Issue #171 -------
January 27, 2005
Many people today don't want honest answers
insofar as honest means unpleasant or disturbing.
They want a soft answer that turneth away anxiety.
They want answers that are, in effect, escapes.
Louis Kronenberger (1904-1980)
"Unbrave New World"
Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021-1069) once astutely observed, "The question of a wise man is half the answer." In a somewhat similar vein of thought, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) wrote, "When we have arrived at the question, the answer is already near." Half the battle of acquiring insight is being perceptive enough to pose the right questions. One of the blessings of this Reflections ministry over the past couple of years has been the interaction I've been privileged to enjoy with the readers. Men and women from all over the world have written with comments, encouragement, questions, and, yes, sometimes even criticism. But, these have led in many cases to dialogue, and I have been enriched by these exchanges.
Every now and then I like to devote an issue of my Reflections entirely to questions that have been posed to me by various subscribers. A beloved professor in graduate school frequently advised the students never to be afraid to ask him a question, no matter how "stupid" one might feel that question to be, for the likelihood is great that about ten other students are sitting there wondering the same thing! Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) correctly observed, "The 'silly' question is the first intimation of some totally new development." Many advances in technology, not to mention our understanding of ultimate Truth, have come from men and women who dared to voice those questions and thoughts others were fearful to raise. After all, "A question not to be asked is a question not to be answered" -- Robert Southey (1774-1843). Thus, I applaud those inquiring readers who seek greater understanding of Truth, and who are courageous enough to ask the tough questions in order to better perceive the nature and will of our God. This current issue of Reflections will be devoted to several such questions from a few of the devoted readers.
From a Reader in California
"Al, I was wondering if you might tackle yet another topic that has plagued me. In Romans 9:3 Paul says that he would be willing to be cut off from Christ for the sake of his brethren, the Jews. I would think that he would be using hyperbole to underscore his deep desire to see them saved, except that he begins his statement by saying that he is not lying. He really means it. How does one reconcile this with Luke 14:26 in which Christ says that one must hate his father and mother, etc. if that person is to be a follower of Christ? Christ doesn't seem to allow much 'wiggle room' in the area of desire for salvation. Could it not be interpreted that Paul is somehow lessening his value for his own relationship with Christ since he would gladly give it up for someone else? Am I somehow not where I need to be spiritually, since I cannot fathom such a state of mind? Where was Paul going with all this? Your insights would be greatly appreciated."
There is no question but what this emotional statement by Paul has generated considerable confusion, and even concern, among many brethren. Adam Clarke wrote, "Very few passages in the New Testament have puzzled critics and commentators more than this" (Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 108). Some scholars, who simply can't fathom why Paul would be willing to forfeit eternal salvation, believe his words refer rather to excommunication from the church or physical suffering and/or death. This seems unlikely, however, in light of the text and context before us. Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in his classic Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, quotes Vincent (who quotes Bengel): "It is not easy to estimate the measure of love in a Moses and a Paul. For our limited reason does not grasp it, as a child cannot comprehend the courage of warriors" (Romans in the Greek NT, p. 153). Moses had made a similar statement to Paul's, which we shall examine momentarily. The point of these scholars, however, is that such sentiments reflect a rather sublime spirituality that often escapes the masses who are more focused on self, and upon secular pursuits.
Paul's focus, however, was upon "the things above," and upon helping others to come to the same spiritual awareness and appreciation of eternal realities that he had; insight into truths which would not only transform the lives of those about him in their present earthly lives, but which would ultimately transport them to the eternal joys reserved for the redeemed in the new heavens and earth. Paul clearly had a great love and affection for his fellow man, and especially for his fellow Jews. Of that there is no question. Indeed, in the very next chapter of the epistle to the Romans Paul stated with regard to the Jews, "My heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation" (Rom. 10:1). Some of the Jews were perhaps questioning his feelings toward them, since, in the view of a few of those more zealous for the law and traditions, he had "sold out" when he became a Christian. Even worse, he had turned his attention primarily to the Gentiles. Therefore, on a number of occasions, and in a number of different ways, Paul sought to reaffirm his deep love for them, and this was not merely for show ... his feelings for them were genuine. He affirmed this by saying, "I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 9:1).
Similarly, Moses made this appeal unto God concerning his own people -- "But now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin -- and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou hast written!" (Exodus 32:32). Like Paul, Moses was willing, if it were possible, to take the place of his sinful countrymen, and to be himself blotted out of God's book of life, if such an action would preserve his people. Again, quoting Bengel, "It is not easy to estimate the measure of love in a Moses and a Paul." Making this even more difficult to understand, especially in the case of Paul, is that the Jews, for whom he was willing to sacrifice himself, were actively engaged, many of them, in seeking to inflict great harm upon him. Brother David Lipscomb observes, "How noble Paul appears here, with his hearty love for those who from the day of his conversion had persecuted him with relentless hatred!" (A Commentary on the NT Epistles: Romans, p. 165).
The reader from California asks, "How does one reconcile this with Luke 14:26 in which Christ says that one must hate his father and mother, etc. if that person is to be a follower of Christ?" The reader wondered if Paul's attitude in some way lessened, or cheapened, the value and worth of one's salvation. If Paul was willing to give it up for those who hated him, just how highly did he value that eternal salvation?! These are indeed valid questions, and deserve to be addressed. In the above passage from Luke's account, Jesus does indeed declare that our relationship with Him must come first. In His Sermon on the Mount, He clearly states we are to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" (Matt. 6:33). The foremost distinguishing characteristic of those in this kingdom, however, is LOVE. And the foremost characteristic of this love is: it is self-sacrificial. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (John 10:11). "I lay down My life for the sheep" (John 10:15). Like Jesus, Paul knew the depth of godly love; he was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of others. By displaying such an attitude of heart, he did not lessen the value of salvation, he displayed just how precious it is. It is so precious that if it could be bestowed upon an entire population, and the cost was the life of one man, he was willing to be that man so others could live. In a way, is this not what Jesus did for us? Paul was evidencing that same willingness of heart. He was showing godly, self-sacrificial LOVE.
Paul would have gladly forfeited his own salvation if that action would have brought salvation to his fellow countrymen. And yet, Paul was also a realist -- he knew such a substitutionary sacrifice by a mere man such as himself was utterly incapable of bringing about the desired effect. Therefore, although the heartfelt affection was there -- a fact he wanted his fellow Jews to understand -- nevertheless, the ability to carry through with such an action was sadly absent. This he also conveyed in his statement to the saints in Rome. The construction of his statement, in the Greek, is such that his desire is clearly declared to be an impossibility. This not only added to his own personal grief -- knowing that he couldn't make such a substitution on behalf of his people -- but made the acceptance of God's gracious gift of life in Christ Jesus all that more imperative for those Jews who had yet to receive it. There was only one ransom offered to man for sin, and it was not Paul. "No man can by any means redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him that he should live on eternally .... for the redemption of his soul is costly, and man should cease trying forever!" (Psalm 49:7-9).
Paul was under no illusions that he could be that redemptive sacrifice. IF such had been possible, he was willing. But, it was not possible. Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in his Word Studies from the Greek NT, states, "Paul uses the optative mood in the imperfect tense" when he says, "for I could wish that I myself were anathema" (Rom. 9:3). The optative mood is the standard Greek mood employed for expressing a wish or desire. Wuest then goes on to quote the great Greek scholar Dr. Alford, who says, "The imperfect is not historical, but quasi-optative, as in 'I was wishing had it been possible.' This sense of the imperfect in such expressions is the proper and strict one" (Wuest, Romans in the Greek NT, p. 152). Wuest also quotes the Greek scholar Dr. Vincent, who says, "The imperfect here has a tentative force, implying the wish begun, but stopped at the outset by some antecedent consideration which renders it impossible, so that, practically, it was not entertained at all" (ibid). "The phrase 'I could wish' faithfully brings out the idiomatic construction used here for stating an impossible wish. Paul could not actually become anathema from Christ (Romans 8 proclaims the impossibility of that). Yet, if it were possible, he would gladly make the sacrifice" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 102). "Imperfects of this kind imply a wish to do a thing if it were possible or allowable" (William Shedd, A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, p. 273).
Paul's goal was to show his fellow countrymen "to what lengths I would be willing to go, if no obstacle intervened" (Moses E. Lard, Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Romans, p. 292). "I could wish, provided, first, it were allowable; and, second, it were possible to obtain my wish" (ibid). However, Paul "knew that it involved a divine impossibility" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, p. 583). His willingness, which certainly was sincere, served to reflect not only his deep love for his people, but also the genuineness of his Christian faith. "If our Christianity is genuine, it will not destroy our natural affections, but will purify and ennoble them" (Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, p. 273). "Those who are connected with us by ties of blood or common nationality should be the objects of our special solicitude and sympathy. Many Christian people, who are full of sympathy for the heathen in India, or China, or Africa, never think -- except, perhaps, with indifference or contempt -- of the poor and ignorant and oppressed among their own countrymen at home" (ibid, p. 274).
"Have we ever known what it is to have heaviness and continual sorrow of heart for our fellow countrymen, and to bear reproach and opposition in our efforts to do them good?" (ibid). Paul loved the Jews with such a fervent love that he was willing, if it were possible, to forfeit eternal life itself for them, and yet many of these whom he loved hated him with a passion. I cannot help but think of the love of God and Christ for us. "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Paul states that the reality of human nature is such that "one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die" (Rom. 5:7). Yet, the love of our Lord is such that "Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). Paul was willing to do the same. Thus, Paul dramatically displayed the truth of what he preached -- "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philp. 2:5).
From a Minister in Washington
"Al, I was conversing with an ultra-conservative brother recently on the Internet. I said that we are no longer under the law. He replied to me by quoting 1 John 3:4 -- 'Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.' Since sin is lawlessness, he said, we are therefore under law. So, I guess his 'reasoning' is that we should all be patternists and legalists, since we are subject to LAW. What would you say to him? I am sure that he is simply using this verse out of context to suit his own need, but I thought I would approach you for some insight. Thank you!"
Few would dare deny that God has expectations of His people. Whether we choose to characterize them as laws, commands, principles, directives, precepts, requirements, suggestions, or whatever, the reality is that God has clearly informed us in His inspired writings that some things should be and some things should not be. I like the way The Message has phrased this statement in 1 John 3:4 -- "Sin is a major disruption of God's order." James informs his readers that they are expected to abide by the "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12). He also speaks of the "royal law" (2:8). He defines what this is, however, by declaring it to be the law of love. The apostle Paul declares love to be "the fulfillment of law," and that loving God and loving others covers any possible law that could be conceived (Rom. 13:8-10). When a lawyer asked Jesus to list the major laws God sought to impose upon the people, laws by which men must abide to find life, Jesus responded with only two -- Love God and love one another! "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:40).
We know for a fact that the commandments of our Lord "are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). "My yoke is easy, and My load is light" (Matt. 11:30). That is why living in obedience to Him is such a liberating experience for His disciples -- His law is the "perfect law of liberty." Why? Because it is completely contained in just one word: Love. "And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also" (1 John 4:21). "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).
It is not so, however, with the heavy burdens of those devoted to legalism. In His scathing rebuke of the ultra-legalists of His own day, the Pharisees, Jesus condemned them for binding heavy loads of law and regulation upon the shoulders of men (Matt. 23:4), and then finding loopholes to avoid such nonsense themselves! And no wonder, for these legalistic burdens are "hard to bear" (Luke 11:46). At the Jerusalem Conference (50 A.D.), Peter stood up and declared, "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are!" (Acts 15:10-11). The reality is: "By works of law no flesh will be justified in His sight" (Rom. 3:20). "A man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (Rom. 3:28). "You are not under law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14).
Where the legalists and patternists become confused is in their belief that justification and salvation depend upon ordering our lives according to various precepts and patterns inferred and deduced by mere men from the Scriptures. In other words, it is the endless compilation of tedious rules and regulations governing almost every aspect of one's life and worship .... and primarily the latter -- rules about singing, classes, treasuries, what can and can't be done in a building, and on and on ad infinitum. When factionists separate from fellow members of the family of God over number of cups, when the bread is to be broken and by whom, whether a song can be sung during the Lord's Supper, whether one can eat in a church building, and thousands of other "weighty matters," THEN you have a perfect picture of those bound to LAW for their redemption. It is a truly pathetic sight. What they don't realize is that under the New Covenant such rigid regulation of our worshipful expression is forever abolished (Heb. 9:1-10). I would refer the readers to Reflections #33 --- Worship Reformation, and also to the issue that follows: Reflections #33a which consists of my response to a couple of readers who took exception to my thoughts in Issue #33.
What is truly tragic, however, is that this religious rigidity will cost these people enormously, both here and hereafter! "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). That is a fearful price to pay for promoting patternism and for binding petty party precepts upon the disciples of Christ! When men seek to elevate human preferences to the level of law, and withhold fellowship and salvation from those who differ with their personal perspectives, they have abandoned the realm of grace and have chosen instead to embrace the world of sectarianism. The price for such folly will be eternal destruction!
Yes, as members of the family of God, there are expectations of us. I do not deny that; no disciple should. We are all to be loving, forgiving, merciful, compassionate. We are to bear long with one another, and accept one another, just as our Lord has accepted us. We are family, and our Father expects us to act like it. Acknowledging such familial obligations, however, is a far cry from suggesting our salvation depends on the type of legalistic patternism found among and promoted by the countless feuding factions, parties, schisms and sects of Christendom. Our place in the family is dependent upon Paternity, not upon Pattern. Through the grace of our God, and our faith in Him, we are brought to a Person, not a Party or Position. Sadly, the church has been plagued for centuries by those who have failed to perceive this critical distinction, and the family of our Father continues to suffer the consequences of their misguided focus.
From a Minister/Elder in Texas
"Al, I enjoy and usually agree with your Reflections. Recently I did a study on the Angel of the Lord in the OT and came to the conclusion that this was the pre-incarnate Jesus. Is this commonly accepted, or am I off the wall? Thanks for all your study and research; it is very helpful. I grew up with Edward Fudge and we communicate by email often. He pushes my envelope, but helps keep the fat off my brain (as do you). God bless!"
The subscriber from Texas refers in his question to what is known generally as a Theophany, and what is more specifically known as a Christophany. The former term is simply a combination of two Greek words (God + to appear; to show oneself) meaning: "A visible manifestation of deity to humanity." The second term simply narrows that visible manifestation of deity to the second person of the godhead. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the baptism of Jesus is celebrated as a high holy day on January 6. This is known as The Feast of the Theophany (or Epiphany). The earthly life of Jesus, of course, is the most significant example of a Theophany -- "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory" (John 1:14).
There are several noted Theophanies in the pages of the Old Covenant documents, but perhaps the best known examples are those that involve "THE Angel of the Lord." These appearances are almost universally accepted among reputable biblical scholars as visible manifestations of the pre-incarnate Christ. Very few scholars differ with that view. Indeed, this conviction was even held by a great many of the early Church Fathers. Irenaeus (115-200 A.D.; from Asia Minor; he studied under Polycarp, who had studied under the apostle John) wrote, "The Scripture is full of the Son of God's appearing: sometimes to talk and eat with Abraham, at other times to instruct Noah about the measures of the ark; at another time to seek Adam; at another time to bring down judgment upon Sodom; then again, to direct Jacob in the way; and again, to converse with Moses out of the bush."
It is interesting to note that "THE Angel of the Lord" does not appear in the pages of the NT writings, but only in the OT documents. This also contributes to the conviction that these Theophanies are of the pre-incarnate Christ, since there are NO such appearances while Christ is in the flesh, nor even afterward. It is also interesting to note that in the locations where this Being appears, He does not behave as other angels, but actually behaves as deity, even accepting the worship of men (something an angel of God would not do -- Rev. 22:8-9). This Being also, in His conversation with men, represents Himself as deity, which again is something no angel would dare to do. Thus, when examining these Theophanies, it becomes very clear that they are indeed visible manifestations of deity. Following is a list (though by no means complete) of where some of the more notable of these accounts of "THE Angel of the Lord" may be found and studied:
The primary cause of scholarly debate over the years is which of the accounts refer to which member of the godhead. In most of the passages the context will tend to make that distinction clear, but there are a few where it could be either Father or Son (most scholars agree that the Holy Spirit is not involved in these Theophanies). It is also interesting to note in many of the above listed Scripture references that those who beheld "THE Angel of the Lord" feared that by looking upon Him they would die! It appears most of them knew they were in the presence of deity. This whole subject is a fascinating study, and I would encourage those readers with an interest to learn more to dig even more deeply into the Theophanies and Christophanies of the Old Covenant writings. The effort will be spiritually and intellectually edifying!
From a New Reader in Latvia:
Please subscribe me to your Reflections.
From a Minister in Wyoming:
With your permission I would like to put your article "One Another" Relationships in our bulletin next week.
From a Reader in California:
Al, I cannot tell you how convicted I was by your final point in the article "One Another" Relationships. If two pagans (Pilate and Herod) who hated Christ could find common cause in their sin, how is it that we who love, worship, and respect Jesus Christ cannot at least make an effort to tolerate those who also love Christ Jesus, but who may have a slightly different viewpoint? It really hurts me that we must look to such evil men as an example of tolerance! Ouch!
From a Reader in California:
Al, Great work on the hell debate --- The Maxey-Thrasher Debate. I have had Edward Fudge's book (The Fire That Consumes) for about three years. I always knew something wasn't right about the traditional teaching, and now I'm fully convinced of that fact after three years of study. You gave a great presentation. To say it was very precise and well-developed would be an understatement! Great work!! I guess the Lord rewards those who dig a little! Thank God for men like you, who will not waver when Truth is found.
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