The Church: Imperfect, but Beautiful

Last week my wife returned to teaching as her summer break came to an end. The day before school started a friend from church called to let us know that she had dropped off a cooler with pre-made breakfast meals for the whole week. The next day there was another meal from another church member waiting for me at my office. These acts of kindness are simply two recent instances in which I’ve seen God’s grace through the thoughtfulness and sacrifice of others. 

I could go on and on about ways I’ve been immeasurably blessed by people in the church. From the day I first walked into a church at the age of 16, I’ve been around the most generous, gracious, and loving people I’ve ever met. None of this is to imply that the church is perfect, but it is to say that she is beautiful (by “church” I mean all those who have united to Christ by faith who then gather into local congregations all over the world).

The Church is Imperfect

The church has its flaws. God’s Word even anticipates and makes provision for the imperfections of the church. Commands like “bear with one another” and “forgive one another” clue us in to the fact that we will both be sinned against and sin against others in the church (Eph. 4:32). Further, Jesus instituted a process by which unrepentant church members should be removed from the congregation (Matt. 18:15-20). The New Testament contains a realism about the church. It doesn’t deny that the church will be filled with imperfect people, even at times wicked people. 

Thus, my intention in writing is not to deny anyone’s pain or suffering at the hands of church people. It is undeniable that some churches, whole denominations, or even eras of church history have been responsible for terrible sins. I’m not writing to defend any abuse or hypocrisy or hurt. Instead, my goal is to balance out the narrative a bit. As it is too easy to point out all the flaws in another person and deny their good qualities, in the same way, it is too easy to criticize the church without praising her virtues.

The Church is Beautiful

In the New Testament, the church is described as the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:9), the family of God (2 Cor. 6:18), the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17), and a people purchased by Christ’s sacrifice (Acts 20:28). What is absent from the Scriptures is the sort of attitude that is prevalent today, that the church is a burden, full of hypocrites, or inconsequential in the life of the Christian. Despite this common narrative, the church has been an undeniable force for good in history as well as the present day.

Nicholas Kristof, a writer for the New York Times and an avowed agnostic, has become an unlikely defender of the evangelical church. He writes, “Today, among urban Americans and Europeans, ‘evangelical Christian’ is sometimes a synonym for ‘rube.’ In liberal circles, evangelicals constitute one of the few groups that it’s safe to mock openly…Yet the liberal caricature of evangelicals is incomplete and unfair. I have little in common, politically or theologically, with evangelicals or, while I’m at it, conservative Roman Catholics. But I’ve been truly awed by those I’ve seen in so many remote places, combating illiteracy and warlords, famine and disease, humbly struggling to do the Lord’s work as they see it, and it is offensive to see good people derided.”

Kristof’s defense of Christians stems from something he has noticed in them, a self-sacrificial service to others as well as a generosity of time and resources. He goes on, “I must say that a disproportionate share of the aid workers I’ve met in the wildest places over the years, long after anyone sensible had evacuated, have been evangelicals, nuns or priests… Likewise, religious Americans donate more of their incomes to charity, and volunteer more hours than the nonreligious, according to polls. In the United States and abroad, the safety net of soup kitchens, food pantries and women’s shelters depends heavily on religious donations and volunteers.”

I appreciate Kristof’s observation and kind words about the church. His opinion matters. However, there is one whose judgment means infinitely more. Let’s not forget God’s verdict of the church. Christ purchased her with his blood, he loves her, and will one day return to gather her up as his bride. Let’s make sure that our words about the church are consistent with God’s. If the church is the bride of Christ, we should tread carefully in attacking her. As Ed Stetzer has said , “You can’t love Jesus and hate his wife.”

Credits

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

Nicholas Kristof, “A Little Respect for Dr. Foster,” New York Times, March 28, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/29/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-a-little-respect-for-dr-foster.html

Stetzer, Ed, “You can’t love Jesus and hate his wife,” Twitter, 10 Aug 2019, https://twitter.com/edstetzer/status/1160378867955187713

The Temptation of Christ: Better News Than You Think

If you were alive in the 90s you probably remember WWJD bracelets. They exploded onto the scene quickly becoming a nationwide phenomenon. The goal was to be reminded to live like Jesus by asking in every moment, “What Would Jesus Do?” What this fad revealed was man’s tendency to simplify Jesus to nothing more than a helpful example.

WWJD bracelets may have disappeared, but this inclination towards self-focused theology remains. For instance, most sermons on the temptation of Christ focus solely on Jesus’ response to temptation. The emphasis often falls on how we can resist temptation by following Jesus’ pattern. Though Jesus is certainly our example (1 Peter 2:21), a closer look at the temptation of Christ, specifically Luke’s account, demonstrates that this narrative is less about us than we like to admit. It is primarily answering the question, “what kind of Savior has come into the world?” There is great news concerning Christ in Luke 4, but we have to look past ourselves to see it.

Jesus is perfect where we are not

Just before the temptation of Christ, Luke includes a genealogy that begins with Jesus and stretches all the way back to Adam, the first man. The long list of names ends with, “the son of Adam, the son of God.” We often assume that genealogies are not important and skip over them. However, we can’t fully understand the temptation of Jesus without the genealogy of Luke 3. Luke is setting up a deliberate parallel between Adam and Christ by tracing Jesus’ line all the way to Adam and calling Adam the son of God. We are meant to read Luke 4 in light of Genesis 1-3 (there are also many parallels between Christ and Israel).

Adam was tempted in the garden and failed. As a result sin, death, and judgment was thrust upon all creation (Genesis 3). Conversely, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and resisted every temptation (Luke 4:1-13). In his perfect obedience, Jesus demonstrates that he is indeed the Savior who has come to rescue those under the curse of Adam’s sin. The Apostle Paul made the same point in Romans 5:18-19 writing, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (ESV).

The good news of Luke 4 is that Christ perfectly obeyed the will of the Father, thus, demonstrating himself to be the true Savior who alone can be our substitute. If you are in Christ, then you have received more than a clean slate. Your justification is more than God simply wiping away your past failures. You are credited with the perfection of Jesus himself. He became sin for you so that you might be found righteous before God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus sympathizes in our weakness

Many have scoffed at the temptation of Christ, wondering if Jesus really experienced temptation since he is God in the flesh and unable to sin. Hebrews 4:15 is instructive, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” So, how do we reconcile Jesus’ inability to sin with his very real temptation to sin? Bruce Ware points out in his excellent book The Man Christ Jesus that the reason Jesus could not sin is entirely separate from the reason Jesus did not sin. Jesus could not sin because he is God and therefore unable to sin. Jesus did not sin because he fully resisted every temptation through reliance on the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and prayer. This is a necessary distinction if indeed Jesus was tempted in every way as we are. Luke also demonstrates this truth in highlighting Jesus’ reliance on the Spirit and his three-fold citation of the Scriptures (Luke 4:1, 4, 8, 12).

This is also good news. Unlike Christ, we can’t be described as without sin. We do, however, have the same resources at our disposal when it comes to resisting temptation today. Bruce Ware writes, “The resources God gives–particularly his Word, prayer, and the power of the Spirit–are there for us as they were for Jesus.” We have been given everything we need in Christ to resist every temptation. Though we will fight imperfectly, it is encouraging to know that we are not helpless victims of sin.

In closing, the point of Luke 4 is to magnify Christ. Only when we see him as the sinless Savior and sympathetic high priest are we in a position to follow his example and resist temptation.

Credits

Bruce Ware, The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013) 73ff.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Luke 4:1-13 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Jared Verdi on Unsplash

Guarding Your Heart from Anxious Worry

What makes your heart anxious? What do you tend to fret about? Sometimes we worry about major issues like a loved one with cancer. Other times, our worries are smaller than a life-threatening illness. Worry can be replaying a conversation over and over again in your head to make sure you didn’t embarrass yourself. It can be the sinking feeling in your stomach as you consider an upcoming meeting. It might look like obsessing over what the boss is going to think when you are late to yet another appointment.

Opportunities abound for our hearts and minds to be consumed with anxious worry. However, God’s agenda for us is to experience the peace associated with prayer, not the turmoil that accompanies worry. In Philippians 4, Paul makes the connection between fervent prayer and a peaceful heart. He wrote, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

The Philippian Christians were confronted with many opportunities to worry. They faced threats and persecutions from their “opponents” (Philippians 1:29-30), and they were concerned about the welfare of Paul and Epaphroditus (Philippians 1:12; 2:26). Paul was imprisoned in Rome and Epaphroditus had fallen deathly ill. Instead of being pleased with their over-concern for his safety, Paul gives them the sweeping prohibition, “be anxious for nothing…”

The same verb translated “be anxious” in Philippians 4 is used positively earlier in the letter where Timothy is said to “show genuine concern” for the church in Philippi (Philippians 2:20). Apparently, the Philippian church had moved from genuine concern to a posture of worry or stress. Paul’s command for them is to cease what they have been continually doing. For Paul, there are areas in which we should express real concern for ourselves and others. However, there is no proper object of obsessive worry. Instead, we ought to bring all things before God in prayer.

How does prayer lead to a peaceful heart?

Hannah was worried. She wanted a child (1 Samuel 1:7-8). She was so overcome by her emotional state, she had stopped eating. Those around her only compounded her suffering. Her husband had taken another wife, presumably because Hannah couldn’t bear him children. On top of this was the relentless bullying and mockery coming from her husband’s other wife.

Hannah had much to worry about. However, she models Philippians 4:6-7 by running to the Lord in prayer. She speaks to the Lord out of her “great anxiety and vexation” (1 Samuel 1:16). She is convinced that God hears, God cares, and God acts. You can read here for a more detailed explanation of Hannah’s theological commitments that led her to pray. This article deals more with the peace Hannah experiences following her prayer.

After pouring out her soul to the Lord, Hannah experiences a peaceful heart. The Scriptures record that following her prayer she “went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad” (1 Samuel‬ ‭1:18‬). Hannah’s swift change is perplexing to us because nothing about her circumstances had changed (yet). When Hannah said “amen” she was still childless, still sharing her husband, still going to be mocked. Yet she had peace.

After bearing her heart to the God who knows all things, who cares for his people, and is powerful enough to act, she can rest. When we begin to believe God’s grace toward us, we can begin trusting him with the outcome of our circumstances or suffering. Peace is not the result of God giving us what we want in prayer, it is a gift he gives his people when they rely on his good plan. One commentator put it succinctly, “The condition for experiencing God’s peace is not that God grants all of our requests but that we have made known all our requests to God with thanksgiving. God’s peace is not the result of the power of our prayers or the effectiveness of our prayers… When we trust God in prayer, God gives to us his peace to guard our hearts and minds against anxious thoughts.”

In Closing

Bobby McFerrin released the hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in the fall of 1988. Often wrongly credited to Bob Marley, who died in 1981, the song is catchy, fun, but overly simplistic in terms of its message. If only it were that easy. Just stop worrying, just be happy. Philippians 4 and Hannah’s example instruct us that peace is a gift from God that he gives his people when they run to the creator of the universe and pour out their hearts before him. This is not a simplistic, one-time occurrence, but a habit we form by continually taking everything to the Lord in prayer. Prayer is not some kind of a magic bullet, but it is one of the means God uses to move us from a posture of worry to one of peace.

G. Walter Hansen, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter to the Philippians (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2009) 293.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Philippians 4:6-7 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Sickness and Suffering: How to Pray

Prayer request time in any church can devolve into a long list of distant relatives (or relatives of relatives) with relatively (pun intended) minor ailments. Though it can make us laugh when we are asked to pray for Aunt Loraine’s cousin’s friend’s colonoscopy, we are often faced with far more serious, and close to home, requests.

My wife recently spent the better part of a week in the hospital with a severe infection. As I sought to pray for her, it got me thinking about how exactly I should pray for those who are sick. The following is not the only four things we can pray for a sick person but can serve as a guide to get us moving in the right direction.

How should we pray for those with some kind of physical illness or weakness?

Appeal to the Lord for healing

Most Bible scholars agree that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12 was some kind of physical ailment. Paul prayed to God multiple times, asking him to take away this thorn in the flesh. Likewise, the Apostle John prays for the health of the recipients of his 3rd letter, “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2).

As part of our prayer for those who are sick, we ought to ask God to grant them healing.

Ask the Lord for sustaining grace so that the sick might suffer well

God, for his own purposes and will, chose not to take away Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Three times Paul asked for it to be removed. Jesus’ answer finally came, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Paul concluded thenTherefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Jesus promised sufficient grace for Paul to endure his physical suffering for the glory of God.

God is faithful and will always grant his children one of the two things: 1) healing or 2) sufficient grace to walk through physical sickness to the glory of God.

Admit that God’s will is superior to ours

On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus pleaded with the Father to spare him from the impending suffering of the cross, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me–nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). It was the will of the Father for Christ to suffer and it brought about immeasurable good. Similarly, If God chooses not to heal, we must trust God’s good and sovereign will. God is so good, wise, and loving that even when we don’t understand, we trust that his plan is the better than ours. Tim Keller says it this way, “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”

Anticipate the suffering-free glories of heaven

As we pray for others we can anticipate a day where we won’t hear words like “cancer” or “death.” Sickness and suffering are both temporary aspects of our broken world. Revelation 21:3-4 remind us, “… ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…” We long for that day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Corinthians 12:7ff and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Tim Keller. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Penguin: New York, 2014) 228.

You Can’t Help Others Until You Understand Them

On February 20, 1995, Willie King, a 52-year-old diabetic, was scheduled to have his right leg amputated below the knee. As if losing a leg wasn’t enough, when Willie regained consciousness from the operation the surgeon informed him that he had accidentally amputated the wrong leg. In this case, a lack of accurate information cost Willie King his leg, cost the hospital $900,000, and the surgeon was ordered to pay out $250,000. This misdiagnosis led to far more damage than if nothing had been done at all.

Similarly, we can do more harm than good when we try to speak truth to someone without fully understanding them or their circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 gives us a few categories to have in our brains as we are seeking to help others. Paul wrote, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

This passage is a command for all believers to be engaged in what is called interpersonal ministry, or discipleship. As Christians speak God’s truth to one another the church matures into Christlikeness (Ephesians 4:1-16). This act of engaging in interpersonal ministry can be quite intimidating. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 provides hope for fearful disciple-makers by helping us understand the person we are trying to help and how we should respond to them.

3 Dispositions & 3 Responses

First, there are those that are unruly. The unruly, or idle, are those that deliberately disobey the teaching of God’s Word. An example would be the professing believer who is abandoning his family to pursue an adulterous relationship. Or, the lady who is stealing from work by clocking in when she is not actually at the office. The proper way to respond to the unruly is to warn them of the dangers of sin (Proverbs 13:15) and to admonish them to turn from sin and return to Christ (2 Samuel 12:7). They often need help to see the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God.

A second disposition is the faint-hearted. These are the ones that are discouraged and tempted to give up in their pursuit of Christ. This might be a teenager whose parents are in the middle of a messy divorce. It could be the widow who is wondering if she will ever get used to going to bed alone. This person doesn’t need a warning the way the unruly does. Instead, we should seek to encourage by leading the faint-hearted to the gentle Savior. Often, the faint-hearted are very aware that God is ruler and judge, they often need reminding that God is also Father. We can come alongside and help by pointing them to God’s faithfulness, love, sovereign care, and unending grace.

Lastly, Paul mentions the weak. The weak could refer to those that have a weak conscience (Romans 14:1), those who are particularly susceptible to sin and temptation (Romans 5:6), or those that society has abandoned like the poor, the addict, or the refugee (1 Corinthians 1:27). The weak do not need a rebuke and encouragement will not go far enough. They need to be upheld. They need the kind of attention and care that the world would say is over the top. To hold someone up is to say, “hitch your life and faith to mine and we will get through this together.” As God’s people, we don’t run away from the weak. Instead, we take an interest in, pay attention to, and remain loyal to those who need to be upheld.

The Need for Balance

1 Thessalonians 5:14 is a call to action, but it is also a call for balance in the way we deal with people. David Powlison says, “Probably each of us who does ministry tends towards one of the characteristic forms of helping. It’s your gift. But left to itself, it remains unbalanced. That is part of why God has given us [1 Thessalonians] 5:14, to keep us from being blinded by our best gifts. We are called to broaden our vision, to work out of our comfort zone. A hammer thinks everything is a nail; a blanket, treats everyone as shivering; a wheelchair thinks everyone needs a lift. But wisdom sees people for what they are and gives what is needed.”

We need wisdom to discern the need of the moment. We don’t comfort the unrepentant adulterer, we don’t rebuke the sexual assault victim, and we don’t admonish the one who just found out she has cancer. We take time to consider whether the person sitting across the table is unruly, faint-hearted, or weak and we respond appropriately.

We also need the courage to do what does not come naturally to us. Personally, I lean towards encouragement above admonishing and upholding. I don’t enjoy the awkwardness of admonishing others. So, if I’m not careful I will seek to encourage when correction would be more appropriate. Consider which of these 3 responses–admonish, encourage, uphold–you are more prone to and ask God to give you the courage to respond in a way that doesn’t suit your strengths.

Lastly, we need patience. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 ends with a call to be patient with everyone, regardless of their current disposition. We exercise great patience as those who are cognizant of the fact that God has been patient with us. Peter reminds us, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). We seek to be patient with others in an effort to imitate our patient Savior.

May the Lord grant us the wisdom, courage, and patience we all need to engage others in discipleship.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Thessalonians 5:14 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

David Powlison in “Familial Counseling: The Paradigm for Counselor-Counselee Relationships in 1 Thessalonians 5,” Journal of Biblical Counseling, Winter 2007, PP2-16

3 Convictions for a Consistent Prayer Life

Prayer is an area that nearly every Christian has room for greater consistency and discipline. That is actually the easy part to admit. It is more difficult to acknowledge that our lack of prayer flows from wrong thinking about God and ourselves. Our natural bent is towards unbelief and self-sufficiency. These tendencies often keep us from praying.

As we peer into the Word of God we find help for our prayerlessness in the opening pages of 1 Samuel. The book begins with a woman weeping in Shiloh. Her name is Hannah, and she teaches us much about prayer. A close inspection of Hannah’s story points us ultimately to God’s faithfulness and demonstrates that his character fuels our prayers. If Hannah were our instructor in the school of prayer, I believe she would give us 3 necessary convictions for a consistent prayer life.

1. Recognize Your Dependence

One conviction we must develop is a deep recognition of our dependence on God and his grace. We will never consistently pray without a settled understanding that we, as sinful creatures, need the Lord. I once heard a preacher say that a Christian’s prayerlessness is his/her declaration of independence from God. When we fail to pray regularly, we are demonstrating a reliance on self that is antithetical to the Scriptures. So, instead of pretending like we have it all together, we begin by admitting that we are actually quite needy.

We see this demonstrated in the life of Hannah. Upon first meeting her, we learn that she is absolutely devastated by her inability to conceive a child. On top of that, her husband makes his best case for “the boneheaded move of the year award” when he asks her, “…why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8 ESV). [A word of wisdom to husbands reading this, if you come across your wife crying, the answer is never to remind her how blessed she is to have you in her life]. Worst than the dumb question, Hannah’s husband has taken another wife, Peninnah, who has been able to bear children. Peninnah is relentless in her mocking and bullying of Hannah (see 1 Samuel 1:6-7).

All of this culminates in Hannah being broken. Her circumstances, family, and friends have all failed to provide hope. She is in such anguish that she has stopped eating. In her pain, she understands that there is only one place she can run. And run she does, straight to the throne of grace.

2. Believe God Cares

It is not enough to know we need God, we must believe that he cares. We need to know that our cries are heard by a tender and loving Father. God, by sheer grace, invites us to pour out our fears, our failings, our desires, and our griefs to him. It doesn’t make him nervous or embarrassed. He delights in hearing from his children.

Hannah is found at the Temple “pouring out her soul out before the Lord” because she believes that God is the type of God that cares for his children (1 Samuel 1:15). Dale Ralph Davis makes the connection between her desperate prayer and her belief that God cares, “[Hannah] addresses Yahweh of hosts, cosmic ruler, sovereign of every and all power, and assumes that the broken heart of a relatively obscure woman in the hill country of Ephraim matters to him.”

Hannah is so eccentric in her prayer that the priest on duty assumes that she is drunk (1 Samuel 1:14). While the priest is guessing about Hannah’s state of mind, the Lord of the universe has leaned in to hear her plea.

3. Trust God’s Sovereignty

God not only cares, but he is also sovereign, meaning he can and will bring about that which he wills. He is powerful enough to answer any request. He can save the person you’ve nearly given up praying for. He can deliver your child from the deepest bondage to sin. He can restore broken relationships. He can comfort in the deepest affliction.

We see Hannah’s trust in God’s sovereignty in the way she addresses him. She calls him “Lord (Yahweh) of Hosts,” a title signifying his rule over the entire universe. He is the sovereign Lord who commands all the armies of heaven. There is seemingly no doubt in Hannah’s mind that the one who “closed her womb’ (1:5) is the one powerful enough to reverse her fortunes. Hannah’s trust in the sovereignty of God doesn’t lead her to a “ho-hum why should I pray if God is sovereign?” sort of attitude. Instead, it was her understanding of the sovereignty of God that drove her to pray.

Conclusion

No schedule, no app, no amount of alarms can create in us a desire to pray. After all, Hannah didn’t run to the Lord because she realized she hadn’t done her daily quiet time. She came out of a clear understanding that she needed him to act, a firm belief that he cared to listen, and a settled trust that he was powerful enough to deliver her. Likewise, let us rest in these truths and find in ourselves a growing desire to pour our souls out before the Lord.

Credits

Photo by Hamish Clark on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Proverbs 9:10 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Dale Ralph Davis, I Samuel: Looking on the Heart (Christian Focus: Ross-Shire, Scotland, 1988) 18.

Fear God, Find Wisdom

I went through an odd music phase in high school where I really began to enjoy oldies music. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that my waterproof shower radio only picked up one station and it happened to be the local oldies broadcast. One song that often played was Everybody Plays the Fool by the Main Ingredient. What the title suggests is true, there are no exceptions, we all play the fool sometimes. But, nobody really desires to be the fool.

Instead, we all want to be wise. After all, Proverbs reminds us that wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold (Prov. 3:14). Those who find wisdom are considered blessed (Prov. 3:13). The wise “will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:4). Needless to say, wisdom is to be valued and sought after with perseverance. If we are to pursue wisdom–true wisdom, the type of wisdom that is priceless–we must understand that wisdom begins with fearing God. Solomon, the wise king of Israel, wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). If we desire to be wise, we must first consider what it means to fear God.

What Does it Mean to Fear God?

In C. S. Lewis’s beloved novel The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe four children stumble into the fantastical world of Narnia. They find themselves at Mr. and Mrs. Beavers home being instructed about the Christ-figure Aslan. When the children discover that Aslan is a lion, they naturally have some questions about whether it is safe to meet him. Mr. Beaver responds, “Safe? … Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”


The fear of the Lord is a holy reverence for God flowing from a right understanding of God resulting in submission to God.


In Narnia, Aslan reigns as both the sovereign Lord as well as the good and gracious king. He is neither a domesticated house cat nor a violent ruler. Peter, the oldest of the four children, responds appropriately to the unsafe, yet good Aslan. He says, “I’m longing to see him. Even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.” Like Peter, a proper understanding of God leads us to a sense of fear and, at the same time, a longing to know him. In affirming both the complete holiness of God and the goodness of God we can begin to understand what it means for us to fear God.

The fear of the Lord is a holy reverence for God flowing from a right understanding of God resulting in submission to God. Often when we consider fear we think only of being terrified. However, to fear God is less horror and more reverence. It is something that goes beyond mere respect for God but stops short of sheer terror. Therefore, to fear God is to revere him or to stand in awe of him.

This reverence develops as we properly understand God as he has revealed himself in Scripture. For instance, in Ecclesiastes 3:14 fearing God is directly linked to his sovereign power, “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.” Further, After pointing out God’s transcendence, holiness, and righteousness, Ecclesiastes 5:7 concludes, “God is the one you must fear.” When we understand our state as sinful creatures before a holy God, the proper response is fear, reverence, or awe. How then does a proper fear of God lead us into greater wisdom?

How is Fearing God Connected to Wisdom?

In the Bible, wisdom is a moral category as opposed to an intellectual one. Wisdom is living life God’s way in God’s world for God’s glory. Wisdom grants a person the ability to navigate the tumultuous waters of life in a way that pleases God. The fool, on the other hand, lives as if God does not exist (Psalm 14:1). He is described not as an intellectual dummy, but as the one who disregards his creator.

With this understanding of wisdom, it is easy to see why the fear of the Lord is the foundation of all wisdom. There is no true wisdom apart from a proper attitude and relationship to God. God is the source of true wisdom. Therefore, a deep reverence for God leads us to want to please him in all the various aspects of life including the way we spend our money, how we treat others, the words we use, how we handle lust, our responses to suffering, and a thousand other moments.

There is such things as false wisdom (Isaiah 5:21), earthly wisdom (James 3:15), and worldly thinking that parades itself as wisdom (Colossians 2:23). However, true wisdom–the skill to know God’s agenda and the motivation to live it out–begins only with a proper reverence for God. This is the very foundation in which wisdom is built. In essence, we will never walk in biblical wisdom until we cherish the God of all wisdom.

In Closing

We all want wisdom, but the path is often painful. Wisdom comes from humbling ourselves before God. To quote C. S. Lewis once more, “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that–you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

Do you revere God? Have you experienced the freedom of humbling yourself before him? If not, begin by looking to the cross of Christ. The wise King, Jesus Christ, died a brutal death to rescue you from the treason of living life like he doesn’t matter. The one who is immeasurably beyond you, humbled himself to rescue you. Turn to him and find mercy, fear him and find wisdom.

Credits

Photo by Jonathan Bowers on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Proverbs 9:10 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: Collier Brooks, 1972) 75-76.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1958) 56.