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Psalm 12 February 10, 2019

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 12.

Summary: In this passage, David implores God to punish those who use their words to oppress others. Although these oppressors are convinced of God’s inability to punish them, David declares that God will punish them – while vindicating those whom they oppress.

Thoughts: This psalm concludes on a relatively somber note, where David comments on the arrogance of those who oppose God. I believe that the psalms that precede this one have all concluded on relatively pleasant notes, where the psalmists praise God and affirm their confidence in Him. Was David feeling particularly burdened when he wrote this psalm? If so, did his feelings compel him to conclude this psalm on this somber note? Perhaps this somber note actually highlights the eternal relevance of the Psalms. Believers throughout the ages have experienced dry spells in their relationship with God, where feelings of doubt and frustration are not readily dismissed.

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Lying Prophets April 28, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 23:9-32.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah – condemning the false prophets and wicked priests in the southern kingdom of Judah. Indeed, their sinfulness exceeds that of their counterparts in the northern kingdom of Israel – as they actually sanction the sinfulness of their flock. Consequently, He resolves to punish them.

Jeremiah also exhorts the people of Judah to ignore these false prophets and wicked priests. This stems from the fact that God does not speak to them, and so they themselves formulate the prophecies that they proclaim. Indeed, a genuine prophet of God would realize that He wants to communicate a simple message to His people: they must repent of their sins.

Thoughts: In verse 14, we see that the prophets and priests in Judah sanctioned the sinfulness of their flock. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Jeremiah shows how these men surpassed other prophets in impiety by dissimulating when they saw on one hand adulteries and on the other fraud, plundering and perjury…As these prophets banished shame as well as fear from the wicked and ungodly, they strengthened their hands and gave them more confidence, so that they rushed headlong into every evil more freely and with greater liberty.

I assume that these false prophets and wicked priests condoned acts of injustice and oppression. Now I am curious as to whether they attempted to furnish a theological justification for these actions. Did they view the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow as people who were cursed by God? Did they assert that these disadvantaged people were separate from the church of God – and so He had no concern for them? Or did they passively condone these actions while secretly acknowledging their inherent sinfulness?

Here, we see that Jeremiah contends with a plethora of false prophets and wicked priests in communicating his message to his compatriots. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

As Jeremiah forbade the people to listen to such men, they must have been very confused: “What does this mean? Why does God allow these unprincipled men to occupy a place in the temple and to exercise a prophetic office there though they are all cheats, perjurers, and impostors?”

I have blogged about the difficulties that the people of Judah faced in attempting to discern truth from fiction. Since the messages conveyed by Jeremiah and the false prophets were diametrically opposed, one could only assess their veracity by looking for confirmatory evidence. Now the people of Judah knew that the Babylonian forces were pressing their siege of Jerusalem. In light of their predicament, how did the false prophets justify their optimistic messages? Were they convinced that God would never sanction the destruction of His temple? Were they assured that their foreign allies would break the ongoing siege of their capital? How did they respond when the Babylonians overran Jerusalem?

A secondary application of this passage concerns the delicate balance that modern-day pastors must strike when crafting their sermons. On one hand, they must learn from the negative example of the false prophets and wicked priests in Judah: if they neither spur their congregants to live holy lives nor exhort them to regularly assess their walk with God, then they display a lack of concern for their spiritual growth. On the other hand, if they harp on the themes of sin and guilt, then their congregants would probably grow spiritually weary and despondent. Truly it is difficult to know – on an arbitrary Sunday – what God wants to say to an arbitrary congregation. Thus, we must continue to pray for our spiritual leaders – that they would know how to discern God’s voice on a daily basis and respond to Him through their sermons.

False Teachers and Their Destruction July 26, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Peter 2.

Summary: Peter begins by reminding his readers that there were true and false prophets in the Old Testament; similarly, Christ predicted that they would encounter true and false teachers, and he confirms His prediction. These false teachers encourage them to deliberately sever themselves from righteous thoughts and actions. These false teachers also fight against the absolute dominion of Christ – their Redeemer – and they involve themselves in destruction. Now their influence is:

  • widespread
  • immoral
  • blasphemous
  • treacherous.

He reminds his readers that God threatened long ago to judge these false teachers; although they have not been punished, their punishment is absolutely certain.

To support this point, Peter cites the following examples from the Old Testament:

  • the fall of the angels
  • the Flood
  • the destruction of the cities of the plain – Sodom and Gomorrah.

He also reminds them that a few were saved at the Flood and that Lot was righteous in terms of his judicial standing before God. Thus, God will be able to reserve the ungodly for punishment while protecting the godly.

Peter now characterizes false teachers as:

  • unclean
  • willfully contemptuous of all authority – in contrast to the good angels
  • self-indulgent
  • reckless
  • sensual – since they are riotous in the daytime
  • hypocritical – since they associate themselves with the Christian love feasts while living in sin
  • infamous – since they indulge in awful iniquity and entice weak and young Christians to imitate them
  • empty – since they have no real vitality
  • unstable – since they lack settled principles
  • boastful – since they bluster in order to dupe
  • seductive
  • heartless
  • deceptive
  • powerless.

Peter concludes by stating that these false teachers are entangled in their sin and experience spiritual degeneration; thus, moral disaster will befall them, and they will engage in utter apostasy – since they treat the Gospel message unfairly.

Thoughts: When I read through this passage, I was reminded of my stroll through the book of Jude. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

The relationship between 2 Peter and Jude…There is an evident use of one writing by the author of the other (compare 2 Peter 2:1-16 and Jude 4, 11)…Authorities differ as to which is earlier; some arguing for the priority of Jude (Alford, Salmon), others for the priority of 2 Peter (Lumby, Bigg).

I am certainly eager to meet Peter and Jude in the next life and learn 1) who wrote the earlier letter and 2) how the writer of the subsequent letter was inspired by it. Also, I wonder if the debates over the priority of these two letters were part of the larger debate over their inclusion in the New Testament canon (i.e. those who supported the priority of a particular letter might argue that the other letter should be excluded from the New Testament canon). I suppose that if I had participated in that larger debate at the Council of Carthage in 397, I would have balked at including Jude in the New Testament canon, since it contains some odd extra-biblical allusions…

In verses 20-22, Peter asserts that those who have known “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and then become “entangled in” the “corruption of the world” are “worse off” than those who never knew Jesus Christ. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

See Matthew 12:43-45. Peter is making a clear allusion to the Master’s teaching.

This is certainly an interesting passage, and it has played a prominent role in the debate over whether a Christian can lose their salvation. While I am currently unable to resolve that debate, I have studied the above-mentioned passage from Matthew. My understanding of that passage is that Jesus is attacking the Pharisees, who strive to break all of their bad habits – yet fail to invite Him to dwell in their hearts, which would permanently transform them. Instead, the Pharisees trust in their own strength to break their bad habits, and they are convinced that they do not need a Savior. Thus, this passage in 2 Peter may be a valuable reminder for believers to continue seeking after Christ and asking Him to work in their lives – even if they are not young Christians.

This passage extensively criticizes false teachers and their erroneous beliefs and actions. I thought about this in terms of how believers can evaluate their pastors and determine if they are genuine teachers of God’s Word. One difficulty in this regard is that believers generally do not interact with their pastors outside of organized church activities, and so they are unaware of how their pastors live outside of church. If a pastor leads a double life and skillfully conceals it from their church, then their church would probably assume that they have been called by God to shepherd them. Also, a pastor who happens to be a false teacher of God’s Word might be quite adept at cloaking their false doctrines with a veneer of doctrinal purity. Now I should note that adopting the opposite attitude where believers automatically distrust their pastors is usually counterproductive. Truly believers require the assistance of the Holy Spirit to discern truth from error in the last days.