplay such as puns, alliterations, literary devices of all kinds that help with memory, make the meaning stick. Modern Bibles often help us with some of this, especially poetry, but also by simply finding the closest word that lifts the mind to heaven.
The King James Bible excels in this, its translators being accomplished scholars with a high appreciation of the Bible as literature. Compare their work with that of the NWT and you find the latter a poor shadow of the real thing. It was the King James that, following Tyndale, gave us ‘Blessed are the meek.’ The NWT renders ‘Happy are the mild-tempered,’ rend being the operative word.
Consider what Tyndale, the KJV, and the modern ESV do with Matthew 5:11 and compare with the NWT:
Blessed are ye when men revile you and persecute you and shall falsely say all manner of evil sayings against you for my sake…’ Tyndale
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.’ King James Bible
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.’ ESV
Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake.’ NWT

Lifting our Thoughts to Heaven

Thirdly, if we are to recognise qualities in others and develop those qualities in ourselves, we must know fully what the Bible is describing as a virtue. I knew a man who took James 3:2 so to heart that he didn’t bridle his tongue, he practically stilled it. An otherwise mature believer, he might have made such contributions to the growth and development of others, but he was found to have nothing to say, thinking it a virtue to sit silently.
Even so, some people are incapable of getting worked up about anything, and you might describe such a person as ‘mild-tempered.’ You may equally describe them as indifferent. They might be ‘mild-tempered’ and still woefully short of the virtues described in meekness.
The gift/present issue has troubled me for some time. We can dumb down our faith, perhaps to accommodate children and younger people, or new Christians, to such an extent we lose the substance of the message. An example I think of here is the hymn, ’When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.’ The last verse runs, ‘Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’
The word ‘offering’ carries the meaning of religious devotion, sacrifice, total commitment. If all of nature was mine yet my placing it on the altar of devotion would be insufficient. There is weight, heft, to these words, they raise your thoughts to heaven, yet I have seen it replaced with ‘present.’ ‘Present’ is a good word for birthdays, but if nature were too small an offering, a present pales, carrying in it as a further offence the idea of adding to the riches of the recipient.
Finally, Jehovah’s Witnesses are, in my experience, intelligent and capable people. To rob them of the poetry, sense, and purpose of Scripture is a crime of eternal proportions. The faithfulness of the typical Witness is impressive, it deserves better reward. Think on these things and have generous compassion for them the next time they call.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Killing the Passion-Primary Text, Serious Study?

If you want to know what this series is about go to my first post here.

I have been reflecting further on the claims made for The Passion Translation (TPT).

“The Passion Translation is an excellent translation you can use as your primary text to seriously study God’s Word ... the text has been interpreted from the original language, carrying its original meaning and giving you an accurate, reliable expression of God’s original message”

You can find this claim here in the FAQs section under the question, 'Is the TPT considered a good translation for serious study?' You can find links to helpful and authoritative reviews in my first post in this series.

Stop and consider this for a moment. In an interview with Sid Roth, Brian Simmons tells how Jesus appeared to him, telling him he should write a new translation of the Bible. This is from about the 15:17 mark point in the interview.

Not only that, Jesus would reveal to him secrets of the Hebrew language and guide him in the work of translating. Simmons describes being filled with the spirit of revelation, and instantly receiving what he calls 'downloads.' He pictures the experience as being 'like having a a chip put inside of me to understand the Scriptures better.'

Which Would Jesus Read?


We all remember the WWJD wristbands, What Would Jesus Do? Imagine a table containing several different translations of the Bible. Perhaps the NIV, ESV, KJV, RSV, NASB, and The Passion Translation. Which do you think, in light of Brian Simmons' claims, would Jesus read? Which carries the endorsement of heaven? The one he commissioned and inspired of course - Brian's Bible.

I come from a Mormon background, a Mormon for fourteen years, a Christian now for 34 years. Joseph Smith claimed God commissioned him to translate the Book of Mormon from gold plates, delivered by an angel. He was also commissioned to translate the Bible. Mormons call it 'The Inspired Version.' Whose interpretation of the Bible do you think Mormons favour? I don't need to tell you, do I?

In my last post I wrote, 'as the New World Translation is biased towards Watchtower teaching, so TPT is heavily biased toward the teachings of the New Apostolic Reformation.' Here is a movement that now has its own 'Inspired Version,' commissioned and endorsed by Jesus himself.

Today's text for comparison is Ephesians 6:10/11:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. NIV

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. ESV

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

NASB

'I have saved these most important truths for last: Be supernaturally infused with strength through your life union with the Lord Jesus. Stand victorious with the force of his explosive power flowing in and through you. Put on God's complete set of armor provided for us, so that you will be protected as you fight against the evil strategies of the accuser.' TPT

Where did all those extra words come from!!

Out of 'Finally,' 
(Λοιπόν - loipon 'henceforth') he gets, 'I have saved these most important truths for last...'

More important than, 'In him we have redemption through his blood'? 1:7

More important than his 'making known to us the mystery of his will...to unite all things in [Christ]'? 1:9/10

More important than,'By grace you have been saved, through faith'? 2:8

More important than, 'he himself is our peace'? 2:14

There is an awful lot of very important stuff in Paul's letter to Ephesus, such that it abuses the privilege if you get 'most important truths' out of 'finally' just because it comes at the end. Read Ephesians (in a reliable translation) and decide what text is 'most important.' It can't be done in a letter with so many eternal and life-giving truths. 


Of course, it is 'most important' simply because he can make of these verses 'supernatural infusion', 'life union', 'explosive power', etc. This reflects the translator's personal views about the supernatural, signs and wonders. He is reading meaning into the text instead of taking his understanding from the text.

Finally, (and I just mean finally) there is an interesting resource commenting on Brian Simmon's 'translation' of '
The Passion [Anti] Translation', as the writer terms it, over at River of Life

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Killing The Passion

Bible translations abound in our day and age, along with thematic Bibles for men, for women, for teenagers, children, parents, for armchair archaeologists and coffee shop philosophers, for people 'who really want to go on with God,' to those special Christians among us who seem to have God sitting on their shoulder and chatting away all the live-long day. The list seems endless and as long as there is a niche market and money to be made they'll keep coming I imagine.

Then there are the paraphrase Bibles, useful in their way, but surely not for the pulpit (but oh, we've seen it done). It is hard to get people to understand that they are supposed to come to the Bible, not the other way around. They are meant to sit under the teaching of the Bible, the Bible is not meant to bend itself out of shape to suit their preferences or play to their ignorance. Any good Bible translation will speak to your heart and there is no need for your Bible to talk down to you.


The Passion Translation


Then there's the Passion 'Translation' (TPT). This is brought to us by Brian Simmons, an 'apostle' in certain circles who claims direct access to heaven, and a heavenly commission from Jesus himself to produce this translation. See him talk about a visit to heaven here. What is claimed for the Passion Translation?

“The Passion Translation is an excellent translation you can use as your primary text to seriously study God’s Word ... the text has been interpreted from the original language, carrying its original meaning and giving you an accurate, reliable expression of God’s original message”

This is neither a translation, nor a decent paraphrase, but a thoroughgoing gloss on the text. All sorts of concepts and ideas that don't even belong in footnotes are inserted though not found in the original language. It seems designed specifically to reflect the ideas of one particular group. As the New World Translation is biased towards Watchtower teaching, so TPT is heavily biased toward the teachings of the New Apostolic Reformation. One of the leading lights in the movement, Bill Johnson, endorses it wholeheartedly and preaches from it regularly.

There are any number of reviews of TPT. You can find some good ones.

What's Wrong With the Passion Translation by Andrew Wilson is thoughtful and balanced.

Why Christians Should be Concerned About the Passion Translation by Alisa Childers is very informative and helpful.

Holly Pivec over at Spirit of Error has put together A Passion Translation Factsheet that is very helpful.



It Says What!


Here we begin a series looking at verses from TPT and compare them with legitimate translations produced by qualified scholars. Hopefully, it will drive us back to the Word, in a reliable translation, and kill the Passion.

Today we look at a familiar verse from the psalms and see what TPT makes of it - Psalm 46:1

'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.' ESV

'God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.' NIV

'God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.' NASB

You're a proven help in time of trouble-more than enough and always available when I need you.' TPT


Where did all those extra words come from??


Notice the text in other translations uses the plural first person pronoun 'our' while TPT uses the first person singular 'I' 'when I need you.' This is the 'Jesus and me' error many Christians make with such Bible texts. They take a text that refers to a group 'us' or even 'them' and make it personal. It is a common enough error and easily corrected by good preaching and teaching. This text in the TPT puts God at my beck and call 'always available when I need you.'

The text is actually addressing the security God's people (plural) will know as a community even in difficult and testing times. This is because God is our refuge and strength not because he comes when he is called. This is so because God dwells among his people (plural) and goes with them, has made them (plural) his holy habitation (v.5) To remove the plural sense is to rob the psalm of its purpose and meaning.

God is the Maker and sustainer of all things, not the Butler.

Monday, 27 April 2020

SPECIAL BULLETIN: How are Jehovah’s Witnesses Adapting to the Corona Virus Lock Down?


Someone over at Quora asked this question and I was curious to know the answer. The reply on Quora, from an inactive Witness with a still faithful family, talks about video conferencing among other things.

The Memorial Meal, where gathering was prohibited, took place online, with a leader giving the talk on Zoom. They made bread according to the prescribed recipe, had some wine, and afterwards threw it away in the kitchen bin I imagine. It will come as no surprise to find everyone dressed for this as though they were going to the Kingdom Hall, even though they were at home.

The door-to-door work and the cart witnessing are cancelled of course. However, undaunted, they have resorted to telephone witnessing, calling back their call backs on the phone. Some are letter writing, again no surprise given the way the Society can marshal their army of members to mass produce letters of protest at the drop of a hat, clogging up the already burdened mailing system. You can read more here.

One Witness in Pisa tells how he and his wife are going through their phone contacts and video conferencing Bible studies. Inevitably, in such times, any message of impending doom will be taken seriously by many and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are making capital of this, ensuring people understand the only safety is in the Watchtower organisation. More here

Through its broadcasting arm the Watchtower Society is using its familiar tactic of frightening and recruiting people. In a recent broadcast, governing body member Stephen Letts assured us, ‘We’re living in the final part of the last days, undoubtedly the final part of the final part of the last days, shortly before the LAST day of the last days.’ You can watch him here.

The Society really should have a banner on all their publications declaring, ‘Predicting war, plagues, pestilence, and the end of the world since 1876.’ The Society has more to say here.

Young children are being encouraged to this effort and with some effect. While others are dressing their windows with rainbows and teddy bears to cheer any passing children, JW children are decorating their windows with invitations to find and watch Caleb and Sophia, two little scallywags whose mission is to indoctrinate children. Read here.

There is a great difference between an evangelist and an opportunist, a salesman and a missionary. I hope we all understand that and I hope we are doing what we can to be witnesses in our communities, not recruiters, serving without distinction everyone we can help, living the gospel as well as sharing it.







Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Am I a Disciple? Purpose




The message of salvation is wonderful. Paul writes, ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Cor.15:22) John writes, ‘Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life’ (1 John 5:12) Jesus himself declared, ‘I came that you may have life and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10) Salvation is more than escaping eternal punishment, it is about life, abundant, full, and eternal, deliverance from sin-slavery.

If we are saved, trusting in Christ for our eternity (2 Tim.1:12), that is a good thing. More, if we are made disciples, which Jesus commanded (Mt.28:16-20) and set our face towards obedience (Mt.7:21-23), that is a fruitful thing. We have looked at a possible Christian rule for life, the question of Am I Saved?and we have looked at obedience. We will go on in future posts to look at sanctification and perseverance, but now we look at purpose.

Sinai Still Speaks

God, through Moses, explained his purposes to the children of Israel so recently brought to the foot of the mountain:

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19:4-6)

A redeemed people are called to a life of covenant-keeping obedience and holiness. In Christ the old covenant is fulfilled and we enter a new covenant age. Jesus established this new covenant when he broke bread with the disciples on the night he was betrayed:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (Luke 22:19-20)

There is a new covenant, but the purposes of God don’t change. The purpose of the people of the old covenant is described by Isaiah, ‘...that they might declare my praise.’ (Is.43:21) summed up beautifully in the psalm:

Oh, give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of his wondrous works! (Ps.105:1/2)

The way they were to declare God’s praise was by the lives they lived, by obedience to the commandments of the old covenant, declaring his wondrous works in telling, singing, and living out their faith before the world. A life that set them apart from other nations, ‘a holy nation’ (Ex.19:6)

The people of the new covenant (Jew and Gentile) are likewise called to lives that glorify God. The covenant is new but God’s purposes have not changed one bit:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ (1 Peter 2:9)

Holiness

These days there an unhealthy emphasis on my being chosen, but the emphasis in this verse is the purpose of God's choosing.

Holiness describes something set apart for a special purpose. Christians are a people called to holiness, consecrated to God’s exclusive service (having no other gods), conformed in everything to God’s will (walking in obedience), regulated by divine precepts (keeping commandments), conformed increasingly to the image of their maker, thus restoring God’s original purpose in creation (Gen.1:27)

John writes:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.’ (1 John 3:1/2)

Whenever I see the world in the church I could weep because Christians are embracing the world that rejected him. They rejected him and if we are living right it should want nothing to do with us. It has been well said, and I will keep repeating it, that if the church tries to win the world by being like the world the church hasn’t won the world, the world has won the church.

The experience of God’s people throughout history is of countless voices enticing them to paths they were never intended to walk, to ways that are not God’s ways. The Bible describes time and again the great tragedy of following after foreign gods, adopting strange customs, embracing the surrounding culture.

From the worship of Baal and Molech in the Old Testament to the adopting of gnosticism, mystery religion, and legalism in the New Testament, the cords of culture, the fetters of foreign ways only serve to entrap God’s people and drag them down to destruction. These things are with us today and to be ignorant of them is folly. Maybe the church needs to spend a season in the Old Testament and learn its lessons.

If we truly understand the purposes of God in creation and salvation we are on our way to understanding our own place in those greater purposes. It’s not about me, it’s about him. The Westminster Confession states it with powerful simplicity:

What is the purpose of man?

The purpose of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

Amen








Wednesday, 8 April 2020

The Morals of a Cretan

Paul's letter to Titus in the New Testament contains a remarkable and disturbing observation. Paul writes:

'One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in faith…' (1:12/13)

Titus was a Greek convert to Christianity, Paul referring to him as, 'my true child in the faith.' (1:4) He had a challenging assignment, so Paul wrote words both of encouragement and of instruction, 'as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.' (2:1) This is a theme throughout this letter, indeed, in his whole ministry.

The fact Titus was to appoint elders in every town tells us this was a new church plant. The above quote gives some insight into what Titus had to draw on to accomplish his task. It is a shocking thing to read, xenophobic one might think. Paul, of course, was making a generalisation, not implying every citizen of Crete was 'a liar, evil beast, lazy glutton.' Cretans were known throughout the ancient world, however, for moral decadence.

Polybius, the ancient historian, wrote it was, 'almost impossible to find...personal conduct more treacherous or public policy more unjust than in Crete.' (Histories 6.47)

Cicero said, 'Moral principles are so divergent that the Cretans...consider highway robbery honourable.' (Republic 3.9.15)

Paul, throughout this letter, is contrasting and comparing the standards of the kingdom with the way the Cretans lived.

Elders appointed should be 'above reproach.' (1:6)

There should be no debauchery or insubordination in his family. (1:6)

Arrogance, drunkenness, a quick temper, violence, and greed disqualified a candidate. (1:7)

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (2:2)

Older women are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. (2:3)

And so the instruction continues, to young men, slaves, and all in their role as citizens, in submitting to authorities. Paul is describing upright citizenship in God's kingdom to the leader in a community that values the very opposite. I am sure we can go some way in identifying with Titus' challenge.

Doctrine

This is a call to godliness, and Paul begins his letter with the sound basis for our godliness:

'Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness…' (1:1)

The faith of God's elect is built on a knowledge of the truth, and this truth and the faith it engenders is what accords with godliness. Why should I be godly? Because you have the truth, a truth that gives you good reason to believe. Your faith, built on the truth, brings you to Christ who, alone, saves.

He draws this out again, later in this letter. Having contrasted the righteous saved with the conduct of the worldly Cretans, He writes:

[All this] 'For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.…' (2:11/12)

This is not simply a head knowledge, a philosophy the Cretans have decided to embrace. God's grace has appeared in Christ, his power demonstrated in the life-changing new birth experience of true believers. But culture clings to us like a bad smell and we must set high standards so, in God's strength, we carry less each day the aroma of this world, and more the aroma of the world to come.

Underpinning all this is sound doctrine. Just as Paul contrasts kingdom conduct with Cretan corruption, so he challenges empty and harmful doctrine with simple gospel truth.

He writes of 'those of the circumcision party' who insisted people come to Christ through the Law of Moses, a gospel of works. (1:10) Too many, far too many Christians today subscribe to a gospel of works, despite Paul's words, 'he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…' (Titus 3:5)

He writes of those who teach 'for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.' (1:11) There is an awful lot of that about today. We see it, and sadly so does the world. 'Ministries' bringing empty promises, issuing solemn diktats, and swallowing up resources that could be supporting vital local churches like the one led by Titus.

He counsels the avoidance of 'foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, [and] division.' (3:9-11) The Internet is awash with people who major on minor issues, we see it in the cults, and sometimes in the church.

In all we believe, in all we do, insists Paul, we are to show good faith, 'so that in everything [we] may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.' (2:10)

'As for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.' (2:1) 'Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with authority. Let no one disregard you.' (2:15)

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