How Christians Can Prepare for the 2020 Election

It’s election time again. Should Christians vote for Trump? Biden? A third party candidate who doesn’t have a chance? Or should we abstain from voting at all? What should a Christian do?

1. Remember the Bible is silent about voting

The Bible doesn’t say one word about voting. (And no, this isn’t because they didn’t have elections in the Roman Empire.  They did). We must abstain from making commandments where God has not spoken, and from passing judgment on other Christians who approach their opportunity to vote differently than we do (James 4:11-12). If you decide to vote for one candidate or another, there is no Biblical authority to require others to do so (or for that matter, to require others to vote at all).

2. Keep your confidence in God’s sovereign choice

Recognize that

The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes. (Daniel 4.32)

Jesus said to Pilate,

You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above. (John 19.11)

Paul reminded the Roman Christians who were living under the dreadful rule of Nero,

There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (Romans 13:1)

Sometimes it can truly baffle the mind to understand why God would exalt certain men to their thrones. Why did God exalt the Babylonians? Why did God exalt the wicked Assyrians? Why did God exalt Pilate? Nero? King George III? Adolf Hitler? Barack Obama? Donald Trump? Joe Biden?

We may not always understand God’s reasons, but if there is one Being in the universe in whom we can fully trust, it would be the God who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, Yahweh. Although our votes may be wasted on candidates who will not end up winning, we can be thankful that His vote counts most.

3. Keep your confidence in God’s sovereign authority

Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,
I send it against a godless nation
And commission it against the people of My fury

Yet it does not so intend,
Nor does it plan so in its heart,
But rather it is its purpose to destroy
And to cut off many nations

Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it?
Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it?
That would be like a club wielding those who lift it,
Or like a rod lifting him who is not wood.” – Isaiah 10. 5, 7, 15

In speaking of the same Assyrians, Habakkuk wrote,

You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge;
And You, O Rock, have established them to correct. – Habakkuk 1.12

Although our rulers may (like Assyria) have no intention of willingly submitting to God, God still uses them to accomplish His will. (Also consider Jeremiah 25:9-12, where God calls Nebuchadnezzar “My servant“). Paul confirms that God continues to function in this manner, even in the era of the New Testament, when he spoke the following words in regard to the wicked emperor Nero:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God, and avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. – Romans 13.3-4

We can take great courage in knowing that while our rulers may think they are in charge, the Lord Most High still rules in the kingdoms of man.

4. Remember that governing authorities exist for the good of God’s children

It is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. (Romans 13.4)

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8.28)

God used the wicked Assyrians and Babylonians to punish His children for their unfaithfulness, and ultimately to preserve a remnant who would put their faith in God. God used Pilate to crucify Jesus, thus giving us the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Through the persecutions of the Roman Empire, the early church learned to place their hopes firmly in the heavenly city, whose ruler and maker is God. Through their persecutions, God taught His children patience, thus helping them to grow in their maturity. As wicked as these rulers were, God chose them for a purpose, He used them to accomplish His purpose, and ultimately these authorities served as ministers of God for the good of His children. With this confidence, we can rejoice in whoever God chooses as the next president, however wicked he or she may be.

5. Be prepared to submit to whoever God selects as president

We are not merely commanded to submit to those rulers who we think do a good job ruling. In keeping with the historical and textual context of Romans 13, even if our next president ends up being the modern version of Nero, the worst enemy Christians have faced in decades, our responsibility remains the same:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are appointed by God. (Romans 12.29-13.1)

Yet as Peter makes it clear, our submission is not motivated out of our support for the person in power, but rather:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise o those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2.13-15)

This is not a time to grab our pitchforks and torches and charge the White House lawn. To rebel against whoever is elected is to rebel against the Lord’s ordained authorities. Rather than overcoming their evil with evil, we are to overcome their evil with good. We do this through our peaceful submission to them.

6. Pray

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness  and dignity. (1 Timothy 2.1-2)

As Christians, we are commanded to pray for world rulers. It should be noted that our prayers should be for “all who are in authority”, and not just for the ones we want to be in authority, and not just for those under whose authority we ourselves live. It is therefore a prayer for the advancement of God’s Kingdom, and not for the advancement of one particular kingdom of men, for the purpose of the prayer is for the welfare of the saints, that they may flourish in peace, godliness and dignity under the reign of those rulers.

Jeremiah expressed similar words when he said:

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. – Jeremiah 29:7

No passage in Scripture even remotely suggests that we should be praying for our leaders for the purpose of advancing the cause of earthly kingdoms. Yet we must be in constant prayer for our leaders  for the sake of the advancement of God’s kingdom.

Conclusion

See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give  thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5.15-18)

Regardless of who you vote for, or if you even choose to vote at all, may we never stop rejoicing in Christ our King. God is in control, and in this we can have great confidence. May we continue to trust in Him while laboring for the advancement of His eternal Kingdom.

A Taste of the Age to Come

We live in an evil age. This much is clear. When we are surrounded by continual sickness, anxiety, sin, and death, it can make us long for the day to come when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more” (Rev. 21.4).

What may not be as clearly realized is that for those who are in Christ, we can actually already experience what that age to come will be like (at least in part). Even when this world is at it’s very worst, in Christ we can already taste the age to come. We can see and experience what our promised inheritance will be.

Two Distinct Ages

The Bible describes the world in terms of two distinct ages. For example, in Jeremiah 31:31, the Lord says “the days are coming… when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” There are two ages. The present age, and the age to come when God’s laws would be written on the hearts of his people.

Similarly, Ezekiel 36:26, the Lord speaks of a day that is coming when “I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put within you.” Again, we see two distinct ages. The present age, and the age that is coming, when God’s people will be given a new heart to walk in obedience.

While Old Testament examples such as these could be multiplied, it is important to notice that this “two age” concept continues into the New Testament.

And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Mt. 12:32)

There is no one who… will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mk. 10:30)

Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (Luke 20:34-35)

Paul frequently uses this two-age concept as well.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12.2)

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away…. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (2 Cor. 2:6, 8)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age; according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Gal. 1:3-5)

Throughout the pages of the Bible there are two distinct ages, the present evil age, and the age to come. We are living in the present age, the age of corruption and death. But we anticipate a better day to come, a day when things will be different, a day when things will be as they should be.

Which Age Are We In?

Although the Bible is clear that there are two distinct ages, it would be a mistake to overlook the way the Bible claims that in a very real sense the age to come has already begun.

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Mt. 12:28)

Yes, Satan’s ultimate defeat still lies in the future. The “present evil age” continues. But Jesus made the claim that the age of God’s Kingdom has already come.

The demons were aware that Jesus was already doing things that were characteristic of a coming age.

And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Mt. 8:29)

We live in the present evil age, but even now, those who are in Christ have already “shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6.4-5). There is a very real sense in which we have already been delivered from the “present evil age” (Gal. 1.4).

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1.13-14)

Did you catch what Paul said? We are living in a present evil age, what Paul calls “the domain of darkness.” This much should be self-evident. Funeral homes are still in business. Sin continues. Pain continues. Satan continues to oppose God’s people. And yet, at the same time, in Christ we have already tasted the powers of the age to come, we already share in the Spirit, we have already been delivered from the present evil age, and we have already been delivered from the domain of darkness.

So which age do we live in? There’s a sense in which we experience both at the same time. We live in the present evil age, surrounded by the domain of darkness. But we have been delivered from that age. We are not to be conformed to this age. For those who are in Christ, they are already able to taste the age to come.

Two Word Pictures

The idea of experiencing both the current age and the age to come at the same time can be a little confusing. It can be helpful to consider two pictures given to us by Paul.

Firstfruits

We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:23)

It is by the Spirit that Jesus was raised from the dead (Rom. 8:11). When we put to death the deeds of the body (8:13), and when we are willing to suffer with Christ (8:15), there is a very real sense in which we are already the beginning of God’s new creation.

Although creation is currently groaning, longing to be set free from the bondage of corruption (8:18-22), Paul says the firstfruits of the Spirit are already present in the children of God.

A Down Payment

Similarly, Paul describes the Spirit as a down payment, the first installment, or a guarantee of what is to come.

And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee (2 Cor. 1:21-22).

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Cor. 5:5)

In him you have heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, and believed in him, and were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:13-14)

When a bank is looking to make a loan, one of the first things they look at is the down payment. They want to know the borrower has “skin in the game.” If a borrower is willing to put 20-30% down on the front end, the lender can have confidence that the borrower is serious in his intentions to repay the loan.

If we want to know that God is serious about his intentions for the age to come, look no further than the Spirit. In the Spirit, God has given us a portion of the age to come. When we see the Spirit working in the lives of Christians, this should give us confidence that God will complete what He has begun.

A Taste of Heaven

We are surrounded by the present evil age of sin and death. And yet, the harvest of the age to come has already begun. The firstfruits can already been seen. The down payment is already in the books.

We have already been delivered from the present evil age (Gal. 1:4). Jesus Christ came “so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14). “God has sent his Spirit into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Gal. 4:6-7).

But what does this look like? What is the evidence that we have the Spirit in our hearts? Paul tells us in Galatians 5.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:22-23)

The Spirit is not something that just automatically happens to Christians, as if we lose control of ourselves. It’s quite the opposite. The Spirit is evident in the lives of Christians when we do control ourselves. It takes continual effort and practice, which is why Paul says “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). We must continually cultivate the fruit of the Sprit in our lives.

When our lives are filled with the fruit of the Spirit, there is a very real sense in which we are the firstfruits of the age to come. We are God’s down payment – the guarantee that something greater is coming. We are, as Paul says, “a new creation” (Gal. 6:15).

Do you want to know that the age to come will look like? Look for the fruit of the Sprit in the lives of God’s children. Look for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control. Look for those who crucify their own fleshly desires. That is the work of the Spirit. That is evidence that a new age has begun.

The firstfruits are already in the garden. The down payment can already be enjoyed. And At least in small part, we can already taste heaven, and it should encourage us to long for the age to come.

The Meaning of Authenteo: A Must-Read Word Study in the Gender Roles Debate

The role of women in the church has been the subject of many passionate debates over the last several decades. Perhaps the most debated verse in this controversy has been 1 Timothy 2.12. The most debated word in this verse is the Greek word “authentein”, which comes from the Greek verb “authenteo”. In our English translations, this word is commonly translated as “exercise authority” (ESV, NASB), “have authority” (NKVJ) “usurp authority” (KJV), or “assume authority” (NIV).

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet. (1 Tim 2.12, ESV)

It is sometimes argued that “authenteo” refers to a specific kind of negative or violent authority; perhaps something closer to what we might call “dominate”, “control”, or “bully”. If this is the case, it could suggest that Paul was not simply restricting women from exercising any general type of authority, but rather he was only restricting those women who would attempt to completely dominate an assembly in a loud, assertive, overbearing, and controlling manner.

For example, in the book “Women in the Church’s Ministry”, R. T. France translates the verse “I do not allow these ignorant women to batter the men. They are to stop shouting and calm down.” I’ve seen this basic argument appear in numerous blogs posts in recent years.

As Christians wrestle with the meaning and application of this particular verse, I recommend the book “Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, 3rd Edition” by Andres Kostenberger and Thomas Schreiner. In this book, Al Wolters has written an entire chapter on the meaning of the word authenteo. In this chapter, Wolters convincingly demonstrates that the word “authenteo” has neither negative nor violent connotations (“domineer”), nor does it refer to “assuming” or “usurping” previously unpossessed authority. He thus defends the widely accepted translation, “have authority.”

Here is a summary of some of Wolter’s helpful insights.

Related Greek Words

It is rightly observed that the verb “authenteo” almost certainly derived from the noun “authentes.” “Authentes” was a noun that was often used to mean “murderer.” Here, however, many tend to run into confusion. Although the noun “authentes” can in many instances mean “murderer”, it should be noted that the noun was used in two very different, very distinct ways. In some contexts the noun refers to a murderer. In other contexts the word refers to a master. In other words, “authenteo” was a homonym. For an English example of a homonym, think about the words “ear” (of grain) and “ear” (of hearing).

Wolters writes:

It is a serious error to assume that the meaning of one (and the meaning of its derivatives) must be understood in light of the other. After all, no one thinks that an ear of grain has connotations of hearing… By the same token, it is a basic methodological mistake to assume that we should understand the verb authenteo in light of both “authetentes”/“murderer” and “authentes”/“master”, leading to the conclusion that it [authenteo] means “instigage violence.” (p. 68-69)

Occurrences of Authenteo before 312 AD

The most significant evidence for the meaning of the word “authenteo”, apart from the immediate context of 1 Timothy 2, is how the word was used in other contexts around the same time. The difficulty with the word “authenteo” is that it appears very rarely – only seven (or possibly eight) times – prior to 312 AD. Wolters provides a detailed analysis of each of these occurrences. Based on this survey, Wolters demonstrates a range of meaning which includes “have authority”, “be superior to”, “originate”, “rule” and “act on one’s own.”

The Immediate Context

Even if we had no other occurrences of “authenteo” we could still guess based on the immediate context that the verb has something to do with the positive exercise of authority. When Paul writes “teach or exercise authority”, joining the two verbs together with a conjunction, it indicates that either both words are positive or both words are negative. Since the verb “teach” is generally used as a positive term, this indicates that in all likelihood, “authenteo” was likewise understood as a positive term.

Translations Made in Antiquity

Wolters then observes the ways 1 Timothy 2:12 was translated in antiquity by surveying multiple Latin, Coptic, Gothic, and Syriac translations. In these ancient translations, “authenteo” was translated by using words that carried meanings such as “command”, “lord”, “rule”, and “head”.

Some have pointed to the way that some Latin translations chose to translate “authenteo” with the Latin word “dominari” to suggest that the word referred to negative exercise of authority (similar to the English word “domineer”). But Wolters observes that unlike the English word “domineer”, the Latin word “dominari” carried a neutral or positive sense, simply meaning “rule”, “reign” or “govern.” In fact, the same word was used in Latin translations to describe the rule of God (Judg. 8.28; 2 Chron. 20.6; Ps. 59.13) and the rule of the Messiah (Rom. 14.9).

Early Christian Exegesis

Wolter’s in-depth word study also surveys the way “authenteo” was understood by early Christian authors such as Origin, John Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria, showing that these early Christians understood 1 Timothy 2:12 to be written in reference to the same kind of leadership and authority that is exercised in teaching. In other words, unlike many modern scholars, these early Christians did not understand the word “authenteo” to refer to a specific negative type of authority.

Occurrences of Authenteo after 312 AD

Although Wolter’s cautions against trying to understand Paul’s usage of “authenteo” based on how the word was used centuries after Paul, his work also includes a detailed survey of the uses of the word all the way into the late middle ages.

From this survey, it appears the word had a fairly wide range of meanings, but the word always refers to the exercise of authority in some way.

1 – “To be a master, be sovereign, have authority, reign” (Used this way 29 times from 1st Century BC to 10th Century AD)

2 – “Be master of, have authority over, be superior to” (Used this way 10 times from 1st Century AD to 12th Century AD)

3 – “To act on one’s own, to act on one’s own authority” (Used this way at least 51 times from the 2nd Century AD to the 10th Century AD)

4 – “To act on one’s own authority against (another authority), overrule, defy (the authority of)” (Used this way only 5 times, all in the 6th century)

5 – “To instigate or initiate” (Used this way only 4 times in the 4th and 5th centuries)

6 – “To instigate or initiate” a belief or action by a personal agent (Used this way only 4 times from the 1st century BC to the 8th Century AD)

7 – “Give authorization” (Used very frequently from the 6th Century AD through the late Middle Ages, used as technical legal terminology, and occurs only in discussions of Roman Law)

In conclusion of the survey, Wolters writes “we are hard-pressed to find a pejorative meaning anywhere.” (p. 110)

Two Dubious Kinds of Evidence

Wolter’s also cautions against two less than helpful lines of argument. One is an argument from epytimology (the history of the word formation). Not only is epytimology a poor guide for understanding word meaning, but scholars have achieved no consensus on what the epytimology of authenteo actually is.

Secondly, Wolters warns against using a speculative reconstruction of the background of 1 Timothy 2:12 as evidence. He writes:

Since Paul in this text forbids women to teach and exercise “authority” of some kind and tells them instead to be quiet and submissive, we can reasonably assume that he is addressing a situation in Ephesus where women were doing (or proposing to do) what he is here prohibiting. But this reasonable assumption is often expanded into the broader claim that women were doing these prohibited things in an aggressive or overbearing manner and by so doing were disturbing the church. However, the text, in fact, gives no evidence for such a reading. We have no reason to believe that the women in Ephesus were teaching and exercising authority in an aggressive or overbearing way. The women may very well have been teaching and exercising authority (or proposing to do so) in a responsible and nondisruptive manner… The negative portrayal of the Ephesian women teachers as strident demagogues is, in fact, a speculative reconstruction of the situation in Ephesus at the time, and cannot be used as evidence that “authenteo” carries a pejorative sense. (p. 112)

A Very Important Word-Study

Through his in-depth word study, Wolters powerfully argues that “authenteo” did not carry a negative sense, and was overwhelmingly used in a positive or neutral sense. While the debate surrounding 1 Timothy 2:12 and the role of women in the church will not likely disappear anytime soon, Wolters has certainly offered some valuable research and serious arguments that deserve consideration. Before Bible students argue that “authenteo” refers to a negative type of authority, they will first need to seriously wrestle with Al Wolter’s research and be prepared to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate the Wolter’s conclusions are incorrect.

While the entire book has many helpful insights, I agree with Kostenberger when he writes “Al’s chapter alone warrants the production of this third edition.” (p. 20). The book can be purchased on Amazon here.

Civil War Era Petitions from Churches of Christ

The churches of Christ in Middle Tennessee presented the following petitions to the governing authorities of the Confederacy and the State of Tennessee during the War Between the States. They have been preserved for us in David Lipscomb’s book “Civil Government.” The faithfulness and respectful submissiveness of these brothers serve as an example and a challenge for the church of today.

TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA:

WHEREAS, A large number of the members of the churches of Jesus Christ throughout this and the adjoining counties of the State of Tennessee, feel a deep sense of responsibility they are under to recognize the Bible in its teachings, as the only infallible guide of their life, and the supreme authoritative rule of action, and as being of supreme authority to and more binding upon the subjects of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, than the rules and regulations of any human government or power, they would respectfully represent:

  1. That they are fully satisfied that God, through the Scriptures of Sacred Truth, demands of his servants that they should submit quietly, heartily, and cheerfully to the government under which they may live, in all cases, except when compliance with the civil law would involve a violation of the law of God. They are deeply impressed with the truth that when there is a conflict between the requirements of worldly government and the law of God, the duty of the Christian, is, upon the peril of his well-being, to obey God first, let the consequences be to him what they may.
  2. They are firm in the conviction of the truth, that no man who regards the authority of God, the spirit and letter of the Sacred Scriptures in their proper division and application, the life and teachings of the Son of God, or his Holy Apostles, as given for the guidance of his followers, can in any manner engage in, aid, foment, or countenance the strifes, animosities, and bloody conflicts in which the civil governments are frequently engaged, and in which they often involve their subjects.

The measure and limit of their duty to, and connection with the governments under which they live, as laid down in the Sacred Scriptures, is not an active participation in the affairs to destroy or upbuild, but  simply a quiet and cheerful submission to its enactments, in the payment of tribute and any demands on our property or time, modified only, by the first and highest obligation to obey God.

With these considerations of what our duty to God requires at our hands, the enforcement of the ‘Conscript Act’ for the purpose of raising and maintaining an army, for the carrying on of this unhappy war, in which our country is involved, cannot fail to work indescribable distress to those members of our churches holding these convictions. Some of them will be driven as exiles from their homes, for no political preferences, but because they dare not disobey the commandments of God. Others may be thrown into seeming opposition to your government, suffering imprisonment and punishment as may be inflicted on them. Others still by the pressure of circumstances, may be driven to a deeply sadder fate, the violation of all their conscientious convictions of duty to their Maker and Master, whom they have under the most solemn vows, pledged themselves to serve.

In view of these things, we are induced to make a statement of these facts to you, with the hope that some relief may be afforded to those of our members thus distressed.

We are the more encouraged, too, in this hope, from the fact that we perceive that the Congress of the Confederate States of America, with a commendable regard for the conscientious convictions of its subjects, made provision upon certain conditions for the exemption of the members of certain denominations of professed Christians, from the performance of requirements repulsive to their religious faith. With the view, too, that this law might not act invidiously with reference to individuals or bodies of individuals, not specifically named in said act, the power was vested in the Honorable President, of making such further exemptions as, in his judgment, justice, equity, or necessity might demand. We respectfully petition of you that those members of our churches, who are now, and have been striving to maintain a position of Christian separation from the world, its strifes, and conflicts, may be relieved, on terms equitable and just, from requirements repulsive to their religious faith, and that they may be, at least, placed upon a footing similar to that in which denominations holding a like faith are placed.

BEECH GROVE, Williamson County, Tenn., Nov 13th, 1862

David Lipscomb goes on to comment:

This document was signed by the elders and evangelists of ten or fifteen congregations, and was the means of saving all those members of the church who would take this position, set forth above, and stand firmly to it, from service in the war through which we passed.

The following petitions are of similar nature, and were presented to Union Authorities when they were in power in the state of Tennessee:

TO THE RULING AUTHORITIES OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:

WHEREAS, A large number of the members of the Churches of Jesus Christ feel a deep sense of the responsibility they are under to recognize the Bible in its teachings, as the only infallible guide and authoritative rule of action, and as being of superior authority to, and more binding upon the subjects of the kingdom of Jesus Christ than any human rules or regulations, they would most respectfully represent.

  1. That they recognize the necessity for the existence of civil government, so long as a considerable portion of the human family fails to submit to the government of God.
  2. That while God demands of his servants that they should submit cheerfully and heartily, to the government under which they may live, in all cases, except when compliance with the requirements of civil government involves the violation of God’s law, they are deeply impressed with the truth that when there is a conflict between the requirements of civil government and the law of God, the duty of the Christian is, upon peril of his eternal well-being, to obey God first, let the consequences be to him what they may.
  3. They are satisfied that the measure of their duty to civil government, as defined in the Bible, is to submit, not by personal participation in affairs of government, to uphold or destroy, pull down or upbuild, but simply, as a duty they owe to God, to submit, and in that submission, modified only as above to discharge the offices of good citizens in all relations of life.
  4. They are firmly impressed with the truth that no man who regards the authority of God, or of his Holy Apostles, as set forth in example and precept, for the instruction and guidance of his followers in the future ages of the world, can engage in, or in any way aid, foment, or countenance the strifes, animosities, and bloody conflicts in which civil governments are frequently engaged, and in which they involve their subjects.
  5. The spirit of the Church of Christ and the spirit of civil government are different. The one is a spirit of force, violence, and destruction of life. So they must maintain that existence by force. But we suppose the future, with slight variations, will repeat the history of the past. But Christianity permits not its subjects to use force or do violence, even in defense of its own existence; its guiding spirit is one of love, “peace on earth and good will toward man.”
  6. The difference in the spirit of the two institutions, the government of God and the government of man, together with the diversity of the means essential to the prosperity and success of each respectively, necessarily, at times, involves a conflict in their respective requirements. We, therefore, in behalf of the churches of which we are members, respectfully petition of you that the requirements which, as we believe, conflict with our duties to God, may be remitted to those members of our churches who have been, and are now, striving to maintain a position of Christian separation from the world, its conflicts and strifes, as set forth in the preceding articles.
  7. We firmly believe that the oaths of allegiance, and the oaths to support and defend the governments of the world, now imposed as necessary to the transaction of the common affairs of life, are contrary to the spirit and teachings of the Savior and his inspired Apostles, and involve, if strictly complied with, a violation of some of the plainest precepts of the Christian religion. We therefore, feel that in taking these oaths and obligations, and in performing those requirements that have an appearance of countenancing bloodshed and violence, we are violating the obligations of fealty we have taken with our Heavenly Master. We imperil the well-being of the church, dishonor God, and involve ourselves in eternal ruin. We, therefore, respectfully ask a release from the performance of these requirements, and others of similar character, assuring you again, that we recognize it as a solemn duty we owe to God, to submit to the government under which we may live, in all its requirements, save when that government requires of us something contrary to the letter and spirit of the Christian religion, as revealed in the Bible.

TO HIS EXCELLENCEY ANDREW JOHNSON, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:

We, the undersigned, having been appointed a committee by an assembly of members of churches of Jesus Christ, met at Leiper’s Fork, Williamson County, Tenn., to present to your Excellency  their grievances, and in their and our behalf to petition of you a release from certain requirements made at their hands, would most respectfully represent that the mass of the members of the churches of Jesus Christ, in the counties of Davidson, Williamson, Maury, and Hickman, and many others scattered through other counties of Middle Tennessee, believe that all military service, or connection with military service, is utterly incompatible with the spirit and requirements of the Christian religion. Believing this, they cannot comply with the requisition made of them in common with other residents of the State, for enrolling themselves for military service without a violation of their solemn conscientious convictions of duty to their Lord and Master, and a violation of their vows of fealty to him. We, therefore, in behalf of these churches and members of churches, respectfully petition of you, in the exercise of your authority, a release from those requirements, that are repugnant to their religious faith, upon terms that you may consider just and right. We desire to assure you in this requires and movement, upon the faith and integrity of Christians, we are acting from no factious or political motive, but from a single desire of preserving our faith and profession of Christianity pure. Praying earnestly that your counsels of the of the rulers of our country may be so conducted as to restore to our country a speedy and lasting peace, we are most obediently and respectfully yours.

Signed by Committee

What I Think Paul Might Say About Facemasks

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes facemasks don’t matter, while the other person insists on wearing facemasks. Let not the one who doesn’t wear facemasks despise the one who does, and let not the one who wears facemasks pass judgment on the one who does not, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems the virus to be a big deal, while another thinks it is all overblown. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who thinks it is a big deal, wears the mask to protect others in honor to the Lord. The one who does not wear facemasks, does not wear it in honor of the Lord, since he trusts in God’s protection, while the one who wears the facemask, wears the facemask in honor of the Lord and also trusts in God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that facemasks are of little importance in themselves, but it is important for anyone who thinks it important. For if your brother is grieved by you refusing to wear a facemask, you are no longer walking in love. Because of a facemask, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of facemasks or no facemasks but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Do not, for the sake of a facemask, destroy the work of God. It is okay in itself to not wear a facemask, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what refuses to wear. It is good not to refuse to wear a facemask or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he doesn’t wear a facemask, because not wearing a facemask is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written,

The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Answering Questions on 1 Timothy 2:11-15

I recently wrote an article entitled “Do Paul’s Instructions for Women Apply Today?” in which I argue that although Paul certainly wrote 1 Timothy 2.11-15 to address a specific situation facing the church in Ephesus, we cannot simply dismiss his words as having no application for the church today. When Paul instructed women not to teach or exercise authority over men, he based these instructions upon principles which would be recognized as applicable in all the churches.

In response to my article, a fellow blogger wrote a very kind and thoughtful response. I encourage you to read it here.

It should be noted that this blogger strives to take the authority of scripture seriously. She does not find Paul’s instructions offensive but rather finds the interpretations often assigned to these verses as offensive. In other words, the debate is not about whether or not we should follow scripture. The question is a question of exegesis. What did Paul mean, and how did Paul intend these scriptures to be understood and applied?

The blogger makes some interesting observations and raises some really good questions. While each of her points deserve far more discussion than what space allows in a single blog post, I hope that by sharing some brief thoughts I can help explain why many Christians have found such arguments unconvincing. After wrestling with many questions and objections, they are convinced that Paul actually intended for women not to teach or exercise authority over men, and that is a doctrine that we should continue to uphold.

This blogger raised three objections to my understanding. Here are my responses in the order in which the objections were presented.

Ephesus and the Cult of Artemis

The first objection raised is that since Paul usually refers to “women” generally, and then shifts in this passage to speak about “the woman”, it suggested that Paul was referring to a particular woman who was troubling the church with her false doctrine. Since Ephesus was a pagan city which harbored the cult of Artemis, it is argued that this woman was likely a former pagan priestess, who was teaching that women were created superior to men.

If this historical reconstruction is correct, it strengthens the conclusion that Paul’s instructions were written to correct the specific problem caused by this particular woman, and thus should be understood as a temporary restraint on women.

I find this particular reconstruction and the conclusions drawn from it to be unconvincing. Even if this reconstruction of the problem is correct, it does not establish the conclusion that Paul’s commands for women have no application beyond those particular circumstances. Paul may have responded to this particular woman with a general principle that would be recognized as universally applicable.

I won’t argue that this reconstruction of the problem is necessarily wrong, as Acts 19 certainly confirms the presence of Artemis worship in Ephesus. But I find this approach far too confident in our ability to identify the nature of the false teaching in much detail, especially since Paul is fairly tight-lipped about the nature of the false teaching.

This particular reconstruction would be strengthened if it could be shown that the Artemis cult was plagued with devotion to myths and genealogies (1 Tim. 1.3-4), the Jewish law (1 Tim. 1.6-11), and asceticism (1 Tim. 4.3-4). Part of the problem is that beyond some very fragmentary evidence provided within the letter, we know very little about the nature of the false teaching in Ephesus.

As for the shift from plural “women” to singular “woman” in verses 11-15, this could be accounted for by the reference to Eve in verses 13-14, for Eve could be understood to be representative of all women. This too would account for the otherwise unexplained shift back to the plural pronoun “they” in 15b. Although applying “woman” to Eve may be inconclusive, it is at least contextual. Plus, it seems strange to me to think that Paul would refuse to name a particular false teacher when he doesn’t seem to hesitate with doing so in other passages (cf. 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17, 4:14).

The Meaning of “Authentein”

The second objection raised revolves around the meaning of the word “authentein”, translated by the ESV as “exercise authority.” The blogger writes “usually it’s thought of as a violent word, akin to castration and murder – which some of the cults were into, so it should not be overlooked as a factor in Paul’s statement here.”

It is then suggested that the problem was that the women weren’t simply exercising leadership, but rather they were exercising violent authority over men as they had once done in the cult of Artemis. Therefore Paul was not restricting women from leadership in general, but rather he was restricting them from a particular form of violent leadership.

I question the claim that “authentein” is “usually thought of as a violent word” since nearly all major English translations translate the word using non-violent phrases such as “exercise authority” or “have authority” as opposed to more violent sounding options such as “dominate.” Part of the reason they opt for this non-violent translation is because of how the word “authentein” was used in other places around the time Paul wrote 1st Timothy. “Authentein” never appears in any other Scripture and only appears in a handful of extra-biblical writings prior to 300 AD. Of these occurrences the verb nearly always carries the idea of “having authority”, “originating”, “ruling” or “acting on one’s own”, and with one debatable exception is nowhere used to refer to violent authority. This is why most Bible translators choose to translate authentein as “exercise authority” or “have authority.”

A violent connotation of “authentein” is sometimes argued based on its etymology, having derived from the noun “authentes” (“murderer” or “master”). But it is important to remember that context is key for determining a word’s meaning. For example consider the English word “manufacture”. Today it means made by machine. Etymology would suggest that it means hand-made (manus is Latin for hand). If someone were to look to etymology rather than context to define manufacture, they would end up with nearly the opposite meaning.

In the context of 1 Timothy 2:12, the verb authentein is held in close connection with the verb translated “teach”. If “exercise authority” has a negative, violent connotation, we would need to argue that “teach” has a similar negative connotation. Since “teaching” is not an inherently violent activity, neither should we conclude that “exercising authority” is an inherently violent activity.

If Paul did intend to use the verb to refer only to violent forms of leadership, why would Paul forbid only women from this particular kind of authority? It would make more sense if he forbade all Christians from exercising violent authority, whether men or women, especially since 2:8 informs us that it was the men who were actively involved in anger and quarreling. If exercising violent authority was the problem, this would only make since if all the women in Ephesus (including Priscilla, cf. 2 Tim. 4.19) were trying to exercise violent authority, since his prohibition is applied to all women.

An Ungodly Interpretation?

In my estimation, the third objection gets right to the heart of the disagreement about this passage.

But if Paul was not talking about the local cults’ influence, and was indeed saying that the reason women are not to teach or have any authority in the church because she was created second after man, I have to say that I heartily disagree, and in fact find it an ungodly approach, as a female Christian and alleged child of God.

She goes on to describe several of the challenges she finds with this particular conclusion. Does this imply that women are forever in debt to Eve’s sin in the garden, while Adam was able to get away with straight up lying to God? Does this imply that God only lifted his curse from man, and while women continue to be punished for Eve’s failure? If women are naturally more easily deceived, why are they only restricted from teaching men? How can they be allowed to teach anyone, let alone other women and children? Does this imply that it is sinful even for a woman to read Scripture publicly? If women can only be saved through childbirth, what does this imply for women who are barren or single? If a woman has no authority to confront a man, what is she supposed to do if she is wrongfully accused by a man? How can a woman exercise her gifts? How can we really say that women are part of the same holy priesthood if they cannot exercise the same authority as men? How does it make sense to have restrictions on talented and educated women, while some uneducated men are allowed to lead, simply because they have different body parts?

These are all really good questions, and many more questions similar to these could be raised. But it should be noted that these concerns are primarily practical concerns rather than exegetical concerns. There are some exegetical questions looming behind these practical questions (for example, what did Paul mean when he said she will be saved through childbearing?) But still, the distinction between exegetical questions and practical questions should be noted. If Paul actually intended that women should not teach or exercise authority over men, this most certainly runs contrary to the thinking of our modern culture and directly confronts many of our cultural sensibilities. It understandably raises hard questions.

These are good questions that need to be wrestled with. But when a possible meaning of scripture strikes us as ungodly, we need to step back and ask why. It could be that we are misunderstanding scripture. But it could also be that our understanding of godliness has been (unintentionally) shaped by culture more than by scripture.

If the suggested problem of the cult of Artemis is correct, then this text becomes an example of how we as Christians should allow Scripture to challenge our culture’s notions of right and wrong. If a former priestess of Artemis were to start with her own cultural sensibilities of right and wrong, and then work her way back into Scripture, she would have missed the opportunity to have her sensibilities corrected by Scripture. When Paul founds his teachings by turning to Genesis 2-3, he was demonstrating the importance of starting with exegesis. We must start with exegesis, and allow proper exegesis to determine our sensibilities of what is and isn’t godly.

Much more probably needs to be said and I’m certain more questions could be asked. I don’t pretend to proclaim the final word on the subject. I’m content with leaving judgment for the only Judge that matters. But I hope that by sharing these thoughts we can all gain a better understanding of the nature of our disagreements.

Do Paul’s Instructions for Women Apply Today?

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

It shouldn’t surprise us that the meaning and application of this passage is at the heart of many passionate debates. If these instructions seem to be embarrassing and offensive, preserved from a bygone age of sexism and patriarchy, we need to ask why.

Many Christians believe that Paul actually intended for women not to teach or exercise authority over men, and the reason these verses feel offensive is because our modern western culture has it wrong. After all, every culture has its own unique values, and in our culture, one of the highest values is that you simply cannot disqualify someone from doing something on the basis of gender alone.

Despite what many think, I can assure you that most who hold this view aren’t motivated in the least by sexism or male chauvinism (at least not knowingly). Rather they believe the Scriptures are God’s inspired words. They believe the Creator has the authority to critique all cultures, even our own.

Other Christians believe the reason these verses seem offensive is because they have been misunderstood and abused. They do not believe that these verses are themselves offensive, but rather the traditional understanding of these verses is wrong and should be recognized as sexist and offensive. It is frequently suggested that Christians have often overlooked that 1 Timothy is an “occasional document.” In other words, Paul’s words were “occasioned” by a specific set of circumstances facing the church in Ephesus in the first century. It is thus suggested that Paul was not restricting all women from all teaching and authority in all times, but rather was restricting a few specific women in a specific situation.

Despite what many think, many who hold this view do not reject the authority of God’s word, nor are they simply pandering to modern culture (at least not knowingly). Rather they are committed to reading Scripture in context and recovering the true intent of those teachings.

In other words, a large part of the debate revolves around one very important question: Were Paul’s instructions for women in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 intended to be occasional or universal in application?

1st Timothy: An Occasional Document

The observation that 1st Timothy was an occasional document is absolutely correct. The specific historical context of the letter should be taken into serious consideration as we seek to interpret Scripture.

None of us, for example, have ever felt compelled to travel to Troas in order to deliver Paul’s cloak from Carpus’s house to Paul in prison, even though 2 Timothy 4:13 gives a clear command to do exactly that. This is an extreme example, but it illustrates the point well. The reason we don’t travel to Troas is because we recognize that the command was occasioned by a specific circumstance. Paul obviously had no intention for that particular command to be obeyed by every Christian in every circumstance.

Another example, less extreme and closer to our context, can be found in 1 Timothy 2:9-10.

Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.

Very few Christians would use this verse to suggest that women who braid their hair or wear jewelry are sinning. While most Christians agree that the principle of dressing modestly is a universal principle that still applies, they recognize that the specifics (braided hair and jewelry) were occasioned by the specific culture, where braided hair and jewelry would be connected with trying to flaunt one’s beauty. The original historical circumstances into which the Scriptures were first written must be taken into consideration.

In the case of 1st Timothy, Paul clearly wrote the letter, at least in part, to confront the problem of false teaching in Ephesus.

Remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine… which promote speculations… Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1.3-7; cf. 1.18-20; 4.1-10; 5.11-15; 6.3-10, 20-21).

What’s more, chapter 2 begins with the phrase “First of all, then” (2.1), showing that Paul’s following instructions are connected to the charge to resist false teaching in chapter 1.

We must learn to think contextually. We must be very careful about quoting random verses out of context, and asserting what it “plainly says” without giving consideration as to whether the verses are being understood correctly, or are even intended to apply to our current situation.

A Word of Caution

Even though 1st Timothy was written in response to a specific situation in the church at Ephesus, it does not logically follow that the problem of false teaching explains every feature of Paul’s teaching in the letter. After all, Paul was well traveled, and had a general understanding of what teachings and organizational structures were common among all the churches (cf. 1 Tim. 2.8; 3.1-13).

When Paul uses phrases such as “the saying is trustworthy” (1.15, 3.1, 4.9), this indicates that he was referring to teachings that would be understood as credible. Paul understood that there was a universal body of teachings, which he refers to as “words of the faith and of the good doctrine” (4.6) which he expected the church at Ephesus to uphold.

This indicates that there were authoritative teachings that were recognized as universally applicable to all Christians, and Paul often appealed to these teachings to establish his specific instructions for the special circumstances he was addressing. We cannot simply claim that instructions written to specific situations have no application beyond those specific circumstances.

We must determine whether Paul’s instructions in 2.10-11 were temporary instructions in response to the impact of false teachers, or whether Paul was responding to those specific problems with general principles that would be understood as universally applicable. Merely observing that Paul’s instructions are somehow connected to the specific occasion of false teaching does not in itself indicate that they have no application today.

We must ask the following question. Can we show that Paul prohibited women from teaching or exercising authority solely on the ground of the false teaching afflicting the church in Ephesus, or does he ground his teaching in a universal principle which would be recognized in all the churches?

If we could show that Paul gave these instructions solely on the ground of the false teaching and its specific features, it would strengthen the conclusion that these verses are not directly relevant to the church today. This is precisely what some have suggested.

The “Women as False Teachers” Argument

It is sometimes suggested that Paul’s command was due to the fact that women were the ones spreading the false teaching. The text, however, is unclear on this point. In each of Paul’s letters to Timothy, whenever he specifically names false teachers, they are always men (1 Tim. 1.20; 2 Tim. 2.17, 4.14). Women are portrayed as being influenced by the false teaching (1 Tim. 5.11-15; 2 Tim. 3.5-9), but are never specifically described as the ones doing the false teaching.

Now it is certainly possible that women were in fact engaged in false teaching. The fact that Paul instructs women not to teach or exercise authority indicates that some women were trying to do just that. But the suggestion that women were prohibited from teaching and authority because they were primarily the ones doing the false teaching cannot be established from the text.

Even if women were among the false teachers, why would Paul forbid only women from teaching? Since Paul names men as false teachers, would it not make more sense for Paul to simply forbid all false teaching, whether by men or women? If false teaching was the reason for Paul’s command, this would only make sense if all the women in Ephesus were spreading false teaching, since his restriction was written against all women.

The “Women Were Uneducated” Argument

Another common suggestion is that Paul’s command was due to women being uneducated, and thus more easily deceived by false teaching. If this is the case, it would suggest that Paul’s prohibitions no longer apply once women are educated. While it is true that many ancient near eastern women were not given the same kind of educational opportunities as men, the suggestion that all women in Ephesus were uneducated does not fit with the evidence.

The description of women’s attire in 1 Timothy 2.9 suggests the presence of some upper-class women, who likely would have had greater access to education. Also, it is likely that Priscilla was in Ephesus (2 Tim. 4.19) and we know that she was educated (Acts 18.26).

The Reason for Paul’s Command

So why did Paul command women not to teach or exercise authority over men? If we look closely at the text, we won’t be left guessing.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2.13-15)

The reason a woman is not permitted to teach or exercise authority over a man is because man was “formed first”, yet it was the woman who was first deceived, and because Eve’s hope was to be found in her offspring.

While these verses are certainly not easy, and raise many more questions, it should be noted that the reasoning for Paul’s command goes back to the very beginning, prior to the fall, and is established upon the principle of God’s design for man and woman, and lessons learned from Satan’s strategy for attacking that design. In other words, Paul establishes his command upon universal principles.

Conclusion

More questions can and will be raised about 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and they all deserve consideration. But we must not make the logical fallacy of dismissing the application of Paul’s instructions simply because 1st Timothy was an occasional document. If we were to claim that occasional documents have no relevance to the church today, then no Scripture would be relevant to the church today since every book of the Bible was written to address specific situations.

While recognizing the occasional nature of Scripture is certainly important to prevent misapplication, we must recognize that those same scriptures may also establish universal principles. One principle in particular is God’s design for man and woman as it was established in the beginning.

How Christians Win: A Study of the Word “Nikao” in Revelation

Two Ways to Conquer

The book of Revelation completely redefines our concept of “victory”. For the Romans, “Nike” was the goddess of victory (also known as “Victoria” in Latin). She had two wings, and was thought to fly around on the battle field granting speed and strength to the victors. The Romans carried symbols of “Nike” on their flags. They would burn incense to “victory” as they entered the Roman senate building. All throughout the Roman Empire, cities had statues of “Nike” with her foot on the globe, reminding everyone that Rome had conquered the world.

The conflict between patriotic Romans and the church grew especially strong in Asia minor, the center of the imperial cult. Shortly after the close of the New Testament, Christians in this area would be executed or imprisoned simply for remaining steadfast in their confession to be Christians.

It was in this world that John wrote is not-so-subtle challenge to the Roman concept of victory. The Greek word “nikao” (translated “victory” or “conquer” or “overcome”) appears 17 times in the book of Revelation. By tracing John’s usage of this word throughout his book it becomes clear that Jesus’ idea of “victory” stands in stark contrast to that which was worshiped by the Romans.

Jesus Promises Blessings to the Victors

The first eight appearances of “nikeo” are found in the first three chapters, as Jesus promises blessings to those who “overcome”.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God. (Rev. 2.7)

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. (Rev. 2.11)

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. (Rev. 2.17)

He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, “To him I will give authority over the nations” (Rev. 2.26)

He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. (Rev. 3.5)

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. (Rev. 3.12)

He who overcomes, I will grant him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. (Rev. 3.21)

Throughout the Roman Empire there was a familiar saying: “Victory belongs to the Romans, for they have slain more than their enemies.” For the early Christians, this must have felt all too true. It would have been difficult to travel through any major city, or to conduct any type of regular business, without seeing images of Nike everywhere, continually reminding them who was in charge.

And yet, despite all appearances, Jesus promises that His followers will be the ones who will be blessed in victory. It must have felt almost unbelievable. But to understand how Christians could expect to be victorious, we must continue reading this theme as it develops in John’s Revelation.

A Surprising Image of the Conqueror

Revelation 5 takes us with John to the heavenly throne room, where we are given one of the most crucial and surprising images in the book of Revelation. Here John sees a mighty angel (v. 2) holding a scroll with seven seals. The problem is that it seems no one is worthy to open the scroll (v. 3), causing John to weep (v. 4).

It is at this point that we are introduced to the Lion of the Tribe a Judah (a familiar image for the Messiah – cf. Gen. 49.9).

Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals. (Rev. 5.5)

As we would expect of a victorious Messiah, we are told that the lion is not only worthy to open the scroll, but that he has “overcome”. He has won the victory! He has done it! He has conquered! He is here!

But here, John gives us a most unexpected image. What John “heard” was the announcement of a victorious Lion. But what he “saw” was a slain lamb.

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain. (Rev. 5.6)

What he sees seems to stand in stark contrast with what he heard. A victorious lion and a slain lamb seem about as opposite as they could be. One is a symbol of ultimate power. The other is a symbol of gentle vulnerability, and through its sacrifice, the weakness of death.

Here, in this one vision, the two images are fused together into one. From this moment on, John and his careful readers, are to understand that the victory won by the Lion was accomplished through the death of the Lamb.

Images of Roman Victory

In contrast to this image of the slain lamb, John’s Revelation also utilizes multiple images to depict the Roman idea of victory. In the vision of the seven scrolls (Rev. 6), the Roman idea of victory is represented by four powerful horses of Roman power: conquest, war, famine, and death.

The first horse brings victory, or “conquering”, which is repeated twice in verse 2 for emphasis:

I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown were given to him, and he went our conquering and to conquer.

The beasts in chapters 11 and 13, which likely also represent Rome, inflict a similar violent conquest.

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (Rev. 11.7-8)

It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. (Rev. 13.7)

Lamb Victory vs Beast Victory

By presenting these two contrasting images of “conquering”, the plot tension is set. Sandwiched right between the two beast scenes is a scene in which Satan is described as making war on those who follow God. In other words, the two radically different styles of “conquering” face off against one another. On one side is the great dragon, who is called the devil and Satan (12.9). On the other side are those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (12.17). It’s the ultimate showdown between Lamb-style victory and Beast-style victory.

The ultimate victory belongs to those who are faithful to the Lamb

Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Rev. 12.10-11)

Notice carefully how God’s people win the ultimate victory over Satan. Following Jesus’ path to victory means that we conquer, not by shedding the blood of others, bur rather by identifying with Jesus’ own blood which was shed when he was crucified by the Romans. Or, as John put it, “They did not love their life even when faced with death.”

Revelation’s first century readers knew all too well the conquering power of Rome. They were it’s victims. But the message of the book of Revelation is clear. The dragon and the beasts with their “conquering” do not have the final word.

The Victory of the Lamb

In Revelation 15.2 it is those who have conquered the beast who are seen standing beside the sea of glass with harps in their hands praising God.

And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.

In Revelation 17:14 it is the Lamb who goes out conquering the other “lords” and “kings”, and those who are faithful to Him are victorious.

These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is the Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are called chosen and faithful.

In Revelation 21:7, it is the one who conquers who receives the heritage of the new heavens and new earth.

He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

The book of Revelation points us to the cross to completely reframe our entire concept of victory. The cross was the ultimate tool for imposing Roman conquest. But because of Jesus, the Roman cross has been defeated. Victory belongs to the slain Lamb.

The real victors are those who conquer by the blood of the lamb. They love not their lives, even when faced with death. In contrast to the Roman conquest of victory through military conquest, Revelation proclaims that the victors are those who “follow the Lamb, wherever He goes” (14.4), even when that means following the Lamb to his death (Rev. 12.11).

Is It A Sin To Worry?

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. (Matthew 6:25-32)

These words are both comforting and incredibly challenging. Is worry really a sin? (If so, I’m worried that I worry too much!)

If I feel like my job is in danger, and I don’t know how would provide for my family, is it wrong for me to feel a little bit anxious? If there’s something weird going on in my body, and Google says my symptoms are likely signs of something serious, am I supposed to just carry on without giving it a second thought? If a child or a parent is seriously ill, is it even humanly possible not to worry just a little bit now and then? Does Jesus simply expect for us to just pray a little harder, and then walk around with indescribabl peace, as if nothing is wrong? Is that even possible?

Although the idea of walking around with zero anxiety sounds wonderful, I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind. It is my understanding that this verse has almost nothing to do with emotions, except to the extent that those emotions result in, or lead us to, a failure to give our full allegiance to God. The continual pursuit of endless bliss and tranquility is probably a lot closer to Buddhism or Stoicism than Christianity. Jesus does not give us an impossible command. Following Jesus can actually lead to decreased anxiety, but it is my understanding that feeling worried is not itself a sin.

This is not to suggest that Jesus didn’t really mean it when He commanded us not to worry. I believe Jesus really meant it. But when Jesus said “do not be worried”, He said this within a larger context, and His command can only be rightly understood when we consider that context.

Jesus Himself Had Anxiety

If by “do not be worried” Jesus was demanding that we continually have calm, serene emotions in the midst of turmoil, then Jesus has some serious explaining to do. If it is wrong to feel physical and emotional stress that comes when faced with problems that our outside of our control, then Jesus failed to keep his own command.

And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (Mark 14:33-34)

Even Jesus was distressed and troubled. Luke 22:44 records that Jesus was in “agony” and that “His sweat became like drops of blood, falling to the ground”. Hebrews 5:7 says Jesus offered up “prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears.

The last thing Jesus felt at this moment was inner peace. He was suffocating under the weight of anxiety about the suffering He was about to endure – so much so that blood seeped from his face. That just doesn’t happen unless a person is under tremendous anxiety and stress. And yet, this is the same Jesus who commanded us not to worry.

Of course Jesus wasn’t the only character in scripture who suffered from anxiety. Just spend a few minutes flipping through the book of Psalms. In fact, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, his mind was filled with these anxious words of David:

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And my night, but I have no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)

That doesn’t sound like inner peace. Even though he continually cried to God, he found no rest. It was as if his prayers were disappearing into thin air without being heard. He felt as if God had totally forsaken him. He felt as if he was all alone in the crushing chaos of the world.

These are not the words of a man simply carrying on as if life was all sunshine and butterflies. There’s no easy peaceful feeling in these verses. Jesus wrestled with turmoil. He was feeling anxious.

Was Jesus failing to keep his own command? Why didn’t Jesus just meditate on the birds and the flowers a little bit harder? Was Jesus being hypocritical? I don’t think so.

I find it far more likely that we misunderstand Jesus’s teachings about worry if we conclude that Jesus was forbidding us from feeling anxiety.

In What Sense is Worrying a Sin?

Notice carefully how Jesus introduces his teachings on worry.

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life. (Mt. 6.25a)

When Jesus says “for this reason”, this tells us that Jesus’s commands about not worrying are in some way connected to what he has just said.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal…. No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6:19-24)

Jesus had just drawn the observation that when we serve the wrong master by laying up treasures on earth, the future is uncertain. When we serve wealth, our future security will always be out of our control. If you feel you have control, your anxiety level goes down. If you don’t have control, your anxiety level goes up. In other words, our level of certainty in the future and our level of anxiety is directly tied to our choice of which master to serve.

In this context, worry is the result of storing up treasures on earth, which will always have a certain level of anxiety. On earth, things happen that are outside of our control, which leads to anxiety. When we lay up treasures in heaven, they are untouchable and incorruptible. Heavenly treasures never cause anxiety.

That’s why Jesus concludes his teaching on worry by commanding us to seek first the Kingdom of God.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will take care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Mt 6.33-34)

Not only is worrying wrong when it results from serving the wrong master, but worrying is also wrong when it distracts us from serving our master. Pay attention to the word “but”. Notice the contrast that is drawn.

Jesus does not say “do not worry, but maintain happy emotions.” Jesus does not say “do not worry, but carry on as if nothing matters.” Jesus says “do not worry, but seek first God’s kingdom.”

The opposite of sinful worry is not maintaining peaceful emotions. Nor is it pushing all thoughts about unmet needs out of your mind. The opposite of sinful worry is recognizing that “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” and seeking first His kingdom. The opposite of sinful worry is generously giving up your earthly treasures, even when anxiety tells you that you can’t afford it.

Jesus is not suggesting that all anxious emotions are sinful, but rather they can be a consequence of investing in temporary earthly treasures rather than in incorruptible heavenly treasures. Anxious emotions can be sinful if they keep us from faithfully serving God. But the point of the text is not to seek first emotional tranquility. The point of the text is to maintain faithful allegiance to God as our only master.

Jesus does not teach us to live as if troubles don’t exist. Jesus actually presupposes that life will be filled with troubles day by day. But we must not let anxiety keep us from serving God and others.

More Than a Feeling

When Jesus was in the garden, sweating drops of blood, he turned to God in prayer. In Jesus we see something far greater than emotional serenity. We see a faithfulness to God that survived death itself. His faith didn’t rise or fall based on his ability to master his emotions. Rather than having a faith founded upon feelings, Jesus had a faith that was founded upon the unshakable character of God.

“Do not be worried” is about more than mere emotions. It is about having a solid faith and confidence that allows you to say, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26.39).

I Am Not Alone: The God Who Delights in Mercy (part 2)

By Guest Author, Stephen Scaggs

Read Part 1 Here: I Am Not Alone: The Ever-Present God, Israel, and the Church

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “We live in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” In the beginning God said about humans that, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). While this, in context, refers to the creation of the woman as helper, Paul looks back on this chapter retrospectively and writes, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32).

The entire world is feeling this right now: we are doing something that does not feel natural because it is not natural to be socially distant. Even when we are by ourselves, we have not developed adequate skills for meditation and true friendship. We were created to be social creatures, and at the time of writing this article and the present COVID-19 pandemic, we feel this incredibly painful absence, even while needed.

While this particular strain of the coronavirus is novel, social distancing to avoid plagues is not. In fact the people of God were to separate themselves from lepers because they bore the mark of the corruptible. You can read about that in length in Leviticus 13, everyone’s favorite Bible book! If the leprosy was found the priest was to “shut them up” away from other people. But this was considered an “act of mercy,” and God delights in mercy.

The God Who Forms

The Law of Moses was not given to save Israel from their sins: no, they had literally just been saved from oppression in Egypt. These saved people are now then gathered at the Mount “of God’s redeeming love,” where he tells them that they are his and says to them “I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4). He saved them for a reason, for formation, for assembly. Indeed Stephen the Martyr refers back to that assembly as “the congregation in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38).

It was here at Sinai God makes a partnership with Israel, where he meets his church at the mountain. And in the middle of this formation God himself wanted to live with them. Immediately after God gives the basic package of laws (Exodus 20-23) and after making the covenant official (Exodus 24), he then wants them to make a portable access to his presence right in the middle of the church. The laws might seem tedious but the reason behind the sanctuary is beautiful: “Let them construct a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). In a real sense this is why God saved these people: he wants to dwell among them!

If the story ended right around Exodus 31, we would be able to neatly close our Bible. But unfortunately Israel breaks the first 4 of the 10 commandments (at least how I understand #3 and #4!) This was tantamount to a bride immediately running down the wedding aisle following the “I Do’s” and running into the embrace of a stranger, not her now-husband. But luckily for you and for me, God doesn’t zap Israel (although he wants to! [Exodus 32:9-11]).

Instead he speaks who He is and tells them a little more about His Name that they’ve taken in vain:

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even through the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.” – Exodus 34:5-9

For God to dwell with us is for us to be God’s inheritance. I love those two thoughts paired together. When the church meets and professes the Name of Jesus, we are his and he is ours. Even while we’re experiencing social distancing right now, let us seek the God who delights in mercy and is “abounding in lovingkindness and truth.”