Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Unexpected Consequences

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?" He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Genesis 3:6-13

Choosing the path that Satan lays before you leads to unexpected consequences. Like a used car salesman he gives you his pitch. You try to be skeptical (you do consider the source after all) but in the end it is just too tempting. You think you have looked at it from all angles. You've considered every outcome and weighed every argument. It looks like a good deal, so you take the bait. All of us have been there, at least spiritually speaking if not in the real world. It's only when we take that sin off the lot and out for a test drive that we find out it doesn't measure up to all of his promises. In fact, it leaves us stranded on the side of the road far from home and in need of a Savior. 

You will do well to remind yourself that all good things come from above (James 1:17) not from Satan. He has not made any good thing. In fact, he creates no new thing at all. He merely perverts what God has already made. Since all that God has made has been declared "good" his perversions make everything decidedly worse. Adam & Eve took the bait. Let's see if they made a good deal. They believed the lie that eating the fruit will give them knowledge like God's. What do they actually receive?

First, they receive a new knowledge. This knowledge falls far short of its selling points though. It amounts to nothing more than a loss of innocence. Adam and Eve's eyes are opened and they come to know that they are naked. They experience shame for the first time. They aren't ashamed of their actions (though they should be) but of their nakedness. This kind of misplaced shame often accompanies our sin. Shame can be a good thing when it drives us to repentance. There are times when the only appropriate way to feel is ashamed of our actions. But our enemy tries to misdirect this shame whenever possible. He directs it in a way that it drives us away from our Lord instead of driving us toward Him, and that is what is done here.

Second, Adam and Eve experience fear before God. This does not appear to be the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). Look closely at why they are afraid. They are afraid because they are naked. It seems to me that this is like the instinctive high-pitched screaming and then running to hide that we imagine a person doing when they think someone is going to see them naked. Though this is a little humorous the point is rather serious. Sin separates us from God. We have no reason to believe that their fellowship with the Lord was hindered in any way before, yet now that sin has entered the world, they hide from Him and feel shame before Him because of their nakedness. Our sin separates us from God as well. Scripture attests to this over and over again. This is the basis for all the Old Testament law and the need for Christ.

Third, the act of the sin itself has turned the order of God's good creation on its head. In verses 11-13 we find that a new hierarchy of authority has been set in place by their sin. At the top of this new hierarchy is an animal. The serpent told both Adam and Eve what to do. Next is Eve. She talked with the serpent and made her decision while Adam stood idly by. Next is Adam. He gave up his role as a leader and merely follows both the serpent and his wife. Last of all is the God Almighty. No one is obeying His decrees. No one is seeking His advice. No one respects His authority. Of course this is the exact opposite of the flow of authority that God set in place. The rightful flow of authority has God at the top as the Sovereign ruler of all creation. Man is next as his first human creation, the one who named the animals and Eve. Then comes woman who, being equal in worth and value to man, is called his helper. Last of all are the animals which have been put under the dominion of all mankind. This reveals the primary nature of sin. It is, at its heart, a removal of God from the throne of our hearts and His creation. It is a twisting and a perverting of all the good that He has given us. And it is decidedly worse than what we had before.  

For further reading...
  • II Samuel 12-18: King David got a lot more than he bargained for when he gave in to temptation with Uriah's wife. You may know that Bathsheba got pregnant and that David had Uriah killed but do you know just how great a price David paid for his sin. Check out these 7 chapters of Scripture for a powerful example of how unexpected the consequences of sin can be. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Know Your Enemy

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Genesis 3:1-4

Sun Tzu in his famous book The Art of War said the following: "What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy."* Sun Tzu said many things that Christians should pay no attention to, but this particular saying isn't one of them. We must know our enemy and the strategies that he uses against us if we hope to prevail. Christians have traditionally understood that the enemy in the above passage of Scripture is Satan in the form of a snake even though the text refers to him simply as a snake. Taking into consideration Genesis 3:15 (which seems to require that there be something more to this snake) and Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 (which seem to clearly allude to the snake in Genesis 3 and identify him as Satan), I believe this is an entirely reasonable interpretation of the text. The Hebrew word "satan" literally means "adversary." This accurately describes what he is, and in this passage of Scripture we get a rare behind the scenes peek at his strategy for deceiving us. Though, I am sure Satan has more tactics than the ones he used in the garden, this passage should be studied so that we can avoid falling for the same deceptions again.

First, our adversary casts doubt on God´s command. "Did God really say...?" He does his best to make a very simple command into a fuzzy and complicated one. Here we have a luxury that Adam and Eve did not. We have God's Word written and preserved for us. When doubts arise in your heart and mind over what God has said turn first to the source of all truth. Do not turn to scholars or pastors or the wise men of the world. Turn to Scripture. In it you will find clearly laid out for you what He has commanded.

Second, Satan misquotes God´s word. "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree of the garden'?" The only tree God told them they were not allowed to eat from was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Satan uses a variation of this tactic on Christ while tempting Him in the desert. Satan correctly quotes Psalm 91:11-12 to Christ but he does so in order to tempt Him to sin. We learn from this that our enemy will try to convince us that God's Word says something it does not either by misquoting it directly or by confusing us as to how it should be applied in our lives. There is a reason Scripture is called the sword of Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). It is a weapon. It was meant for protect you from your enemy. But if you are not careful, if you do not hold to it tightly he will twist it against you. Hold God's Word close.

Third, he calls God a liar. Oh…he doesn´t come right out and say it, but he clearly contradicts what God has said. “You will not certainly die,” he says. He sets up his false truth in place of God´s absolute truth. Every day he does the same. Every day you and I are bombarded by messages- messages about sex, abortion, right and wrong, who Jesus is, whether the Bible is true, whether Christianity can be trusted- all purporting to be the "truth." We must choose for ourselves what is and what is not true. Too many of us base this decision on what our own logic tells us is true and false. God's Word tells us that we are sinners, that even our minds are prone to error. We must turn in faith to the only source of absolute truth, God's Word. We must meditate on it day and night as the Psalmist suggests (Psalm 1:1-3) so that we can recognize the lies our enemy is pushing on us and so that we might withstand his assaults.

Fourth, Satan will try to convince you that God is holding out on you. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” How often we fall into sin because Satan has convinced us that it is desirable! We know that God has told us not to do something, we know that He has identified it as sin, and we know that He has told us that sin brings death (Romans 6:23); yet we allow ourselves to be convinced that in this case God is wrong. This sin won't bring death. It will make me happy. It's what I want. What a victory our enemy has won if he can convince us to want the very thing he plans to use to destroy us! Perhaps what is most dangerous about this last strategy is that it implies that our Father doesn´t have our best interests at heart. Remind yourself of the precious truth we find in James 1:17 "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."

Guard your heart against the traps of our enemy. Call to mind the truth of I John 5:4-5 "Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." So hold tightly to your faith. Hold even tighter to the source of your faith, the Word of God. Hold tighter still to the true Word (Jesus Christ) that has come down from heaven to make the Father known to you.

For further reading...
  • Matthew 4:1-11: See if you can discern any other strategies of the enemy by looking at how he tempts our Lord. 
  • Ephesians 4:25-28: Do not give the devil a foothold.
  • Ephesians 6:10-20: Take a closer look at the armour we are given for the battle.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

One flesh

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him...” So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Genesis 2:18, 21-25

What a beautiful passage of Scripture this is! It is the wellspring of the Christian understanding of marriage. It tells us that the love relationship we were created for is a monogamous relationship between a man and a woman. It reveals to us that this relationship was meant to be so strong that it would not be broken in this life (see Jesus' comments in Matthew 19:6). And it shows us that women and men though equal are different. In this one passage we hit upon truth relating to sex, sexual orientation, marriage, divorce, and gender issues. It is a hotbed of dispute in complete opposition to the way in which our world chooses to live. So much so that I considered passing over it. I do not desire to stir up dissension, and yet I know that "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). Thus, I must teach even (and especially) those parts of Scripture that cut against the grain of our culture. 

To plumb the depths of this passage exhaustively would be beyond the scope of this blog. Instead, I will draw out several implications for marriage. First, notice that marriage before God is a bringing together of two distinct and different people to become one flesh. God made woman from man so that this would be possible both physically and, in my opinion, emotionally as well. This does not mean that either spouse's identity should be absorbed into the other. Each remains a distinct person with rights and passions, yet they are put together in a way that makes them more whole, more themselves than they were before. In the passage God says that it is not good for Adam to be alone. He needed a helper. The ESV Study Bible notes that the Hebrew word for "helper" in this passage ('ezer) means "one who supplies strength in the area that is lacking in the helped." And goes on to say that "the term does not imply that the helper is either stronger or weaker than the one helped...but complements him." So marriage is the bringing together of two people who complement one another and who by so doing make a new whole that is greater and more complete than either part was on its own.

Second, we see that woman is fundamentally different from man and that man is fundamentally different from woman. This shows up elsewhere in Scripture as men and women are expected to fulfill different roles before the Lord. In Ephesians 5 men are commanded to love their wives with the same self-sacrificing love with which Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her; women are called to submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord. In I Timothy 3 women are prohibited from teaching or exercising authority over men. In I Peter 3 husbands are warned to be considerate and treat their wives with respect lest their prayers be hindered. For many today this smacks of sexism. They believe that if men and women have different roles then they are not truly equal in worth.

God's nature tells us otherwise. As Christians we believe that God is three Persons though one God. These three persons are equal in nature and power. They are known as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Yet throughout Scripture we find the Son submitting to the Father's will (cf. John 3:16-17, 6:38, 8:28-29, & Acts 2:23) and the Spirit submitting to the will of both the Father and the Son (John 15:26 & 16:12-14). Thus, we see in the Trinity equality in personhood with distinction in roles. God's nature itself serves as an example of a holy submission that does not detract from value of the person. Thus Philippians 2:5-8 says, "Christ, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing, by taking on the very nature of a becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross!"

Christ freely chose to humble himself under the Father's leadership, to obey Him, even though He was equal with God the Father. And He is no less God because of that submission. It is the same with us as we humble ourselves. I humble myself under the authority and leadership of my pastor. Even though I know we were created equal in worth, I know that the Lord has given us complementary roles to fulfill in this life and so I submit to Him. So also in marriage the wife is called to complement her husband in submission- she is not to be his slave, or his property, nor is she to be mistreated or ordered around. Remember the husband is called not merely to leadership but to self-sacrificing leadership like that of Christ. Matthew Henry, the late seventeenth century Puritan, puts it nicely. "The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved" (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Bible). Exactly how this looks in everyday life is in some measure left to each couple to work out in their marriage.

In closing let me leave you with this thought. In marriage as in life "do not think of yourself more highly than you ought" (Romans 12:3) but "serve one another humbly in love" (Galatians 5:13).

For further reading...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dust to Dust

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Genesis 2:7

History has proven that men are often more prone to arrogance than to humility. Thus, almost immediately after our Lord tells us of our role in creation (see Genesis 1:26-30 and last week's post), how being made in His image we are to rule over the world as His vice-regents, He humbles us by reminding us what we are truly made of... dust. We have been chosen by God to rule over this world not because of any inherent goodness or regal quality in us, but rather by an extra dispensation of His grace to us.
Psalm 103:13-16 makes the point this way,
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
Reading that passage you get the idea that David is saying that we are but dust. One breath of the Lord's nostrils and we would disperse to the ends of the earth. Thus, our loving Father is gentle in correcting us for He (better than anyone else) knows how fragile we are.

Again Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 frames the point slightly differently saying,
I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
We are no better than the animals that God has set us over. We are both made from the dust and when we die we return to the dust the same as they do.

What does all this mean? means this: Humble yourself before the Lord and remember that you are but dust. All that you have, He has given you. You haven't earned any of it. He has freely given it all. So when you enter His presence in prayer or worship do so with a humble spirit. But in your humility never forget our great hope.
The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man (I Corinthians 15:47-49).
One day the Christian will be made like Christ. We are dust now, but one day we will have heavenly bodies. We will be made like Christ. That is our hope and to that end we strive to be increasingly conformed into His image day by day.

For further reading...