Five reasons to avoid “evil suspicions”, false reports, and reviling


1. Even if a report is true, is it not merciful to contain its impact, to regard the reputation of another as precious? “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1) “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)

2. Love comes with an optimism: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) Optimism about another can be undeserved — even eventually disproven — but gracious. Better to be wronged than to wrong. Better to be lied to than to lie about another. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” (1 Peter 2:19) “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7)

3. Love isn’t safe: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” (C.S. Lewis)

4. The only realistic human alternative to giving each other the general benefit of doubt is hypervigilant cynicism. What an awful climate for love! To walk on eggshells, to constantly judge, to be on guard, and assume others are judging you. To constantly think of yourself, and be convinced that no one loves you. To be hypercritical and assuming — this makes for a resistant, quarrelsome, reviling, rude misery.

5. But no! True Christians are a forgiven people. Here is the most beautiful part. He was so good to us, so gracious. How can we not love others with an undeserved submission, obedience, gentleness, and perfect courtesy? Watch how Paul brings it all together:

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:1-5)

James agrees with Paul

Protestantism’s “faith alone” is Paul’s “apart from works” (Romans 3:28) and “him who does not work” (4:5) and “not because of works” (Titus 3:5) and “not having a righteousness of my own” (Philippians 3:9).

James’ “not by faith alone” (2:24) is Paul’s “faith work[s] through love” (Galatians 5:6) and his description of Abraham’s life: “he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.” Abraham’s faith blossomed.

Paul agrees with James: “faith… accords with godliness.” (Titus 1:1)

And James agrees with Paul: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above… Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:17-18)

Cosmic theater

This is an artist's impression of supernova 1993J, an exploding star in the galaxy M81 whose light reached us 21 years ago. The supernova originated in a double-star system where one member was a massive star that exploded after siphoning most of its hydrogen envelope to its companion star. After two decades, astronomers have at last identified the blue helium-burning companion star, seen at the center of the expanding nebula of debris from the supernova. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope identified the ultraviolet glow of the surviving companion embedded in the fading glow of the supernova. Links: NASA Press release Spiral galaxy M81 Supernova 1993J in spiral galaxy M81 Supernova 1993J Scenario for Type IIb supernova 1993J

Terrorism, e-mail scandals, and police shootings are cosmic theater.

When a terrorist kills a single citizen, it captivates an entire nation.

When a police officer kills a single innocent black man, it arrests us all.

This is out of proportion to crimes committed in private or local circumstances. People steal, lie, and murder in our own cities. Why are the public sins so captivating, even more than supernova or passing comets? Why do we feel so right to be *especially* outraged?

Maybe we’re really upset because if none of that matters, if public evil can’t be identified and condemned, then maybe goodness and justice and beauty aren’t real and don’t matter at all. It’s all meaningless star dust.

Maybe cosmic theater matters because God designed us to pay attention to epic stories of cosmic significance, and justice and righteousness matter more than exploding stars.

Jesus on Leaky Spirituality

A leaking bucketJesus taught of a leaky spirituality.

What’s on the inside eventually leaks out. Your heart eventually overflows like water, even if you try to contain it:

“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” (Matthew 12:34-35)

Where there’s smoke there’s fire:

“Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19)

The evil of our persecutors will eventually be revealed:

“Nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Matthew 10:26)

This one is terrifying: False converts who seem to have escaped spiritual bondage will fall back under worse bondage:

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Matthew 12:43–45)

There is a seed that is “proven unfruitful”:

“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22)

Not even slick false prophets can hide their true nature. They become diseased trees:

“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16-20)

The Pharisees were like, “We aren’t like that.” And God sends men to be killed to show that, yeah, “You’re like that.”

“You build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” (Matthew 23:29-35)

The apostle Paul on this same topic (summarizing this whole topic well):

“The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.” (1 Timothy 5:24-25)

Your secret gorging on darkness makes your whole soul dark:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)

Jesus teaches that cleaning the inside results in an eventually clean outside:

“First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:26)

It’s no wonder that Jesus teaches us to give in secret (Matthew 6:2-4), pray in secret (6:5-6), and fast in secret (6:16-18). He teaches against anxiety of the heart (6:25-34).And his beatitudes are inward-oriented, a matter of hungering and thirsting (5:2-11). Jesus would have us cultivate an interior, secret life of righteousness, and let that leak out on its own.

The condemned gods of Psalm 82:6 and Mormon exaltation’s Becoming Like God essay situates its quotation of Psalm 82:6 in a paragraph about passages that “intimate that humans can become like God,” and that we are in a “process of approaching godliness.” The verse itself reads: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” Mormon use of this passage is astonishing.

The gods of Psalm 82 were wicked

The psalm is one of judgment against gods who were defiant against Yahweh. They judged unjustly (82:2a), favored the wicked (82:2b), neglected the afflicted and destitute (82:3), refused to rescue the weak and needy (82:4), and were judged unto humiliation and death (82:7). Blomberg writes, “The context of [Psalm 82] refers not to anyone’s exaltation but to the judgment and downfall of those who defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked.”1 Using the addressees of Psalm 82:6 as a model for exaltation is like using the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4 as a model for sexual ethics.

Oh, how the mighty gods have fallen

The passage does not teach that we are human gods-in-embryo. Those addressed are already in the “divine council” and are “in the midst of the gods” (82:1). God addresses them in the present: “You are gods, sons of the Most High.” Neither are these permanently exalted gods who have the same “power, glory, dominion, and knowledge” that God has.2 Having misused their jurisdiction, they are condemned to die. “You will die like men, and you will fall like one of the princes” (82:7). These gods are, by both biblical and Mormon standards, not fitting candidates for exaltation.

Continue reading “The condemned gods of Psalm 82:6 and Mormon exaltation”

Grudem, Piper, and Self-Defense

In his recent essay, “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?“, John Piper writes that he would “personally counsel a Christian not to have a firearm available for such circumstances” as shooting the assailant of one’s wife.

Wayne Grudem would probably disagree. In 2013 he gave a lecture, “Self-defense and the use of firearms” (MP3, PDF outline), arguing for the legitimacy of self-defense and a generally positive view of gun ownership. It is probably material that will end up in his book on ethics, which Grudem aims to finish before Parkinson’s disease incapacitates him.

Piper favors Darrell Bock’s view of Luke 22:36-38, where the sword is “only a symbol of preparation for pressure.” For Grudem, “metaphorical interpretations do not seem persuasive.”

In Piper’s 1979 doctrinal dissertation, Love Your Enemies, one can perhaps see from his section on non-resistance (pp. 89-91, 2012 edition) the interpretation that led to his present thinking. Piper’s approach to non-resistance reminds us of his now-published approach to divorce: as Jesus laid aside concessions for divorce, he also laid aside concessions for resistance and retaliation.

Yet concerning enemy-love commands from the Sermon on the Mount, Grudem quotes from Piper’s dissertation:

“The commands … are not absolute prescriptions with no exceptions but rather are pointed, concrete illustrations of how enemy love may and should often look in the life of a disciple.” (p. 99, 2012 edition)

Continue reading “Grudem, Piper, and Self-Defense”

The Sermon on the Mount as Wisdom Literature and Proverbial Tensions

“The Sermon on the Mount has been rightly categorized as wisdom literature – in fact, it is wisdom literature in the best tradition of the Old Testament. It reads very much like what we might find in various places in the Book of Proverbs.” (Bob Deffinbaugh)

In Proverbs 26:4-5 we have a famous tension requiring discernment:

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
    lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. “Proverbs are principles stated in extremes.” (Deffinbaugh) Although not in the direct literary style of Proverbs 26:4-5, the Sermon on the Mount supplies us with truisms with exceptions and proverbial wisdom in tension.

Continue reading “The Sermon on the Mount as Wisdom Literature and Proverbial Tensions”

Broad πορνεία for battling lust, narrow for permitting divorce

The Pharisees used a wide definition of sexual indecency in permitting divorce (Matthew 19:3), but a narrow definition in battling lust (5:27).

Jesus essentially says, “You have it backwards.”

He instead wants us to use a wide definition of sexual indecency in battling lust (5:28-30), but a narrow definition in permitting divorce (5:31-32, 19:4-12). One calls for a broad view of πορνεία (porneia), the other narrow.

“‘Fornication’ can cover a wide scope of sins, but Jesus intended to restrict and narrow the just grounds for divorce when He rejected the notion that one may put away his wife for just any reason (Matt. 19:3, 9).” (source)

Greg Bahnsen goes on to reason about the kind of sexual immorality that violates “essential commitments of the marriage covenant.”