Marriage Matters, It’s A Family Affair, S01E012

Can’t recommend this highly enough! Do give it a watch!

In this week’s Marriage Matters, Andy B and Jo talk candidly about things that cause problems in our marriages, that may lead to unfaithfulness in …

Marriage Matters, It’s A Family Affair, S01E012

Strange Women & Bad Men (Proverbs 2:9-19)

As I prepared for today’s post, I realised that I probably should have included Proverbs 2:9 in with the article called – When Wisdom. It fits better with the earlier parts of chapter two, but one of the keys to Proverbs is to review, review and review again! Some parts are repetitive for good reason, helping us to remember what we have learned.

So let’s use verse 9-10 as a refresher from our earlier studies on chapter two.

Then you will understand righteousness and justice,

    equity and every good path.

10 For wisdom will enter into your heart.

    Knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

Proverbs 2:9-10 (WEB)

The “Then” kicking off verse 9 reminds us that this is part of a continuing thought. The first part of chapter two presents us with a series of “if” statements directing us to choose wisdom or not.

Verses 5-8, and now 9 also, tell us the “then” – i.e. if we choose wisdom, then what?

Verse 9 summarises that we if we choose wisdom, we will understand righteousness and justice. We understood from previous texts that righteousness is not merely doing right, but being in right standing with God. Proverbs 1:3 rings familiar, speaking also of justice and equity, as verse 9 above does.

to receive instruction in wise dealing,

    in righteousness, justice, and equity;

Proverbs 1:3 (WEB)

In some ways, Solomon is continuing to build his case for wisdom, making these points time and again, hoping they will, as verse 10 says, enter into our hearts. Our hearts can be hard at times, and it may take many thrusts of wisdom’s piercing to break through. When it does though, finally we may take pleasure in the knowledge of these things in our inner man or soul.

Bad Men

11 Discretion will watch over you.

    Understanding will keep you,

12 to deliver you from the way of evil,

    from the men who speak perverse things,

Proverbs 2:11-12 (WEB)

Verses 11-15 can be summed up in two phrases: 1) Discretion and understanding will keep and protect you, from what? From… 2) Men of evil who speak perversity.

The author piles word upon word about the depths of such men’s depravity, speaking of:

  • Their evil ways – v12
  • Their perverse speech – v12
  • Their ways of darkness – v13
  • Their rejoicing in evil – v14
  • And so on…

We might describe them simply as “bad men!”

Such descriptions might make you feel somewhat uneasy. In my mind, I picture a very dark alley in a not so nice part of town where such men might lurk in wait for me. The imagery is powerful, and is intended to send a shiver down our spine!

You may live in relative safety. A nice home, a friendly neighbourhood, and little if any crime to speak of. Yet we ought not to be fooled by the depths of sinfulness in the human heart. Very few of us would consider ourselves as “evil” but equally few would volunteer their inmost thoughts or secret sins. We have all fallen short, and ultimately anything that is not holy is evil to some extent.

Wisdom guards us though. Good judgement tells me not to walk down a dark alley at night, nor to drink heavily or take drugs before driving. Good sense, derived by wisdom, helps me to make sensible choices that do not risk my own life or that of others.

While wisdom cannot prevent all and every eventuality, it can drastically reduce the likelihood of falling prey to evil (be it others’ or our own).

While #wisdom cannot prevent all and every eventuality, it can drastically reduce the likelihood of falling prey to #evil (be it others’ or our own). #Bible #Christianity

The Strange Woman

16 to deliver you from the strange woman,

    even from the foreigner who flatters with her words,

Proverbs 2:16 (WEB)

Having warned us of the dangers of evil men, the chapter turns to warnings about a “strange woman.” This word “strange” is translated as “forbidden,” “immoral,” and “adulterous” in other versions of the Bible, and are perhaps more helpful adjectives.

We find ourselves, for the first time in Proverbs, dealing with a subject which will come up again and again in this book – adultery.

The strange woman here depicted in these verses is an image of temptation. She flatters and seduces, exploiting our fleshly desires. We may think adultery risks our marriage and family, and of course it does, but to start down this path leads to destruction (see verses 18 and 19).

To dabble in adultery, and even to indulge any form of sin, risks our very lives. That is how serious we should treat it. Proverbs 6:27 asks if a man can embrace fire and not have his clothes burned? The obvious answer is no!

I cannot emphasise enough the dangers of sin. We may think it’s just a little lie, or I’m only stealing a pen, or we’re just going out for coffee… and before you know it, you are trapped in sin’s clutches.

James says:

Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

James 1:15 (ESV)

It all starts with desire. As that desire grows, it leads to sin. And sin, once fully developed brings forth death! We think we can “play” with desires, but one thing leads to another and before long, we are drowning in iniquity.

Don’t let that be you dear reader! Don’t dabble with desire, don’t go near the strange woman nor the evil men. Let wisdom guard your ways, and employ common sense! In the heat of the moment you may want to give in to temptation, but wisdom asks if you will want to live with the consequences later.

Let wisdom enter your heart today, and steer well clear of any wrongdoing!

No Stones Were Thrown

I was reading John 8 this morning, and in particular the account of the “Woman caught in adultery.” I take slight issue with that title, as no woman (or man for that matter) can be caught in “solo” adultery. As far as I am aware, it takes two to tango and so the guilty man in this case is a notable absence.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.

John 8:3-6 (NIV)

Notice how the Pharisees had little regard for this woman’s dignity. They forced her to stand in the midst of this crowd, enhancing her humiliation. While adultery is no crime in our day and age (although still very much a sin), in those days it was plain criminal. A little humiliation was perhaps the least of her worries however.

The Pharisees think they have Jesus cornered. He has two apparent choices; 1) to condemn her and permit them to stone her to death, or 2) to let her go unpunished, and thus break the Mosaic Law. To choose option 1 would dent Jesus’ reputation before the crowds that followed Him, and option 2 gave the Teachers of the Law grounds against Him.

Jesus says not one word. Instead, He bends down and begins to write on the ground. It is infuriating to not know what was written. Why would the author include such a detail if he was not going to give us the full picture? That, in fact, gives the text some credibility. If this were fictional, you would simply not include such a loose end. The truth of this narrative shows an honest report of what happened, even with this glaring omission. The author most likely did not know what was written.

We can take a stab however, guessing that as the finger of God wrote on the stony ground, that it is connected to the Ten Commandments written in stone all those years ago.

Assuming this is correct, as the gathered crowd read each commandment in turn, they realise their own sinfulness. Jesus challenged only those without sin to throw the stone at her, and not one did. The oldest left first, perhaps more aware of their own failings than the youth, but in the end Jesus remained alone with the woman.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8:9-11 (NIV)

No one in the crowd condemns the woman, as no one had the right to. The only One without sin, and the only One legitimately able to cast the stone at her chooses not to.

I am astonished at His words to her.

“Neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more.”

Be aware of the order of this. Jesus releases her from condemnation first, then instructs her to leave her life of sin. Were it the other way around, she (and we) might believe that we might first cleanse ourselves of sin before we can go out without condemnation. But not so! He releases us first, and in response, we leave our sins behind.

In the same way, God led the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt before giving them the Law. It was not the case at all that God demanded perfect performance from them before He would act. Instead, He rescues them and later deals with their obedience.

I imagine myself in this account, most often as the woman caught. You can swap out adultery for any number of sins here, and still the premise holds. I stand before the Lord, and He has every right to condemn me for my sin. My head is bowed, and I am ashamed. I wait for the stone to impact me, and the pain that would follow. Yet it never comes. I dare not look up and into those eyes.

There is still a big part of me that feels I must earn God’s favour. When I am conscious of my sin, I pull away from God, believing myself to be unworthy to enter His presence. I have it backwards. He has dealt with my sins (and yours) once and for all. We enter into His presence, not because we are good enough, but because of His shed blood on the cross.

As we accept and rejoice in that truth, it spurs us on to a life where we no longer tolerate sin. We will never achieve perfection on this Earth, but we strive against sin and its effects as an act of praise to our glorious and generous God.

Reflect on this truth from Romans:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

Romans 8:1 (NIV)

As you meditate on this, soak it up and marinate (for want of a better word) in the fact that you face no condemnation whatsoever, let that lead to a life without habitual sin.

You cannot earn God’s forgiveness, and have no need to. It has been bought and paid for. Enjoy that gift, and live holy to please your Lord.

The Ten Commandments

Yesterday I wrote about one of the proverbs, and it was ultimately a post about stealing. You can read it here – It’s Not Really Stealing… I referred to one of the Ten Commandments which clearly tells us we should not steal. It got me thinking about the Commandments as a whole and so perhaps this will turn into a miniseries!

When I was young, I remember discussing the Ten Commandments at school. I imagine most children today are not taught or shown such things. That’s certainly true in the UK. We take the Bible out of schools, don’t teach children God’s ways and then wonder why we struggle with morality in society!

Some may think that the Bible is not relevant today. Even more so, we may think the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with modern life. Yet I hope what I said yesterday about stealing reminded us all how relevant these things are.

Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments into two main categories. we could put it simply like this: love God, and love people.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

This is a wonderful summary. Our whole lives as Christians should be focused on loving our Heavenly Father and on loving the people in our lives. That is no easy or small task!

So what exactly are the Ten Commandments? Many of us might struggle to name all ten! Here they are:

God spoke, and these were his words: 2 “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.

3 “Worship no god but me.

4 “Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. 5 Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the Lord your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. 6 But I show my love to thousands of generations[a] of those who love me and obey my laws.

7 “Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I, the Lord your God, will punish anyone who misuses my name.

8 “Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. 9 You have six days in which to do your work, 10 but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work—neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country. 11 In six days I, the Lord, made the earth, the sky, the seas, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the Lord, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.

12 “Respect your father and your mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that I am giving you.

13 “Do not commit murder.

14 “Do not commit adultery.

15 “Do not steal.

16 “Do not accuse anyone falsely.

17 “Do not desire another man’s house; do not desire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys, or anything else that he owns.”

Exodus 20:1-17 (GNT)

Some may see these as rather old fashioned to our ears. Some will wonder what relevance the Sabbath rest has to us Christians in the 21st Century. Have any of us ever had any issues desiring our neighbour’s animals? Probably not. 

Yet when we dig a little deepr, we start to see that these Commandments reveal certain problems we may have hiding in our hearts. We might describe this “problem” in different ways, but it is essentially the problem of sin. 

We can examine the Commandments in turn and see how they fit in to modern life. I imagine if we all chose to live by them, even for a short time, we would be amazed at the changed state of the world. 

For now though, let’s look at the effect of the Law. Paul goes to some length to describe the purpose of the Law in his letters in the New Testament. I don’t propose to look at those now, but instead point you to an event described in the Gospels involving Jesus. 

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught committing adultery, and they made her stand before them all. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what do you say?” 6 They said this to trap Jesus, so that they could accuse him. But he bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger. 7 As they stood there asking him questions, he straightened up and said to them, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.” 8 Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they all left, one by one, the older ones first. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. 10 He straightened up and said to her, “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she answered.

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.”

John 8:3-11 (GNT)

The teachers of the Law brought this woman to Jesus to try to trap Him. If He let her go, then He was breaking the Law – that is, one of the Ten Commandments. If He condemned her, then He showed the crowds He was no different from them. 

Whenever the teachers thought they had Jesus trapped, He always showed them up. This is no different. 

Instead of answering them straightaway, He stoops down and begins to write on the ground. Many have asked, “What did He write?” For me, this is part of the authenticity of John’s Gospel. Were this account fictional, you would never leave out such a detail! 

In our minds, we imagine the ground where Jesus was writing like a sandy beach. He scratched out whatever He wrote for all to see. The ground by the temple, where Jesus was, is actually quite rocky. So, in a sense, we see the finger of God writing in stone… a clear allusion to the Ten Commandments of Moses. 

It is my opinion that Jesus was in fact writing the Ten Commandments. As the teachers began to see and comprehend what He was writing, they began to realise their own guilt and shame. Jesus told them that whoever was without sin should throw the first stone. As they read the words of the Ten Commandments on the ground, they realised they too had broken them and deserved the same punishment as this woman. 

It is noticeable that they left, oldest to youngest, perhaps because the older we get, the more we realise how sinful we are. 

The Ten Commandments teach us our need for a Saviour. We have fallen short in many ways, and sin has corrupted our entire lives. 

Only the saving work of Jesus Christ at the cross can remedy that. Amen.

Come As You Are

I saw a pamphlet recently which gave me pause for thought. It was all about welcoming people into the church, and was specifically aimed at a particular group of people. The leaflet pointed out that God loves everyone, and so everyone is welcome into the church – irrespective of their lifestyle or background. It went on to quote Jesus, and told the reader that He welcomed one and all.

I take no issue at all with efforts by the church to be more welcoming. Churches are rarely as welcoming as they think they are, nor are there any that cannot be improved. The word “welcome” has a specific meaning though, and sometimes we think to be “welcoming” we must change everything that we believe and do, so that we do not offend. Wrong!

We think to be welcoming means to accept everyone who comes through the door, no matter what their lifestyle and never point out biblical truth to them. Take a practicing serial killer who refuses to give up their lifestyle of murder – how might we welcome them? Does welcoming them mean we also welcome their life of crime?

Next week, let’s look at what it means to be a welcoming church. For now though, I want to think more about what some seem to think welcoming means.

Quoting Scripture

One issue I had with the pamphlet is that it did not actually quote Jesus properly. In fact, it misquoted Him. I am all for quoting Scripture, but not for taking it out of its context and even editing it to make it say what we want it to.

In this case, Jesus was quoted as saying, “Come to me all of you and I will give you rest.” A nice message indeed, but not strictly what He said.

Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28 (WEB)

We see that actually Jesus did not say, “Come to me, all…” but “Come to me, all who labour and are heavily burdened…”

I know that some will think i’m splitting hairs here, but the danger is that we can take any Bible verse we like, tweak it slightly, apply it wrongly, and then make it say whatever we like.

Too many of us – and this can often apply to us “bloggers” – quote single verses here and there without giving sufficient thought to its wider context. We “google” a Bible verse which seems to support our point, and then paste it in. Sometimes that’s ok, but sometimes we take such verses out of their proper setting and imply a meaning that is not there.

Scripture must be interpreted by other Scripture. We must understand who is speaking and to whom, what the context of the chapter is, what the context of the book is, and finally how it fits into the whole of the Bible.

As I’ve written more lately, working on books, blogging, writing and recording sermons, I’ve felt the weight of responsibility. I do not want anyone to be misled who reads what I am teaching. No one has perfect understanding, and so we will all make mistakes along the way, but I hope and pray with fear, that God helps me to share only His truth.

Welcoming is not the same as approval

We believe in welcoming people to church, and preach the message “Come as you are!” Quite right too. No one needs to clean themselves up before they come to church! The church is full of people who know they need a Saviour! None of us is perfect, and if we were, we wouldn’t need Christ!

The problem is that many churches aren’t just saying “Come as you are,” they are adding on, “Stay as you are.”

“Come as you are” is welcoming, but “stay as you are” is not biblical.

Jesus welcomed everyone, but He taught them the right way to live. His message was not “Come as you are and stay as you are,” it was “Come as you are and repent!”

Let’s look at the woman caught in adultery from John 8.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman taken in adultery. Having set her in the middle, 4 they told him, “Teacher, we found this woman in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now in our law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What then do you say about her?” 6 They said this testing him, that they might have something to accuse him of.

But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground with his finger. 7 But when they continued asking him, he looked up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground.

9 They, when they heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning from the oldest, even to the last. Jesus was left alone with the woman where she was, in the middle. 10 Jesus, standing up, saw her and said, “Woman, where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.”

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more.”

John 8:3-11 (WEB)

The first thing we notice is that the scribes only brought the woman to Jesus. Last time I checked, it took two to commit adultery. Where was the man?

The scribes here are clearly not trying to exercise moral law, but rather thinking they can catch Jesus out. If He condemns her, then it ruins His reputation as a Man of the people, and yet if He lets her go free without punishment, He breaks the Jewish law.

Jesus is cornered – right?

He drops down and begins to write on the ground with His finger. Many are frustrated that they do not know what He was writing. This is a mark of authenticity for the Bible, because if this story was fictional, then the writer would not have put such an untidy detail in. It suggests that the eye witness simply could not see.

Many have speculated about what Jesus could have been writing. I personally favour the idea that He was writing out the Ten Commandments. The ground where he stooped was not sandy or muddy, like we might imagine, but stony. And so the finger of God wrote on stone… remind you of anything?

He gave to Moses, when he finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets, written with God’s finger.

Exodus 31:18 (WEB)

Assuming I am correct, then as the scribes began to read the Ten Commandments on the ground, they became acutely aware of their own sinfulness. And notice that the older ones left first. Perhaps the older we get, the more aware we are of our failings.

Jesus, fulfilling the Law, says essentially that she should be stoned for her sin – but let the one who is without sin cast the first stone. The only One who could do that was Jesus Himself, and He chose not to.

Acknowledging that no one had condemned her, Jesus tells her to be on her way. But He adds something very important. “Go and sin no more!”

Jesus welcomed this woman, despite her sinful behaviour. Praise God for this! However, He did not lower His standards in order to do so. Jesus was very clear that He did not want her to carry on living as she had.

When we welcome someone into church, we should absolutely meet them where they are. I am not at all suggesting we had them a list of rules as they come in, and expect them to abide by them from then on. However, at some point, we must share what we believe. If they want to go on and become a member of the church, then they must start living their lives in line with Christ’s teaching. Refusing to do so is a refusal to submit to Christ as Lord.

Where does the welcome end, and the teaching begin? That is not an easy question. As per my silly example at the start of this post, even if we could bring ourselves to welcome a practicing serial killer, they cannot continue this way and claim to be a follower of Christ.

Likewise, whatever sin we replace serial killing with, we too must give it up to follow Christ.

Being welcoming does not give any of us the excuse to accept sinfulness and not challenge it with God’s Word.

We will think about what it means to be a welcoming church next time. For now though, consider your own life. Are there sins you continue to hold on to, despite knowing what God thinks about them? Ask for His help to change, for you cannot do it in your own strength.