Justin Taylor writes about what happened on Tuesday of Holy Week. This is a wonderful resource to prepare us for what’s coming up Friday and Sunday.
Last year I wrote about how I came to the reformed faith through the work of R.C. Sproul’s Renewing Your Mind and Ligonier Ministries, and how I have always considered him one of my fathers in the faith, even though he never knew me. Over the last year or so the Lord has sent me another father in the faith, D.A. Carson. The Lord has used the work of these men in very distinct ways in my life. He chose one to bring me to the reformed understanding of the faith and he chose the other to open my eyes to the glories of the gospel and show me Jesus with rigor.
The Lord has blessed us in this generation to be able to receive a lot of good teaching over the internet. And he has been gracious to grow me through the work of many God-exalting Christ-loving pastors and teachers.
Here are my fathers in the faith, discussing Biblical exegesis:
I have learned through life’s rough experiences, and through some sound teaching lately, that Proverbs are NOT promises. But then, we read something like this: “A gracious woman gets honor” Proverbs 11:16a (ESV). Given that Proverbs is wisdom literature, we know that it’s not a one-hundred percent direct cause-and-effect truth that “a gracious woman gets honor.” Sometimes she does, and sometimes she doesn’t, and sometimes she gets the opposite of honor. As Tim Keller said in his sermon at John Stott’s memorial service, when speaking of Stott’s irenic and gracious spirit: “If you want to do something right for Christ, someone’s going to be mad at you.” Keller was just stating a fact of how things are in this world, he certainly was NOT suggesting we shouldn’t be irenic, gracious or strive for peace. Realistic and yet exhorting—I need that.
I would like to humbly remind us—ladies, that the character quality of graciousness is not accomplished by a.) putting on a smile and gritting our teeth around people, b.) “working hard” on our sins and shortcomings, c.) a lovely cup of tea, or a strong full-bodied cup of coffee (although those help sometimes), or d.) reading books on how to become a gracious lady. We can only become gracious women because Jesus died on the cross for all of our ungracious and ugly sins. We can only become gracious women because the Holy Spirit is at work in us, weaving a Christian woman of joy and grace, submission and strength. As we submit to the work of Christ in our lives and as we overcome (through prayer) our “old man,” we will grow more into the image of Jesus himself, the exemplar of graciousness.
So how can we respond graciously in a tough situation, or in a difficult relationship? Prayer for wisdom, compassion, and temperance is very important. But above all, we have to rehearse the gospel in our minds; we have to recall how much grace the Lord has had on us. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the church your whole life and had amazing Christian parents. Isaiah 64:6 (ESV) says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” We must remember, no matter who we are, what the God of this universe did for us in the cross of Christ Jesus. This is where it is actually healthy to “remember” our sins, not for condemnation (“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 (ESV), but to be in awe at the infinite grace of God.
I understand that reading books on how to become a more gracious and godly woman can be good and encouraging—but ladies—they have no power. Only one Book has power. One one Word can transform. Only Jesus can help a woman to humbly walk in the ways of grace. He is the Author of overflowing Grace. Enough for you, and thankfully, enough for me.
Note: I am not discouraging book reading. I love books, I am a strong advocate for women reading LOTS of books, but never at the expense of the Book—the Bible.
God’s Word is glorious! “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
I finished Bible Study: Following the Ways of the Word, by Kathleen Buswell Nielson yesterday. I read it because I wanted to become better in my own personal studies, and I read it because I want to be a fruitful Bible study teacher. It reminded me how precious the Word of God is and how we should hunger and thirst to learn it well and to teach it to others. I am convinced more than ever of the need for robust, no-fear-of-theology, Bible studies for women. I may consider writing on that in a future post.
I want to say a couple of words at how we view Scripture sometimes: We’re going along in life, which has its ups and downs, and we run into some hardship. We wake up and realize we need some answers, we need help. It could be dealing with an elderly parent, having babies as a young couple, marriage trouble, or just plain old mundane every day life. It’s good and right to reach out to teachers, elders, pastors and counselors and ask for help. But we need to be careful. Sometimes we get desperate. Sometimes we’re not discerning who we’re listening to and who we’re reading and who we’re asking help from. We forget to be Bereans. And all too often, we end up with a collapsed Scripture that looks more like a self-help manual than the Word of the living God empowered by his Holy Spirit.
This troublesome, typically—but not exclusively—American, type of “pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps” way of thinking can get us into trouble in the long run. We end up wanting formulas, black and white rules, pietistic answers, functionality, and the like. We shun the way of wisdom for “just tell me the godly/right answer.” So for now, from our Bibles we want: seven steps on how to get our babies to sleep through the night; five ways that will guarantee your teen will be happy, respectful, mature and saved; three secrets to a healthy marriage; six ways to grow your church; and so on and so forth. Now, is there anything wrong with seeking out advice on how to care for babies, teens, elderly parents, being a better employee/employer, etc.? No, of course not! But this way of thinking diminishes the person of Jesus Christ, and when Christ is diminished, the gospel is flattened. When we seek out topics instead of the Savior, then we are starting to treat the Bible like a self-help manual. It is sad, and it is grievous to our Lord.
What are we doing when we look, for example, at the book of Proverbs as a how-to for raising children and staying pure? What happens to the living Word of God? Well, we stop seeing it. We’ve eclipsed it by seeking for other treasure; the treasure of “godly” children and purity. Instead of looking for Jesus and seeing that the entire Scriptures is about him, we think the Bible is all about us and how to help us become better, how to be successful, how to get some peace, how to overcome the “giants” in our lives, and I daresay we even use it to get “better sanctified.” But is that what the Bible is about?
Psalm 19: 7-11, 14 says:
“The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward…
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
Let us desire the Word of the Lord for its own sake, not just for the help we may receive.
This post is not some new information or any kind of deep meditative thought, it’s just me reminding myself (and the readers) of the world changing and soul stirring work of Christ Jesus.
In the book of Exodus, God instructs Moses to build the tabernacle. The God of heaven and earth will take up residence among his chosen people. Later, David wanted to build a house for God to dwell in, and in return God tells Nathan the prophet to go and tell David that instead he (God) will build David a “house,” a dynasty (2 Samuel 7:1-17). This humbles David—it drives him to prayer, worship, and adoration (2 Samuel 7:18-29).
David’s son, Solomon, would end up building the temple. That same temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. The destruction was significant and the place was left in rubble. The surrounding nations knew that it was the dwelling place of Israel’s God and they concluded that their God had left them. Upon their return from exile, the Jews under Cyrus start rebuilding, this goes on with stops and starts until it’s finally completed under Darius. Herod The Great starts renovating the temple around 19 B.C.. This is the temple that Jesus at the age of twelve sits in, having theological discussions with the priests and the elders. This is the temple he cleanses during his ministry.
When first century Jews thought about a messiah “saving” them, they were for the most part thinking of a revolutionary king who would have victory over Rome and would set up a new administration. They were looking for a “king,” a “messiah,” a “savior,” that would establish the temple and win battles. But Jesus came and redefined where God dwells. The temple was no longer the heart of everything, it would no longer be God’s dwelling place. N. T. Wright, in Simply Jesus, says:
“Jesus was, as it were, a walking Temple. A living, breathing place–where–Israel’s –God–was–living…. Jesus was behaving as if he were the Temple, in person.”
As D.A. Carson has said, “Jesus tabernacles among us.” Jesus is Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). Jesus, “redefin[ed] sacred space around himself” (N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus).
Christ Jesus lives in you, Christian, through the power of the Holy Spirit. He tabernacles among us.
For a while now I have had this heavy burden for women to read their Bibles. I’m not sure how it all started, I just remember one day feeling so weighed down at the thought of women neglecting the only source of “living water.” In chapter one of Bible Study: Following the Ways of the Word, Kathleen Buswell Nielson asks: “If the Bible is God speaking, then how should we listen?” I would like to add: If the Bible is God speaking, shouldn’t we hunger to read it?
I have realized that just telling someone “read the Bible” may not mean much to them or may be interpreted a certain way. One friend told me the other day that when she would hear “read the Bible” she automatically thought it meant, “wake-up early.” What I’m seeing is that there are these patterns of thought in women stemming from their past church experiences, discipling relationships, denominational cultures, family culture and dynamics and so on, that creates a predisposition in how they receive this type of exhortation.
Sometimes a woman doesn’t know where to start, sometimes she is in an overwhelming season of trial or of many little children, some have jobs, some have the added duty of home-schooling, some have fifteen children, and on and on…. There are xn variations. There are some who may even think it’s laying on a burden to tell a woman to be in the Word (See this post from John Piper why it’s not legalism). Here’s how Piper starts off:
“Don’t rest on past reading. Read your Bible more and more every year. Read it whether you feel like reading it or not. And pray without ceasing that the joy return and pleasures increase…this is not legalism…”
Of course all these exhortations must be done with graciousness. I think when it comes to women encouraging and counseling other women, a woman needs to know you are for her, that you want to truly see her flourish spiritually, that this isn’t just another item on the “Christian to-do” list along with “make sure every meal is from scratch” or whatever other nonsense that makes its rounds in various Christian subcultures on what it means to be a “godly” wife and mother. I would like to exhort women of all ages to make it their number one priority (yes, above ANY thing else) to read God’s Word. If you want to know how you can fit Bible reading in to your busy life, here are some opportunities you may want to consider:
- Read in the morning before the day begins
- Read at night after the kids go to bed
- Read during the middle of the night if you happen to be awake
- Read during the children’s nap time
- Read while sitting on the bench watching the kids play at the park
- Read while standing around in the playground keeping your eye on your little one(s)
- Read with other women when you get together for play-dates
- Read while sitting in the backyard watching the kids play
- Read to your husband or ask him to read to you
- Read to the children during a meal or a snack
- Read while the kids are watching “after-school” cartoons
- Read on your beach vacation (God’s Word is more important than that novel)
- Listen to the Bible being read on the iPod or other device while nursing the baby
- Listen to the Bible being read while doing chores (e.g. laundry, dusting, mopping) around the house
- Listen to the Bible being read while driving in the car on the way to work
- Listen to the Bible being read while driving back home after work
- Listen to the Bible being read while driving the kids to activities or school
- Listen to the Bible being read while driving ANYWHERE during the day
- Listen to the Bible being read while taking walks
- Listen to the Bible being read while taking a shower
- Listen to the Bible being read while washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen
- Listen to the Bible being read while giving baths to the little ones
- Listen to the Bible being read while walking around the store doing your grocery shopping
- Listen to the Bible being read while mowing the lawn
- And on desperate days, hide out in the bathroom and read and pray
Ladies, may I entreat you to: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). If you are not sure where to start let me make a suggestion: Read the book of Mark, and while reading The Gospel According To Mark be thinking about how Jesus spends the first half of the Gospel showing us how to live, and how he spends the second half showing us how to die. (I got this idea from an interview, “Spirituality For All The Wrong Reasons” with Eugene Peterson.) Dwell on that: learn how to live and learn how to die (may need a post just on that thought alone).
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” ––Colossians 3:16