Monday, January 28, 2013

Elihu's Example

As I mentioned last week, many of us at Queen Way are currently following a one-year chronological Bible reading plan, and we're currently in the book of Job. In our weekly bulletin, I've been posting not only the daily reading assignments, but also corresponding "Reflection Questions" that encourage us to delve deeper into these readings.
Regarding Job 32-34 and Elihu's response to Job and his three friends, I posed the following question: how did Elihu balance respect for his elders with the need to speak the truth? This question is based on the following verses from Job 32
"Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were years older than he" (vs. 4).
"I am young in years and you are old; therefore I was shy and afraid to tell you what I think. I thought age should speak, and increased years should teach wisdom" (vs. 6).
Job and his three friends had argued and debated for what appears to be a long time. Job defended his righteousness, expressed dissatisfaction with his friends for their baseless accusations, and with God for unjustly inflicting him with pain and loss. It was a debate filled with repetition and hasty replies, and now that it had finally died down, the young man Elihu stepped forward to offer his perspective.
Elihu wasn't like most young men. He wasn't prideful or rash. He didn't rush to judgment. He didn't deceive himself into thinking that he was somehow wiser or even as wise as these older men. He could've jumped in earlier and irreverently called out these older men for their foolish babbling and quarreling, but instead, he stood back and reflected upon their comments. When his moment came, he tactfully interjected himself into the conversation. He had a tone of respect and was diplomatic in his approach.
But at the same time, he didn't allow these older men to despise his youth. He didn't use his age as an excuse not to act. He didn't assume that because these men were older they were automatically right in their observations. And most importantly, he wasn't cowed by their gray hair and wrinkled skin; he was willing to speak the truth where it was lacking.
As a young evangelist, I very much appreciate Elihu's example. I know that there have been plenty of occasions where I have hesitated to act or speak because I was afraid of how the older folks in the congregation would receive my comments. There have been plenty of occasions where my comments have been ignored on account of my age, especially when it comes to marriage and child-rearing. I've studied with older men and women (even Christians) who begin with the assumption that their age and experience trump anything I have to say...and at times I have backed away when I shouldn't have, or have at least been discouraged.
On the other hand, there have been times where I've spoken too quickly, have acted arrogantly, and have not had the proper respect for those older than me.
Elihu teaches us that we can be respectful and kind all the while being bold in our proclamation of the truth. He teaches us that we need to deliberate upon our words and actions before acting, that we need to think before we speak. We learn from this young man that even when those older than us are wrong and we are right, that we need to remain reverent in our behavior.
What a great example! Lord, help me to be more like Elihu.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"I Am Not Inferior To You"

Many of the members of the Queen Way church of Christ are participating in what we call a "Team Bible Reading" throughout 2013 and we are using the One-Year Chronological Reading Plan which can be accessed here. This past Saturday, we moved from Genesis to Job and today we are to read Job 12-14.

Most religious people are at least somewhat familiar with the story of Job. Job was a righteous man who was suddenly bombarded with a series of trials. He lost his possessions and even his own children (in a freak accident), and if that wasn't enough, he was afflicted with painful boils all over his body. And yet in all of this we're told that "Job did not sin with his lips" (1:22; 2:10).

Beginning in Job 3, the focus shifts from Job's suffering to a debate that he had with three of his friends who had come to comfort him. In essence, all three friends argued that Job was suffering because he had done something to anger the Almighty God. Eliphaz said in Job 4:7, "Remember now, whoever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed?" A little while later, Bildad offered similar sentiments to Job: "If you are pure and upright, surely now He would rouse Himself for you and restore your righteous estate" (Job 8:6).

By this point, Job was not only complaining about his hardship. Now he was offended and angered by the baseless charges of these three men who called themselves his "friends." Notice the following two statements repeated by Job...
"But I have intelligence as well as you; I am not inferior to you" (12:3).
"Behold, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it. What you know I also know. I am not inferior to you" (13:1-2).
What is Job's point? I can imagine, based on the flow of the story, that Job interpreted his friends' remarks as condescending. They had no basis for charging him with sin. They hadn't observed Job transgress God's will. They hadn't heard any gossip that indicted Job's otherwise spotless reputation. And yet they chided him as if he were but an infant.

Job responded by reminding his friends that he wasn't a fool. Had he sinned against God, he would've known it. After all, he was a man who longed for God's fellowship and who took every precaution to ensure that this fellowship continued! He wasn't dumb. He wasn't inferior to them. Which is why he went on to identify Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar as "worthless physicians" (13:4).

There are many lessons to be gleaned here, but for the sake of brevity, I'll mention only two.

First of all, we shouldn't charge ANYONE with sin when we have no evidence that they've committed sin. We can't make judgments based on presumption or hear-say.

Secondly, we learn from Job that when others presume that we have sinned, we shouldn't allow our confidence to be rattled. If I know that I am walking in the light and that the charges of another (against me) are baseless, I should remind myself that my Judge is the Lord, not some flawed, hyper-critical individual who seems determined to humiliate me.

Maybe these kinds of scenarios don't arise too often. Maybe these lessons are not too relevant in the church today. Maybe false accusations such as this are rarely hurled among religious people, and maybe we rarely feel compelled to defend ourselves against baseless charges. But I have a feeling that these comments are relevant for some of you now, and I know that these comments will be relevant at some point for ALL of us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Awaiting Providence

As I have expressed time and again on this blog, one of the greatest reasons for continuous Bible study is the fact that no matter how many times you've read a passage, there's always something new to glean from it. This morning, as I read the assigned Scriptures in the Chronological Reading Schedule (that we're doing at the Queen Way church of Christ), I came across a very subtle yet powerful lesson in Genesis 40.

The story of Joseph is perhaps the greatest biblical illustration of God's providence - what it is and how it works. God had great plans for Joseph, and yet the circumstances of his life didn't seem to reflect greatness. He was betrayed and sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, was harrassed by his master's wife, falsely accused and ultimately imprisoned.

We know that "the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him" (Gen. 39:21), and the implication is that Joseph remained steadfast in his faith in God, but again...there is at this point in his life an undeniable disconnect between his earlier dreams of grandeur (given by God) and the circumstances in which he found himself.

We know that during this time, "the word of the Lord tested him" (Psalm 105:19). In other words, Joseph still had free-will, and still could choose his course. He could have chosen to sleep with Potiphar's wife. He could have chosen to embrace the paganism of Egypt. He could have chosen to become bitter and angry at God. He could have been puffed up with pride by his success even as a slave in Potiphar's house and then in prison.

But what was going through Joseph's mind? Do you think he recalled those earlier dreams and visions that promised greatness and power? Was he losing his patience with God? Perhaps he was confused...or perhaps he had become jaded by the unfortunate series of events that had led him to this Egyptian prison.

All the while, God was testing Joseph as Psalm 105 indicates...observing Joseph's thoughts, his words and his actions...waiting to see how Joseph would respond.

And this brings us to Genesis 40:7.

The Pharaoh's butler and baker had been thrown into prison and Joseph was assigned to attend to their needs (vs. 4). One night, both men had dreams from God, and the following morning, they were both "dejected" (vs. 6). Notice what happened next...
"When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. And he asked Pharaoh's officials who were with him in confinement in his master's house, 'Why are your faces sad today?'"
Joseph had every reason, you might say, to be bitter and angry. And yet in the midst of all the uncertainty in his life, did he sit around sulking or complaining? Did he become self-absorbed? Was he trying to exalt himself and force God's hand? Did he take matters into his own hands?

What did Joseph do while he was awaiting God's providence?

He showed kindness!

And do you know what? His kindness and care is what prompted these two men to open up to him about their dreams, which in turn gave Joseph the opportunity to interpret their dreams...which ultimately led him into the very presence of Pharaoh...and to the greatness that God had promised him over a decade earlier!

We often find ourselves awaiting providence...wondering when and how God will act in our lives. Joseph teaches us that instead of forcing the issue, and instead of growing bitter and angry and impatient, we ought to simply go about our daily business and strive to be godly people. God's plan will unfold in the proper time. Until then, be who God has called you to be NOW.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Is Conditional Fellowship Inherently Unloving?

It's early in the morning and I'm struggling to think of a clever or catchy way to begin this article, so I'll just get straight to the point.

Read 1 John 1:6-7 below...
"If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin."
In this marvelous text, we learn that Christians have fellowship not only with God but with one another. It's also clear based on the wording that our fellowship with one another is predicated upon our respective fellowship with God. In other words, because person A and person B both are in partnership and communion (fellowship) with God, then person A and person B are necessarily in fellowship with one another.

Before we go any further, it's important to clarify the true nature of fellowship. In the Scriptures, there is a difference between association and fellowship. We're told in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 not to have fellowship with unbelievers, with unrighteousness, with lawlessness, with darkness, with Belial, or with idols. And yet we know based on 1 Corinthians 5:10-11 and 1 Corinthians 10:27 that we can interact, socialize and associate with unbelievers. So fellowship is not mere association or social interaction. Fellowship implies a deeper relationship characterized by spiritual partnership and approval.

Back in 1 John 1:6-7, we're told that those who have fellowship with God have fellowship with one another, and based on what was noted in the previous paragraph, this is something that, biblically speaking, is unique to the family of God. I have a special connection (approval, partnership) with my brethren that I do not have with unbelievers, or with those of the world.

Although the question has already been partly answered, I'll toss it out there anyways: with whom do we have fellowship? We've already seen that we do not have fellowship with unbelievers or with those of the world, but let's adjust our focus to other religious people. Is it safe to assume that we have fellowship with all who claim to be of Christ? This is a necessary, albeit controversial question.

Most "Christians" today are extremely ecumenical. The average church-goer believes that all alleged Christians are going to heaven, that one's church affiliation makes no difference, that one's methods of worship are neither here nor there, and that one's beliefs and practices are simply a matter of preference. And so the average church-goer would extend fellowship to all who are decent and moral.

Not only that, but the average church-goer would act as if it's inherently unloving, perhaps even cruel, to restrict fellowship among religious people, or to refuse fellowship to another person who claims to be sincerely following Christ.

Is this true? Is it inherently unloving to argue that fellowship is conditional and that certain religious people are not meeting those conditions?

Consider these points with to whether or not conditional fellowship is inherently unloving...

In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus refused fellowship and salvation to certain sincere religious men on the basis that they hadn't obeyed the will of the Father. Was Jesus being inherently unloving? Should He have embraced these men?

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul instructed the church to remove fellowship AND association from a certain erring brother. The implication is that this brother was still active in the church, or that he at least was continuing to attend and wear the name of Christ. When Paul commanded them to publically deliver him to Satan for the destruction of his flesh (vs. 5) and to no longer associate or even eat with this man...was he being inherently unloving and cruel?

In Romans 16:17, 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Timothy 6:3-5, and 2 John 9-10 (among others), were these inspired men lacking love when they encouraged a removal of fellowship from false teachers? When the recipients of these instructions obeyed - and when they noted, rejected and refused to receive these false teachers - were they engaging in inherently unloving acts.

Let's come full-circle now back to 1 John 1:6-7.

Again, we're told that when multiple people have fellowship with God, they necessarily have fellowship with one another. And so not only is our fellowship with one another predicated on our respective fellowship with God, it's implied that if one loses their fellowship with God, they also lose their fellowship with their brethren. That connection is severed and lost as they are no longer partners together in Christ. Earlier we read verses 6-7, but I'd like for you to now notice verse 5.
"...God is light, and in Him there is no darkness."
Darkness is equated in this passage to sin (vs. 8-9) and to a failure to practice the truth (vs. 6), and I'd like for you to notice that while one can "walk in darkness" (a continued practice of sin), it only takes one act of darkness/sin to sever fellowship with God...because there is "no darkness" in the light.

With this in mind, how delicate is our fellowship with God? And how delicate is our fellowship with one another? In other words, we need to give great thought to all that we're doing in His name, because if we're engaged in any errant or unauthorized behavior (the definition of sin), our fellowship with God is lost, or at least called into question. Of course, based on verse 9, the Christian easily regains fellowship with God when he confesses his trespass to God. So for honest, truth-seeking Christians, this fellowship is maintained because we're growing stronger and confessing our failures to a forgiving God.

Am I being inherently unloving when I apply the clear meaning of this passage (and the conditional nature of fellowship) to other religious people...or to erring brethren?

One can be misguided in their view of conditional fellowship. The Jerusalem church refused fellowship with Paul in Acts 9:26 even though he was in fellowship with God. Diotrephes refused fellowship to faithful disciples as well in 3 John 9-10 (although his motives were clearly malicious). On the other hand, the church in Corinth granted fellowship to the deviant brother in 1 Corinthians 5, and the church in Thyatira granted fellowship to the wicked woman "Jezebel" in Revelation 3.

We can err in our application of fellowship, and as we see in some of these examples - and common sense tells us - restricted fellowship is sometimes not only misguided, but malicious, prideful, etc.

But we have clear instructions and postive examples throughout the word of God which reveal to us this undeniable truth: it is NOT inherently unloving to refuse fellowship even to certain religious people, or even to those who claim to be baptized followers of Christ. Sure, we can be misguided in our views of fellowship - and that should be corrected - but if we are sincere in our efforts, and if we are striving to use the Scriptures as our guide, conditional fellowship cannot be labeled as cruel and unusual.

We each have to diligently study God's word to understand the boundaries of fellowship...for though our feelings and judgments are flawed, God's word is our inerrant, unbiased standard. And as we have learned, we must restrict fellowship to those who have accessed the light (by obeying the gospel plan of salvation), are walking in the light and practicing the truth.

If my application of fellowship is flawed or misguided, and if you believe I am refusing fellowship to those who are indeed practicing the truth, let me know and we'll study. But please don't act as if I'm being inherently unloving. I'm only trying to humbly submit to the instructions of my Lord.

And the Lord knows best.

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's Foolish to Drink

A few weeks ago, I preached a 45-minute sermon on the issue of drinking that was well-received by the congregation. In that lesson, I clarified the exact meaning of biblical "wine," showed that fresh grape juice (i.e. wine) was viewed as a blessing and source of joy by the Hebrews of old, and that they not only preferred fresh wine over fermented wine (and had many ways of preserving it fresh), but actually opposed the social/recreational use of alcohol. I also spent a lot of time in the New Testament, defining terms and showing that more is condemned than our modern-day concept of "drunkenness."
This article isn't intended to regurgitate all that I said in that sermon several weeks ago, but I would like to revisit one point from that sermon on drinking. This is something I noticed just today that I failed to mention in that sermon.
Of course, the Old Testament is not our "law" today (Gal. 5:1-4; Col. 2:14-16), but as Paul says in Romans 15:4, it's there for our learning, and most of us understand this. In books such as Proverbs, God is giving advice to us that we might live wisely, and we often go to Proverbs in search of this advice. Solomon had much to say about financial prudence, gossip, our response to rebuke, to temptation, etc. Why do so many of us believe that it's appropriate to spank our children? Because of verses like Proverbs 13:24 where Solomon writes, "He who spares his rod, hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly."
Likewise, God has given us advice regarding the social/recreational use of alcohol.
In Proverbs 23:29-35, we read the following:
"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine, those who go to taste mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind will utter perverse things. And you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, or like one who lies down on the top of a mast. They struck me, but I did not become ill; they beat me, but I did not know it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink."
Solomon summarizes all of the negative effects of alcohol in this passage and then provides us with a solution in verse 31. What is that solution? Does he, by inspiration, instruct us to "drink in moderation" or to "drink responsibly?" No! He tells us plainly not even to look at the stuff! In other words, don't even consider it...and certainly don't drink it! At all! In my humble opinion, the entire debate is settled by this one least for those who respect God's wisdom and desire to make positive spiritual choices.
Many respond to this argument, however, by saying that Solomon is only condemning the abuse of alcohol, or even alcoholism. After all, he's clearly describing the drunken state throughout this passage. And so the admonition to "not look on the wine" is given to those who are pondering drunkeness, or who are alcoholics. The implication of this viewpoint is that Solomon is speaking to the alcoholic or drunk and not to the responsible drinker. Is this true? Not at all...
Throughout this book, Solomon, by inspiration, imparts godly wisdom to his son. Even here in Proverbs 23, he writes "my son" three times (vs. 15, 19, 26). What's the point? The point is that Solomon is NOT writing to drunks and alcoholics and telling only them to "not look on the wine." The wise king Solomon is actually speaking to his son, and by extention ALL of us, about all the negative effects of recreational drinking and encouraging total abstinance. So the command to "not look on the wine" is given more broadly to ALL people, not just to those who are tempted by it, or addicted to it.
With this in mind, IF God says that drinking is foolish, should we drink?
Let's take this a step further and relate this point to other scriptural points...
Would Jesus (the Son of God) have produced alcoholic wine at the wedding in Cana if He (being God), through Solomon years earlier said to "not look on the wine?" Would God inspire Solomon to call social/recreational drinking foolish and then inspire other men such as Paul and Peter to encourage or allow moderate drinking? Of course not. "God is not an author of confusion, but of peace" (1 Cor. 14:33).
There may be many complicated points concerning drinking, and there may be arguments that are harder (not impossible) to address, but it is always proper to interpret the more difficult passages in light of the easier ones. Solomon's point in Proverbs 23 is about as plain as it gets. Furthermore, instead of arguing intellectually and academically about moral issues such as this, we should take to heart the words of Paul in Romans 16:19: "I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent (simple) in what is evil."
As was inferred in the first paragraph of this article, there is more to this issue than Proverbs 23, and this article was never intended to be exhaustive. If you disagree or have any questions, please contact me at Or to hear a more thorough address of this issue, click here to listen to my recent sermon on drinking.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Our "Soul" Purpose

Many things have changed in the last few thousand years of man's existence, but then again, Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that "there is nothing new under the sun." We may have "cooler stuff" as one of our brethren at Queen Way has noted time and again, but people are people. We have the same desires, the same struggles, the same fears, the same hopes and dreams...and we ask the same questions that our ancestors have asked for millennia.

Every human who has ever lived has pondered the purpose of life. Why are we here? What is our purpose on this planet? Do we even have a purpose? Is there an afterlife? What will happen when we die? This is because God  "has also set eternity in [our] hearts" (Eccl. 3:11). In other words, we are spiritual beings and there is engrained within us a sense of awareness regarding the reality of God and of life beyond the grave. And so it's only natural that we ask these questions. What is our soul's purpose? And more to the point, what is our SOUL purpose in life?

Even though we all are curious about eternity, many choose to ignore and/or neglect the needs of their soul. Some do so because they'd rather remain blissfully ignorant rather than feel obligated to a God they don't want to serve. Others are simply so enthralled by the pleasures of sin that they have no desire to become spiritually-minded. Some are too busy to truly reflect upon the deeper meaning of life. And yet others have been merely deceived and led astray.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon answers this all-important question for us. After wasting many years of his life seeking worldly wisdom and carnal pleasure, he finally came to the realization that a life without God is full of vanity. "The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person" (Eccl. 12:13, NASB). Or as other translatations say, "for this is man's all." In other words, "Our Soul Purpose" is to serve the God of heaven so that our eternal soul might be eternally secure!

Throughout 2013, we at the Queen Way church of Christ will seek to more fully define "Our Soul Purpose." Each month will have a special focus so that by the end of the year, we will all firmly grasp that our relationship with God ought to govern every single aspect of our lives!

Are you asking these questions? Are you open-minded and willing to answer these questions honestly? Are you fulfilling your soul's purpose in life? If not, would you be willing to study these matters further? Contact us anytime if you would like to learn more about the Lord. Our email address is If you live in the Reno-Sparks area, join us Wednesday nights at 7:00 and Sundays at 9:00, 10:00 and 5:00 as we worship God and learn more about "Our Soul Purpose."

What do you have to lose?