Biblical Wisdom

Guarding Against Sexual Immorality | Proverbs 6:7-23

And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.”

Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
and he ponders all his paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray.

Proverbs 6:7-23 ESV

 

Although only nine chapters long, Solomon spends nearly three chapters of Proverbs’ introduction devoted to the subject of sexual immorality. Even if the topic is not popular in many churches, the ancient king obviously saw a serious need for such discussions, and our era is no different. Personified as the Adulteress (or Forbidden Woman), Solomon warns us against falling into the trap of sexual sin, and within these verses, he provides important insight on how we must guard ourselves against it.

A WASTED LIFE // VERSES 7-14

Continuing on from his introduction of the Forbidden Woman, Solomon now makes it clear that he is writing to all of his readers by addressing us as “sons” and warning us not to depart from his words. As the author is prone to do, the following verse (v. 8) immediately shifts to his primary warning, which for this text is to keep away from the Adulteress. The plea to not even go near the door of her house emphasizes the danger that is found with her.

Verses 9-14 give a twofold reasoning for steering clear of the Forbidden Woman, but they build upon one another for greater emphasis. Verse 9 presents the first reason as being the loss of honor and years to other people who are merciless. Verse 10 continues this construction by claiming that strength and labors will be taken by the strangers and foreigners. Both of these verses describe the defining characteristics of masculinity (i.e. strength, labor, honor) being stripped away and given to others. The principle is clear. Although sexual conquest is often viewed as a masculine endeavor, Solomon declares it to be the exact opposite. Sexual immorality steals masculinity from a man.

Of course, let us also remember that Solomon is poetically speaking to all of us as sons here, which means that this warning is not merely for men. The woman is just as much in danger of falling for the Adulterer as a man is to the Adulteress. Last week, we saw that 40 million Americans regularly view pornography, and one-third of those are women. And that is not even mentioning the prevalence of pornographic “romance” novels, television, and movies. Indeed, just as the Adulteress robs a man of his masculinity, so the Adulterer steals a woman of her femininity.

Now there is some question as to who is doing the stealing here. Solomon certainly keeps the language poetically ambiguous, so we should take care not to speak too decisively. A common interpretation is that the Israelite king is warning specifically against the Adulteress’ husband in these verses, since her husband had the right to have the two caught in adultery put to death (Leviticus 20:10). While this is certainly true, because the Adulteress is a personification of all sexual sin, we need not stop there. The word for strangers in verse 10 is the same word used for the Forbidden Woman back in verse 3. We could, therefore, interpret these verses as a man’s strength, honor, years, and labors being given to sin itself. This certainly fits with the New Testament’s teaching that we were slaves to sin before Christ (Romans 6:16-18). Sin, especially sexual sin, has present and physical consequences (i.e. disease, shame, death, etc.), but it also bears eternal consequences. To embark upon a journey into sexual immorality is to venture toward death.

Verses 11-14 provide us with a life’s end lament from the man caught by the Adulteress. The primary cry here is the lament over how is heart hated discipline and despise reproof. Verse 13 reminds us that this man was taught and given warnings about sin’s consequences. He was not ignorant, just willfully negligent. Verse 14 describes the horror of being upon the precipice of complete disgrace before everyone.

I find it interesting that the lament comes at the end of the man’s life. He is looking back at his lack of discipline and mourning over his wasted life. Such is the way of sin. Sexual sin, like all sin, promises life but drains vitality instead. Using pornography as the obvious application again, it is interesting how even some secular people are beginning to see this correlation. In many online forums, you can read of non-Christians refusing to look at pornography because they find it robbing them of their enjoyment of actual sex, happiness, and emotions. In short, time given to sin is time wasted, and because time is in short supply, we will look back our time spent in sin with lamentation.

THE WIFE OF YOUR YOUTH // VERSES 15-19

I find it interesting that most of Solomon’s warnings in Proverbs seem to be regarding what not to do, but here he presents a clear command for what we should do. Verses 15-17 present us with an interesting metaphor of springs issuing forth from one’s cistern or well, and he warns that we must not allow strangers (there’s that word again) to partake in them. We should not let our drinking water run into the streets as if it were some common thing (let us remember, after all, that clean water was not a guaranteed grace for much of the ancient world).

What is the meaning of this metaphor? Verses 18-19 explain it plainly: the blessed fountain is the wife of your youth (again, women should apply it as the husband of your youth). Note the tremendous difference between verses 15-17 and verse 18. The wife is called a blessed fountain. Recall from earlier studies that in the Bible being blessed means having the unconditional favor of God. This means that blessed things are also holy things, meaning they have been set apart and are no longer common. What God calls blessed is incapable of ever being ordinary, even if it is treated as such. And God calls a man’s wife his blessed fountain. God-follower or not, a spouse is special grace of the LORD. God designed marriage; therefore, the institution is one of blessing. And to open this union to others (as seen in verses 15-17) is a trampling upon what God has blessed.

How then do we treat our marriage with honor (Hebrews 13:4) as the blessing that it is? Be delighted in your spouse. For centuries, some theologians have argued that Song of Songs is pure allegory in an attempt to keep sex as purely for procreation. The heart that must have been behind this originally is easy to see. With so many deviant forms of sexual behavior, it is easy simply to forbid sex for anything other than baby-making. Yet this is a legalistic contradiction of the Bible’s teaching. Even if Song of Songs is purely allegorical, the context of verse 19 here is certainly not. Solomon is explicitly stating that guard ourselves from sexual immorality by delighting in God-glorifying sex.

The language here is only intensified by the word intoxicated in verse 19. It is often translated as going astray (see verse 23), but also gives the connotation of swaying in a drunken stupor. Thus, intoxicated is a fitting translation. The command is to always be drunk on the love of your spouse. Take physical delight in your spouse. As we discussed last week, forbidden sex is sweet as honey for the moment. No one denies that sin is fun. If it were not pleasurable, no one would fall into it. But here Solomon gives us the marvelous strategy of fight pleasure with greater pleasure.

Too often, we think of killing sin as killing our enjoyment of life, but in reality, we are meant to kill sin by embracing true enjoyment. For married people, this finds an immediate application in your spouse. After all, Paul commands spouses: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). At her bachelorette party, my wife received advice from a married woman a few years older than her that sex should be used to get a husband to do whatever you want him to do. This is sinful advice that flies against Paul’s words. Sex is not meant to be arbitrarily withheld from your spouse; instead, marital sex should be a reservoir of great delight for both husband and wife. When this is true, the joy of godly sex will guard the heart against sexual immorality.

Of course, there is at least one question more that should be discussed of these verses: do they have any application for those who are not married? It is fine to say that having delightful sex with your husband or wife is a means of fighting sin, but it also does little good if you are not married. Fortunately, the principle behind these verses still stands true. The battle against sin is still a battle for pleasure, joy, and satisfaction, but for those who are single, godly sex does not factor in until marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul speaks of those not married as having “undivided devotion to the Lord” (v. 35) and that they are “anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (v. 32). Therefore, they fight the pull of sexual sin by rejoicing in God. Both married and singles ultimately combat sin by treasuring Christ. Those who are married only have the added benefit of being able to practice godly sex.

A LACK OF DISCIPLINE // VERSES 20-23

Verse 20 provides the contrast of verse 19. The command to be intoxicated with your wife and find delight in her breasts is now turned inversely upon the Adulteress: why should you be intoxicated with her? Why would you embrace the bosom of the Forbidden Woman instead of delighting in the breasts of your own wife? The final three verses seek to remind us of the foolishness of embracing sexual immorality.

First, verse 21 reminds us that our ways are never hidden from the LORD. But our ways are not merely known to God, He ponders them. It is easy to acknowledge that God, in His omniscience, knows my sin, but we rarely believe that God is actually interest in it. I mean, why would the God of the universe bother to pay attention to me? Omniscience, combined with omnipotence and omnipresence, means that the God Who stands sovereign over all creation gives special care and thought to you. In fact, He ponders your life far more than you ever could. This remembrance that God not only sees but thinks deeply about us should give us incentive to fight sin.

Second, verse 22 informs us that sin is a snare and a trap. We think that exercise in sin is an exercise in true freedom, but Paul tells us that when we sin, we are only free from righteousness (Romans 6:20). Sin enslaves and ultimately kills.

Romans 6:20-23 | For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Third, verse 23 states that a lack of discipline kills. Discipline is not pleasant (Hebrews 12:10). As humans, we naturally rebel against discipline. Many want to lose weight, but few endure the discipline of exercising and eating carefully. Many want to play a musical instrument, but few are willing to put the necessary hours of discipline to do so. Paul Washer often tells the story of a young man listening to legendary trumpet player and afterward said that he would give his life to play like the man. The man replied that he did give his life to play like that. Discipline requires the denial of momentary pleasure in favor of greater pleasure in the future. Sin, however, is the embrace of momentary pleasure at the cost of greater pleasure later. This is how sin kills: by feeding our need for instant gratification.

A CASE STUDY: THE LIFE OF SOLOMON

Perhaps you are reading this and are wondering what gives Solomon the right to write these words. Did he not have 700 wives and 300 concubines? In fact, we should let the Bible tells what happened to Solomon:

1 Kings 11:1-8 | Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.

This was the man who was divinely gifted with wisdom. This was the man who had the King David as his father, a man after God’s own heart (Act 13:22). Solomon wrote the book on biblical wisdom! How could he, of all people, fall away from the LORD because of sexual immorality!

First, let us remember that wisdom is not a permanent gift. Like manna, God-given wisdom does not last through the night. We awake each morning fools in desperate need of God’s gracious and loving wisdom. Luckily, the LORD is faithful to answer such prayers (James 1:5).

Second, the collapse of Solomon into sexual sin and away from his faith in God stands as a warning to us. If the author of this text was not himself exempt from them, neither are we. 1 Corinthians 10:12 cautions us: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” A presumption that sin is harmless almost always leads to harm. A refusal to take a rattlesnake seriously will almost always end in a bite. Solomon is a great warning that no one is entirely safe from the grasp of sexual immorality in this life.

Third, Solomon’s fall into sin and away from God does render his Scriptural writings invalid. Truth remains true regardless of whether the person speaking it believes it or not. This is why Paul was able to rejoice in the preaching of the gospel, even when he knew that it was preached out of selfish ambition (Philippians 1:15-18). If anything, Solomon’s sway off the path of wisdom lends even more weight to his words. The necessity to continuously seek wisdom is accented by Solomon’s descent into foolishness. Solomon’s appeal to fight sexual immorality by being intoxicated in your own wife is doubly emphasized by the king’s failure to do so and the consequences that it brought him.

Fourth, our hope is in Jesus, not Solomon. Our only hope of escaping sin (and healing its wounds) is in the One Who is greater than Solomon. King Solomon’s wisdom was so great that a great queen came from afar to listen to his teachings. Using this account, Jesus said this about Himself: “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). Even with all his wisdom, Solomon was a type and shadow of Jesus and His wisdom. We, therefore, look to Jesus even in the midst of our sin.

1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Even as we read these warnings against sin, we must always remember that our is solely in the faithfulness of God. He is faithful even when we are not. He forever upholds His covenant with us, even when we break it against Him. Praise be to God that He is forever faithful to His Bride, even when we give our hearts, time, and bodies to lesser things.

This is the great truth of the gospel. We are faithless, but He is faithful. We sin and, therefore, deserve the just wrath of God, but Jesus took every bit of the Father’s wrath upon Himself in our place. We would do well to remember that Christ did not merely die for “small” sins (as if those really existed); rather, He died for ALL sin. He even said so Himself: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemes they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29). All sin is included under that canopy of forgiveness except for blaspheme of the Holy Spirit, which John Piper describes as follows in an episode of Ask Pastor John titled What Is the Unforgiveable Sin?:

The unforgiveable sin is when you have resisted him so decisively that he has forsaken you and you can no longer repent. You try to repent and you can’t repent. You can’t be genuinely sorry for your sin or turn away from it. That is a horribly frightening situation to be in. But any listener who is now broken-hearted for his sin and does not despise Christ can be forgiven for every sin, no matter what he might have said to the Holy Spirit or however long he might have resisted Him. He can be forgiven, because the Bible holds out that promise for him. Whoever believes will be saved (John 3:16; Romans 10:13). It’s the inability to repent and believe which marks one as having gone over the line.

Tradition says that Solomon repented toward the end of his life and wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. We will not know the truth of this tradition until we enter eternal life with the LORD, but I pray that it is. There is certainly more than enough grace in the cross of Christ to cover the sex-driven idolatry of Solomon. Likewise, the grace of God in Christ is sufficient for all your sins. Embrace Him in repentance today; we are not guaranteed the ability to do so tomorrow.

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I Believe

Martin Luther once said, “Although I’m indeed an old doctor, I never move on from the childish doctrine of the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. I still daily learn and pray them with my little Hans and my little Lena.”

For the next thirteen weeks, we will be studying the Apostles’ Creed, which we will then follow with studies of the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments. These three texts have long been used to disciple new believers into the basics of the Christian faith and to keep mature believers rooted in the essentials. Addressing the head, heart, and hands, these texts direct how we are to believe, pray, and obey. May we, like Luther, never move on past these core truths.

WHAT IS THE APOSTLES’ CREED?

The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest formal confessional statement to become widely used and affirmed by the church through history. Despite its name, the creed is almost certainly not written by the apostles; instead, we call it the Apostles’ Creed since it is a summary of their teachings.

Based on its first appearance in the writing of Hippolytus, the creed began as a baptismal confession. Before immersing the confessor in the water, he or she would be asked, “Do you believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth?” When they responded, “I believe”, they were dunked into the water. The process then repeated through the next two articles of the creed. Through use in this setting, the Apostles’ Creed came to be seen as a time-tested, helpful, and concise synopsis of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

It is also worth addressing, if anyone is concerned why we are preaching through a text that is outside of Scripture, I will give attention to that question very soon. I will assure you, however, from the very beginning that these sermons are intended to be very much expository messages. The exposition, though, will look a bit different than usual. Typically, I preach through a particular book or section of Scripture drawing out and explaining the message therein. These sermons will focus instead upon the large doctrines of the Bible. The goal is still to be expositional, just from a 30,000-foot view. From this altitude, my aim is nevertheless in agreement with Simeon’s, who said:

My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there. I have a great jealousy on this head; never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.

WHY SHOULD WE AFFIRM THE APOSTLES’ CREED?

The main reason that we should affirm the Apostles’ Creed is that it is a faithful summary of essential Christian doctrine; it is a snapshot of the core teachings of Christianity. This is crucial because the Bible repeatedly commands us to stand firm in sound doctrine. Acts 2:42, for example, tells us that the fledgling church devoted (or immersed and saturated) themselves in the apostles’ teaching, which is revealed in the Scriptures. Through the prophets in the Old Testament and apostles in the New Testament, God has made Himself known to humanity. The Scriptures alone, therefore, define the basics of our belief. They teach us the faith for which we must be ready to contend.

The Apostles’ Creed, like all creeds and confessions, is not Scripture. It does, however, provide us with a lens for understanding the overall message of the Bible. Creeds, therefore, are not ends unto themselves; rather, they are a means by which we are able to better know God’s Word.

But if the Bible itself is the only authoritative revelation of God, wouldn’t creeds and confessions just distract from the Bible itself? Or to put it another way, should we believe in “no creed but the Bible?” The problem with rejecting all creeds, confessions, and statements of faith as undermining the authority of the Bible is that the idea is almost entirely fallacious in logic. Because creeds are statements of belief, the phrase “no creed but the Bible” is itself a creed, which means that its meaning falls apart as quickly as arguing that there are absolutely no absolutes. The very premise is self-defeating as even summarizing and paraphrasing the message of the Bible would necessarily be a kind of informal creedal statement.

In fact, creeds are helpful and even necessary for understanding the Bible. Christians, furthermore, have long looked to the Apostles’ Creed as a guide for understanding the essential doctrines of the faith. The Bible certainly contains many issues and topics but not all of them are essential, and we don’t have to agree exactly about interpreting these things. For example, many believers disagree on whether the supernatural gifts of the Spirit continue today or have ceased. Both cases can be reasonably made from Scripture, and since it is a secondary issue, we don’t lob heresy grenade at one another. We disagree and remain united around the core truths that make us disciples of Christ.

The Apostles’ Creed is a great tool for reminding ourselves what exactly those essentials are. Albert Mohler states, “All Christians believe more than is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, but none can believe less” (xvi). If our beliefs and convictions do not go beyond the creed then we don’t have any familiarity with the Bible, so we must go further than the creed in our walk with Christ. But also, each statement of the creed represents an essential doctrine that if denied removes a person from the historical stream of orthodoxy.

As I stated a few sermons ago, we must be vigilant to guard these essentials from two threats: liberalism, which seeks to make the essentials into nonessentials, and fundamentalism, which seeks to make nonessentials into essentials. The Apostles’ Creed is an easy to memorize guide for guarding against those pulling tendencies. When we use it as a guide, it helps us to realize that far more is at stake when speaking with someone who denies that church is necessary for following Christ or that there will be a physical resurrection to come than with someone who holds a different slant on complementarianism. As our society continues to become more and more polarized, we are tempted into thinking that every argument is the next Arian Controversy or Diet of Worms, but not every hill is worth dying on. Or perhaps more accurately, not every disagreement is worth a fight. Let us, rather, firmly dwell upon the essential doctrines so that when the next great heresy arises, like Athanasius and Luther before us, we would be ready to stand against the world for what we believe.

We should also note that two key doctrines are implied by the creed even though they are not mentioned explicitly. First is the doctrine of the Trinity. While the creed does not use the Trinity, it clearly affirms the triune nature of God. In fact, the very structure of the creed is trinitarian, just as the foundation of our faith is our God, who is three in one.

Second is the authority of Scripture. In fact, the Apostles’ Creed doesn’t even mention Scripture at all. Critically, this doesn’t mean that the creed denies the supreme authority of Scripture; instead, it just assumes it. One of the practical benefits of warding off heretical teachings is that they force God’s people to clarify what we believe. For instance, Paul would have never written his opus against adding works to the gospel if the Galatians hadn’t fallen under the sway of the Judaizers. Nor would the deity of Christ have been so explicitly affirmed as it is in the Nicene Creed without the threat of Arianism. In the same way, the Apostles’ Creed assumes the authority of the Scriptures since it is simply aiming to explain their most important teachings.

WHY DOES EACH ARTICLE BEGIN WITH I BELIEVE?

The words I believe, which begin each article of the Apostles’ Creed, are written as credo in Latin. The English word creed and the Spanish verb creer both come from this Latin root. It might be helpful, therefore, to think of the creed as the Apostles’ Belief. When we declare the teaching of the creed as our own belief, we are asserting our place among the apostolic lineage, the universal church that began with twelve men of Galilee. We declare that we are among the family of God, the body and bride of Christ throughout the ages.

Doing this is critical because the Bible is full of creedal statements for uniting God’s people. Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema) is the most significant of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” This simple confession united Israel together in worship of the one true God.

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 establishes the core section of the Apostles’ Creed:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Then we have the Christ-hymns from Colossians 1 and Philippians 2, which also have a notable creedal feel to them.

Philippians 2:5-11 | Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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.

Colossians 1:15-20 | He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Notice that each of these New Testament “creeds” centers upon Jesus Christ and, particularly, His death on the cross for our sins. They do so because the death and resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Those events form the core of the gospel, which Jesus Himself commanded us to believe. In fact, in Mark’s Gospel, the message of Jesus’ entire earthly ministry is summarized by Jesus declaring: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15).

The very structure of the Apostles’ Creed reflects the structure of the gospel. It begins with God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. He built the cosmos out of nothing, giving to humanity the distinct privilege of reflecting His image. But we rebelled. Discontented with being like God, we tried to become gods, and, as a result, our sin broke us and the world under our dominion, ushering in death. But God did not leave us to perish in our sin; instead, He sent His only Son, who is the eternal Word by whom and through whom the world was made. So God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, entering our world as one of us. The God-man, fully human and fully divine, lived a life of perfection and rejection that culminated in His willing crucifixion as a substitute for us. Upon that cross, the only person to never deserve death died, and His body was placed in a grave for three days. On the third day, He rose to life, becoming the firstborn of the resurrection. He then ascended into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand until the day that He will return to judge every soul that has ever lived with righteousness and equity. Until then, He has poured upon His people the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, who dwells within us so that we are empowered to continue Jesus’ earthly ministry. As such, we join every disciple of Jesus the mission of calling upon all people to repent and believe the good news, to become disciples of Jesus as well. As they do, they too join the fellowship of God’s people, rejoice in the forgiveness of their sins, and fix their hope upon our eternal life with Christ in resurrected bodies like His.

It is fitting that the Apostles’ Creed ends with Amen because those who believe these things can scarcely say anything else. The reminder of this good news should elicit a joyous declaration of “May it be so!” from our lips! These must be living truths within our breasts, not dead pieces of knowledge or trivia.

Indeed, to believe is to exercise our faith in these truths. The analogy of sitting in a chair is always fitting. We might cognitively understand that chair will support our weight when we sit down, but that belief can only truly be seen whenever we actually sit in the chair. To simply affirm that we could sit down in the chair without sitting in it does us no good. In the same way, many will gladly affirm the truths presented in the Apostles’ Creed, but they aren’t sitting in the chair, their lives don’t reflect what they claim to believe.

For example, you say that you believe in God the Father almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, yet you rarely take God’s design and will for all things and you specifically into account. Intellectually, you exalt God as supreme, but practically you do what seems right in your own eyes.

Or perhaps you claim to believe in the forgiveness of sins, but in reality, you’ve established your own penitential system for working off your guilt. If you do one sin, you ask God for forgiveness the following day when its not so fresh and you don’t feel so dirty. Or if you do another one, you start looking for something good to do to offset the scales.

Or maybe you maybe you affirm that you believe in life everlasting after the dead have been resurrected, yet you have no real longing for the world to come. Worse yet, those who are around you on a daily basis see no evidence that your great hope is to be with Christ for eternity. Really, they don’t see much of a difference between you and them at all.

May these examples never be true of us! To believe and affirm these doctrines means conforming our lives to their truth. To believe that God is almighty and the creator of all things can only result in us actively and persistently trying to unite ourselves to His pattern and design for reality. To do anything else would utterly foolish and reflect unbelief. To believe that God became a man, suffered, and died for my sins would make attempting to pay for my own sin an act of total irrationality.

Brothers and sisters, we must not simply affirm these doctrines as factual; rather, let us examine over these next twelve weeks how believing their truth transforms each day of our lives. What does it truly look like to believe whole-heartedly that God died for me? Or that God now dwells within me? Or that Jesus will come back in judgment over everyone, alive or dead?

In all likelihood, we will each find ourselves at some points of these studies praying the prayer of the man in Mark 12:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Indeed, let us affirm these doctrines with all our heart, soul, and might, while remembering that we will fail entirely without attached to the grace of Jesus like a branch to the vine.

So, do you believe?

Biblical Wisdom

Get Wisdom | Proverbs 4:1-9

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”

Proverbs 4:1-9 ESV

 

As we enter chapter four, we now find Solomon once again pleading for us to obtain wisdom. He claims that wisdom will both guard and exalt us, so we should seek wisdom regardless of the cost. But how do we acquire wisdom? Solomon points to his father’s teaching of the Scriptures as being where he learned the value and necessity of wisdom. This is important because it reminds us that making disciples is a way of imparting wisdom.

WISDOM & DISCIPLESHIP // VERSES 1-4

Solomon first tells us to hear. As we saw that very word in 2:8, so we will continue to see it throughout Proverbs. We often rush past words like this, but I believe it is quite important to stop and consider its implications. God, through Solomon, is telling us to listen to what He is saying. How often do we hear of people asking God to speak to them or saying that they would believe in God if He would only speak? Yet now we open God’s Word and read Him saying, “Hear!” He is speaking; the only question now is whether or not we are listening. Are we going to be a people who hear what God is saying to us?

So what does Solomon tell us to hear? He is calling us to listen to his instructions, precepts, and teachings. These instructions have been compiled for us in the book we are presently studying, Proverbs. Therefore, Solomon is urging us to listen to the Scriptures that God has spoken to us, which he claims to have received from his own father, David. The author is, thus, constructing a lineage of discipleship. He is transferring God’s wisdom as found in the Scriptures to us as his children, just like his father transferred the divine wisdom to him. This familial discipleship should not surprise us since we have previously read how God expected parents to teach diligently to their children all the commands of the LORD (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). David’s instruction of Solomon was merely the basic pattern that God desired for all of His people.

But why was David diligent in teaching God’s Word to Solomon? True life is found in keeping God’s commandments (v. 4). As we’ve stated previously, there is an element of temporal truth here. If we submit ourselves to the wisdom of God, we will generally not cut our own lives short by foolishly driving into a tree while intoxicated. By this reasoning, our lives will tend to be longer by obeying God’s laws. But ultimately, we know that this principle is fulfilled fully in eternity. God’s Word, therefore, gives life everlasting but also tends to give a greater scope and depth to life in the here and now.

Because God’s Word leads to life, we must be diligent in discipling one another in the commandments and the wisdom of God. Providentially, we are living in an age of resurging commitment to discipleship. Many Christians in the United States grew up in church without ever being truly discipled, and they now read the clear commands of Scripture, resolving to end that cycle. Praise the LORD for this reformation! Yet often when we think of discipleship, we only think of men discipling men and women discipling women in coffee shops and other hipster-approved locales. But these verses, like Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6, emphasize that discipleship must also be built into the very fabric of the parent-child relationship. In fact, we might argue that household discipleship is the primary form of discipleship, that discipleship must begin in the home.

The first and most important disciples of each parent is their children. Solomon was a good and wise king because his father taught him to love the LORD. Of course, both Solomon and David were extremely broken men. David committed adultery and ordered the woman’s husband to be killed, while Solomon allowed his lust for his wives and concubines to lead his heart astray from the LORD. David was a messed up father, but he was also faithful to teach him God’s Word. Solomon was broken and sinful, but his father’s diligent instruction gave him the grounding that he needed to author three books of the Bible. Like anything within the Christian life, the emphasis is not upon our own worthiness. We know that we are unworthy from the start, which is why we praise God for the grace that has been given us in Christ! God wiped away the penalty of our disobedience; we must now be faithful to obey Him as newly formed creatures.

So, parents, are you faithful to teach your children the Word of God? Make no mistake, our children will be discipled. Television and computer screens are tremendously effective disciple-makers. Unfortunately, they do not tend to teach the wisdom and commands of God. Will we disciple them ourselves, or will we allow the various influences around them to disciple them?

If the notion of discipling your children in the Word of God sounds intimidating, allow me to list eight nuggets of advice from Jon Nielson’s book, Reading the Bible with Your Kids:

  1. Pick a regular time and place.
  2. Read short chunks at a time.
  3. Pick a literal translation.
  4. Stop often to explain.
  5. Ask follow up questions.
  6. Connect each passage with Jesus.
  7. Let the read turn to prayer.
  8. Be willing to do it badly.

Number eight is probably the most important. We cannot expect to be masters of teaching the Bible to our kids, nor can we expect our children to be perfect in their listening and learning. We are human, and life is hard. Discipleship is no different. We will regularly make a mess of the whole thing. What then? We repent, both to God and to our children, and we do it again. Parents need the grace of God in order to disciple their children. Fortunately, God is in the business of supplying grace to His children.

Before moving into the final verses of this study, allow me to give one final point of advice for making disciples, whether with our children or with another believer: don’t make reading the Bible feel like eating vegetables.

To be honest, my personal reading of the Scriptures often feel like eating vegetables. I know that I need them. I know that they are good for me. But sometimes, I don’t really like the taste. Yet this is not how reading and studying the Bible is meant to be. Read Psalm 19 or 119 and note how passionately they speak of God’s Word!

Of course, we know that some passages in the Bible are kind of like eating Brussel sprouts. We know that genealogies are just as inspired as the rest of Scripture, but it can still be quite difficult to truly enjoy reading through a list of names that we can’t pronounce. So we tend to force those texts down because we know that we need them.

But that is not the entirety of the Scripture! Indeed, the Bible is a full-course meal, vegetables and all. There are passages of the Bible that are like eating desserts. Simply dive into the books of Samuel and get lost in the story. The life of David has enough twists and turns to match any television series. Or if you want political intrigue and conspiracy, read 1 & 2 Kings. Do you want some meat that will be a little tough to chew but slap your tongue with flavor? Read the wisdom literature, like our present book Proverbs or Ecclesiastes or Job. Read the Gospels. They are the meat and potatoes of the Bible, giving four complementary portraits of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In school, the teachers that made the most impact on me were the ones who had a genuine love for their subject. I still remember most of the bones of the human body because of my seventh grade science teacher. Because she loved science, her love became contagious. How much more should we love God’s Word! Do we delight in the Word, or is it simply forced? Do we truly believe that life is found in these words? If so, how can the Scriptures be boring to us?

Dive into the Word of God. Love the Scriptures. And as you teach others the Bible, show them your heart for God’s commandments. Such love is contagious.

GET WISDOM // VERSES 5-9

Having discussed how Solomon received his God-fearing wisdom from his father, he now proceeds to impart more of it to us. Get wisdom is the primary command of these verses. Both verses 5 and 7 urge us to obtain wisdom. Verses 6, 8, and 9 then list benefits that wisdom provides for us. But let us first address the command. What does it mean to get wisdom? And furthermore, how do we get it?

Verse 7 tells us that getting wisdom is the beginning of wisdom. Wait. What? Isn’t the fear of the LORD the beginning of wisdom? How is the beginning of wisdom the act of getting wisdom? In all actuality, this is the same command as fearing the LORD. It’s just worded differently, but the idea is the same. They complement, not contradict, one another. The fear of the LORD truly is the beginning of wisdom because it is only then that we are able to seek the One who authored wisdom in the first place. Fearing God is wisdom because it recognizes that we are not supreme. We do not have the highest intellect and understanding of ourselves and the world around us. True wisdom is submission to God, understanding that He knows better. This command, to get wisdom, can only come through fearing the LORD. They are not two commands, but one.

The second half of verse 7 further urges us to pursue wisdom regardless of the cost. Whatever you get, get insight. If you could only choose one thing to have in this life, choose wisdom. That’s what Solomon is saying. Even if it costs you everything, chase after God’s wisdom. Pursue it. Get it above everything else.

Now that we understand the command, let’s view the blessings of obedience.

Wisdom Guards Us (v. 6)

Verse 6 tells us not to forsake her, which recall that wisdom is personified as a woman. Love her, and she will guard you. How does wisdom guard us? Practically, we can look at the example of debt. Bible warns us about the dangers of debt, how it places us in the possession of another person. The Scriptures, therefore, urge us to avoid debt whenever possible. If we live according to this wisdom, we will then be guarded from the harmful effects of debt. So wisdom guards us in very practical ways.

Yet I also think that this guarding has a spiritual component as well. Since we know that wisdom comes from God as He has spoken in His Word, we can conclude that the Scriptures guard us. They teach us who God is. They are how He speaks to us, teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us. They keep us rooted in Him, that we may be firm in the midst of the storms of life. The Scriptures remind us that God truly is working out all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

Wisdom Exalts Us (vv. 8-9)

Notice the second blessing that comes with obtaining wisdom: she will exalt you. What does this exaltation mean? Are not the Scriptures clear that we need to be humbled, not exalted? The answer is that it does both things. The Bible, and its wisdom within, both humbles and exalts us. We must first begin with the humility. The gospel humbles us by killing our self-esteem, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency. Milton Vincent exposes how the gospel liberates us from the throes of self-love:

I love myself supremely because I am the most worthy person I know to be loved and also because I think I can do a better job at it than anyone else. Such arrogance makes me dangerous, yet it is deeply ingrained in my sinful flesh. Thankfully, the gospel frees me from the shackles of self-love by addressing both of these causes. First, the gospel assures me that the love of God is infinitely superior to any love that I could ever give to myself… Second, the gospel reveals to me the breathtaking glory and loveliness of God, and in doing so, it lures my heart away from love of self and leaves me enthralled by Him instead (30).

The gospel certainly humbles us in this regard. We certainly do not deserve the supremely beautiful love of God because we are rebels against Him, would-be usurpers of His throne. Through our sin, we earned the fullness of God’s wrath. We have every reason be to humbled. And yet the gospel does not stop there. The gospel also makes us the recipients of God’s love. This love is humbling as well. Jesus told his disciples that “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is exactly what Christ did upon the cross! He died for us. We cannot match that kind of love. I rarely am able to lay down my life for myself (which is called self-control and self-discipline, by the way), let alone do so for someone else. He loves us far more than we could ever love ourselves. God’s love humbles us by putting our love to shame by comparison and reminding us that we are not the most deserving of love.

But the gospel also exalts us, by making us the objects of God’s love and affection. Even though we were dead in are trespasses, God loved us enough to die on our behalf. This does not mean that we are intrinsically valuable; instead, it means that God is infinitely merciful in choosing to love us. God gives us value by choosing us. That’s the beauty of the gospel. It humbles us far more than we ever want to be humbled, and it exalts far more than we ever deserve to be exalted.

Get Wisdom

Wisdom can only be found in the Scriptures. So do you love the Word of God? Peter gives us a similar exhortation to Solomon’s when he says, “like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3). Having a newborn infant of my own transforms my understanding of these verses. I have always cognitively known that babies need milk, and we likewise need the Scriptures. But having a newborn really illuminates the significance of longing for God’s Word. Newborns have a deep longing for milk, one which causes them to cry as though they are dying whenever they are hungry. Not knowing how to process hunger, they are desperate to be fed, and they are will to cry out for it. Our hearts should do the same for God’s Word and His wisdom. We long the Scriptures because we need them. We chase after God’s wisdom regardless of the cost because it is our life. We cannot live without God’s Word and the wisdom found within it. Pray, then, for a desire and a passion for seeking God’s wisdom through His Word.

N. D. Wilson on the Difficulty of Life

I’m reading through Death by Living by N. D. Wilson for the second time. It’s a powerful book that everyone should read. While it’s difficult to share any passage as my favorite since Wilson weaves the parts together into a greater whole, the section below never fails to bring a tear to my eyes.

May we embrace the beautiful and messy uphill-inclined difficulties of life.


There is a school of American thought that suggests we are supposed to live furiously and foolishly when young, slave away pointlessly when adults, and then coast into low-impact activity as soon as financially possible.

Isn’t that just a kiss on the lips (from a dog).

The truth is that a life well lived is always lived on a rising scale of difficulty.

As a little kid, I had a job: Obey my mother. Don’t lie. Play hard. Be kind to my sisters.

At the time, that job was actually difficult. My mom kept saying things like, “Come here.” And, “No jumping on the couch.” Or, “Don’t stand on the doorknob and swing on the door.” And, “No hitting.”

But my sisters were there, and so were my fists. The couch was bouncy. Doors are cool to swing on.

Man, I was bad at my job.

I remember the existential despair as I stood in the front yard of our duplex with my real yellow fiberglass bow with a real arrow on the string, but on that arrow’s tip . . . a tube sock with red stripes duct-taped on tight.

I still managed to shoot it over the fence.

I remember kneeling on my top bunk and pounding nails into my wall in a long, winding row that even crossed my Seattle Seahawks poster.

Throughout my childhood, the second most common (bad) sound effect was most likely glass shattering, only occurring slightly less frequently than the yelping of a sister.

But I was supposed to push the limits. That was my job at the time. I was supposed to live as fully as I could within the boundaries of the law. I transgressed often, but a balance between full-throttle living and obedience was found with much help from wooden kitchen spoons.

I learned how a raw egg reacts beneath a hammer and how far I could throw a hatchet. Sure, I mounded toilet paper up in the toilet bowl and then lit it on fire, but at least I flushed.

And just as I began to get good at my job, I got promoted. The law remained the same, but the number of ways in which it was possible to transgress radically increased. I was bigger. I was faster. I was at school.

It’s that way for all of us. But the promotions come regardless of whether or not we’ve actually improved. If you are bad at being two, you will be bad at being four. If you’re bad at being four, you will be bad at being six.

Temptations increase. Potential falls multiply. We look at a two-year-old attempting to overthrow righteousness and establish evil in all the land, and we snicker. Lazy parents tell themselves that the wee little he (or she) will outgrow this little tendency of theirs.

Yipes. Wong. Buzzer. Gong.

What they mean is that the child will grow into someone else’s problem. Once they are at day care, the struggle will be out of sight and will be dealt with by other struggling peers and/or unrelated adults. Or not.

The school years escalate in difficulty and multiply in temptation. Add sports and friends and hormones and petty power structures. You can now sit in huge chunks of hurtling metal, taking the lives of every one of your passengers and every passenger in every other passing chunk of metal and every passing pedestrian and every passing bicyclist into your irresponsible hands. You can now make mistakes that kill people (and you). Off to college and mustachioed professors will pour nonsense all over you. You are ready or you aren’t. Peers wallow in every kind of debauch. You are ready or you aren’t. And you can now (far more easily than in high school) ruin your life forever.

You are now on your own.

And then you aren’t. Other real live souls are now depending on you. You are the creator of their childhoods. You are the influencer of their dreams and tastes and fears. You are the emcee of all reality, the one to introduce those small people to the true personality of their Maker (as imaged by your life more than your words). The choices you now make have lives riding on them. Always. Their problems and struggles are yours to help them resolve. Their weaknesses yours to strengthen. Or not. (Maybe they’ll outgrow them.)

This X marks my spot. I am here. For good and ill, I am a molder of childhoods, an instiller of instincts, a feeder (or famisher) of souls, a sensei of humor. I am an image of God (stunted and vandalized but all the earthly father my kids can have). Thank God for faith and bulk-ordered grace.

As the next decades flicker past, my burden will change. I will begin to ride my bike with no hands, watching my children be what they will be. I will reap what has been sown. I will see the fruit of faith (and the fruit of failures). And I will see my children sow again, but on their own.

I will labor to live with the joyful fury of a child, but I will be exhausted. My body will decay and break. That part has already begun. I will grow weak, but with the memory of strength, reaching for strength that should be there and is now gone.

In the end, I will face the greatest enemy that any man has ever faced. And I will lose.

Our challenges always build. A ninety-five-year-old man sits in his chair with a wandering mind because a century cannot pass without many blows. That much life is heavy for the strongest shoulders. A young man might feel bold; he might feel courageous, gambling with life and death. And he might be courageous. But he trusts his strength; he feels as if he could fight, as if he could run, as if he has a chance. He may even choose his danger.

It takes a different kind of courage to face death when you cannot run, when you cannot fight, when you are pinned beneath heavy decades, beneath the weight of life—when your faith really must be in another.

I spoke with Lawrence Greensides—Granddad—often. But not often enough. He was a man with big shoulders and a strong back, carrying nearly a century before the weight finally dropped him to his knees.

He was my expert whenever some adventure story required knowledge of planes. He was a man who faced bullets and bombs and storms, who was willing to end his life story in the service of his country, his family, his men. And he came close. But even after two wars, the heaviest burden he ever carried was still at the end in a quiet house where his wife sat in a swing that he had hung for her, watching the birds. Because at the end, he carried all of it. Ninety-five years of fallen choices. Of mistakes. Of darkness. Of frustrations. Of regrets. Ninety-five years of life means ninety-five years of loss.

He felt that weight as he cared for his sweet and forgetful wife. He would try to pick up his faults, his memory wandering over old scars. It was crushing. And then relief would come and he would laugh as happily as the day I saw him baptized. He didn’t have to carry the weight. It wasn’t his anymore. It had all been taken and hung on a tree. It had been bound to a broken body with strips of cloth and buried, and it was still in that grave, left there on one bright Sunday morning long ago when Life, this story, turned.

I had called him not long before when my mother warned me that something was changing. He was having dizzy spells. Abdominal pain.

I made a mental note to call him again. But I didn’t. If I am blessed to live to his length, a day will come in 2073 when I am sitting beneath the burden of a century, and my mind’s finger will trace the scar of this regret. By then, it will be soon healed.

My grandmother was on her swing when my uncle found his father on his knees. He tried to help him up, but my grandfather was focused on his last fight.

“No,” he said. “I’m dying.”

And he did.

Someday I will face death. I’m building up to it. For now, I face carpool. And deadlines. And book tours. And some back pain. And the task of molding childhoods. And occasional vomit.

 

The Pilgrim’s Playlist

How to Pray the Songs of Ascents

Having concluded the Songs of Ascents, I will provide one final thought regarding them as a collection and how I have benefitted from praying through them as such. I have included a diagram to help visualize the connectivity of these fifteen psalms.

As I have stated, the Songs of Ascents were psalms that were sung by Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for the yearly feasts and festivals. Since our final destination is dwell forever with God in New Jerusalem, these psalms obviously have much to say about life as a disciple of Christ, which is itself a pilgrimage. For the Christian, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit means that we are each temples of God. We are each miniature Jerusalems. Yet we are also awaiting the coming physical reality of New Jerusalem when Christ returns. And sandwiched between these two manifestations of Zion, each local gathering of Christians to worship God is also form of Jerusalem, a return to Eden, where heaven and earth meet, and God walks with man again. Hebrews 12:18-24 calls us to meditate upon the how these realities are presently real to us in Christ:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

By the blood of Jesus, the heavenly Jerusalem is a present reality for us, even though we still wait for its physical manifestation. I urge you, therefore, to pray through the Songs of Ascents with these layers of meaning in mind. Use them to prepare yourself for and to reflect upon Sunday gatherings. Use them to stir your longing for Christ’s return and the material reality of the kingdom of God. Use them to pray for heavenly eyes, even as you dwell in Meshech and Kedar.

Songs of Ascents Diagram

Discipline Is More Than the Rod

In Ephesians 6:4, the Apostle Paul commands fathers to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the LORD.

Correct them.

Teach them.

What’s so hard about that?

Proverbs, particularly and repeatedly, reminds us of the corrective role in parenthood through the rod. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (10:24). “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (22:15). “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (23:13-14). “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (29:15).

The Bible clearly affirms and promotes the “rod” as a means of disciplining children. With my daughter, I now also see the practical benefit of a quick and physical response to disobedience. It provides a sharp reprimand of behavior, which I then follow by reemphasizing why that behavior is not permitted and with an assurance of my deep love for her. And life moves on. She is often playing full-force again within the next few seconds.

The rod of discipline is a prod to keep children from veering off the appropriate path, and as such, it is an essential component of discipline, which even the LORD does not withhold from us. Yet discipline is so much more than the rod.

While conversing about discipline in adulthood, people rarely consider physical correction; instead, they think of things like waking up or going to bed early, training and practicing a skill, exercising, and exerting self-control. We rightfully consider discipline to be how we shape ourselves, little by little, into the molds of who we would like to be in the future. Discipline means actively cultivating our lives into how we desire to live them. Sometimes physical correction plays a role. For example, if I want to continue losing weight but I also want to eat desserts, I’ll need a significant amount of exercise in order to maintain a caloric deficit. Yet in general, I gradually come to realize that limiting desserts and regularly doing moderate exercise is the easiest path to shedding the extra pounds. As a whole, being disciplined is nothing less than how we are choosing to live our lives.

Why is it then that we often have such a narrowed lens for understanding how we discipline our children? Of course, with young children physical correction has a prominent place, especially as they repeatedly push against and thereby discover what constitutes socially appropriate behavior. Yet the role of parents in childrearing is to discipline and instruct in the LORD’s ways, to show and guide them in the path of wisdom, which has its beginning in fearing God. By strength and grace of the Spirit, we are called to shape and mold their lives into a biblical pattern, a Christ-glorifying cruciform design.

This means so much more than simply having well-behaved children; we should want well-disciplined and well-instructed children after God’s commands. God’s commands, of course, is the key phrase. Far be it from us to only desire miniature clones of ourselves! Rather, our aim must be to equip them for living as God designed and intended, to be a disciple of Jesus. After all, parenting is a long-term act of discipleship.

And just as Christ demands every facet of our lives, may we discipline and instruct our children in every facet of their lives as well. Let us be faithful to correct them away from fits of behavior that are not loving to their neighbors. Let us be faithful to instruct them well in the basics of the faith. Let us be faithful to show them by example how the spiritual disciplines grow our love and obedience to the LORD. Let us be faithful to teach them how to steward the gifts that God has given them: their bodies, their time, their finances. Let us show them by our everyday interactions the love, grace, consistency, discipline, and gentleness of God through how loving, gracious, consistent, disciplined, and gentle we are with them.

If this all sounds overwhelming, it is. The biblical demand upon parents goes beyond safekeeping our children. We must raise them in the discipline and instruction of the LORD, which demands our constant intentional effort. Of course, even our greatest efforts will be found wanting, but thankfully we can trust that God’s grace will more than work in spite of, and even through, our weaknesses and failures. But grace isn’t an excuse for us to stop applying our effort; instead, grace provides us with the confidence of knowing that we are simply called to faithful, while God Himself will provide the fruit.

Disciplining our children requires much more than the rod; it requires the outpouring of ourselves. May we gladly follow Christ’s example in this, since He did far more for us.

The Pilgrim’s Playlist

Come, Bless the LORD | Psalm 134

Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
who stand by night in the house of the LORD!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the LORD!

May the LORD bless you from Zion
he who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 134 ESV

 

The fact that this final psalm of the ascents is an invitation should cause us to pause for reflection. Come? Hasn’t the point of these songs been that we are already traveling?

Since the psalm seems to be addressed to the Levitical priests who watched over the temple by day and night, it would appear that this psalm is a form of benediction following a worship ceremony. This interpretation fits with the final trilogy of psalms as being a meditation on the pilgrim’s end of journey. Psalm 132 fixed our eyes upon the glories of worshipping God in Jerusalem, where He dwells with His people. Psalm 133 then meditated upon the beauties of that gathered group of worshippers being united as brothers. Now we receive the closing benediction and prepare to return to our homes, to Meshech and Kedar.

BLESS THE LORD // VERSES 1-2

Verses 1-2 are calling the Levitical order to continue their worship before God on behalf of His people. To show why this is important, we would do well to remember that the Old Testament had three main offices of leadership over Israel: kings, prophets, and priests. Kings exercised governing and ruling authority on God’s behalf. Prophets delivered the messages of God to His people. Priests brought the prayers of the people before God. Kings were God’s stewards, while prophets spoke for God to the people and priests spoke to God for the people.

The Levites were priests. God set their tribe apart, as holy, for the express purpose of being mediators between Himself and the people of Israel. This was a tremendously generous grace of God upon Israel. As the Creator almighty who dwells in unapproachable light, He owes no one the privilege of hearing their prayers, let alone forgiving their sins! Yet that is exactly what He did! He established a system by which the Israelites had assured access to their God. May we never forget the graciousness of God in establishing the Mosaic Law with Israel!

According to this system, the psalmist is calling the priests to continue offering the people’s worship before the LORD through the night. His is calling them to keep their hand lifted toward the holy place, a sign of devotion to the Holy One of Israel.

What then do we do with these verses?

In Christ, the Levitical priesthood has been dissolved. Although it was truly a grace of God, it was an imperfect system. One flaw was that the priests were themselves sinful men who were tasked with offering sacrifices for both themselves and other sinners. Another crucial flaw was the insufficiency of animal blood to cleanse human sin. Since animals were created to be under the dominion of humanity, they are of lesser value than human life. As such, they simply could never cover the eternal debt that our sins accumulate. The system relieved symptoms but was powerless against the actual disease.

Jesus, however, has abolished the Levitical priesthood, replacing it with a superior order. Hebrews spends a lengthy amount of time explaining how Jesus is now our great high priest, after the order of Melchizedek, and why exactly that is so important. The flaws of the Levitical system have been overthrown by Jesus’ perfect fulfillment. He is both a better priest and a better sacrifice.

As our high priest, Christ sits at the Father’s right hand, ready to intercede for us at all times. As a man, He sympathizes with our weaknesses, and as God, He is able to look upon God’s face and live since the Son is coequal with the Father. He is the only one truly qualified to be the mediator between God and man. Jesus is our great high priest.

But He is also the better sacrifice for our sins. Hebrews 9:22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” While the blood of animals was not sufficient to purchase the forgiveness of sins, Jesus’ blood is. Under the Mosaic Law, animals were continuously slaughtered only for the guilt of sin to still remain. Yet Jesus offered His blood as a sacrifice once of all. His is the perfect sacrifice, who is also our high priest.

Yet under Jesus’ New Covenant, the priesthood has not been entirely dissolved. Indeed, God’s plan for Israel as a nation is now being fulfilled by the church among all the nations of the earth: that God’s people would be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Peter makes this explicit: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2:9).

So who are the priests, the servants of God standing by night in the house of the LORD?

We are.

We are the priests to God, and His house is now in us, as we discussed from Psalm 132. As living temples of God, our very lives are now temple worship. This is why Paul urges us to do everything for God’s glory and to use both our words and our deeds for the honor of His name. Worship must become the very fabric of our lives. By day and by night, with other believers and in solitude, we worship.

But how then are we to understand the commands of these verses toward us today?

First, remember that we experience a form of, or a taste of, our heavenly Jerusalem, whenever we gather together each week. So the first application I will give is to keep worshipping tonight… and tomorrow… and the next day. Don’t let worship be only when we gather together. Instead, use this gathering of other disciples of Jesus to strengthen your worship for the week ahead of you. Keep the spirit of worship with you and seek to do all things for God’s glory. In other words, keep your eyes upon and hands lifted toward the holy place. Keep God’s kingdom and throne as first importance in your life. Seek His kingdom above all things in all that you do.

Second, remember your priesthood. As disciples of Christ with the indwelling Spirit, we are Jesus’ physical presence on earth. We are God’s instruments for His work of the kingdom. We are, therefore, called to stand as messengers of heaven on earth. As lesser priests of God, we are tasked with pointing those around us to the great high priest. We are called to show Jesus to the world around us or, as Jesus said it, to make disciples of all nations.

By both worshipping God and calling upon others to worship Him, we bless God. This isn’t to say that we add anything to His holiness or greatness; instead, we bless God by giving Him the honor He rightly deserves. It is much like praying for God’s name to be made holy. God’s name is already holy; we are simply praying for that reality to be seen by throughout all creation.

MAY THE LORD BLESS YOU FROM ZION // VERSE 3

Verse 3 closes the psalm by reversing the imagery. The psalmist is no longer calling God’s people to bless the LORD; instead, he is praying for the LORD’s blessing upon His people. This is a powerfully fitting verse for the Songs of Ascents to conclude with. It is a prayer for the Creator of heaven and earth to bless individuals, to show favor toward His creatures. How flippantly we often invoke the blessings of God upon others, rarely pausing to consider the weight of that action. Too often we assume or even demand God’s blessing, when He sits in the heavens and does whatever He pleases. The blessing of God is no light matter. It is the very manna of heaven for our souls.

Yet also notice the place of the blessing: from Zion. May God bless you from the place of His gathered people, the place of His presence. Dear brothers and sisters, come to church expecting and anticipating God’s blessing and look for it among God’s people. More than that, come ready to bless, to be that very blessing for others. This gathering is a taste of the Zion to come, while also empowering and encouraging us to be miniature Zions to the world around us. As we return to Meshech and Kedar, to our exile in Babylon, we take Jerusalem with us. We carry God’s blessing as His priests, the living breathing kingdom of God, coming to earth. And we remember and long for the day when all other kingdoms fade away, when the glory of the LORD becomes our light, and when we form the glorified New Jerusalem upon the new earth as the collective people of God.

May God bless us, His people, from Zion.

May these Songs of Ascents keep our hearts tuned toward our heavenly home, even as we wander as pilgrims throughout this life.