Life Theology

Idolatry and Grumbling Are More Closely Related Than You Might Think

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul warns his Christian readers to not be idolaters (v. 7) and not to grumble (v. 10) in the same breath.  At first glance, these probably don’t seem like related sins.  But if we zoom in on the context, Paul is clear: you grumble because you are an idolater.

The story of the Israelites, Paul says, was written for us as an example (vv. 6, 11).  The Israelites did little right as they made their way through the wilderness.  Their perspective was limited.  Their hearts were not inclined toward God.  They constantly looked to creation instead of Creator — which is, in essence, idolatry.  Instead of looking to their future Messiah, they participated in pagan festivals (Ex. 32:6).  Instead of seeking pleasure in God, they sought pleasure in sexual relationships with Gentile women (Num. 25:1, 9).  Instead of looking to Christ as their sustenance, they complained about the manna and lack of water (Num. 21:5).  Instead of praising God for being delivered from slavery, they grumbled about wandering around in the desert (Num. 14:2).

Created things were never meant to satisfy our hearts and longings.  Created things, from the beginning, were meant to point us toward the Creator, who gives us life, breath, and everything (Acts 17:25).  If we worship idols (anything other than God), we will always grumble because they will always let us down.  Whether that idol is a sexual partner, food or drink, the American dream, or anything else you can think of, it will let you down.  And when you get let down, you will grumble.  I see it in my life — even in the smallest details.  When I put my hope in people, I get let down.  When I put my hope in organization or situations running smoothly, I get let down.  When I put my hope in my own merits and talents, I get let down.  When I put my hope in anything other than the person and work of Jesus, I am disappointed.  But praise be to God that Jesus will never let us be disappointed (Rom. 10:11).

Let’s look to Jesus.  If we do, our perspective will change.  We will be able to honestly rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every circumstance (1 Thes. 5:16-18).  If we seek Christ, our hearts will find true satisfaction.  Creation was never meant to provide that.

Truly our hearts are restless until they rest in You.
– Augustine


Widows, Remarriage, and Gospel Community

My sister asked me yesterday about 1 Timothy 5 and Paul’s rules for remarriage.  I had never really “studied” this passage before, but I figured I’d post my thoughts here in case some of you had questions as well.  She and her fiance emailed me this question:

We both understand that basically Paul is saying that, in his opinion, to stay unmarried is better for the sake of Christ, but if you feel the need to get married, it’s okay.  However, for me…if I were reading this while in that predicament, I would feel a bit judged.  I feel like he’s saying that it is a weakness to remarry after my husband dies, just because I can’t handle the sexual temptations.  [Then] I’d be looked down upon.  It seems [that] he has a harsh tone.

Here’s my response:

The context of this chapter is Paul giving Timothy instructions for the church in Ephesus (where Timothy was pastoring).  All Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17), so this has application for our lives.  But on level one, it’s very contextual and it has ramifications for the Ephesian church first.  That’s why I call it “Level One.”

On this first level we are taught about how different age groups and life situations (married, single, divorced) should be influenced by the gospel, by the church community.  Verses 1-2 talk about respecting older people in the church and how we should treat younger people.  Verses 3-8 talk about honoring widows and how the church is to provide for them.  Paul says in verse 8 that if any man does not provide for his family (he is particularly thinking of a man who has a widow who is a family member) or his household (wife and kids), he’s really acting worse than an unbeliever.  In practice, Paul says, this man has denied his faith.

Paul goes on in verses 9-16.  He says, “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband” (ESV).  This word “enrolled” in Greek is katalego which means something to the extent of “to be on a public support list.”  In other words, there were widows who needed food, money, and shelter and so the Christian community helped those women.  Churches still do this today to some extent.  This is one way of influencing widows with the gospel.  Widows who are eligible for support, as you can tell from verses 9-10, are godly women who show that they live out the gospel.  In Romans 13, Paul talks about the submission to authorities, but he gives a blanket statment, in my opinion, in verse 7 when he says, “Pay…honor to whom honor is owed.”  Not everyone is deserving of honor.  Some people need to be mocked and/or rebuked for their ridiculous religiosity and Pharisaical lifestyle.  These widows, however, were owed honor because of their conduct.

In verses 11-16, Paul shifts his focus to “younger widows.”  These are women who are younger than sixty years old (cf. v. 9) but have had their husband die.  It would appear that Paul is saying it’s bad for them to marry again, but that’s not what he’s saying because verse 14 says quite the opposite: “I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.”  It certainly would be permissible for a woman who is older than 60 to marry, so long as they are not enslaved by the idea of marriage (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12).  The key to understanding this passage is this phrase “when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry” (v. 11).  These widows are not like the widows in verses 9-10.  These particular widows (the younger ones) are passionate about something other than Jesus and because of this, they “incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith” (v. 12).  Furthermore, some of these women were not learning to be good wives who “train the young women, love their husbands and children, are self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (Titus 2:4-5).  They were learning “to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only [being] idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not” (1 Tim. 5:13).  Evidently, there were women in Ephesus who got divorced, were helped by this support system offered by the church, and then reneged on their commitment to stay single by marrying an unbeliever.  The “passions” referred to in verse 11 may not be sexual temptations.  They might be the worries of the world like Jesus refers to in the Parable of the Sower.  They may be insecurities about being single.  It may be the fact that she doesn’t want bare minimum [i.e. church support] as a widow in a church system but that she wants a sugar daddy to take care of her.  It doesn’t seem that sexual temptation is [solely] the context here.

So in verses 14-15, Paul responds (my paraphrase), “I want them to marry a good man, have babies, manage their home, and not give Satan an opportunity to take them from the gospel community.  After all, some have already gone after Satan by marrying an unbeliever!  They have abused our support system!  Look at them now!”  That’s why in verse 16 Paul gives this command, “If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them.  Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are really widows.”  In the purest sense of the word, a widow is someone who has no help in the world (see 5:3-5).  If a widow has family members who can help, then she isn’t as underprivileged as a woman with three kids, a dead husband, no parents, and no siblings.  That’s really bad!  That’s a situation where the church needs to offer support and food and shelter and day care and vacation time.  If everyone who was a widow came to the church and asked for help, the situation that Paul described in verses 11-15 would happen all of the time.  He says, “We have to prevent this.  So if you have widows in your family, take care of them so they don’t come to us.  We love them and want them to be godly, but we can’t be burdened with widows all of the time.”

So what’s Level Two?  Level Two is for us today.  It’s our 21st century contextualization.  I think that our application is that we need to encourage marriage to women if they are widows, only if the man is a member of the gospel community and follows Jesus.  Marriage is good.  Paul is not judging anyone that they’d be less spiritual if they married after being a widow.  It’s as if Paul is asking the pointed question: “What’s better?  To be single and on financial support from the church or to burn with [any kind of] passion and be unequally yoked to an unbeliever and go after Satan and false religion?  I think it’s better to be single!”  So, Paul doesn’t want the church to support women who are young and widows for the very reason that he wants them to get married (v. 14)!  Marriage would be more sanctifying for them than to be on support from the local church, if the alternative was to be supported and then marry an ungodly man and take his religion (which is what many Christian woman did in the first century).

The second application is that if a woman is a widow, she needs family support.  Family is the first line of defense.  The third application is that if she is truly a widow (meaning she is completely alone in this world), then our local church communities must live out the gospel in a way that provides for them so that they experience Christ there and have no desire to leave the Christian community and “stray[ed] after Satan.”


Why Sexual Immorality Corrupts Differently Than Other Sins

Every sin is bad. Every sin corrupts. Saying a little white lie will send you to hell just as equally as a fornicating sin will. However, sexual immorality goes a bit deeper. Sexual immorality cuts to the core of humans in a way that other sins do not. The reason is simple: it’s intertwined with the heart and soul and mind, as well as with the body.  Not every sin is like that.  That’s what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 6:18 when he says that every other sin is outside the body, but the sexual immoral person sins against his own body.  To sin sexually, Paul might say today, means you are practically going to ruin your life (here on earth, not just in eternity).

John Calvin explains it like this: “[Paul] does not altogether deny that there are other vices, in like manner, by which our body is dishonored and disgraced, but that his meaning is simply this — that defilement does not attach itself to our body from other vices in the same way as it does from fornication. My hand, it is true, is defiled by theft or murder, my tongue by evil speaking, or perjury, and the whole body by drunkenness; but fornication leaves a stain impressed upon the body, such as is not impressed upon it from other sins.”

Sexual immorality has a way of tearing apart lives and relationships in a way that other sins do not. This doesn’t excuse other sins.  This doesn’t mean that obscene pride and outrageous lifestyles will not ruin a life.  O, they will!  But a plain reading of Scripture reveals this truth especially about sexual immorality.  Proverbs 5:8-11 teaches us, “Keep your way far from her [that is, the forbidden woman, v. 3], and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed.”

There is hope amidst this dismal picture.  The good news of the gospel is that Christ’s blood has redeemed you.  Your sexual purity is a blood-bought gift that was purchased on Calvary.  Know that God owns your body, and he has made it for himself, for holiness.  What better incentive is there to kill sexual sin (as well as every sin)!

Sexual immorality will consume your flesh and your body and your heart and your mind in an all-together differently destructive way than every other sin.  Paul teaches that.  Proverbs does, too.  It’s all over Scripture.   Every other sin is outside your body.  Sexual sin is against your own body.  Flee sexual immorality.  Please, it will save you from ruining your life.


Don’t Screw Up the Church

It’s a weighty thing to read, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.  For God’s temple is holy and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:17).

In other words, Paul warns that if anyone destroys the building of God’s church here on earth, they prove themselves not to be true Christians.  How do we know that’s what he says?  It’s simple.  Paul says that God will destroy that person.  God doesn’t destroy Christians.  He only destroys those opposed to the true Foundation of Jesus Christ.  This isn’t the same thing as what Paul says in verse 15 — that a person’s who’s work is shoddy will suffer a “loss” of rewards.  Shoddy work and destructive work could be the same, but Paul seems to be differentiating between the two.

This is one of those verses that makes me pray harder, confess more, and repent quicker.  I want to do my best to present myself to God as one approved, as a worker who is not ashamed because I have rightly handled the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15).  O God, help me be one approved.  Help your church and those in it be skilled laborers and not destroyers.


Some Election Day Thoughts

Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth. For a nation has come up against my land, powerful and beyond number; its teeth are lions’ teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree; it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches are made white.

As I read about this invasion of locusts in Joel 1, I have to keep in mind the attack of the strong army that’s coming in chapter 2.  In Joel 1:5, Joel looks at the people who didn’t see the locusts coming.  They are people who like wine (which was one of the main things destroyed by the locusts in chapter 1).  He tells them verses 5-7.  In verse 5 he says, “Wake up, stupid drunks!  You aren’t even paying attention to what’s going on!”  But then in verses 6-7, he switches gears.  He says that the point is not the locusts — the locusts are a mere shadow of the real substance.  Verses 6-7 go like this, “This is about a nation coming to destroy you!  It’s like a lion!  It’s going to torch everything, worse than a locust can!”  It’s like God is saying to me, “James, you are too drunk on yourself, entertainment, fashion, food, internet, working out, blogging, etc. that you don’t see the bigger picture!  You think you have a locust problem.  No, you have an opposing army problem that is about to destroy you worse than you ever thought possible.”  Sin is different than sins.  Most Christians think they have problem with sins.  No, we all have a sin problem.  Apart from Christ, we are nothing but sin.

And so I think about the election today.  I think that God can use peculiar passages of Scripture like Joel 1:5-7 to communicate his heart in an election. God is saying, “This election, it’s like a locust invasion.  And there are people who are too drunk to even realize what’s going on.  There are other people who see it, but are too drunk to realize that this is not about locusts.  It’s about something worse.  The locusts foreshadow the invasion of real army who will murder you.”  This election is simply a shadow of a bigger problem.  A lot of Christians think the world is going to end because a certain man might get into the White House.  Other people think that that same dude is the Antichrist (which makes me laugh).

Obama-Biden is not the problem.  Heck, one or both of them might come to truly know Jesus in the next four years!  (I bet you haven’t thought about that, have you?)  The problem is not the locusts.  It’s the destructive army.  It’s me.  I’m the army that will destroy myself.  My own geographical territory (i.e. my soul) is laid to waste because I’m a sinner.  In Joel, the locusts and the army were punishment for sin.  They are allusions to the greater spiritual reality that the sin we so flippantly commit is destructive in our lives.

Christians worry about Barak Obama ruining America.  Where is your allegiance?  It should be to the eternal government of Heaven, ruled by Christ.  That’s a bigger concern for me!  Who cares if America is ruined?  I don’t.  (Please, nobody leave a comment or send an email saying that I’m an idiot for wanting America to die or don’t care about this country or don’t care about abortions or that I’m an anarchist.  None of those are true and I won’t respond to you anyway.)

My concern is with the church.  Who is the biggest problem for the church?  Who is the one who could potentially tear it apart?  Who is the one that will divide a local church family.  It’s not Barak Obama.  It’s not Joe Biden.  It’s not Nancy Pelosi.  It’s not Howard Dean.   It’s James Pruch and everyone reading this that loves Jesus.

Outsiders don’t tear apart the church.  Insiders do.  Paul talked about this in 1 Corinthians 5, in the context of sexual immorality.  Who were the problems in the Corinthian church?  Insiders.  Who were the ones grossed out by what Christians were doing?  Outsiders.  Who were the ones suing each other and ripping each other off and not calling out sin in each other lives?  Insiders.  The insiders were the problem.

We are the problem, not Barak Obama or any other politician.  We think we have a locust problem.  It’s bigger than that.  A lot bigger than that.  It was so big, it cost Jesus his life.  We have a large army on the way and a lot of us are too drunk to see it coming.  Praise God that he has provided a way through his Son!  O that we would see beyond the swarm of locusts today and to the destructiveness our own selves bring everyday.