Solomon

Every Real Things is a Joy

Every Real Things is a Joy

There is a wonderful line in Robert Capon’s The Marriage Supper of the Lamb where he writes that “Every real thing is a joy, if only you have eyes and ears to relish it, a nose and tongue to taste it.” One of the themes that emerges in Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes is that joy is the distinguishing feature of the Christian. Only the Christian argues Solomon, is able to take God’s gifts and use them with joy. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit; a gift of grace; a tasty sample of glory; a meal for the weak; an appetizer of kings. Joy is the outworking of a faith well-lived.

Joy is not laughing away problems; joy is looking at problems straight in the eyes and saying “My God has an answer!” Joy is our response to nihilism; our response to pietism; our response to bad food; our response to misery; joy at the end of the tether is a renewed trust in Jesus who makes us eat bread and wine and not spit it out, but to enjoy each sip and each bite as a gift from God, and his gifts are not to be despised.

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?

As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.

I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.

It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.

In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.

It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.

It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.

Lent and Wilderness

Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.

Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.

But Why 40 Days?

Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.

Should Lent be Observed?

Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.

Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.

I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:

The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.

The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.

As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:

Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance.  But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like.  “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.

If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil

Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (sex, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They demand self-control and patience. They demand spiritual growth; they demand kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions means you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly.

“He That Winneth Souls is Wise”, An Exegetical Comment on Proverbs 11:30b

Evangelistic rallies, tent revivals, and door-knocking gospel programs appeal to Proverbs 11:30 as justification for their conversion agendas. The old King James translates it as “He that winneth souls is wise.” The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, used this as proof-text for evangelistic endeavors. While a call to arms to invade neighborhoods with tracts and pamphlets may be a worthwhile endeavor, this passage has been poorly misused by well-intentioned Christians, and should therefore be cautiously used.

Solomon has been building a strong case ever since the beginning of verse one of chapter 11. The matter here is life versus death in the realm of wisdom. Wisdom leads to a fructiferous life whereas foolishness leads to destruction. Verse 11 in the ESV says “…and whoever captures souls is wise.” The Hebrew loqeah mepasot usually implies the “taking of lives” as in “to kill.” Yet this does not make sense out of the context, since the “wise” is the subject of the verb. A direct translational read would be unhelpful at this point, and would seem to minimize Solomon’s argument.

The better approach to this section of verse 30 is to parallel Solomon’s words to the central theme of Proverbs (1:3), which is to “receive instruction” or to “comprehend instruction.” There is then a parallel between 11:30a and 11:30b. The tree of life is a reference to the wise who “gathers/plucks/captures life from death. The wise is like a strong green leaf filled with energy and abundance. As Paul Koptak summarizes: “This is an envcouragement to become wise in order to save not only one’s own life/soul but also the lives of others.”

The wise man, the man who bears good fruit (Ps. 1:3) is a man who is deeply interested in the rescuing of those who abide in wickedness and whose choices are leading them on the crooked paths (Prov. 11:20). One must be wise, in order to provide life for the unwise.

In summary, there are evangelistic implications to this passage, but any form of evangelism needs to be grounded in wisdom, rather than a quick 4-step plan to conversion. If there is an evangelistic implication to this passage it is that placing new Christians at the forefront of these endeavors may be unwise since he lacks maturity and biblical knowledge to communicate the wisdom of Yahweh to the world. Solomonic wisdom offers unbelievers more than simply a quick way to heaven, but the very offer of heaven on earth to those who have despised kingly wisdom.

P.S. As Tim Russel observed in a conversation we had, there is a danger of interpreting this as “only the theologically astute can evangelize.” This is not what I wish to convey, so it is an important reminder. In order to best reflect this skepticism, I changed that sentence to this: “…it may be unwise since he lacks maturity and biblical knowledge to communicate the wisdom of Yahweh to the world.”

As Daniel Hoffman observed on FB, there is some type of interaction between Solomon in Proverbs 11:30 and Genesis 3. I have suggested:

One way to consider this is to assert that finding life or being joined into a wisdom/tree implies dying first. Therefore, rescuing necessitates death…abandoning foolishness and embracing wisdom is a form of death.

{Thanks for the interactions of Tim Russell and Daniel Hoffman}

 

Sermon: A Call to Faithful Presence, Proverbs 11:12-19, Kingly Wisdom, Part IX

People of God,  Proverbs is a book of wisdom. It is applicable to our day, it is worthy of our investment, it is healthy to be memorized, it is powerful in counseling, effective in discerning, faithful in its consistency, paradoxical in its diversity, accurate in presenting the antithesis, strong in its denunciation, and bold in its wisdom. And when you consider the nature of Proverbs, it is simply a manual for parents to train their children. In particular, Solomon is discipling his son to be a king, and by implication we know that ultimately this is Jesus training his children to be Kings and Queens in this world.

Echoing my sermon last week, the city is ours because it belongs to our King, Jesus Christ. So we can’t simply go to the Court House and tell the judge that he needs to step down because we have a Christian replacement for him. We cannot simply go on theorizing hoping that leaders of the community will come to our front door and offer us an important seat. There is work to be done. We need to have a faithful presence. Faithfulness is our daily duties. It is by example that our Lord taught us to live. In other words, we need to first change diapers before we can opine about the woes of the world. We need to first take the trash out before cleaning the world. We need to first do the hard work of establishing a good and faithful testimony before the world can look to us and desire what we have and put us in places of leadership. More