A Few Thoughts About Thinking: When Our Thoughts Exalt Us

Several years ago, I had another blog. It was a great deal less focused than this one — mostly because it started as a way to showcase my writing and digital art.

Gradually, I found myself blogging more and more about the Lord. In one post, I quoted a friend of ours who said Christians need to be less concerned about what we think and more concerned about what God’s Word says. Of course he meant that we too often impose our ideas on a passage of Scripture rather than expecting Scripture to shape our ideas. But I quoted him as saying something like we think too much.

One of my readers latched on to that quote and wrenched it out of context. She understood it as putting forth the idea that Christians shouldn’t think, but instead should blindly follow religious teachers.

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Keys To Discernment: Why Paul Wrote To The Colossians (Reboot)

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Last Monday I explained that I’ll repost the few Bible Studies I wrote on Colossians before I injured my back in February. I’ll add a few remarks to these articles where I feel they need further comment, so you really might find it beneficial to read them again. Once we’ve reviewed those studies, we’ll continue working through the epistle.

As a young Christian, I would get impatient when Bible Study teachers would spend time talking about the background to whatever book they taught. I just wanted to grab verses here and there that I could shoehorn into my immediate circumstances. Textual context only mildly interested me; I had absolutely no use for historical or cultural background, thank you very much!

So if you’re groaning at the title of this post, anticipating a boring history lesson about First Century Colossae, I understand. It’s not what you expected from a study on discernment.

Don’t close this article yet, ladies! You need to know that I’m writing a little about the background to this epistle precisely because it will enable us to see how Paul taught discernment without once naming the false teachers that he refuted.

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Hearing God By Taking His Word Out Of Context? Only In Fiction

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I like watching our Little House On The Prairie DVDs. The stories are clean, sweet and moral — all rare attributes in the entertainment industry. Since my Cerebral Palsy makes it impossible to read or use my computer in bed, watching shows like Little House offers me a way to unwind in the evening.

Despite its reputation for being a spiritual show with Christian overtones, however, Little House On The Prairie fails miserably when it comes to sound theology. An episode I recently watched brought this fact home to me quite vividly, reminding me how important it is to read and apply Scripture in its context. Although the storyline celebrated the misuse of God’s Word, I want to caution against following the character’s foolish example.

In the episode, Caroline scratches her leg on a dirty nail, but forgets to clean the wound immediately. Naturally, an infection sets in, causing all sorts of complications. In desperation,  she opens her Bible. Wonderously, her eyes fall on Continue reading

Who’s Being Divisive? A Lesson On Scripture Twisting To Silence Those Who Call Out Error

Titus 3 9 thru 11

Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh at the ways people use God’s Word to advance unbiblical ideas. I thought I’d heard all the Scriptures people employ in efforts to shame those who call out false teachers and/or expose erroneous doctrine, but someone recently broadsided  me with a passage I generally use to support calling out enemies of the truth. Look at the passage that she hurled at me:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. ~~Titus 3:9-11 (ESV)

The application, of course, was that I am warped and self-condemned because I warn against teachers and teachings that compromise the Gospel. By warning against Beth Moore, Rick Warren, Holy Yoga, the Roman Catholic Church, etc, I am engaging in foolish controversies and stirring up division.

But am I?

Let’s review the  Bible Study I wrote on this very passage back in 2017, shall we? Hopefully we’ll remember the historical context behind this passage and thus better understand Paul’s actual point.

Paul gave Timothy similar, more detailed, instruction in 1 Timothy 1:3-7, explicitly specifying that Timothy “charge certain persons” not to teach doctrine that differed from the teaching of the apostles. This parallel passage sheds light on Titus 3:9-11, so allow me to quote it here:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (ESV)

As with the 1 Timothy 1:3-7 passage, the Titus 3:9-11 passage aims squarely at teachers who deviate from sound doctrine. So let’s examine Titus 3:9-11 more carefully.

Firstly, Bible commentators Jamieson, Fausset and Brown explain that the genealogies mentioned in verse 9 weren’t simply looking up family trees. Rather, they involved systems that ultimately led to Gnosticism. Regarding this particular verse, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary explains: “These Jews were turning the entire historical substance into mere myth. The genealogies were not treated primarily as historical documents but instead were subjected to a highly symbolic interpretive scheme. Names, dates and places supposedly contained hidden meanings which became the basis for esoteric doctrines.”

To Paul’s remark that such controversies are unprofitable and worthless, John MacArthur comments that “Proclaiming the truth, not arguing error, is the biblical way to evangelize.” Errors, such as those infiltrating the churches under Titus’ care, are best refuted by sound doctrine.

Moving to verse 10, we learn that the person who causes division is, according to Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, one who chooses to follow his or her own way rather than than submitting to Biblical teaching. The Greek word means “to choose,” and it developed into the word “heretic.” The idea is that heretics choose their lies over God’s truth. In writing this command to avoid heretics, Paul definitely addresses the false teachers who disrupted the churches in Crete.

He issued a similar command in Romans 16:17, where he stated that divisive people oppose apostolic doctrine. Those who question things in a church that deviate from sound doctrine often get branded as being divisive, but Scripture makes it clear that true heretics divide themselves from God’s Word.

Paul tells Titus to give heretics a first and second warning (compare with Matthew 18:15-17). Barnes points out that these two warnings provide the offender with opportunity to explain his or her actions and to repent. Continued violation beyond that point demonstrates the person’s commitment to rebellion. Therefore, that person must be separated from the church.

Paul concludes in verse 11 with an explanation of why divisive people should be avoided. To put it bluntly, heretics who disregard warnings prove themselves to be warped. Vincent’s Word Studies defines the word here translated as warped to mean “turned inside out.” It communicates a sense of perversion. As a result, they live in a constant state of sin.

Furthermore, heretics condemn themselves by rejecting correction and sound doctrine. Whereas those whom God saves are justified by grace, false teachers condemn themselves by preaching salvation by works and/or by other deviations from Biblical teaching. The Lord Himself, in John 3:18, made it clear that failure to believe in Him puts a person under condemnation.

Applying Titus 3:9-11 people who call out false teachers and/or expose erroneous doctrine demonstrates a lack of Scriptural knowledge. In one sense, using this passage to silence people who stand against doctrinal error is laughable. But in another sense, it’s very sad.

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What Paul’s Warning Didn’t Mean –And How We Know It Didn’t Mean That

According to ScriptureThe meaning of 1 Corinthians 1:10 seems quite obvious, doesn’t it?

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. ~~1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV)

Pretty straightforward, right? As a spokesman for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Paul warned the Corinthian church against having divisions within its  members. He later described the church as a unified body with each member functioning in cooperation with all the other members (1 Corinthians 12:12-30). Such unity precludes criticizing each other, clearly.

Some use 1 Corinthians 1:10 to shame those who call out false teachers who appear to be genuine Christians. We, rather than the false teachers, receive accusations of causing division within the church, as if our discernment violates Continue reading

Keys To Discernment: The Prominence Of God’s Word

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Let me begin with a gentle reminder that I intend my blog as a whole, and my Bible Study posts in particular, for women. I want to obey 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and Titus 2:3-5  by avoiding any possibility of teaching men. Dear brothers, unless you’re my husband or an elder at First Baptist Church Weymouth, I respectfully ask you not to read this Bible Study series. Thank you.

Okay ladies, shall we continue looking at Paul’s introductory remarks to the church at Colossae? We’ve been noticing that Paul uses this opening section of his letter to set the tone for the main points he wants to convey. I’ll show you the full section for the sake of context before we jump into the second part of verse 5.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. ~~Colossians 1:3-8 (ESV)

Last week we learned that Paul capitalized on the hope of the resurrection and eternal life to draw his readers’ attention away from worldly concerns. In so doing, he set the stage for the practical application of his teaching (see Colossians 3:1-4 and Colossians 3:16). In the second part of verse 5, he explains that the Colossians gained this hope through hearing the Word of truth — the Gospel.

Paul focuses on the Word of truth because he will shortly begin dismantling the errors that have wormed their way into the Colossian church. He could have simply named the false teachings and left everyone to figure out how to follow truth, but he instead gives them tools for future discernment. The Word provides stability for Christians, as we depend on the apostles’ teaching to guard us against the winds of false doctrine (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Verse 6 beautifully articulates how the Word of God has already taken root in the Colossian church. Indeed, Paul assures them, it has borne fruit in the whole world. This glorious increase happens through the grace of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus illustrated in Mark 4:26-29.

Since God’s Word has already been firmly planted in Colossae, Paul will later encourage the church to walk in Christ Jesus (Colossians 2:6-7) in accordance with the teaching they have received. Verse 7 of our current chapter tells us that they received the ministry of Epaphras. Since Paul describes Epaphras as a faithful minister, we can safely assume that he faithfully taught them the Word of God.

Verse 8 reveals that Epaphras has reported back to Paul regarding the Colossians’ love in the Spirit. Their love gives evidence that God’s Word has begun to work in them.

Do you see how Paul’s seemingly standard opening comments prepare his original readers for the epistle? Similarly, this section gives us a little preview of what we’ll learn in the coming installments of our Bible Study. Next Monday, Lord willing, we can finally get into the doctrine that Paul uses to teach the Colossians — and by extension us — discernment. I look forward to having you join me then.

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Keys To Discernment: Why Paul Wrote To The Colossians

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As a young Christian, I would get impatient when Bible Study teachers would spend time talking about the background to whatever book they taught. I just wanted to grab verses here and there that I could shoehorn into my immediate circumstances. Textual context only mildly interested me; I had absolutely no use for historical or cultural background, thank you very much!

So if you’re groaning at the title of this post, anticipating a boring history lesson about First Century Colossae, I understand. It’s not what you expected from a study on discernment.

Don’t close this article yet, ladies! You need to know that I’m writing a little about the background to this epistle precisely because it will enable us to see how Paul taught discernment without once naming the false teachers that he Continue reading

Yes, Jesus Ate With Sinners — But Do You Understand Why?

Rainbow HeartThe argument goes that,  since Jesus ate with people that the Pharisees regarded as sinners, He accepted them as they were. As a result, He would embrace those whom conservative Christians supposedly reject today. In particular, He would champion members of the LBGTQ community, and shame on conservative Christians for calling their sexual orientation sinful!

Christians who believe that homosexuality and transgenderism require repentance constantly hear that we should follow Jesus rather than following Bible verses that condemn homosexuality and transgenderism. Jesus, they remind us, hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, giving us an example to follow. When we dare to speak out against sexual sin — especially those sins under the LBGTQ umbrella — we face enormous censure for evidently failing to be Christlike.

But maybe we ought to look at an instance of Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors. In this episode, Jesus has just called Levi (also known as Matthew) to follow Him. Luke 5:28 plainly says, please notice, that Continue reading

Spiritual Warfare And Daring To Rebuke Satan

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There’s a popular notion, particularly in Charismatic circles, that Christians possess the same authority over Satan and demons that Jesus conferred on the First Century apostles. This line of thinking ignores the key point, however, that the apostles received the ability to perform signs and wonders in order to authenticate the Gospel until the New Testament canon could be completed.

Back in November of 2016, I wrote a Bible Study series on the book of Jude for this blog. Because someone recently challenged a statement I made regarding the nature of spiritual warfare, I thought I’d adapt the study I wrote on verses 9 and 10 as a response.

My challenger objected to my remark that spiritual warfare is about resisting temptation rather than about rebuking Satan. He cited Titus 2:15 (out of context, of course) as substantiation for the practice. Um, that’s a gross misinterpretation and misapplication of Paul’s instructions to Titus. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy!

Jude addresses the practice of rebuking the devil more directly than any other New Testament writer,so I believe we best serve this topic by looking at his words. Remember that Jude (a half-brother to Jesus) writes his epistle in order to delineate the characteristics of false teachers. We going to discuss verses 9 and 10, which I want to quote in their proper context.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. ~~Jude 8-13 (ESV)

Instead of getting hung up on where this story came from or why Michael and the devil fought over Moses’ body, let’s give our attention to Jude’s meaning.

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” ~~Jude 9 (ESV)

Jude’s purpose is to contrast the brashness of false teachers who dared to rail against the spiritual realm with the archangel Michael’s humility in deferring to the Lord in cursing the devil. This allusion should warn us not to think that we have the authority to rebuke the devil, since even the highest angel didn’t dare do so.

Michael surely would have had some measure of authority, given the fact that God dispatched him to fight Satan on other occasions (see Daniel 10:13 and Revelation 12:7 for examples). Yet he deemed it presumptuous to  rail against the devil on the basis of that authority. Jude’s point is that, since Michael didn’t rebuke the devil directly, false teachers greatly err in doing so. In fact, this sort of practice actually marks a person as a false teacher.

Maybe we should let that last point sink in. Instead of believing that the Lord gives all Christians the authority to hurl comments at Satan and his minions, shouldn’t we take note that false teachers perform and advocate this sort of behavior? If rebuking the devil identifies a person as a false teacher, perhaps we shouldn’t encourage it.

Jude goes on, in verse 10, to explain that the false teachers who rebuke the  devil don’t even know what they’re talking about.

But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. (ESV)

He shows the irony of their claims of mastery over the spirit world  when all the while their carnal natures consume them. Unlike Michael, who actually is a spirit, these people have limited knowledge of Satan and his demons, and as a result they lack the qualifications to enter into confrontations with them when they really should confront their own sinfulness.

Rebuking Satan appeals to human pride while providing a distraction from the true spiritual warfare of mortifying our sin and refuting false teaching. Jude 9-10, in exposing the wrong focus of those who rebuke the devil, reminds us to maintain a proper attitude. Let’s trust the Lord to rebuke Satan while we concentrate on resisting temptation and closing our ears to Satan’s lies.

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Snippets Of Scripture Can’t Teach God’s Word Responsibly

IMG_1892When the church John and I used to attend embarked on Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose campaign, the leadership showed promotional videos during the three Sunday services leading up to the campaign. As I watched the first video, I couldn’t help noticing how frequently Warren quoted Bible verses out of context in order to substantiate some of his claims. Reading only the two opening chapters of The Purpose Driven Life, I saw the same trend, made worse by his use of multiple translations and paraphrases to provide his desired effect.

How did I recognize that he quoted Bible verses out of context? Simple: I’d done the same thing when I wrote counseling letters for Love In Action. I knew the psychological principles that our ministry embraced. All I had to do was shoehorn Continue reading