A couple of weeks ago, I paraphrased Psalm 94. It was certainly a journey into the darker side of Psalms. If the first line of the psalm is, “O Lord, God of vengeance,” you pretty well know how the rest is going to go! Indeed, Psalm 94 is a powerful prayer to God to punish the wicked, particularly those who use the machinery of the law for wicked ends.
This is something God did 2500+ years ago, and it’s still something He does today. He brings every act to judgment, whether good or evil. Of course, the scope of the day of judgment is universal, but even before then, a high percentage of the wicked are going to suffer for their wickedness in this life. It’s true of individuals, and it’s true of nations, which is why many Christians are gravely concerned about the future of the United States.
God certainly punishes unrighteousness, but are Christians allowed to ask Him to do that? There’s certainly plenty of Scriptural evidence that says, “No.” Most notably, in Luke 6:28, Jesus says, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” By this, Jesus does not mean praying, “O God, please turn the people who abuse me into grease spots!” We are supposed to pray for their good.
However, neither does that mean praying, “O God, please give these evil people many years of life and prosperity, so that they can continue to treat others as shamefully as they have treated me!” Continued evil isn’t good for anybody. It isn’t good for the victim, and it isn’t even good for the practitioner. What we really want is for that evil not to continue.
This should begin with prayer for God to forgive our tormentors. My favorite New-Testament example of this appears in Acts 7:60. Fascinatingly, among Stephen’s murderers was the young Saul of Tarsus. Stephen’s prayer for Saul was answered in Acts 9:18 when Saul was baptized. We should likewise want everyone who troubles us to repent so that they can be forgiven.
Sadly, many evildoers never repent. In such cases, we may well echo the cry of the martyrs under the altar in Revelation 6:10. Even though we often use it generically, the cry, “Lord, how long?” is not generic. Instead, it is specific, asking how long God will take to avenge the blood of the righteous. In Romans 12:19, God promises us, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay.” As with all His other promises, we have the right to ask Him to keep that one.
Some might see this as inconsistent with our calling to love our enemies. However, even though it can be, I don’t think it necessarily is. After all, God’s perfect love is consistent with His judgment of the wicked. It follows, then, that our love can be consistent with an appeal for that judgment.
God doesn’t want anyone to perish. Neither should we. Prayers for the salvation of the souls of the wicked should always be our Plan A, and we should sincerely desire to see them saved. However, those who reject the mercy of God have only His justice left. If someone who has wronged us will not repent (and God knows whether they will or not), we have the right to ask Him to balance the scales, and we can leave the matter in His hands.
Most Americans who follow politics are aware that Social Security is going to run out of money. To be more precise, in 2034, the Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted, and it will only be able to pay out about 75 percent of benefits that retirees have accrued. Similar problems beset Medicare.
In both cases, the problem is the same. We live in a country with an aging population. In order for the population of a country to sustain itself, the “replacement level” of live births is about 2.1 per woman. Currently, the live-birth rate in the US is about 1.8 per woman. Without immigration, our population would be in decline.
There are many reasons for this demographic crisis, but one of the most important, and one of the least talked-about, is abortion. Since 1973, more than 61 million American babies have been aborted. Not all of those babies would have become productive members of society who paid into Social Security and Medicare, but most of them would have. Their contributions surely would have kept the American social-insurance system afloat for a few more decades, perhaps indefinitely, without the need for hard political choices.
This is bitterly ironic. The same people who are the champions of the welfare state in the US are also the champions of abortion on demand. Their insistence on the second has rendered the first demographically unsustainable. They have undone their own designs.
I point this out for two main reasons. First, I am adamantly opposed to abortion, and I will muster whatever arguments I can against it. Perhaps someone who cannot see that it is immoral will accept that it is unwise.
Second, I think it illustrates one of the primary this-life problems with evil. Even though sin appears to offer advantages to the sinner (Don’t we sin because we think it’s going to benefit us in some way?), over time, those advantages often prove to be illusory. Psalm 94:23 points out that God brings the iniquity of the wicked back on them. As a result, when we sin, we commonly sow the seeds of our own destruction.
It’s important for us to recognize this pattern in the consequences of others’ sins, but it’s vital for us to acknowledge it when we are tempted. For instance, consider the married man or woman who seeks sexual fulfillment in pornography. Admittedly, their sin probably will supply them with some measure of satisfaction.
However, it also will create two problems. First, immorality never can do more than provide a counterfeit of the joys of marital intimacy as described in Proverbs 5. In the words of Jeremiah 2:13, the sinner is trading a fountain of living water for a broken cistern. Second, once their spouse finds out (which will happen sooner or later), the revelation cannot help but damage the trust on which the marital relationship is based. The quest for fulfillment in porn is self-defeating and doomed.
It is good for us to be wise about such things, but it is better for us to be trusting. God’s commandments are for our good, and that remains true whether we see the good or not. Doing the right thing will often lead us to blessings that we do not expect. Evil, by contrast, is a weapon that will turn in the hands of those who wield it, and none of us are exempt from its consequences.
A week or two ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to this blog. Among other things, one of the author’s main goals appears to be insisting that women should be allowed to speak in the assemblies of churches of Christ. This post is representative of his arguments.
The post is, quite honestly, very long, and I don’t have space to respond to everything in it that I think is mistaken (not without turning this into the 1 Corinthians 14 blog, at least!). However, I think it’s worthwhile to address one of the author’s primary arguments—that no church of Christ is consistent in applying 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 because in none of them are women absolutely silent. He writes, “Hardly a single woman remains silent in the churches. Women sing. They greet people. They say ‘good morning’ and ‘Amen.’ They make comments in Sunday School. They give confession to the assembly before baptism.”
What the author describes is true, so far as it goes. However, it’s not in conflict with the plain meaning of 1 Corinthians 14. First of all, this text applies to times “when the whole church is assembled together”—what we would call worship services rather than Bible classes (though I think that churches need to apply 1 Corinthians 14 to their Bible classes if said classes are an assembly of the whole. The label we assign an activity is less important than the reality of what we’re doing.).
Second, though we tend to focus on women, sisters in Christ are not the only group in the chapter that Paul instructs to be silent. In 1 Corinthians 14:28, he tells men with the gift of tongues to keep silent if there is no interpreter present. In 1 Corinthians 14:30, he tells prophets to keep silent if a revelation has been given to another prophet.
In these passages, it’s clear that “silent” isn’t contrasted with making a sound. Otherwise, gifted men under these conditions would have been barred from singing, saying “Amen”, and otherwise participating in public worship. That interpretation can’t be supported from the text, particularly when Paul urges brethren to earnestly desire spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:1. Why desire something that could bar you from worshiping?
Instead, “silent” in 1 Corinthians 14 is contrasted with being the speaker. Tongue-speakers and prophets in these circumstances were free to participate in public worship. They were not free, however, to claim center stage for themselves.
The same rule applies to women. They too are free to say the “Amen” if they agree, as per 1 Corinthians 14:16. They too are free to obey the exhortation of Romans 15:6 and join in glorifying God with one voice. They are not free, however, to become the speaker.
There were circumstances in which tongue-speakers and prophets could become the speaker in an assembly. Tongue-speakers were permitted to do so in the presence of an interpreter. Prophets were permitted to do so (one by one, two or three at most per assembly) in the absence of another revelation. However, there are no circumstances in which the text permits women to do the same. Paul’s prohibition is absolute, even to the point of forbidding women to ask questions in such circumstances.
Such a commandment is opposed to the spirit of our time. That’s not in question. The question is if we are willing to defy the spirit of our time to follow the Spirit of God. Honoring His word will not find favor with our culture, but it will find favor with Him.
Much to my surprise, for the first time that I can remember since the Cold War, there is a flurry of national interest in socialism. As someone who is a student of history, this concerns me. As someone who is politically unaligned, I’m not sure what to do about it.
I have seen, though, a small minority of brethren with left-leaning political views justify their embrace of socialism by pointing to the communal practices of the first-century church. They cite texts such as Acts 4:32, which reads, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” Ergo, the argument goes, adopting a democratic-socialist form of government is Biblically acceptable, if not outright Biblically justified.
From my perspective, though, the argument appears to suffer from the usual problems with basing public policy on the Bible. New-Testament Christianity is concerned with the conduct of individuals and small groups, not nations. It assumes that those individuals and groups will be motivated to obey by love. The less true those things are, the less applicable the code of the Bible becomes.
Take, for instance, Acts 4:32. It certainly describes a communal moment in the history of the early church. However, we see plainly in the text that everyone who was involved in sharing their possessions did so willingly. If a group of people chooses to pool their possessions, whether Christians or not, I don’t have a problem with that.
However, socialism is never 100 percent voluntary. No political system is. It invariably involves coercion. Somebody who is a citizen of a socialistic country but doesn’t want to have his possessions redistributed will have those possessions redistributed forcefully.
I think that generosity among brethren is beautiful. I think that forced redistribution is hideous. It is provoked by greed, not love. Historically speaking, lots of people have died in the course of state redistribution of property.
Second, Acts 4 captures a particular moment in time. It comes on the heels of the establishment of the church on the day of Pentecost, during which thousands of Jews from all over the world who were in Jerusalem for the festival obeyed the gospel. Most of those converts didn’t own property in Jerusalem. They didn’t have employment there.
As a result, if they wanted to remain in Jerusalem and be taught, they had to rely for their needs on others. The native Christians were driven to sell their property to meet the need. This took place only for a limited time, and if the situation had continued indefinitely, it would have been unsustainable. There’s a sense in which the persecution of Saul did the Jerusalem church a favor by forcing it to scatter.
Political socialism, by contrast, does not advocate state assumption of assets as a limited-term response to a crisis. Instead, to at least some degree, it contemplates the permanent collectivization of property. This too is unsustainable. People who are not motivated by the prospect of reward will not work.
In summary, there is a facial resemblance between the economics of the Jerusalem church and socialism, but the parallel doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. What a church might do when many of its members are in need has little to do with how a nation should organize itself. As always, we are on solid ground when we seek to apply the word of God to ourselves and our churches. The more we stray from the intent of the Holy Spirit, the more fraught the exercise becomes.
During my Texas travels a couple weeks back, I worshiped on Sunday morning with the Kleinwood church in northwest Houston, where my in-laws are members. That evening, Brent Moody preached on Genesis 3. He pointed out that the devil still tempts us today using the same strategies that he used to tempt Eve in the garden of Eden.
I thought Brent made several good points in the course of the sermon, but his first particularly stuck with me. He focused on the devil’s statement in Genesis 3:1, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
As Brent pointed out, this was not a diabolical request for information. The devil knew perfectly well that God had not said any such thing. Indeed, he knew that Eve knew that God had not said any such thing.
Instead, the devil’s goal was to sow doubt. It would have been unreasonable, irrational, for God to command Adam and Eve not to eat from any of the trees in the garden. What else were they supposed to eat? God didn’t say any such thing, but the devil’s suggestion that he did cast doubt on God’s wisdom, with later, catastrophic effects.
If we pay attention, we will see that the devil frequently tries the same strategy with us. The most obvious case I’ve ever encountered was in a study with a young woman who was a new convert. She had had some association with the churches of Christ in her past, but she knew very little.
During this study, which took place shortly after she was baptized, she asked me, “Now that I’m a Christian, I can’t listen to any more music in my car, right?” She had confused the Bible’s teaching about a-cappella worship with a general prohibition of listening to any instrumental music, ever.
As with not eating of any of the trees in the garden, such a prohibition would be ridiculously overbroad. In fact, it would be impossible to live in our society if such a commandment existed. Music is everywhere, and we wouldn’t be able to watch TV, sit in a doctor’s office, or even walk down the street without sinning.
Once the devil puts the notion in our minds that God might be so unreasonable, though, he opens the door for the suggestion that God’s actual commandments are either unreasonable or much less restrictive than we think. “God doesn’t really expect me to be intimate only with my spouse, does He?” All of a sudden, the devil has maneuvered us into the seat of judgment ourselves, and once we start living based on what is right in our own eyes, we’re dead meat! Indeed, after a short while, I never saw this sister in Christ again.
Ignorance of the word can be much more dangerous than we think. It leaves us vulnerable not only to direct temptation, but also to misrepresentation of the Scriptures, if only by ourselves to ourselves. The only cure for the disease is to hide the word of God in our hearts, so that no satanic overstatement ever can find any room there.