Supreme court case

Please pray as the Supreme Court begins to hear oral arguments in a case deciding whether the Obama Administration should be allowed to force business owners to violate their faith by paying for someone else’s abortion pills. Think about it: Imagine that Obamacare mandated provision of health insurance for the abortion procedure itself. Would you feel that companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties had a right to refuse to support it? Sound like a stretch? Don’t forget that abortion has been consistently framed in liberal politics as a healthcare issue for women. Why should this be a strange possibility? Beyond this case, I am personally not supportive of the role government is taking in healthcare but that’s an issue to address in the next two elections. Please pray and vote!

For thoughtful analysis

Follow the case

Live Blog: Contraception Cases at Supreme Court

Steve Cornell

Mocking the Bible

Have you ever heard someone ridicule the Bible based on strange laws from the Old Testament? How should you respond?

The mocker who does this belittles those who look to Scripture by pointing to such “obviously ridiculous requirements” found in it. But the mocker also discredits the Bible to avoid what it says against a way of life or particular behavior he or she desires.

Consistent with the way mockers are described it the book of Proverbs, these people speak and act as if they know better than others and as if they are superior. 

Mockers typically belittle laws from Old Testament books like Leviticus or Deuteronomy. They wrongly suggest that those who follow the God of Scripture today are obligated to obey these laws along with everything else in Scripture. 

Leviticus 19 is a common portion mockers use. Since they are looking at Scripture with an agenda, they overlook the many laws in this chapter that could make any community of sinful people a better and safer place. For example, before getting to the “ridiculous” laws, we find this list from Leviticus 19:

  • 11 “Do not steal. “Do not deceive or cheat one another.
  • 12 “Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the Lord.
  • 13 “Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. “Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay.
  • 14 “Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the Lord.
  • 15 “Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.
  • 16 “Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people. “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord.
  • 17 “Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.
  • 18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (NLT)

Would you prefer to live among people who followed these laws or rejected them? Please don’t overlook the sad but honest fact about humans that we need lists of “don’ts.” Without laws like this we tend to sabotage ourselves and ruin all good and safe community. Every orderly and civil society must have such rules.

Most societies also have laws that seem unnecessary or pointless. This is how many feel about some of the laws in the rest of Leviticus 19. For example,

  • 19 “Do not mate two different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two different kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread.
  • 27 “Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards.
  • 28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord. (NLT)

Seven Guidelines

Seven things should be understood by those who follow Scripture and those who mock it.

  1. The laws in the Old Testament were not originally given for us to follow as God’s will for our lives. They were required of God’s people during Old Testament history to distinguish them as they lived in very dangerous and bizarre ancient near eastern cultures (see: Misreading the Bible).
  2. We don’t understand all of the reasons why God gave some of the laws but we know that those times were exceptionally evil and bizarre and the laws served a larger purpose of distinguishing God’s people from the nations around them. And God (as the law giver) was not subject to the questions or disagreements from sinful creatures about His law. 
  3. The Old Testament was never intended to be a complete or perfect expression of God’s will. It was provisionally set for a specific purpose at a set time. It pointed to and anticipated a new covenant that would be superior to and replacement of the old covenant (see: A truth we must accept).
  4. Those who follow the Bible should not quote laws directed to Israel as God’s will for people today. We should not look to detailed legislation in Leviticus to guide us as we follow Christ.
  5. We only apply Old Testament Scripture to our lives if it is affirmed and taught by Jesus and the apostles. Jesus is the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament (Matthew 5:18-20). (see: Christ is the end of the Law )
  6. Mockers speak with a degree of hypocrisy because they hold to standards (even the one they’re using to discredit Scripture) and expect everyone else to accept the reasonableness of their ethical code.
  7. The primary thing that the Old Testament law teaches us is how sinful we are and how much we need God’s grace through Christ to be forgiven and accepted by God.

Consider the strong emphasis in the book of Galatians on the inadequacy of the law for being made right with God

______________________________________________________________________

  • Galatians 2:16 - “For we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 2:21 - “For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 3:10-11 – “But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” 11 So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. (NLT)
  • Galatians 3:13-14 – “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 3:23-26 - “Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. 24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (NLT)
  • Galatians 4:1-7 - “Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. 2 They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. 3 And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.’ 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.” (NLT)

Steve Cornell

Should we avoid political engagement?

 

Should Christians pull back from politics? Given the growing polarization and divisive tone of politics, I understand why Christians might want to distance themselves from the whole project. It seems that no matter how graciously we engage, we risk being misunderstood as taking sides with a “Radical Right” or a “Radical Left.”

It’s not surprising to hear the old fundamentalist line, “Just preach the gospel.” I feel for those who want to avoid what appears to be a sure way to create misunderstanding or to get people mad at you.

But is this fear itself wrongly motivated? Is backing out of political engagement a responsible option for obedient Christians? Is it possibly contradiction of our identity as salt to the earth and light to the world? 

This was the topic of a recent post by Russell Moore. I like the way he summarized evangelical engagement on pro-life concerns as a model for other areas of engagement.

“What I’m calling for in our approach to political engagement is what we’re already doing in one area: the pro-life movement. Evangelicals in the abortion debate have demonstrated convictional kindness in a holistic ethic of caring both for vulnerable unborn children and for the women who are damaged by abortion. The pro-life movement has engaged in a multi-pronged strategy that addresses, simultaneously, the need for laws to outlaw abortion, care for women in crisis pregnancies, adoption and foster care for children who need families, ministry to women (and men) who’ve been scarred by abortion, cultivating a culture that persuades others about why we ought to value human life, and the proclamation of the gospel to those whose consciences bear the guilt of abortion.”

“That’s the reason the pro-life movement continues to resonate, with growing numbers, among young Christians. It’s very clearly not a singularly ‘political’ issue, but an issue that demands political, ecclesial, and cultural reform and persuasion.”

Being maligned or falsely charged should not lead Christians to retreat but be viewed (in principle) as an opportunity in the vein of I Peter 3:14-17; 4:19 -

“… if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threat; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. ….So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.”

Moore does a good job outlining the nature of the calling for engagement, 

“We engage politically because we love our neighbors, we care about human flourishing. But we do so at multiple fronts. We engage on Capitol Hill (as I do), on issues ranging from stopping the abortion industry, to protecting religious liberty, to speaking out for human rights for the persecuted overseas. We cultivate churches that see the holistic nature of the kingdom of God and who shape consciences of people to live as citizens. But we always do that with a focus that we are not prosecuting attorneys but defense attorneys. We are seeking, ultimately, to point people to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

A false argument

Some leaders use a false argument disguised as a biblical case against political engagement. They ask, “Where do you see Jesus or the apostles getting involved in politics?”

Not only is this an argument from apparent silence, it overlooks the fact that those who lived during the periods of history represented in the Bible were not part of democratic forms of government. We are simply not living in the same political situation as Jesus or the apostles. This is part of what makes our function a little more complicated. We are part of a participatory system where we have opportunity to influence the formation of laws and policies for the common good. 

It’s careless and misleading to use this kind of argument from apparent silence to negate a calling to responsible citizenship.  

So as we pursue a common good with others and each one brings his or her beliefs, morals and values to the discussion, robust and respectful debate is often necessary. We must not shy from engagement or allow others to marginalize our voice.

Yet we should not approach engagement as an effort to win culture wars. Such language (and the demeanor that often accompanies it) is not fitting to responsible Christian participation in a representative form of democracy. But neither should we become passive when called to engage.

Let’s be as informed as possible and speak the truth with boldness while being considerate and kind toward opponents.

At the end of the day (or process), some of the laws might conflict with our beliefs, morals and values. If those laws try to force us to violate our beliefs, we will find far more explicit application from Scripture on how to respond.

Steve Cornell

Faith in the Science Department

There is a growing faith-based acceptance of science as a discipline for explaining almost everything.

I say this is a kind of faith-based notion because many young people attending universities simply assume that their professors are right when they stretch science into philosophy and suggest that it is an evidenced-based path to a strictly material understanding of the universe.

They give naive young people the impression that science has conclusively proven that nothing beyond nature could have any conceivable relevance to what happens in nature.

This is the viewpoint suggesting that the physical, material universe is all there is, was, or ever will be. The only real world is the world of the five senses. Students are wrongly taught that this is the only view that has the backing of science.

The line goes on to suggest (often with an air of condescending arrogance) that if you choose to believe in God or the soul or immaterial beings; if you desire to believe in transcendent values; intrinsic meaning, mystery, and a teleological spiritual vision; if you profess belief in the supernatural, the spiritual, the eternal and the unseen, you’re certainly free to believe in these things, but you’re on your own. 

You won’t have science to back you up because science has freed us of these notions much like adults no longer believe in Santa Clause.

Yet the really big problem here is that there is not one shred of verifiable scientific evidence to support such a conclusion. Why? Because it’s simply outside the function of science to resolve such matters.

Only faith could allow you to believe the theory that nothing beyond nature could have any conceivable relevance to what happens in nature. I don’t say this to imply that faith is always without evidence. But faith works off a different kind of evidence than offered in the discipline of science.

We must be aware of the difference between science and philosophy or faith so that we don’t give people the misleading impression that the science of evolution offers more than it is capable of rendering.

We have to help people understand that as beneficial as scientific research has been, there are many things that are just outside of the reach of science.

The science of evolution (for example) cannot explain ultimate origins of the universe. It can postulate on the matter based on assumptions or patterns just as the science of intelligent design can postulates based on assumptions or patterns.

Universal human longings for love and meaning are two more examples of realities beyond the reach of purely scientific conclusion. These realities are also where we find significant discontinuity between humans and animals. The science of biological evolution cannot explain this discontinuity without shifting from science to philosophy.

Furthermore, our awareness of how things “ought to be” and our longing for “something better” also testify to our nature as unique beings of dignity and design. Yet we have a dark side to our story that degrades us below the beasts in our history of cruelty and evil.

Some suggest that evil is a metaphysical necessity for finite creatures. Yet why do we so strongly oppose it and long for a world without it? Why do we cry “foul” or “unfair”? Why do we have longings for restoration of Paradise Lost? Why do we even think in terms of good and evil?

Suggesting that this all flows logically from biological evolution as scientifically verifiable  is either intentional manipulation or a faith-based recommendation that confuses science and philosophy.

Steve Cornell

See also: Theophobia: Fear of religion in the Academy

We Serve No Sovereign Here

 

The story is told of an Englishman who came to this country in the decade of the sixties, and upon arrival spent his first week in Philadelphia becoming acquainted with historic landmarks, such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. In order to familiarize himself with American culture, he visited several antique stores that specialized in colonial and revolutionary memorabilia.

In one such shop he saw several posters and signboards that contained the slogans of the revolution, such as No Taxation Without Representation, and Don’t Tread on Me. One signboard attracted his attention more than the rest. In bold letters the sign proclaimed: WE SERVE NO SOVEREIGN HERE. As he mused on this sign, he wondered how people steeped in such an anti-monarchical culture could come to grips with the notion of the kingdom of God and the sovereignty that belongs to the Lord (source: R. C. Sproul, Following Christ).

David B. Hart summarized where we stand now at the end of modernity.

“… each of us who is true to the times stands facing not God, or the gods, or the Good beyond beings, but an abyss, over which presides the empty, inviolable authority of the individual will, whose impulses and decisions are their own moral index.”

“This is not to say that – sentimental barbarians that we are – we do not still invite moral and religious constraints upon our actions; none but the most demonic, demented, or adolescent among us genuinely desires to live in a world purged of visible boundaries and hospitable shelters.”

“Thus this man may elect not to buy a particular vehicle because he considers himself an environmentalist; or this woman may choose not to have an abortion midway through her second trimester, because the fetus, at that point in its gestation, seems to her too fully formed, and she–personally – would feel wrong about terminating ‘it.’ But this merely illustrates my point: we take as given the individual’s right not merely to obey or defy the moral law, but to choose which moral standards to adopt, which values to uphold, which fashion of piety to wear and with what accessories.”

“Even our ethics are achievements of will. And the same is true of those custom-fitted spiritualities – ‘New Age,’ occult, pantheist, ‘Wiccan,’ or what have you – by which many of us now divert ourselves from the quotidien dreariness of our lives.”

“These gods of the boutique can come from anywhere – native North American religion, the Indian subcontinent, some Pre-Raphaelite grove shrouded in Celtic twilight, cunning purveyors of otherwise worthless quartz, pages drawn at random from Robert Graves, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, or that redoubtable old Aryan, Joseph Campbell – but where such gods inevitably come to rest are not so much divine hierarchies as ornamental étagères, where their principal office is to provide symbolic representations of the dreamier sides of their votaries’ personalities.”

“The triviality of this sort of devotion, its want of dogma or discipline, its tendency to find its divinities not in glades and grottoes but in gift shops make it obvious that this is no reversion to pre-Christian polytheism. It is, rather, a thoroughly modern religion, whose burlesque gods command neither reverence, nor dread, nor love, nor belief; they are no more than the masks worn by that same spontaneity of will that is the one unrivalled demiurge who rules this age and alone bids its spirits come and go” (First Things, David B. Hart, 2000).

R. C. Sproul noted that, “The concept of lordship invested in one individual is repugnant to the American tradition, yet this is the boldness of the claim of the New Testament for Jesus, that absolute sovereign authority and imperial power are vested in Christ” (Following Christ).

Without such sovereign authority, we are never truly free. Jesus said it this way, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Our well-being is at risk on every side if we choose a kind of freedom that refuses to serve the only true sovereign of the universe. 

But this Sovereign One, unlike all would-be Sovereigns, 

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

Before leaving this world, the Sovereign One said, 

“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Living in freedom under sovereign Lordship,

Steve Cornell

Is there a better way to resolve the gay marriage debate?


For several decades, gay rights advocates have used civil rights language to defend their desire for same-sex marriage. Slowly but surely a growing percentage of society has bought into the comparison between the kind of sex people want with unalterable matters of race and gender.

But this strategy has turned gay rights into a divisive and polarizing debate that is threatening the very respectful acceptance desired by homosexual couples.

Why can’t we find a better way to resolve this matter without portraying those who disagree as hateful bigots who discriminate against a minority?

Before going further, allow me to offer a few words of clarification.

First, I realize that sexual desire is one of the most powerful passions of human beings. We would cease to exist on the planet without sexual desire. Yet both heterosexual and homosexual desires have been behind some of the most horrific crimes against humanity. Because we are corrupt beings, our sexuality, like every other part of our existence, requires laws to restrain, protect and punish abuses of our passions and behaviors. There is not a person on the earth who can claim total innocence with regard to sexuality. Jesus exposed this truth to hypocritical religious leaders when he said, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

This leads to my second concern. Whether one claims to be heterosexual or homosexual in orientation, the desires and actions associated with orientation must be treated as willful choices capable of restraint. Otherwise one cannot speak of actions like adultery, rape or incest as culpable moral behaviors.

While we cannot tell a person of race to restrain or stop being Asian or African-American anymore than we can tell a woman to stop being female, we must require people of both heterosexual and homosexual orientation to restrain and control their sexual behavior under threat of punishment for wrongful expressions of it. If a society intends on making laws regarding sexual actions, sexuality (whatever orientation one claims) must be treated as a chosen behavior.

My final clarification is to firmly reject unlawful and evil treatment of those who identify themselves as oriented toward homosexual behavior. Sadly, we have witnessed far too much cruelty toward people based on differences. This is where there are some legitimate comparisons between the way homosexuals and people of certain races have been wrongly treated. But why can’t these matters be addressed without making an area of behavior comparable with one’s unchangeable nature?

When gay rights advocates attached their cause to civil rights language, they went too far with the comparisons and invited disagreement from those who simply observed the illogical inconsistencies. But when advocates went to the level of coercion and manipulation by demonizing anyone who disagrees, they’ve engaged in the very acts of intolerance that were wrongly aimed at them.

Despite their gifted intellects, it appears that five Supreme Court justices have carelessly accepted emotionally charged and counter productive false comparison. While the court stopped short of making gay marriage a constitutional right and left in place state laws banning same-sex marriage, the 5-4 decision clearly used inflammatory civil rights language to pave the way to a constitutional civil right for gay marriage. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy slandered those who disagree by implying that they “disparage and injure” the “personhood and dignity” of gays and stand in “violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

Evidently one is not capable of treating homosexual couples with respect if he takes a view of marriage as an institution divinely intended for heterosexual unions. Do we want a society where those who believe this way about marriage must keep it to themselves or face accusations of being hateful and discriminating bigots? Does this support the promotion of tolerance and respect for a fellow human being who chooses a homosexual relationship?

Shouldn’t there be a more rational and less divisive way to secure legal provisions of shared benefits and experiences among homosexual couples? Stop and think about the unnecessary and polarizing ways that this issue is being handled. Consider how it produces some of the very behaviors once opposed, and creates another set of victims of discrimination.

In his dissent, Justice Scalia exposed the intention of the decisions writing, “By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition,”

It appears that President Obama has also bought the illogical comparison. He called DOMA “discrimination enshrined in law.” Of the court’s decision, Obama said, “when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.” Implication? Anyone who sees things differently on gay marriage is guilty of discrimination. This is a manipulative and divisive way to frame a needed conversation.

Wouldn’t it be better to avoid the civil rights language and look for ways for the state to offer more equitable treatment? Is it possible to find a way to address core concerns without polarizing the public and denigrating those who have different views. Does it really help to characterize those who do not support gay marriage on religious or moral grounds as people of hatred, bigotry and irrational phobias?

Although I do not believe in gay marriage, I am neither hateful nor fearful of those who choose a gay lifestyle. In opposing a change to marriage to include homosexual unions, I have no intention or motivation to portray homosexuals as evil people or to support wrongful treatment of them. In my worldview, we are all sinners in desperate need of the grace of God. We are clearly going in the wrong direction with this debate by seeking freedoms for one group by denying freedoms for another.

The path currently sought by radical homosexual activists is to force all of society to see things their way or face severe legal consequences. They are already attacking the religious and moral freedoms of Americans with this agenda and we are only seeing the beginning. Anyone who tells you that this approach will never threaten religious liberty is lying to you. If this becomes a matter of civil rights with the full force of federal law behind it, churches throughout this nation will be attacked with the strong-arm of law if they fail to offer full endorsement of gay marriage.

The Supreme Court carelessly and recklessly sent an implied mandate to lawmakers to conform to gay marriage or be numbered among the hateful bigots. I hope that lawmakers will not cave to the manipulation and false comparisons, but will expose the agenda as a means to silence and coerce Americans against their moral and religious convictions.

More importantly, I think we can find a better way to have this discussion so that the state can offer equitable treatment without sharply dividing people against one another by threatening the freedoms of fellow citizens.

Steve Cornell
Senior pastor
Millersville Bible Church
58 West Frederick street
Millersville, Pa. 17551

Responding to unjust treatment (6 truths)

I can tell you from personal experience that it is an amazing experience to be set free from the animosity that leads to revenge. Of course, it can be a painful and prolonged process when you suffer unjustly. Yet it drives you into the sheer delight of a deeper walk with God where you learn to trust in His care when others desire evil against you.

Please take time to read this brief study to strengthen and protect you against the prison of bitterness and revenge. 

Radical Kingdom Living:

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow” (Matthew 5:38-42).

For some people, “eye for an eye” is a way of life. If you cross them, they’ll get you back — one way or another. By nature, we prefer “revenge” or “evening the score.” “I don’t get mad,” the bumper sticker reads, “I just get even.”

But the law of Lex Talionis (“measure for measure”) – was meant for judicial purposes not for personal retaliation. Lex Talionis was intended to make punishment proportional to the crime committed. It remains a primary principle of most legal system. Jesus was confronting the abuse of the law by those looking to justify personal revenge. 

And it’s natural on the personal level to retaliate when others treat us in ways we perceive to be unfair or wrong. This is part of what makes the teaching of Jesus so profoundly unexpected. Jesus repeatedly taught us to live in unnatural, unexpected, and culturally radical ways. His kingdom is definitely “not of this world” (John 18:36).

Think about it

Jesus taught his followers to so completely forbear revenge that they would even allow someone to double an injury (offer the other cheek, give the coat, go two miles). According to the Lord Jesus we must make every effort (even costly and sacrificial ones) to resist the temptation to return evil for evil and to return good for evil (Matthew 5:43-48). Who lives like this? If we lived this way, how would it look in our day to day demeanor and attitude? I think of the call in Titus 3:2 “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”

How do we live this way?

Scripture offers a number of insights related to the kind of life Jesus called His followers to live. Here are 7 points to guide you when you are mistreated and battling a desire for revenge.

1. God is the Judge

The question we need to ask (and that puts things in perspective) is the one Joseph asked his brothers when they thought he would seek revenge against them. Joseph revealed his commitment to God as the rightful judge when he asked them, “Am I in the place of God?” (see: Genesis 50:14-20).

“Do not take revenge, …but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19; cf. Acts 17:31; Rom.2:14).

God does not always operate this world on the principle of immediate justice. We might want Him to work this way when others hurt us, but consider how much we desire mercy from God when we are in the wrong. I like to remind people that raw justice would bring all of us under well-deserved judgment from God. See, Leave your grudge with the Judge..

2. Jesus is our example

Reflect on what we learn about Jesus in I Peter 2:21-24. The Lord Jesus is the most compelling example for us. In verse 23, we observe that, “Jesus (while on the cross) kept entrusting himself to Him who judges justly.”

If the glorious Lord turned his face to the smiters… If he refused to respond on the level of his abusers who am I to demand an even score with those who hurt me? (cf. Isa.50:6-8a; Mt.26:67-68). We must remember that Jesus calls each of his disciples to a visible participation in the cross. When we refuse to revile in return we offer the world a reminder of the Savior.

“Looking unto Jesus…” “For consider him who endured…” (Hebrews 12:1-3).  Read and reflect on the account of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. Pray for grace to follow in his steps. Meditate on Isaiah 53.

I can tell you from personal experience that it is an amazing experience to be set free from the animosity that leads to revenge. Through such times you will be drawn into deeper levels of Christlikeness. Of course, it can be a painful and prolonged process when you suffer unjustly. Yet it drives you into the sheer delight of intimacy with God where you learn to trust in His care when others desire evil against you (Psalm 62:8; Proverbs 3:5-7). 

3. Refuse to multiply evil

If seeking God’s righteousness is your priority than do not engage in the multiplication of unrighteousness (Matthew 6:33; cf. Romans 12:17-21). “Do not say ‘I shall do to him as he has done to me’” (Proverbs 24:29). Instead, “However you want people to treat you – so treat them” (Matthew 7:12).

4. Return a blessing instead

“‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21, Proverbs 25:21). (see: Burning coals?). See: Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:35.

5. Respect God-ordained authority

An eye for an eye has its place for those in authority. God ordained authority to punish evil doers and commend those who do good (see, Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-14). Those in authority must answer this call to restrain and punish evil. We can correct misguided parts of the philosophy of passivism by making the connection between Romans 12 and 13.

Sometimes we can avoid revenge by appealing to authorities to handle matters. But even on these occasions we must guard our hearts and restrain our attitudes to align with Kingdom living. Answering to the King of kings is most important!

6. Recall God’s forgiveness 

God’s absolutely amazing forgiveness of our sins is the standard for our treatment of others (see, Matthew 18:23-35). We are to forgive as we have been forgiven (Matthew 6:9-11; Ephesians 4:32, cf. Titus 3:1-5). 

 Never lose the wonder of the grace and kindness of God extended to you at salvation and you’ll find the path of grace and kindness toward your offenders. “God demonstrated his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). See, How to move From forgiveness to reconciliation.

The spiritual consequences of withholding forgiveness are significant. In fact, this may be one of the primary reasons why many followers of Christ are not experiencing the joy and fulness of life in Christ. A little root of bitterness is personally troubling and poisonously infectious. When we’ve been hurt we become vulnerable to anger and angry people are vulnerable to bitterness. Anger gains full hold when it turns into bitterness and bitter people are difficult to help. 

God pictured anger as a vicious animal looking to pounce its’ prey (Genesis 4:6-7).  We must deal with our anger before it becomes bitterness (see: Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:26-27). When bitterness is a fully entrenched condition of the heart, it is more difficult to dislodge.  Bitterness for many people has become a form of idolatry that rules their hearts in place of God. To gain freedom, we must see bitterness as a protective mechanism used to guard our cherished resentments and we must confess it as idolatry.

“The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do… Finally, I would put it like this. We are to leave everything–ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future–in the hands of God, and especially so if we feel we are suffering unjustly.” –D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Steve Cornell

 

A closer look at love

Relationships are miserable when love is absent. But is there an objective way to identify true love? 

Love defined

The fourteen qualities of love in First Corinthians thirteen offer the best available description of love known to humans. This text remains one of the most quoted Scriptures in wedding ceremonies.

Reflect deeply and often on this description of love:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV).

This is God’s prescription for great relationships. Love (as defined here) is notably anti-rivalry. It protects relationships from destructive conflict. Playful rivalry is not bad. But when a relationship deteriorates, some form of ugly and divisive rivalry is involved.

  1. Love is patient: It is long-suffering. It restrains anger when provoked. Patience is more than passive waiting. It is active restraint that rests in God.
  2. Love is kind: It reaches out in good will with acts of care and concern for others. Love not only patiently forebears, through kindness, it actively pursues. Loving people are distinguished by their kindness.
  3. Love does not envy: It does not resent the blessings of others. Envious people engage in evil rivalry. The envier gloats over the harm or misfortune of the one envied. She delights in evil.
  4. Love does not boast: Love corrects the immoderate desire to call attention to one-self. A loving person is not a windbag or braggart. He does not parade himself. Love is willing to work anonymously. It needs no limelight or stage, applause or recognition.
  5. Love is not proud: not puffed up; not arrogant; not full of oneself. A loving person does not think more highly of himself than sober judgment dictates (Romans 12:3).
  6. Love is does not dishonor others: It is not rude.It is respectful of others.
  7. Love is not self-seeking: It does not insist on its own way. It is not self-absorbed.
  8. Love is not easily angered: It is not easily agitated nor easily provoked. Loving people are not hot-tempered, short-fused people.
  9. Love keeps no record of wrongs: Love seeks forgiveness and reconciliation. Love is hard to practice when hurt badly (see: Forgiveness).
  10. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth: This rules out gossip, slander, and delight in the downfall of others.

And the grand finale: love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. In a staccato of four verbs enriched with repeated emphasis on how love brings everything under its influence, we learn that “there is nothing love cannot face” (NEB). “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (NLT).

Love is tenacious and faithful. Love is brave and noble; it never fails.

Love is “the most excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31). “These three remain:Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13). “Over all virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity”(Colossians 3:14).

In Scripture, husbands are commanded to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25); Older women are told to train younger women to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4) and communities of Christians are to be distinguished by their love for one another (John 13:35). 

The personal nature and greatness of love takes on powerful significance when we realize that God is love. His love was put on display when he loved the unlovable—when “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus offered a living example of love. In Jesus, the Creator became a creature; the King became a servant; the Shepherd became a lamb; the Sinless one was made sin for us; the High Priest became the sacrifice (see: Philippians 2:3-10).

A gift for you

I recommend regular evaluation of relationships based on the 14 qualities of love in I Corinthians 13. We have put these qualities of love (along with an eight point communication covenant) on laminated cards for easy use. If you email your mailing address to me, we will send you several copies as our gift.

office@millersvillebiblechurch.org

Steve Cornell
Senior pastor
Millersville Bible Church
58 West Frederick street
Millersville, PA. 17551

Judge not, lest you be judged.

“Judge not, lest you be judged.”

    • These are perhaps the most well-known words of Jesus.
    • They’re commonly used to keep people from making moral judgments about others. 
    • Some people use these words to excuse themselves from making judgments. “Who am I to judge?” they ask. “After all, Jesus did say, ‘Judge not…’”

So…

  • What exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke these words?
  • Was he advocating a mind your own business policy?
  • Was he forbidding all judgments about the actions of others?

A good question


John R. W. Stott asked if obedience to these words required us to “…suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people, to turn a blind eye to their faults (pretending not to notice them), to avoid all criticism and to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil?”

Let the context speak

As with most confusion over the meaning of the Bible, a careful reading of the context is the key to understanding.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:1-6).

While Jesus clearly condemned a certain kind of judging, he equally advocated a need for judgments. Jesus was not excusing us from all moral judgments. He was not promoting an individualistic attitude. Far from it!

Later he spoke of the need to go to one who sins against you and “tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). Love requires moral concern for others. But that concern must follow the order Jesus taught in Matthew 7:1-6.

What kind of judging did Jesus condemn?


Jesus said, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Jesus condemned hypocritical judging. He insisted that we must “first” remove the log from our own eye before we’re prepared to notice and remove the speck from our brother’s eye.

Jesus encouraged involvement in other people’s lives, but only after careful self-examination and self-correction. On another occasion Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were notorious (as are most religious people) for judging based on appearance. They were also notorious for their hypocrisy (see: Matthew 23).

When we hold other people to tight moral standards while making plenty of allowances for ourselves, we engage in unlawful judging. When we “play God” by trying to enforce standards not specifically established by God, we are in danger of being judged by God (Matthew 7:2; Romans 2:1-4).

Some professing Christians, (like the Pharisees), view their traditions as equal with God’s commands and wrongly judge the godliness of others based on them. This happens when people make personal applications from general commands of God (like his demand for non-conformity to the world and holiness of life), and then elevate their applications to command status.


Three categories for Christian standards


To avoid unlawful judging, we need to recognize three categories for setting Christian standards.

  1. First, some behaviors are clearly commanded.
  2. Secondly, some things are clearly forbidden.
  3. Finally, certain matters are permitted, or left to free and responsible judgment according to the best of our knowledge and conscience.

When we demote something from categories one and two into category three, we treat God’s clear standards as negotiable. When we elevate matters from category three by treating them as if they belong to categories one or two, we self-righteously judge others with our own opinions. The first action threatens purity; the second unnecessarily disrupts the unity of God’s people.

Matters of freedom vs. Matters of command


When a behavior, custom or doctrine is not addressed in Scripture with specific requirements or moral absolutes, it’s a matter of Christian freedom. When Christians condemn others in areas not specifically addressed by Scripture, they become guilty of the judging forbidden by Jesus.

But to agree with God’s clearly revealed standards does not constitute unlawful judging – unless, of course, it involves the kind of self-righteous hypocrisy Jesus repeatedly condemned. It’s possible to make accurate judgments but to be hypocritical in making them. Self-examination and self-correction are necessary for avoiding hypocritical judgment.

Scripture clearly reveals many moral standards God expects us to follow. Aligning with God on a specifically revealed moral judgment is not to make oneself judge, but to honor the standard of the Judge.

Follow the example of Jesus


Jesus taught with conviction and authority on many subjects.

“It is all too easy to believe in a Jesus who is largely a construction of our own imagination- an inoffensive person whom no one would really trouble to crucify. But the Jesus we meet in the Gospels, far from being an inoffensive person, gave offense right and left. Even his loyal followers found him, at times, thoroughly disconcerting. Jesus did not go about mouthing pious platitudes; had he done so, he would not have made as many enemies as he did” (F. F. Bruce).

I agree with the one who suggested that, “the capacity of judging, of forming an estimate and opinion, is one of our most valuable faculties and the right use of it one of our most important duties.” Judicial systems in every nation depend on the proper exercise of this capacity. But let’s be sure to use this valuable faculty first and most directly on ourselves. This will ensure a more humble and merciful application to others.

For further reflection

  • He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored (Prov 13:18 NIV).
  • Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself (Gal 6:1-2 NLT).
  • See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:12-13).
  • My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins (James 5:19-20 NLT).

Watching vs. Watching out for

When we honor the distinction between watching others and watching out for them, we’ll be far better postured to avoid wrongful judging. The first is prideful and pharisaic behavior; the second is humble and loving care for the wellbeing of others. Let’s live and teach this distinction to ensure we obey Jesus’ command, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

Steve Cornell

See: Understanding legalism 

If only gay marriage was all they wanted

When it comes to the gay marriage debate, too many people base their attitude on gut reactions rather than carefully thought opinion.

Gut reactions  

  • “Hey, it won’t hurt me, so what’s the big deal?”
  • “Who cares if two men want to be married, it wont effect my life or marriage.”
  • “Besides, who am I to tell other people how to live?”
  • “If it makes them happy, good for them, I say, “Go for it!”
  • “Why should I have marriage available to me and deny it to others.”
  • “I can’t expect other people to live by my beliefs.”                                                                  

These are obviously naïve and self-serving ways of distinguishing right from wrong. More troubling is how potentially harmful gut reactions are for people living in a representative form of democracy. When debating laws and policies that affect our common life, we need to be willing to think more deeply about implications behind laws and long-term outcomes.

On the matter of gay marriage, make no mistake, there is an agenda at work that seeks far more than giving two men the right of marriage. And the agenda is finding success by feeding on the fears and ignorance of uninformed people.

Fortified on notions that this is really about equality, justice, and love, and dreadfully fearful of being falsely accused of bigotry, hatred, discrimination and irrational phobias, people are being manipulated to bow before gay marriage (even if they privately find the idea morally wrong or personally repulsive). But they are carelessly unaware of the fact that marriage is only a foot in the door to a much larger agenda.

Now I don’t doubt that a few people are hesitant to say much because they have gay friends and don’t want to hurt their feelings. This is more of an altruistic response. But true friendship (based in respect and tolerance) should allow for differences of perspective without being irrationally accused of hate and bigotry. If a friend labels you with these vicious misrepresentations for simply disagreeing, he is not a true friend. He only accepts a friendship if you see things his way.

You can be absolutely certain that marriage is not the only thing gay activist want. Marriage is just the trigger issue being used to obtain status as a protected minority under civil rights legislation. Why do you think repeated efforts are made to suggest that being gay is equal with one’s racial identity? This false comparison has been a main part of the overall strategy to cause the public to bow before the homosexual lifestyle and fully endorsement it in every part of public life. Sadly, it has been effective with uninformed and fearful people.

If sexual orientation is granted civil rights status equal to racial identity, the full weight of federal law will sooner or later silence and punish anyone who teaches that God’s will for marriage is limited to one man and one woman and that homosexual behavior is a violation of the Creator’s law. If you hold these views you will be required to keep them to yourself and you will not be permitted to act on them in any way that is considered discriminatory. Christian Churches and Christian business people will be forced to embrace homosexuality or risk lawsuits and punishments.

If this sounds crazy or irrationally apocalyptic to you, please do a little more homework by studying cases in New Jersey, Massachusetts and by looking north to Canada for a view of the future. Don’t stand among the gullible and naïve. Be informed. Be rational. Think.

Now, it certainly might be more politically and legally amendable and create less social unrest if the gay community said, “All we want is marriage and the benefits that come with it, but we are not asking for civil rights status as a minority group along the lines of racial identity.  We are not asking for businesses and Churches to be forced to affirm gay marriage. We are not asking for curriculum changes at the public schools to include gay marriage and families.”

Be assured that these things will not be said because the goal of gay activists is to have the public bow before the sexual preferences of (at the very most) 3-4 percent of the population. If successful, people will not be permitted to teach the historical view of our nation and the view Jesus taught that marriage is solely meant to be a gift from God between a man and a woman (Matthew 19:4-6). If you choose to hold this view, you’ll be forced into public silence and unable to act on it in any way that could be accused as discrimination.

So next time you ask, “What’s the big deal?” or say, “It won’t affect others if two men get married,” please realize that you are falling for a much larger agenda that will not be good for the nation.

See: Seven Point Strategy for Gay Marriage

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 Steve Cornell