The Path of Commitment: Walk, Speak, Do

“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD” (Psalm 15:1-4)

Three words from Psalm 15 characterize a genuine sojourner and dweller with God.  Sojourning and dwelling reveal a favored place, one of lasting permanence upon arrival.  The place of dwelling as expressed in Psalm 15:1 gives delight and joy to the person living there.  What follows this verse explains why.  The person’s walk, words, and actions reflect in living that which satisfies on location.  The person’s entire being aligns with the dwelling place.  First, it is the place where God dwells.  Second, it gives total satisfaction, because God designed and created this place for the people who love following Him.  Third, continued communion with God exists through worship toward God.

Consider, first the location.  The place of sojourn is a tent.  However, it is no ordinary tents but rather an intimate one.  It is God’s tent in which He alone dwells and invites to Him those with whom He wishes to commune.  It is a place of warm and sacred fellowship with God.  The rhetorical question about those who sojourn there begs an answer related to worship and sacredness associated with God Himself.  We receive this sacredness from God’s interaction with Abraham and Moses.  God made holy and spiritual promises to Abraham and treated him as a friend (James 2:23).  God spoke to Moses as one would to a friend (Exodus 33:11).  Sacredness exists where friendships run deep.  God’s tent represented such friendship.

There is more about location in the opening statement of Psalm 15.  The psalm speaks of God’s holy hill.  God set this place apart for those with whom He desires to communicate.  Such a person reciprocates in walking, speaking, and doing God’s will faithfully.  This person does not draw back from these acts, because he dwells with God on His holy hill.  He desires to be with God and like God.  Faithful and steadfast dwelling allow this likeness to occur.

Walking, speaking, and doing involve the entire life committed to God and, as we read later, to one’s neighbor, friend, and those who fear the LORD.  The vertical relationship with God always translates into our horizontal relationship with others.  The Hebrews knew no other disposition.  How one walks, speaks, and does toward God translates into walking, speaking, and doing with neighbors, friends, and those who fear the LORD.  Commitment is doing and not quitting with neighbors, friends, and those who fear the LORD when circumstances may not be the most convenient.  Otherwise, we let them down and betray them and God. We will explore how walking, speaking, and doing express themselves in another article.

“Commitment is what transforms a promise into a reality.” Abraham Lincoln

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Commitment: One Who Dwells Faithfully with God

When we as confessing believers in Christ talk about commitment, what do we mean? Do we approach this act from the view of the world or from the view of a holy God?  Psalm 15 provides deep insight into the way of commitment.  This article focuses on the opening statement:

“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (15:1-3)

These two rhetorical questions guide the reader to a series of answers. The questions intend to direct attention to genuine commitment to God and people. Two words key the reader into the meaning of genuine commitment: “sojourn” (יָג֣וּר) and “dwell” (יִ֝שְׁכֹּ֗ן).  The first word means to remain, inhabit, abide, or continue.  The second word translated “dwell,” takes on constancy, perpetuation, or permanent residency.  The two words express different status and timing.  Charles John Ellicott (1819-1905) suggests sojourning signifies a guest status (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, Psalm 15, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/psalms/15.htm).  A little context from Genesis places a guest status in an honorary light as though they belonged there.  Abraham welcomed his guests of angels with very high regard (Genesis 18:1-8).  They were, because they came to Abraham as faithful messengers of God, and one was God!

However, when joined with “dwell,” in addressing the same person, this sojourning regards these guests as more than temporary.  They came as guest but staid as permanent residents.  They made commitment to YAHWEH, the God of all creation and the personal God who welcomes the faithful.  They committed to the God of their eternal home yet to be realized.  They not only sojourned but continued faithfully with their God.  Commitment to such people raises faithfulness to the highest priority.

They walk, speak, and do according to their dwelling faithfulness (15:2).  Nothing deters them from their walking, speaking, and doing God’s will.  With these three acts, they have four people in mind: the neighbor, a friend, a vile person, and those who fear the LORD (15:3-4).  To the first two, the person who commits to God’s wills in walking, speaking, and doing also commits wholeheartedly to one’s neighbor and friend.  One who fears the LORD receives honor beyond a neighbor and friend.  Walking close, speaking well, and doing good show this exemplary honor toward those who fear the LORD.  There is a sense of faithfulness in doing these.  That is, a person who sojourns and dwells with God never breaks commitment to neighbor, friend, and especially to those who fear the LORD.

We will explore neighbors, friends, and those who fear the LORD in more depth in subsequent articles.  We will also examine walking, speaking, and doing in more detail.  These acts towards these groups of people lead to a subsequent crescendo in 15:4, which brings commitment to that which aligns with commitment to God.  Where is your commitment to both God, neighbor, friend, and those who fear the LORD?  Does it last or is it like chaff that blows away when the winds become inconvenient?

“In the Bible, spirituality and ethics go hand in hand; piety and conduct cannot be divorced. There are consequences to our beliefs and spiritual commitments, and these pertain not only to this life but also to the life to come” (Carson, D. A. The Cross and Christian Ministry (p. 81). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.).

Door-door- Evangelism: Is it Effective?

I have been doing some research on evangelistic outreach.  In doing so, I posed the question for my search, “Does door-to-door team evangelism work?”  This is somewhat of a loaded question, because it really centers on what “works” in the question means.  Is it effective?  Will people respond to someone coming to the door to share the gospel, give them a tract, or invite them to church?  Ah!  What do these corollary questions have it common?  The share a common viewpoint.  We can measure effectiveness from our viewpoint or God’s.  Can we persuade people to come to Christ?  Actually no.  Faith in Christ for salvation is a spiritual decision and therefore requires spiritual renewal for that decision.

Paul wrote in Romans 3:10-11 with a quote from the Old Testament, “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” If then no one seeks for God, what causes a person to place faith in Christ?  Good question.  According to this passage, all people are intent on turning away from God, because they reject God.  No one is willing to come to God.  Paul again answers that question several chapters later where he wrote, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).  The power of spiritual conversion is the word of God.  Notice the cause and effect in this passage.  The cause is hearing the word of God, while the response is faith.  The word of God awakens the spirit to respond to Christ through faith.

So, what makes our evangelism efforts by any means effective?  Give out the word of God by any means.  It is our most valuable and powerful tool.  Hebrews 4:12-13 affirms this, “For 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 a discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” 

Let me return to the original question, “Does door-to-door team evangelism work?”  It does not work if we believe we are the causal agents for someone responding to us positively or someone coming to Christ.  If we consider effectiveness from our resources to persuade people or even receive a positive response, the answer is no.  If it is yes, then why do we pray?  If we believe a response requires God’s work in the heart through His word and corresponding power of the Holy Spirit to bring about even the most modest change, then the answer is an unqualified YES.  We walk by faith and leave the results to God.  Human initiatives fail to render divine results.  Only God can produce divine results.  Therefore, the effectiveness of any evangelistic means is yes if we believe the Scriptures that the “gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes…(Romans 1:16) and “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).  There is nothing more sure in life for salvation than the word of God.

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: How to Get Along with and Minister to Church Members

In the opening of this letter, Paul reveals the source of confidence about the Philippian church,

“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

This statement is the core truth of the entire letter. He not only begins this truth at the outset of the letter, but he also returns to it in 3:20-21,

“Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly await for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”

Examine the parallel of the two passages:

  1. Both speak of “the day of Jesus Christ.”
  2. Both allude not only to what Jesus is doing now but also what He will do
  3. Both discuss completion of Christ’s work with us

The phrase “the day” appears three times in this letter. This phrase takes us back to the prophets and their prophecies of the conclusion of all things and God’s restoration of all things (Ezekiel 39:8; Zechariah 4; 12-14; Micah 4:6; Amos 9:11-15). This day is also known as “the day of the LORD.” It is that day of which Paul speaks.

Paul opens this letter with this great hope in mind. It spurred him as he addressed this church faced with divisions and false teachers who grew from within the ranks of the church.  Paul uses words as grace, peace, joy, fellowship, and confident.  They are words of eternal significance, and Paul wanted to get across the vision of eternity and what it means to live with eternity in mind.

One of the means through which Paul sought to convey Christ and eternity before the Philippians was through the agency of the mind. In opening chapter two, Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus…” (2:5). In chapter three, Paul again calls attention to the mind as the place where one contemplates the characteristics of eternity, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (4:8). These are eternal characteristics.

Such thinking is what Johannes Kepler said, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him.” Such thinking brings us to realize true humility, because as we contemplate the incarnation, we realize the greatest example of humility realized in Jesus. This humility serves to place a check on divisiveness, squabbles, fighting, and quarrels. We realize that such humility does not come easy especially in the face of the temptations of pride and self-recognition. Paul’s divinely inspired advice and portrayals of Christ and eternity teaches us to hold the portrait of Christ’s humility before us, because it is in His image we will find completion in the day of Jesus Christ (3:21).

Authority: The Gospel or Man-made Religion

GALATIANS 1:11-24 – “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came †through the revelation of Jesus Christ…”

In this passage, Paul opens a broadside against the false teachers who came to the Galatians churches to claim their authority and dispute Paul’s authority.  They sought to dismiss the gospel Paul preached because they claimed it rested on his own authority.  They supported their claim by pointing to the Mosaic Law, specifically that of circumcision.  To them, that seemed reasonable, since their claim not only reached back into ancient history (for them), but it defined them as God’s people He delivered from the Egyptians and placed His mark on them as His chosen people.  How could Paul begin to argue against such insurmountable evidence?  To the Judaizers, it was an uphill battle for Paul to make any other claim.  How could anyone reject the established Mosaic Law that had more than 1,300 years of acceptance?  Additionally, how could anyone simply cast aside centuries of traditions the Jewish fathers taught in their interpretation of the Mosaic Law? Law and tradition were like hand and glove – inseparable.

However, since Paul received direct revelation from Jesus Himself, he staked his claim on that which was greater in significance – the promise of Messiah.  Promise had far greater value than the Mosaic Law, because promise stood as the grounds for faith whereas the Law catered to the flesh by inciting sin through the fleshly nature.  The promised Messiah came prior to Moses and saw His fulfillment apart from Law through grace (John 1:16-18).

Paul will take his readers through several arguments to explain the superiority of God’s promise over the Mosaic Law later in his letter by showing:

  1. that faith in God’s word holds greater importance in relating to Him than the Mosaic Law
  2. that faith and grace preceded the works of the law
  3. that the Law had no power in itself to bring forth righteousness
  4. that God never intended the Law to bring forth righteousness

Defense of the Gospel from Experience

  1. Not from men (1:11-12)
  2. Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:12)
  3. Refutation of human authority, including his own (1:13, 16-17)
  4. Refutation of traditions (1:14)
    • Affirmation of God’s grace 1:15)
    • Independence from men and apostolic authority (1:16-19; 2:9)
    • Affirmation from a changed life (1:21-24)

 

CHAPTER ONE WRAP-UP QUESTIONS

  • How does Paul explain the gospel?
  • Is the gospel just for unbelievers?
  • From what we have learned so far, how would you present the gospel to others? (See also Romans 10:9-10)

Can Something be True without Being Factual?

The LA Times published an editorial April 13, 2017 about the Passover, In religion, something can be true without being factual.  The article poses a question, “Does it matter if the Passover story is literally true?”

In it, the author, Eric Schwitzgebel, argues that it does matter.  However, his position is that if it is true, then Judaism has a problem.  He confronts one negative with another.  He states the problem in the following way,

“It matters,” I said, “because if the story is literally true, then a god who works miracles really exists. It matters if there is such a god or not. I don’t think I would like the moral character of that god, who kills innocent Egyptians. I’m glad there is no such god.”

That is, he claims that making the story historically factual, gives Judaism a murderous god, something he does not want to believe.  Such a false dilemma.  Therefore, one must adapt a story or myth to present values to make it powerful for today.  In other words, he celebrates a truth of values, which are adaptable to present circumstances.  Consequently, the way to escape what one considers a negative from history is to establish one’s own truth based on ever changing values.  This argument is one similar to that which many today hold,

“What is true for you may not be true for me,”

or

“Your truth may not be the same as my truth.”

These statements result from divorcing truth from historical fact and creating one’s own “facts” or not having any facts at all upon which truth rests.  That is, truth is that of convenience to do away with what one dislikes.

Several people responded to this editorial, but one specifically caught my attention.  This responder picked up on the core issue when writing,

   “As a professor of philosophy he probably knows the difference between “facts” and “truth,” as well as how much the meaning of stories matters, regardless of their empirical factuality. His “alternative” interpretations of the Torah manifest precisely this difference, in their appeal to the “moral” character of God.    He is correct to say that the meanings of the stories contain their moral lessons. Therein also lies their truth value.     No matter one’s inclination for literal as opposed to figurative interpretation, the stories of the Torah aim at truth, as do all religious narratives. More than their factuality, the truth of these narratives is what both comforts and discomforts us. Interpreting these stories and communicating their truth is what holds in tension our contemporary values with the timelessness of truth.”

What this responder claims is that truth does not necessarily have to be based on facts to hold truth.  That is, truth and facts are not necessarily the same or something can be true without being factual.

Here is the rub.  If truth and facts can be different, then why should we believe this Schwitzgebel or the responder to him?  If truth and facts can be divorced from one another, what difference does it make?  None.  One simply states a baseless opinion among many opinions for one’s faith, which does not rise to any significance, especially if truth has no foundation in reality (facts of history).  Facts are stubborn things of reality.  That which is non-factual has no correspondence to reality.  To espouse “truth” without grounding in reality makes it fictitious and without any significance.  That which is not part of reality does not exist and has no knowledge base.  Our entire existence and way of life are based on truth having its grounding in the reality of facts.  Once we dismiss or ignore facts as the basis for truth, chaos ensues.  We cannot live with such a division.  Rather, one would necessarily take a leap of faith into the dark abyss of non-existence where knowledge does not exists.  Such a leap is an attempt to escape reality itself.

How do we know Schwitzgebel is not wrong if he makes a distinction between truth and facts?  How can Schwitzgebel judge something right or wrong, whether a historical event or present circumstance which becomes history, if truth has no grounding in fact?  If truth and facts are different, how are judges to make decisions in courts?  Those who swear to tell the truth can also ignore the facts of a case.  If truth and facts can be separate, why believe anyone who presents you with a contract?  If someone swears they will do something, and they believe in the division between truth and facts, why would you believe them?  Actions are also facts, and we cannot wish them away regardless how much we try.  It is this kind of reasoning that destroys truth altogether and makes lies the bedrock of society.

However, we know that the Exodus and Passover are true because they are factual events.  Christ is our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7).  He fulfilled Passover by paying the price for our sins and then rising from the dead.

Have a Blessed Easter (Paschal).