A closer look at wisdom

“Where is the wisdom in that?”

When we look at what’s happening in politics, economics, education, relationships, and the Church, we find ourselves asking, “Where is the wisdom?”

The absence of wisdom is slowly destroying us. We have more knowledge than any previous generation but lack wisdom on almost every level. Where is the wisdom we’ve lost with the knowledge we’ve gained?

Wisdom and the Church

Since my work has been primarily in a local Church, I speak mostly to that context. After more than 30 years of pastoral work, I am often asked to counsel other Church leaders. These are gifted and committed leaders who are trying to do their best to honor God. They are also an encouragement to me even though many of them face difficult and discouraging circumstances. Sadly, their pursuit of wisdom is an example that has become increasingly rare.

“Is nobody among you wise enough to judge?”

When I look over the landscape (especially among evangelicals), I see a significant leadership crisis in the Church. The crisis is inseparably connected with a disturbing uncertainty about identity. “How should we ‘do’ Church?” “What should a Church emphasize?” “How do we ‘compete with’ the mega Churches?” What’s the role of a pastor? When I hear these questions, I think of two questions raised by the apostle Paul:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (I Corinthians 3:16).
“Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” (I Corinthians 5:5).
On the journey from modernity to postmodernity, wisdom has suffered and foolishness has flourished. The piper played and we danced. Key leaders have made urgent calls for reformations in the Church and many have heard these wise voices and are pursuing the Lord’s will against strong waves of misguided cultural expectation.

Yet the identity and leadership crises confronted in the Church in Corinth continue with great force in the Evangelical Church today. This is part of my motivation for changing the name of this blog to Wisdom for Life. A few years ago, when I started the blog, I titled it A Time to Think and used Wisdom for Life as a by-line. After some reflection on the importance of wisdom and the urgent need for it, I chose to make the by-line the title.

Please don’t misunderstand me.

I am not suggesting that I have some great gift of wisdom — nor that I never do foolish things. I am not suggesting that this blog is the main place for those who desire wisdom. Instead, I believe that wisdom comes in response to the Lord Himself. To the degree that I remain faithful to Him, I reap the benefits of wisdom.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
“For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).
To the extent that I write and quote what is faithful to Scripture, I offer wisdom. But wisdom also merges with seasoned experience. The Church must hear from seasoned leaders who have been working out the applications of Scripture for many years. I try to quote these leaders as often as possible.

The world of blogging among evangelicals is dominated by mostly younger leaders. Many of these men and women are sharp and offer good insights. Yet they write with a degree of limitation due to their inexperience in life. There is always a need for seasoned insight that combines application of the Word of God to the years and phases of life.

If someone asked me what was needed for entering into pastoral ministry, wisdom would top the list.

In light of the name change to my blog and the urgent need for wisdom, perhaps it would be of value to trace the emphasis Scripture places on wisdom.

  • “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her” (pr. 3:13-15).
  • “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (pr. 4:7; cf. Eph. 5:15-17).

A voice worth heeding

  • “Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square, at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, at the entrance of the gates of the city, she utters her sayings.” (pr. 1:20-21)
  • “At the head of the noisy streets”, “at the entrance of the gates in the city”— in the city, wisdom is pictured “shouting”, “raising her voice”, “crying out”, and “uttering her sayings”, or “making her speech.” Wisdom is not presenting herself in the quiet place of meditation. She does not call out in the halls of academia. “. . . the offer of wisdom is to the man in the street, and for the business of living, not to an elite for the pursuit of scholarship” (Derek Kidner, TOTC).
  • Wisdom “. . . strides from the ‘open squares’ (plazas used as markets) to the boulevards rumbling with the noise of traffic . . . to the several ‘gates’ where open spaces allowed people to assemble for trade or official business. No behind-the-hand seductive whispering here; wisdom is a public figure, making her claims in the open and calling her disciples boldly to follow her” (David Hubbard, p. 55, Communicators Commentary).

Wisdom’s call and warning is forcefully presented in the language of choice. Wisdom, in essence says, “Decide now concerning your response to me! Make your choice and realize that your choice will deeply affect your life.”In Proverbs 1:20-33

Wisdom, discipline and correction:

  • Proverbs 3:11-12- “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Relate this to Hebrews 12)
  • Proverbs 10:8 – “The wise in heart accepts commands”
  • Proverbs 12:15 – “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.”
  • Proverbs 13:10- “Wisdom is found in those who take advice”
  • Proverbs 15:5- “A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.”
  • Proverbs 15:31-33- “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding. The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”
  • Proverbs 18:1- “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom.”
    Wisdom and the fear of God

In Proverbs, a choice for wisdom is a response to the Lord, (i.e. a choice to fear the Lord). Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

The one who fears the Lord

A person who fears the Lord accepts wisdom and instruction; takes advice; trusts in the Lord with all his heart; and acknowledges the Lord in all his dealings. This person does not see himself and his own opinion as the primary basis for what he believes and does. He recognizes his own inadequacies and God’s superiority. Therefore he is teachable and accepts counsel.

In contrast, the fool despises wisdom and instruction; scoffs at rebuke; his way seems right to him; he is wise in his own eyes; he does not fear the Lord; and he does not accept advice and counsel unless it agrees with what he already concludes— he thinks he knows better.

By the fear of the Lord being “the beginning,” it is not meant to imply that this is the first step and after taken you move on to other matters. It is “the beginning” in that it is the primary and controlling factor in the pursuit of wisdom. To profit from proverbs and gain wisdom you must start with an attitude that recognizes God’s superiority, especially over your own opinions.

The fear of the Lord is the pre-requisite to every right attitude. “This truth keeps the shrewdness of proverbs from slipping into mere self-interest, the perplexity of Job from mutiny, and the disillusion of Ecclesiastes from final despair.” (The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, Derek Kidner).

Wisdom Comes from God

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity” (Proverbs 2:1-7).

Wisdom is not merely street smarts or shrewdness based on self-interest. We know this because, “…the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). Since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10), wisdom cannot be attained where God is not honored. This emphasis is what distinguishes biblical proverbs from other ancient proverbial literature.

As our children grow older, they begin to formulate goals and ambitions. When their goals are good, parents are wise to support them. But goals that are separated from our devotion to God are empty paths. They take us away from the rich wisdom God offers to protect us from the pleasures of sin for a season.

Ministry, wisdom and prayer

When I began ministry many years ago, a scene out of the life of Solomon greatly impacted me and set a course for intense prayer.

“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.” “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (I Kings 3:5-9).

Ministry has also involved many trials and James 1:5 has cut a course for me through those hardships.

Finally, the pursuit of wisdom is a pursuit of Jesus Christ because in Him “…are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

Additional insight on wisdom

“In the biblical view, the wise are righteous and the righteous are wise: these are people who love and fear God, affirm Gods world, live gladly within its borders, and make music there according to divine time and key signatures. The wise are always in order. Insofar as they live right, they also live well. The Book of Proverbs doesnt for the most part even bother to distinguish righteousness and wisdom: it pairs righteousness with wisdom and wickedness with folly in such a way that the distinction between a moral judgment and a prudential one fades. In Scripture more generally, the standard for judging the course of a human life includes a blend of morality, prudence, metaphysics, and religion. Thus the Scripture writers exhort, but they also instruct.”

As Frederick Buechner once pointed out: “The Bible is not first of all a book of moral truth. I would call it instead a book of truth about the way life is. Those strange old scriptures present life as having been ordered in a certain way, with certain laws as inextricably built into it as the law of gravity is built into the physical universe. When Jesus says that whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will save it, surely he is not making a statement about how, morally speaking, life ought to be. Rather, he is making a statement about how life is.”

“Wisdom is a reality-based phenomenon. To be wise is to know reality, to discern it. A discerning person notices things, attends to things, picks up on things. He notices the difference between tolerance and forgiveness, pleasure and joy, sentimentality and compassion. Where high-profile athletes are concerned, he can tell the difference between celebrities and heroes. He can spot real humility and keep it distinct in his mind from its thinner cousin, unpretentiousness. (Consider the ambiguity of the claim, He’s a humble man, which might mean that the man virtuously sees others as his equal, or else might mean that he leads a lowly life and never pretends otherwise.)” (From, Cornelius Plantinga Jr.)

Steve Cornell

Why do I feel so torn?

Life is tough. Life with God is also tough.

This is an appeal to all who teach or influence other followers of Christ.

Never tell anyone that it’s easier to live in the world as a Christian without qualifying what you mean. Yes, God’s way is best, but it’s not always easiest. Many times, God’s way is harder – much harder. And I am not just talking about extreme cases of dying for the faith. Living by faith in a fallen world is tough!

This is part of what we learn in Romans 8.

The picture opens with the great hope and confidence that we are free from condemnation in Christ. This can be our position because, “God did what the law was powerless to do… by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” (3).

But there is more good news. God also gave us His spirit to live in us. “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (11).

We are also assured that, “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (18). Yet “what we suffer now” is real and painful. It’s also partly due to the very presence of the Spirit in our lives. We must always think of both the blessing and burden of having God’s Spirit live in us.

With the presence of the Spirit, we taste good things and good things to come. But the same Spirit is a powerful reminder of how unfinished and sinful we are because of the flesh. The Christian life is one of tension between the already and the not yet.

Please make sure you tell the new believer to expect a growing inward tension with faith in Christ.

We must confidently celebrate what God has done for us and what He is presently doing to change us into his image. But all of this will painfully remind us of how much unlike Him we know we are and how much work there is to complete in us.

We can be absolutely certain that God will finish what He started. We are also profoundly grateful that even, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful” (II Timothy 2:13). But it hurts to think about our faithlessness. And as we grow older in these bodies, the flesh becomes even weaker. The battle has a wearing down effect.

Never forget that God put His “treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). Whatever else is accomplished in our spiritual growth, it never turns the fragile, common jar of clay into a jar of gold (in this life).

Spiritual growth will bring great blessings and deep burdens. Let’s be honest about this (and faithful to the whole truth of Scripture). In this life with God, we’ll be increasingly torn between two realities: What God has and is doing and what we know (with growing clarity) about how weak and incomplete we are – how often we falter and fail.

The picture in Romans 8 rounds off this reality by reminding us that in this life with God (with all that He has done and is doing), we groan. This means we sigh. The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (23) And “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (23).

Until this great moment when these lowly bodies of ours will be made like his glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21), we live by hope and wait patiently for God to complete what He began in us.

As we hope and wait, we groan in our weakness and we repeatedly learn that, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” More than that, many times we don’t even know, “what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (26).

If you are a teacher in the Church or one who influences other followers of Christ, do your best to make sure they understand the painful reality of the tension they will experience and how torn they will feel because of God’s Spirit living in them. Don’t set them up for disappointment based on a misrepresentation of what it means to know God.

But, in describing this reality, be sure to tell them not to grow discouraged. Encourage them to “fight the good fight” and “hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you” (I Timothy 6:12).

Although we can expect to be deeply torn, let’s live with settled confidence, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Steve Cornell

Here’s a great song for those who feel weary: “Torn.”

I’m Tired I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn

The God of the vulnerable

Reflect deeply on the way God is revealed in both His greatness and His love for the vulnerable. (Audio version here)

“To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. …. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:14-19).

Great thoughts on this subject “The gods that the ancient world worshipped were concerned with great people — the mighty and cunning, the swift and the gorgeous. The rest of humanity served as a backdrop — bit players, foils, and inconsequential fodder for the grand plans of kings, generals, and deities. Not so with the God of the Bible. We see God’s strange interest in the people on the margins carved upon every page of Scripture. It was evident in Yahweh’s selection of a nation of slaves to be his special people. It echoed in his choice of sheep-tenders to be the first to hear news of the Incarnation. We may miss how odd it actually is because we live in a culture that is deeply shaped by Christian assumptions. Though it is often violated, to care for the weak and vulnerable remains a Western virtue. This generally wasn’t the case in the cultures that surrounded Jewish and early Christian communities. Like modern Social Darwinists, ancient societies typically saw weakness as unworthiness to live. As the Roman philosopher Seneca described Roman culture during Jesus’ time, “We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal. Consider then the marvel of a God who not only tolerates the feeble and lowly, but places special premium on defending and caring for them. What a contrast. We see God, the most potent and self-sufficient Power imaginable, continually expressing profound concern for the least potent and self-sufficient — the orphan in distress. The Law describes, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow …” (Deuteronomy 10:18 NIV). The Prophets echo the same truth: “For in you the fatherless find compassion” (Hosea 14:3b). And, again, in the psalms, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families …” (Psalm 68:5-6). As we grasp this outlandish, beautiful reality, we encounter the truth of God’s father heart. It pulses not only for the orphan, but for each of us as well. He pursued us when we were destitute and alone. He adopted us as his children. He invites us to call him “Abba” and to live as his daughters and sons. Of course, we must not miss the fact that God calls his people to do the same. We are to live out “pure and faultless religion” by caring for the orphan and widow in their distress (James 1:27). As we do this, we reveal God’s heart to the world. Whether by adoption or foster care or mentoring or supporting the local Church in care for orphans around the globe, we display that astonishing reality that the Great One cares passionately for the least. And in the process, we experience God’s heart more deeply ourselves as well — a peculiar, marvelous love for the orphan. A peculiar, marvelous love for us” (Rick Warren). This is our God

  • “A father to the fatherless, a defender of   widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalms 68:5).
  • “Though my father and mother forsake me,
 the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10).

A call to be like our God

  • “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3).
  • “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, …” (Jeremiah 22:3).
  • “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”                                                        (James 1:27).
  • “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).
  • “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Steve Cornell

Do we really need the “Do not….” commands?

I am intrigued by the list of laws God gave his people in the Old Testament to regulate justice and mercy. I realize that we are no longer under the Old Testament Law as God’s people were who received it. But these laws are sadly necessary where ever humans live together. As you read the laws below, ask yourself why it is that humans need to be told not to do these things.

  • “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.
  • “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.
  • “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.
  • “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.
  • “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.
  • “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 23:1-9).

Are we humans really that bad that we need to be told not to spread false reports and accept bribes and twist the words of the innocent? Perhaps we’d like to believe in some upward version or utopian vision of humanity, but the fact is that we cannot survive without a set of “Do not” laws and a significant means to enforce them.

Honest, helpful and hopeful

Don’t misunderstand. I believe in human dignity because we’ve been created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). But this is not our whole story. And any vision of humanity that refuses to acknowledge our evil side is foolish and dangerous. Along with human dignity there is human depravity. One reason I follow a Christian worldview is that it offers the most honest and helpful version of both sides of our story. And it also provides the most hopeful vision for a future that restores dignity and removes depravity by redeeming depraved humans like me.

Old to New

“… anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’ For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:17-21). Steve Cornell

Judgment according to works?

Every passage of Scripture describing a scene of final judgment makes works of righteousness done in this life the basis for judgment (e.g. Matthew 7:21-23; 25:31-46;II Corinthians 5:10;Revelation 21:11-15).

Yet, according to the gospel, eternal salvation is given as God’s undeserved gift and is “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5).

How do we reconcile works based judgment with the fact that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Final Judgment 

Let’s first be clear about the fact that, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). “It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
 every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Romans 14:11-12).

Judgment based on works

One of the clearest Scriptures connecting eternal destiny with human works comes from Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46.

After Jesus pronounced judgment on two different groups of people, he gave the basis for the judgment by using the “FOR“- each time.

The setting

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

The sheep

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. FOR I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’” (Matthew 25:31-36).

The goats

“Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. FOR I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me'” (Matthew 25:41-43). Conclusion: v. 46 – “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Evidently, “Sins of omission are judged as harshly as overt sinful acts.” (K. Snodgrass)

Unexpected outcome

The first group is surprised at the verdict because they were unaware that what they did was actually done for Jesus himself.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:37-40).

A matter of motive

Their surprise was not that they didn’t realize that they were serving the Lord. But their surprise excluded the idea that their deeds were being done to win salvation. In their surprise, Jesus used, “a literary device indicating that the service rendered was not done for recognition or reward.” (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, p. 560). For those who have been forgiven by God, acts of mercy toward others will not be a means to an end but as a response to God’s redeeming love.

Those who do merciful deeds to score points with God or hoping to make God beholden to them miss the point Jesus made in the surprise of the righteous.

Excellent observations

“The narrative is a piece of the gospel, but not its whole theology in miniature. To debate the implications of ‘for’ for a theory of salvation taught here is to push the passage beyond its intent. It warns that judgment will be determined by acts of mercy, but does not address whether this mercy is the result of redemption or its cause.”

“To raise the problem of works righteousness is to foist on Jesus and Matthew a concern that is not theirs. Their concern is a discipleship that is evidenced in love and mercy. The judgment evidenced in this narrative does not ask if a person has accumulated x number of merciful acts but asks ‘what kind of person are you?’ The point is that a person cannot claim identity as a disciple of Jesus without evidencing it in acts of mercy” (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent).

Judgment as validation or verification 

Our eternal destiny is settled in this life and judgment will verify (by means of our works) our identity as redeemed or unredeemed. Judgment will expose the connection or lack of connection between our profession and our practice. As Jesus said, ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

All of this presupposes that saving faith is life changing faith. Something is expected in the lives of those who encounter the true and living God and receive His gift of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

Steve Cornell

Afraid of the Bible?

Why do some people feel a relentless need to attack the credibility of the Bible?

These attacks were (for many years) aimed primarily at an assumed contradiction between the Bible and science. The notion that the Bible requires a certain age for the Earth fueled these efforts to discredit the creation narrative. What many still do not realize is that the assumptions behind the science vs. creation debate are faulty (see: Confusing faith and science).

The endless attacks on the Bible beg the question: “Why are people so afraid of the Bible?”

It cannot be denied that the Christian Scripture played a central role in the founding and formation of our nation. The first English settlers looked to the Bible to guide them. “The influence of the Bible on their literature, their music, and their lives came with them. Their Christian faith was as much a part of who they were as their audacious spirit.” (Woodrow Kroll).

Perhaps this fact from history is behind many of the recent attacks aimed at Christianity and the Bible. Some feel that Christians have enjoyed status as the reigning ideology for long enough. Whatever the motivation, there is a growing band of anti-Christian missionaries who joyfully celebrate the marginalization of Christianity. But don’t let them fool you into believing that they are safeguarding us from some sort of Christian imperialism. Closer to the truth, they despise the influence the Bible carries on moral conclusions of voting members of the nation. Because the Bible doesn’t support their desired lifestyles, they increasingly see it (and those who take Scripture seriously) as an enemy to their cultural agenda for reshaping American life.

The tone of condescending ridicule aimed at the Bible has been common fodder for late-night comedians, and the media. What is more disturbing is the number in ordained ministry and on seminary faculties who encourage people not to take the Bible seriously. This reminds me of the New Testament warning that “a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Many of these ministers insist upon some sort of allegiance to the Bible even while they discredit it as a reliable moral guide for life today. With all their doubts about the integrity and reliability of the Bible, I honestly wonder why they don’t just get another book to teach and follow.

One of the latest waves of anti-biblical rhetoric  follows a pattern of listing strange laws meant to govern Israel as a nation during the Old Testament era and scoffing at how incredulous they sound to modern times (see: A strange yet realistically hopeful book). Another approach picks out the transparent stories about the bad things done by some of the main characters of the Bible. These things are all used to make the closing argument: “You cannot look to the Bible as a reliable guide for life today.”

Some critics are even more misleading by suggesting that the Bible promotes slavery, oppression of women and genocide. These accusations are not based on careful historical research of ancient Near Eastern contexts. Most often they are taken out of context and manipulated to serve a biased agendas.

I am not suggesting that everything in the Bible is easy to understand or accept. It is not easy to read about God’s judgments, but perhaps our perspective misses the greatness of his mercy in allowing rebellious creatures to live. Although we do not understand all the laws meant to govern Israel as a nation during OT times, we do know from repeated emphasis in the New Testament that believers today are not under those laws.

The fact that the Bible reveals its main characters violating God’s will for things like marriage and sexuality actually strengthens the authenticity of the text. As author, Dick Keyes wrote, “I never felt the God of the Bible was asking me to put on rose-colored glasses. Even the heroes of the Bible were described unsparingly in appalling moral failures—lies, sexual aberrations and murders.”

“I did not have to give up the honesty and realism that I had valued. Cynicism claimed that the world— both inside and outside of our heads—was profoundly broken and bent. I realized that the Christian faith had been saying this for two-thousand years, and Judaism for longer than that” (Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion).

The honesty of the biblical narrative reminds us that we are all sinners who have not lived up to God’s plan for us. So I come back to one compelling question: “What way of seeing things corresponds most with reality and does not contradict what I clearly know to be true?” Asked differently, “What seems to be the most plausible way of seeing things in light of what we know about humanity, the observable world and its history?

I believe the biblical narrative and the Christian worldview it presents offers the most logically consistent and plausibly realistic understanding of life and the world. It simply does the best job explaining the world we encounter each day. And it offers the best explanatory frame for the most extensive range of evidence in the world and in the human spirit. There is no other way of understanding the world that corresponds with reality as comprehensively.

Steve Cornell

New Identity – New Relationships

There’s a profound connection between personal identity and transformed relationships. How we see ourselves affects the way we relate to others.

Take a close look at three verses that could change your understanding of yourself and the nature of your relationships.

What did the apostle mean when he wrote,

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:11-13)?

The word – “Here” likely refers to the Church, the gathering of God’s people.

Here — among Christians, the distinctions that fiercely divide social and religious life (Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free), have no place.

Among those who have been forgiven through Jesus Christ, a new identity has been formed that overcomes differences that separate people from each other. Our new identity also leads to a transformation of the ways we relate and respond to other people (“compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”). 

The apostle is saying that our race, religious background or social status no longer define us. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are distinguished by three powerful identity markers. You are:  

1. God’s chosen people: we are the “elect of God”

God’s choosing of his people reminds us of His gracious initiative in drawing us to Himself and making us His very own people (cf. Matthew 11:26-31;John 6:44, 66). It is a precious and inspiring truth that traces from Old Testament through New Testament. God’s choice of us to be His people is based on love and grace (1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Scriptures on Election: Deuteronomy 7:6;John 15:16 “You have not chosen Me, but I chose you”; Romans 8:31-39; Ephesians 1:3-7.

2. Holy – set apart for God by God

We will misunderstand this word if we do not first hear it as a relationship before it becomes a way of life. Holy is a word that refers to people who are set apart for God by God. Living a holy life must be based on what it means to be chosen by God — “to be His people, His treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

We become God’s people only because we were “bought at a price” and this is the basis for being called to “honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:14-19). 

3. Dearly loved – recipients of God’s sacrificial redeeming love in Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:9-10,19; cf. Romans 8:35-39).

We must mediate deeply and often on what it really means to be loved by God. Being loved by God is what empowers us to love others with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

The three identity markers above (chosen, holy and dearly loved) are all received as gifts of God’s grace to underserving sinners who call on the Lord for forgiveness and salvation. We cannot earn or deserve these identities. They can only be received by a God who graciously places them on us. Interestingly, although each identity distinctively belonged to God’s people in the Old Testament, they now belong to believers of all backgrounds (Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free).

Five qualities

What would our churches and relationships be like if they were described by the five qualities below? A taste of heaven on earth? Yes. 

Because of our distinction as God’s dearly loved people — those who have had God’s love “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5), five character qualities or responses should distinguish our ways of responding to others. Like clothing, these five qualities should be plainly evident among us. If a group of believers is characterized by these qualities, a powerful witness will be evident! 

  1. compassion
  2. kindness
  3. humility
  4. gentleness
  5. patience

Imagine a friendship or marriage where these were the dominant qualities! Too idealistic? Verse 13 takes it to real life! 

  1. compassion: actually “a heart of compassion” or “deep feelings of mercy” It’s a response of sympathy or empathy.
  • Ephesians 4:4–“Because of His great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.”
  • Luke 6:36—Be “merciful just as your Father is merciful.”
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3—“The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.”
  • Philippians 2:1 calls for tenderness and compassion to be part of their fellowship.
  • Psalmist (Psalm 103:8) “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.”
  • Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:17) “You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow in anger and abounding in love” (Jonah 4:2).
  • Moses (Exodus 34:6) “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love.”

    2. kindness: compassion in action, a response of grace and generosity. What do we mean when we say, ““He’s so kind”? 

  • Ephesians 4:32—“Be kind and tenderhearted (compassionate) to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:4—“Love is…kind.”
  • Galatians 5:22—fruit of the Spirit is ….kindness…
  • Ephesians 2:7— the incomparable riches of His grace expressed in His kindness to us in Christ.
  • Titus 3:4—“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us…”
  • Romans 2:4-5; 11:22 
  1. humility: a lowliness of mind demonstrated in a refusal to demand one’s rights, a servant mindset.
  • Ephesians 4:2—“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
  • Titus 3:2 exhorts us to “show true humility to all people” because “…we too were disobedient, deceived and enslaved…”
  • Philippians 2:3-8—Jesus is the supreme example.
  • John 13; Romans 12:3; 1 Peter 5:5; 1 Corinthians 1:27-28
  1. gentleness: meekness, considerate of others, willing to waive one’s rights out of consideration toward another.
  • Matthew 11:29 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
  • Galatians 5:23; 6:1— meekness is the fruit of the Spirit
  • James 3:13— meekness is part of the wisdom from above
  1. patience: (makrothumia) long-tempered, not short-fused; slow to anger; restraining retaliation in the face of provocation; capacity to absorb wrong without retaliation
  • Used of God (Romans 2:4)
  • Required of us (Romans 12:17-21)
  • 1 Peter 3:8-9 “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

This final quality of patience fits well with the closing two participles that are presented with as commands (with imperatival force) in the present active tense: “Bear with each other and forgive one another…”

Our new identity as God’s chosen, holy and dearly loved people overcomes differences that separate people and set people against each other. Our new identity also leads to a powerful transformation in the ways we relate and respond to other people. This is the life!

Steve Cornell