Saturday, December 28, 2013

RBV: Psalm 35:18

I will give You thanks in the great assembly;
I will praise You among many people.
—Psalm 35:18

Psalm 35 is a plea to God from David to weigh in on his side against those who were troubling him without a cause (see verse 7). He had no idea where the animosity had come from, and for his part, he had behaved toward them like a friend:
But as for me, when they were sick,
My clothing was sackcloth;
I humbled myself with fasting;
And my prayer would return to my own heart.
I paced about as though he were my friend or brother;
I bowed down heavily, as one who mourns for his mother. (Psalm 35:13–14)
However, when he was down, 
. . . they rejoiced
And gathered together;
Attackers gathered against me,
And I did not know it;
They tore at me and did not cease;
With ungodly mockers at feasts
They gnashed at me with their teeth. (Psalm 35:15–16)
To grasp the reason for David's statement in verse 18, it must be read in context with the previous verse:
Lord, how long will You look on?
Rescue me from their destructions,
My precious life from the lions.
I will give You thanks in the great assembly;
I will praise You among many people.
David felt alone and persecuted unjustly, and worst of all, he felt that God was merely sitting as a spectator in the stands of the arena, idly watching the spectacle of his being torn to pieces by the teeth and claws of ravenous lions, his enemies. Knowing how undeserved his trouble was, David cannot understand why God has not acted to save him before this. Verse 18 is a promise, along with the plea of verse 17, to praise God publicly and give Him all the glory for his deliverance (compare Psalm 22:22, 25; 40:9–10).

Specifically, he promises to praise God in the public worship at the Tabernacle, as this occurred before the building of the Temple, accomplished by David's son, Solomon. The phrase "many people" is elsewhere translated as "the throng" (see Psalm 42:4; 109:30), and in this case, the psalmist speaks of it, not just as a great number of people, but as a "mighty throng," implying great strength as well. It is doubtful, but there may be a suggestion here that the people of the assembly would be strengthened if they only knew the mighty works that God had performed on David's behalf.

The more cynical may see David's promise as a bribe of sorts, trying to finagle a miracle from God and vowing to repay Him with praise. Others may equate it with the desperate prayer of a soldier in the foxhole, promising to go to church every week if God will just preserve him through the battle. However, that is certainly not the case here. David is already fully committed to God, which he has proved over many years of service to Him, and in this particular psalm, by loving his enemies and waiting on Him for salvation.

The simple fact is that praise (through continued thanks, worship, and proclamation of God's goodness) is the only way a human being can "pay back" the great God of the universe for His blessings and aid. What can a man give to God? We have nothing that God needs; He owns everything already. David's promise, then, should be read as a pledge of joy (verse 9) to praise his Lord and proclaim his faith in God to the widest audience possible as a witness (verses 27b-28). He will do his part to show the world that his God is the God of salvation, one who comes to the aid of His people. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

*Dating Christ's Birth

Despite the continuing secularization of our society, people remain fascinated and curious about the historical basis for the life of Jesus Christ. This curiosity becomes apparent especially around the traditional holidays of Christmas and Easter, when Jesus is supposed to be "the reason for the season." The Internet provides a wide-open window into the things people are thinking about, and questions about Jesus' birth and death are frequently asked on search engines and answers are posted on social media sites. For instance, a quick inquiry on Google or Bing about the date of Jesus' birth returns literally millions of pages of material.

As the world just experienced, the vast majority of mainstream Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25 or January 6 (Eastern Orthodox), depending on their denominational allegiance. While a minority of these Christians insist that December 25 is the correct date of the Nativity, most people realize that proof for this early winter date is quite scanty, which we will see presently. Even so, very few of them think that the date is significant as long as one is celebrating the advent of the Son of God into the world for the salvation of mankind—and one experiences good cheer with family and friends and receives the expected number of presents under the tree. I know, my cynicism is showing.

In the run-up to Christmas, it is not uncommon for newspapers, magazines, and online news sites to publish articles revealing the errors and inconsistencies in the supposedly Christian holiday. A person would be ignorant indeed if he did not know that erecting Christmas trees, burning yule logs, hanging mistletoe, and putting up twinkling house lights have no biblical foundation, and in fact, hail from paganism. Santa Claus blends the fourth-century Saint Nicolas with old Germanic and Scandinavian traditions that probably have their roots in Odin worship, and his eight reindeer likely derive from Odin's eight-footed horse, Sleipnir. (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the ninth reindeer, was added in 1939, thanks to the poem of that name by Robert L. May written for the Montgomery Ward department store chain.) Santa's modern look comes courtesy of a Coca-Cola advertising campaign in the 1930s.

The more serious-minded publications, however, tend to focus on the date, the place, and the biblical and historical sources of Jesus' birth. In 2012, "Bible History Daily," an online publication of the Biblical Archaeology Society, published "How December 25 Became Christmas," written by Andrew McGowan, Warden and President of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Writing for the general public, McGowan collates the findings of numerous scholars who have looked into the issue, concluding that, frankly, no one can really be sure how Christmas came to fall on December 25.

In typical scholarly fashion, McGowan brushes over the biblical information, mentioning only the detail of the shepherds being out with their flocks at night (Luke 2:8). He snootily dismisses it, writing, "Yet most scholars would urge caution about extracting such a precise but incidental detail from a narrative whose focus is theological rather than calendrical." He quickly hurries on to extra-biblical findings, clearly believing them to be more credible.

In spite of his less-than-comforting dismissal of what the Bible says on the subject, McGowan rounds up the historical facts with rigor. He shows that Christian leaders well into the late-third century did not celebrate Christ's birth, citing the well-known "Early Church Father," Origen: "Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as 'pagan' practices—a strong indication that Jesus' birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time." Note that Origen lived into the latter half of the third century.

Earlier, around the year 200, Clement of Alexandria had written that Christian teachers had proposed various dates for the Nativity, but December 25 was not among them. In fact, most of them fall in the spring. But by the fourth century, December 25 in the Roman West and January 6 in Egypt and the East had become widely recognized as competing dates for that unique day in Bethlehem. How had the people of that time come to decide on these dates?

McGowan posits two theories—and that is all they are. The first is the one most members of God's church are familiar with: that December 25 is borrowed from Roman paganism, particularly the Saturnalia festival kept in late December. As the author notes in support of the idea, "To top it off, in 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25."

While collecting the facts assiduously, he stumbles in interpreting them. Finding no historical proof that the Roman church in the late-third or early-fourth century intentionally syncretized the pagan holiday into Christianity, McGowan fails to see any plausibility in this theory. However, he later contradicts himself: "From the mid-fourth century on, we do find Christians deliberately adapting and Christianizing pagan festivals." For this, he blames Constantine, who "converted" in AD 312. We can only conclude that he is being either naïve or purposely disingenuous about the Roman church's penchant to ignore God's Word in its quest for converts.

The second theory makes a great to-do about the date of Passover (Nisan 14) when Christ died, which at the time was believed to have occurred on March 25, exactly nine months prior to December 25. The ancients apparently considered such symmetry to be divinely ordained. "Thus," McGowan writes:
Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25. . . . Connecting Jesus' conception and death in this way will certainly seem odd to modern readers, but it reflects ancient and medieval understandings of the whole of salvation being bound up together.
Despite this theory being based on supposition and "divine symmetry," McGowan considers it more likely than deliberate syncretism—before the mid-fourth century, of course.

Belief in the general historicity of God's Word would solve his dilemma, but trusting the Bible is rare among critical scholars these days. Our article, "When Was Jesus Born?" uses the biblical details to narrow the possible dates to a two-week period in the early autumn, aligning well with the fall holy days, particularly the Feast of Trumpets. It is far more likely that the divine symmetry would align Christ's birth with God's feasts than with the short days of early winter.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

RBV: II Timothy 2:26

. . . and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
—II Timothy 2:26

It is important to realize who the apostle Paul is writing about in this verse. The antecedent of "they" appears in the previous verse: "those who are in opposition." The entire epistle is instruction for the evangelist Timothy, and in this passage in particular, Paul is giving the younger man advice on how to handle those who dispute the gospel message he taught.

He instructs Timothy, as "a servant of the Lord," to correct his opponents with humility and in the hope of two positive outcomes should God grant repentance to them. First, his correct explanation of the matter in contention would bring them out of their ignorance, liberating them from the bondage of error (John 8:32) and opening the potentialities of the truth to them. Paul was very aware that false teachers and anti-Christian foes functioned with a veil over their minds (see, for instance, how he explains it regarding the Jews in II Corinthians 3:14-16; Matthew 15:14), a blindness that could only be lifted by the direct intervention of God revealing Himself and His truth by the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:10-14; John 6:44). A minister of God should always answer naysayers plainly with the revealed truth of God to give them the knowledge that may lead to their repentance.

The second positive outcome is the subject of II Timothy 2:26. He hopes that exposure to the truth will bring opponents "to their senses" and free them from their captivity to Satan. The apostle realizes that even the most cunning argument of one of God's servants is not enough to accomplish this; a person's repentance and acceptance of the truth will happen only if God "flips a switch" in his mind by the Holy Spirit to become receptive to Him. So a minister must present the truth in the event that God will use his explanation to call him into a relationship with Him. It is only at this point that an individual truly comes to his senses (see Luke 15:17; Acts 9:3-20). Only then does he begin to see without the blinders (or in Paul's own case, when the scales fell from his eyes).

Once one accepts the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and acknowledges Him as personal Savior and Lord, the walls of Satan's prison fall away and crumble to dust (see Romans 6:16-22). His power over us disappears because his claim on us has been removed; our sins have been forgiven and we are no longer in rebellion against God. We have gone over to the other side in the great spiritual war that the Devil has always been destined to lose. The Captain of our salvation has already crushed the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), and all that remains is the perfection of the saints for their roles in the Kingdom of God.

However, there are yet billions of people who are still "captive . . . to do his will." Revelation 12:9 states that the great dragon, who is the Devil and Satan, has deceived the whole world. Despite his ignominious defeat at Calvary, Satan is determined to turn it into victory. In his pride, he still thinks he can win! So he will continue to oppose God and His people wherever and whenever he can, using his captives all over the world to trouble, persecute, and kill God's saints. This reality means that Christians must remain on their guard at all times, prepared to "fight the good fight" (II Timothy 4:7) to wear the crown of victory in the Kingdom.

Finally, we must remember that our fight is really not against the men and women still enslaved to Satan, although they are the faces and voices that oppose us. Paul writes:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:12-13)
We need to look beyond our physical opponents to the evil spirits behind them, realizing that our human foes have not yet come to their senses and seen the light of the truth that only God can reveal. Thus, we can contend with them in humility and gentleness, grateful for the grace God has extended to us.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

RBV: Psalm 139:21

Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
—Psalm 139:21

The psalmist, King David, makes a claim that the modern Westerner, steeped in the feel-goodism of political correctness and postmodern aversion to judgmentalism, flinches from, questioning whether it is even properly Christian. Such people would cite the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44-45, saying that we are to love our enemies and do good for them despite their insults and persecutions because our Father in heaven does good to both the evil and the good. While these verses may seem to be in direct contradiction to each other, they are, in fact, complementary, deepening our understanding of God's way.

Critics commonly make the mistake of "proof-texting," that is, considering a text as "proof" of a biblical truth without taking context and other passages into consideration. Plucking this verse alone out of Psalm 139 and giving it ultimate credence would be proof-texting at its worst. In this case, as in many cases of supposed contradictions, context is key to understanding David's thought, expressed in such absolute, impassioned terms.

Verse 21 falls near the end of a long prayer to God in which David relates in various ways that he realizes how well God knows him. That is how he opens the psalm, giving us a very broad hint at its subject: "O LORD, You have searched me and known me" (verse 1). God knew everything there was to know about the king of Israel, including his every thought and word, and in fact, He had made him, designed him, to be that way (see verses 13-16)! Moreover, God was always with him, and if David had even tried to flee from Him, there is no way that he could have escaped (verses 7-12)!

In verse 17, he begins to bring his thoughts around to the idea he expresses in verses 21-22 about hating those who hate God. He opens this section of the psalm with an exclamation about how valuable he considers God's thoughts—His revelation of Himself and His way of life—to be. Thinking about how precious God's truth is leads him to react strongly against those who oppose God and all the good that His Word can do. He asks God to "slay the wicked" (verse 19) for their bloodthirsty fight against Himand God's people, whose blood is being shed.

David's words in verses 21-22, then, expressing his perfect or complete hatred against God's enemies, are a declaration of loyalty and devotion to God's cause. If they opposed God, he would oppose them. He was all in. So he says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart" (verse 23). He had no reservations about his commitment to God's side, knowing that such devotion would lead to "the way everlasting" (verse 24).

We also need to understand the Hebrew word behind "hate"; it is not as absolute as we tend to consider it. The word is sânê, and its meanings range from real hatredthe intense, visceral emotion of antagonism against anotherto be set against or intolerant of another. In this case, David's uncompromising loyalty to God excludes any kind of tolerance of those who have proclaimed themselves as God's enemies. So, in this case, David's hatred of those who hate God is an implacable rejection of them; he has set himself against them because they are actively hostile to God. Thus, his "hatred" is, not malevolence, but in actuality zeal for God, a righteous, vehement devotion to his sovereign Lord.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

RBV: I Corinthians 2:12

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
—I Corinthians 2:12

As the apostle Paul begins his first letter to the Corinthians, knowing that he is writing to a congregation divided among various factions, he patiently explains to them what makes them different from those in the world yet at the same time unites the members of the church. He, of course, refers to God's Holy Spirit, given to all Christians at conversion by the laying on of hands. The apostle John calls it "the anointing which you have received from Him" (I John 2:27), implying that Christians have been ordained, and thus set apart or sanctified, to a task or office that others have not been given.

This sets up a dichotomy. On the one side are Christians who have freely received God's Spirit, and on the other are all other human beings who, Paul says, have received "the spirit of the world" (see also Ephesians 2:2). Thus, there is a clash of spirits, a collision of motivating forces, at work between the Christian and the world. The apostle writes in Galatians 5 that the two spirits are diametrically opposed, one producing "the works of the flesh," while the other bears "the fruit of the Spirit" (verses 16-25). In fact, he declares in Romans 8:7, "The carnal mind is enmity against God"; the worldly person, imbibing of the spirit of this world, lives in hostility to God and cannot do what God commands.

The Spirit from God, though, removes the human hostility and allows the Christian to know
that is, realize, understand, and usethe gracious gifts of God. These gifts are predominantly spiritual blessings rather than physical ones. Jesus advises His disciples not to worry about food, drink, and clothing because God knows that physical human beings need such things to live (Matthew 6:25-32). Instead, He says, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (verse 33). The Christian's mind is to be focused on God's goal and godly things that will propel him along the way there, and he can do this only by the many gifts bestowed through God's Spirit.

Paul's focus in this passage seems to be on knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Earlier, he had mentioned that God has chosen to spread the gospel message through preaching, which the worldly Greeks considered "foolishness" (I Corinthians 1:23). Yet, this only exposes the fact that the Greeks did not have the ability to understand spiritual matters, and God would ultimately confound them in their "wisdom" through weak and foolish people preaching a "foolish" message of a crucified Savior. The difference is that those weak and foolish people possess a Spirit that comes directly from the Creator God that allows them to know the truth in all its divine splendor.

Thus, in terms of the apostle's overall goal in persuading the Corinthians that they should "be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10), he emphasizes that they have this one commonality, God's Holy Spirit, that makes all the difference to them as individuals and as a congregation. So, as he goes on to say, there is no reason for them to be so judgmental one against the other, for they all "have the mind of Christ" (I Corinthians 2:16). Having one mind and being all in one Body of Christ, as he later discusses (I Corinthians 12:12-27), 
 dividing themselves into cliques is both counterproductive and contrary to God's purpose.

Friday, October 25, 2013

*How Jesus Reacts to Sin

The episode in John 8 of the women caught in adultery offers a stark contrast between the scribes and Pharisees and Jesus Christ in terms of their reactions to sin. The gospels contain several examples of Jesus having to deal with a sinner—a harlot, a tax collector, even whole crowds who only wanted to get something for themselves from Him. Jesus, however, almost always treats such sinners the same way, unlike the scribes and Pharisees. We know the story:
Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" (John 8:2-5)
We can imagine that, despite the early hour, quite a crowd had already gathered there in the Temple precincts, and this is precisely what the Pharisees wanted, an audience to witness what was about to take place. The Pharisees had probably been watching the woman for quite some time, planning to use her to discredit Jesus before the multitudes. When she stole away to her tryst with the unmentioned man, they were ready. Barging into the room, the Pharisee's drag her out—leaving the man—and haul her to the Temple to display before Jesus.

Then they ask a leading question, testing Him, as verse 6 plainly states, to frame Him when He spoke against God's law. It was a "gotcha" situation. They knew that He "consorted" with sinners, and having questioned Him or criticized Him about it at other times (Mark 2:16Luke 7:34, 37-39; 15:1-2; etc.), they expected to use His compassion for them against Him.

Jesus, though, does not react as they planned: "But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear" (John 8:6). He ignores them and their question, treating the latter with the disdain it deserves. What He wrote on the ground matters little. His action says that their silly attempt to entrap Him is hardly worth His notice, that He is not going to jump at their bidding, that He would not be baited into error. They were, in effect, playing "the accuser of our brethren," one of Satan's roles (Revelation 12:10), and we can imagine that this is often Christ's reaction to him when he accuses one of the saints.

The Pharisees, not liking or accustomed to being ignored and disdained, nag him for an answer. After letting them stew for a while, He answers in a way that totally disarms them of their "righteous" indignation: "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first" (John 8:7). Their consciences' pricked, the Pharisees from oldest to youngest, slip away, melting into the crowd, overcome once again by the Teacher from Galilee.

Yet, Jesus' reaction to the situation is not finished. What He does next is even more astounding:
When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."
Consider that she is an obviously sinful woman; she had a reputation as a loose woman. The Pharisees had caught her in the act of adultery, and that was probably only one of many sins. We would likely not be wrong in calling her a wicked woman.

In every way opposite to her is Jesus Christ, sinless and perfect. The Pharisees, themselves sinful, attempted to force Him, a Man of unimpeachable character, to condemn a sinner—to them, a foregone conclusion. However, Jesus' approach to the situation is poles apart; His reaction and attitude throughout this vignette is completely contrary to that of the Pharisees.

To them, reading the Old Testament law concerning the punishment for adultery (Leviticus 20:10-11Deuteronomy 22:22), this was an open-and-shut case: The woman had been caught in the act, they had two or three witnesses, the law was clear, so there should be a stoning! This appears to be unequivocal. The law does indeed proscribe the death sentence by stoning. What more proof does Jesus need?

Despite everything weighing against the woman, Jesus approaches the matter differently. He clearly understands that the woman had sinned. He realizes there were witnesses to that effect. He knows the law and the penalty, but He does not leap to a verdict of condemnation.

Recall that, for some time, He does nothing but write on the ground. He lets the matter simmer. While the carnal Pharisees agitate for answers and demand action, Jesus patiently waits. God works with us in the same way. We can become infuriated when God fails to answer us immediately after we say, "Amen," but giving us time for things to work out is a consistent pattern with Him. We can be certain that He does this when we are accused before Him, even when we are guilty as charged, as the remainder of the passage in John 8 shows.

Because we are so familiar with the character of Jesus, we do appreciate how shocking His statement in John 8:11 is: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." One would expect a righteous God to say, "This is the law. This is your infraction, so this is your punishment." But we understand that God is love and that He is gracious and merciful, so when He does not say, "I condemn you to be stoned," we tend to pass over it without thinking.

However, first-century Jews would have been astounded to hear such a thing! They may have been the most judgmental people who have ever lived on the face of the earth. One little infraction of the law was enough to condemn a person. Excommunication was so common a practice that people stood in great fear of the Pharisees (see John 9:22). What Jesus says was a radical concept, one that contradicted everything they had been taught.

Moreover, Jesus had every right—as God in the flesh, to whom the Father had committed all judgment (John 5:22)—to condemn her to death, but He shows mercy. He does not react in anger to reinforce how bad her sin was. He does not even preach at her. He simply commands her not to sin like this anymore, and He lets her go to work it out for herself.

However, He does not pass up an opportunity to teach the crowd: "Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8:12). He teaches that He, being that Light, has given us an example to follow in situations like this. A sinner condemned to die produces nothing. Only with further life and light will he or she have the chance to repent and grow in character.

That is how God works with us, and are we not happy that He reacts to our sins with patience and mercy? So we should forbear with our brethren (Colossians 3:12-13).

Saturday, October 5, 2013

RBV: Proverbs 29:12

"If a ruler pays attention to lies, all his servants become wicked.
—Proverbs 29:12

This proverb is the first of a set of three that runs through verse 14. The general theme concerns the integrity of government, while the middle proverb, verse 13, deals with the obvious fact that both ruler and ruled are equal in the sight of God. There is also a progression among the three verses from negative to positive, passing through the neutrality of verse 13. One can also see that wicked officials who become oppressors of the poor meet their match in a ruler who leads with integrity and truth.

Our concern, however, is with verse 12 specifically. A little understanding of the way a royal court works—in fact, any seat of leadership—will help explain how this happens. If the ruler bends an ear to gossip, insinuations, misrepresentations, unfounded assertions, manufactured "facts," or any other kind of falsehood, his administration will be founded on sand. His advisors and officials will soon learn that the easiest way to influence and power in the government is by telling the ruler what he wants to hear rather than what is actually true. That is how the game is played. In a very short time, the whole government will be corrupt. In other words, the underlings adjust themselves to their leader, and thus the Roman saying, Qualis rex, talis grex (“like king, like people”).

The New King James translates this verse as a conditional statement: "If ... [then]." However, the Hebrew makes a plain statement of fact, as the Contemporary English Version renders it: “A ruler who listens to lies will have corrupt officials.” Wherever they are found, hierarchies have this property: The whole governmental structure reflects that character—or lack thereof—of the leader at the top. As American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, "Every institution is but the lengthened shadow of some great man." This can be a wonderful asset when the man at the top possesses sterling character—and a terrible liability when he is corrupt, out of his depth, or a fool.

Parents need to be especially careful because of this fact of human nature. The children will not only reflect that attitudes, speech, and behaviors of their parents, but they will actively learn how to function under their parents leadership and manipulate them to get what they want. And this happens much earlier in the children's lives than most parents realize; toddlers may not be able to articulate what they are doing, but they know when tears or smiles or some other trick will make mom or dad do their bidding. Many a mother has told a friend about an incident with her child, "The baby was just so cute that I had to give in!" The baby had won and learned how to make the mother dance to his/her tune.

The overall lesson is that a person in authority must lead by seeking the truth in all matters that come before him. It is foolish to decide a matter based on initial reports or only one side of a dispute, even if it sounds right. He should not act before taking the time and the effort to discover independently whether matters are as they have been presented. If a leader takes this prudent path, those under him will soon learn that it does not pay to tell falsehoods that will be found out, leading to their ouster. In an atmosphere of truth, corruption finds it much harder to gain a foothold, and everyone under such an administration of integrity has a greater opportunity to be satisfied.

Friday, September 13, 2013

No Meeting of the Minds

Have you ever done something and almost immediately regretted doing it? It is easy to do such things from our computers, whether it is sending an email critical of the boss or a coworker to the whole company instead of just one colleague or making an off-the-cuff Facebook comment that seems innocent until you realize it contains an embarrassing double-entendre. My mistake among many this week involved neither of those things, yet even so, what I did opened a can of worms that I would have avoided if I had known what a minor tempest it would cause.

My Facebook and Twitter accounts are linked, so what I post on the former—mostly items in the news or religious or archeological articles that I think are significant or helpful—simultaneously appears on the latter. Usually, this feature causes no problems. My Facebook friends are predominantly family, church members, and school friends who know me and my beliefs to a certain extent. Comments are usually supportive and understanding, but if they disagree, they are more often restrained and respectful than not.

If Facebook can be compared to a barbeque with friends, Twitter is a food fight in a college cafeteria. I signed on to Twitter mostly to stay on top of news and commentary on the events of the day, as a kind of raw feed of what is occurring in the world. I make only a few comments directly to Twitter, but my Facebook page makes many more for me. One of these stirred up a hornet's nest among a group of feminists and atheists that troll Twitterdom. (Trolling, for those not up on Internet lingo, is "deliberately posting derogatory or inflammatory comments to bait other users into responding" or simply to stir up trouble.)

My sin—in their eyes—was to link to an article on Christian marriage and make this comment: "If husbands loved as they are supposed to, wives would have no problem submitting to them." To us, this is a true, benign statement in accord with Ephesians 5:22, 25. But to feminists and to atheists who support them, I may as well have slapped their faces with a gauntlet and challenged them to duels! The first reply, from a person with "secular" in her Twitter handle, reads, "why [sic] would I ever want to submit to someone who should consider me an equal, and why would he want me to??" The second, from a young man who describes himself as "20-year old Uni. student, atheist, secular humanist," simply says, "That doesn't make any sense." From there, the tweets became far worse and a lot more profane.

After just a few back-and-forth exchanges, it became frustratingly obvious that there was no meeting of the minds. None. We could not even agree on simple definitions of words like "submit," "equality," "love," and "instruction"! For instance, my interlocutors simply refused to consider that submission in a relationship of equals is even possible. To them, submission always indicates a superior-inferior relationship, thus a wife submitting to her husband is admitting a lower status—and feminists will never take a back seat to a man. Once this kind of thinking became plain to me, any idea of explaining humility went right out the window!

From what I could tell from the scant amount of information that is available about a person on Twitter, almost all of them were young adults, militantly and proudly atheist and thoroughly steeped in secular humanism, the guiding philosophy of progressives the world over. They had been educated solely in the ideas and aspirations of men in "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4). My only point of contact with them was being of the same species.

Our minds, our thinking, could not have been more different. As atheists, they would not accept any argument based on Scripture, and my every argument on this subject came out of God's Word. For my part, I could not comprehend a relationship in which both partners refused to allow the other to lead. Such a relationship of stubborn insistence of superiority (which they called "equality") is bound to fail. As Herbert Armstrong often said, in any relationship of two people, one of them must be the leader—even the relationship of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Jesus says, "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). He voluntarily submits.

To my Twitter opponents, though, voluntary submission was unacceptable and self-contradictory. How can there be any hope of even mild understanding, much less agreement, when the two sides of a conversation have no common foundation, language, or objectives? Seeing how ultimately futile it was, trying to explain physics to a fungus may have been easier.

My experience highlights a few spiritual realities. The first spiritual reality is that, because mankind has continually rejected God and every proof, not only of His existence, but also of His power and involvement in the affairs of humanity, God has allowed most people in this world to continue along the path of their own godless thinking and reap the consequences. As Paul phrases it in his revealing explanation of this truth, "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (Romans 1:28). He tells the Ephesians that "the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Ephesians 4:17-18).

The second spiritual reality is the flipside of the first: Those whom God calls are a new creation (Romans 6:4Ephesians 4:20-24Colossians 3:9-10), and with the gift of the Holy Spirit, their minds have been enlightened with the understanding of divine things. Jesus tells His disciples:
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. . . . I will come to you. . . . However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (John 14:16-1816:13-14)
Paul summarizes this in I Corinthians 2:10, 16: "But God has revealed [His truth and plan] to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. . . . [W]e have the mind of Christ."

These two realities are why there is no meeting of the minds. People in the world are functioning and reasoning on one wavelength and Christians on another, and the two are diametrically opposed (see Galatians 5:17Romans 8:5-9). Paul warns us in II Timothy 3 that this widening difference will make "the last days perilous times" (verse 1), and "evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (verse 13). Giving a reasoned defense of the hope within us (I Peter 3:15) will only become more difficult in the days ahead.

Friday, August 16, 2013

*Truth Revealed to Babes

The Bible has been the world's bestselling book for many years; billions of people have ready access to God's Word—as close as their own bookshelf or computer. Yet, while the words of God's Book can be read, and frequently are, what it truly means remains a mystery to most people. The sheer number of Christian denominations shouts the fact that even those who profess to follow Christ do not agree on the Bible's message to humanity. Jesus Himself quotes Isaiah, saying, "Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive" (Matthew 13:14; see Isaiah 6:9). The "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" have not been opened to them (Matthew 13:11).

Earlier, He had said something similar in a prayer:
At that time Jesus answered and said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight." (Matthew 11:25-26)
Jesus found something praiseworthy in God the Father denying understanding to those who are thought to be "wise and prudent" but revealing His truth to "babes," average people who are yet unlearned. Those who think that they are smart—who believe they already know how the world works—reject the truths of God as "simple," "pie-in-the-sky," "naïve," "unscientific," "regressive," etc. In contrast, the unlearned possess an open, unspoiled mind that is willing to listen to what God has to say.

In I Corinthians 1:26-29, Paul says that God has called the foolish and the weak to confound the wise and the mighty. Most church members look at Paul's words as if they are a prophecy—that someday, the wise and mighty will look at the glorified saints and say, "If God could do that with them. . . ." But the apostle is also giving us something to do right now. If we are living by God's Word, what we do every day of our Christian lives are the things that will confound those who are the smart and powerful in this present world. When they rise in the resurrection, they will be ashamed that their pride caused them to reject God's revelation when it was being lived right in front of them so plainly. By this, God will humble them and lead them to conversion.

Notice the paragraph leading up to Paul's conclusion that the foolish would confound the wise:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (I Corinthians 1:18-24)
The truth is so easy to understand, so shockingly simple: Christ crucified. The Creator God died on a tree, giving His blood to cover human sin. It is quite simple—yet confoundingly profound! From that "simple" idea of Christ crucified, countless books have been written. At its root, the idea is simple, something that we can all understand, but the depth of knowledge and understanding that can be derived from it is limitless!

However, to the so-called wise and prudent, who cannot perceive that truth, whose eyes have not been opened, it is just sheer foolishness, even offensive. But we know that the gospel of Christ crucified—which does not leave Him dead on a tree but proclaims Him alive at God's right hand—is the dynamic power and wisdom of God, which leads no less than to salvation and eternal life. The people of Athens were ready to name Paul a fool for the idea of resurrection (Acts 17:32) because, as the wise of this world, that is how they saw the message: "God dies then comes back to life again, and because of that, we can have eternal life too?"

The Greeks, the ones whom intellectuals hold up as emblems of wisdom and philosophy, thought they were wise to scoff at the truth. To their heirs in the world, the message of the Bible and its simple truths do not measure up to their erudition. For example, they find the nature of God as revealed in Scripture to be lacking. God's Word shows that there is God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son. They have a spirit, the essence of their minds, by which they act. How plain! Nevertheless, the "wise" reject this in favor of a convoluted and ultimately illogical Trinity that cannot be found in the pages of the Book.

Paul also mentions that "Jews request a sign"; they want some supernatural occurrence—fire from heaven or a miracle of healing or the like—to confirm the preaching of God's revelation to men. Yet even Christ—God in the flesh—refused to do that. His only sign of His Messiahship would be one He had no control over, to rise from the dead after three days and nights (Matthew 12:40). The Jews would not accept that, wanting to see a miracle. Thus, when the teaching of the truth, unaccompanied by a sign, does not conform to their traditions, they, too, scoff and return to their comfortable rituals. As Psalm 78:41 asserts, Israel limits God. They do not have the capacity to see Him as He is or in His multifaceted works.

Jesus says to His disciples, "But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it" (Matthew 13:16-17). Though speaking specifically to the Twelve, it applies also to us; our eyes and ears have been opened to marvelous things from His Word (Psalm 119:18). As the saying goes, with great privilege comes great responsibility. We have an obligation to respond to what God has revealed to us and with its power carry out its implications to their eternal ends.

Peter tells the church, "the pilgrims of the Dispersion [the scattering]" (I Peter 1:1), ". . . as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (I Peter 2:2). He ends his second epistle with an exhortation to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18). Our present duty is to soak up God's amazing revelation and to convert it into a righteous way of living that pleases Him. We must leave babyhood, foolishness, and weakness behind, and become mature, wise, and strong in Christ.

Friday, August 9, 2013

*How Revelation Enters the Church

Many years ago, during Herbert W. Armstrong's ministry, we read the passage beginning in Galatians 1:6 quite often. He would tell us that the apostle Paul had written this epistle less than thirty years after Christ's death and resurrection, making it one of the earliest-written books in the New Testament. He pointed out as amazing and alarming what was already beginning to happen within the church:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. . . . For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:6-8, 10-12)
Only a little more than a generation had passed since the founding of the church, yet false gospels, perversions of the truth, were making serious trouble for those early Christians. Paul was warning those in Galatia not to listen to those who are trying to persuade them away from the true doctrines of God, which they had learned when the apostles had preached the true gospel to them.

After warning them, Paul defends himself against the unwritten question, "How do we know that you preached us the truth?" He asks in return, "From what you've seen of me, do I try to seek the favor of men or God? Do I seem to be a men-pleaser?" Clearly, he always put the truth of God before pleasing people, and he had had to pay the price for it in persecution and peril (see II Corinthians 11:23-33). He considered these sacrifices proof that he was a true servant of God.

Then, in Galatians 1:11-12, he lets them know where the message he had taught them came from. He was taught, he said, not by any man (verse 16), but by Jesus Christ Himself. Once God had called him on the road to Damascus, and after he was baptized, he went down to Arabia (verse 17), and stayed there for three years (verse 18). It was there that Christ taught him the truth as an apostle "born out of due time" (I Corinthians 15:8). Christ had a special job for Paul and wanted to give Him the same kind of instruction that He had given the Twelve.

No one knows if Christ came down and appeared to him, teaching him directly, or whether He opened Paul's mind and revealed the truth out of Scripture. However, when he went up to Jerusalem three years later and talked with Peter, James, and John, he found out that they agreed completely on the gospel of God (Galatians 2:9). These apostles understood that Paul was a fellow apostle with them and that he would preach primarily to the Gentiles.

By his personal history, Paul shows that he had received the same revelation from God that the original disciples had been given. Thus, the gospel that Paul preached was the same gospel that Peter, John, and the other apostles were also preaching. They all preached from the same Source: Jesus Christ. Our beliefs should rest on that same foundation, which is now printed in our Bibles. Notice Ephesians 2:19-22:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
In terms of revelation from God, this passage informs us that a true understanding is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. In the past, God revealed certain things to the prophets in Old Testament times and to the apostles in New Testament times, and they wrote those things down for our learning (see Hebrews 1:1Romans 15:4I Corinthians 10:11). Jesus Christ is called "the chief cornerstone" because He is the true Foundation and Source of all revelation. He is the One who joins all the revelation together and makes it work. We, then, having this sure foundation, not only learn the truth, but also grow by it into the image of Christ.

The apostle continues in Ephesians 3:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 3:1-5)
Paul uses the subject of God's grace toward the Gentiles as a way to get across, not only that he preached the true gospel, but also how truth comes into the church of God. It is very simple: God revealed something to him, and he, then, wrote it down in a few words, so that we could read and comprehend his understanding of this mystery of God's way. That is how it works. God inspired a prophet or an apostle, and he wrote it down. Over time, it became Scripture, and now we read it, using the Holy Spirit that God has given us, to understand the truth.

At the end of the Bible, in Revelation 22:18-19, John warns the reader not to add to or take away from the words written in the Book. Essentially, he is telling us that revelation from God to man is closed; the canon of Scripture is complete. What we need to know for salvation is in the finished work of the Bible. Anyone who claims to have a new revelation, that he has some "new truth" beyond Scripture, is a false teacher, one of those who "pervert the gospel of Christ."

So the Bible is the collected writings of the apostles and prophets to whom God gave His precious revelation for all of us to learn and use. God's converted children do not need any advanced degrees, courses in higher thinking and logic, or any kind of worldly help to understand God's truth. All they need is the Word of God and a humble mind that can reason normally, and God, by the gifts of His Spirit, provides the understanding.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

RBV: James 2:4

". . . have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?" 
—James 2:4

The apostle James begins chapter 2 of his epistle by confronting a problem that frequently rears its head in the church, that of respect of persons, also called partiality and discrimination. His entire thought in introducing the subject runs as follows:
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
The example he gives is a common one. Human nature tends to be partial to the rich, the well-groomed, the finely appareled—those who make a good outward show of respectability. It is rather selfish of us to pay them so much attention and provide them with favors and upgrades that we would not normally lavish on others. We do these things because we want something from them, whether it be some future benefit we might receive as gratitude for our obsequious solicitation or merely to be seen with them, ratcheting up our status as a result. Respect of persons is, at its base, all about us.

Of course, it also diminishes those we pass over, essentially telling them, "You are not worthy of my time or favor. Take care of yourself . . . over there . . . where you'll be out of the way." Such partiality actually turns the godly order on its head. Those who are wealthy or powerful or good-looking or talented need no help; they are successful and prove by their success that they can take care of themselves. The poor and downtrodden, however, are the ones who need our help to give them a hand as they start up the ladder of recovery and eventual success. Human nature perversely offers help and advantage to those who need it least and denies it to those who desperately seek it.

Even so, James' central thrust in this long paragraph (which stretches all the way to verse 13) is that favoritism is wrongful judgment: "have you not . . . become judges with evil thoughts?" His argument against partiality obviously derives from his half-brother's comments on judging in Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, that you be not judged," where Jesus goes on to speak about a person's method of judgment of others being used by God to judge him. Jesus calls the one who judges his brother a hypocrite because he condemns his brother for a minor fault (a "speck") while he himself has much a larger sin (a "beam") to overcome. Thus, practicing partiality makes us judge, jury, and executioner of a fellow Christian—not to mention that we poach on one of God's prerogatives, sitting on His throne as judge.

James is speaking about unjustified discrimination. The distinction made between the rich man and the poor man in his example had its basis in purely outward and superficial reasons, and thus the judgment was unsoundor as he puts it, "evil." As the apostle points out in verse 5, God more often calls the weak of the world to righteousness (see I Corinthians 1:26-29), so the poor man is just as likelyor perhaps even more likelyto be the more converted of the two. This is not always the case, but it does make James' point that we need to be more thorough in our discernment of people lest we judge them by sight rather than by faith (II Corinthians 5:7).

Our example of this is God Himself. When the prophet Samuel went to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel, he saw the strapping older sons of Jesse, thinking, "Surely it must be one of these!" But God saw things differently: "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (I Samuel 16:7). The "poorest" of the family was chosen, as David was the youngest and smallest, the one that everyone seems to have forgotten about to the point that no one had thought to tell him that Samuel was in town!

Being quite limited in our spiritual perception, we have a hard time doing that, so our best course is to treat everyone with humility and kindness, preferring them in our interactions with them.

Friday, August 2, 2013

*Hold Tightly to Revelation

The Bible is not against what we might call scholarship or intellectual pursuit. From all that history can tell us, the apostle Paul may have been one of the most intellectual men who have ever lived. II Peter 3:15-16 warns believers that Paul's epistles contain instruction so hard to understand that false teachers can easily twist them to say wrong and harmful things. Members of the church, made up of the weak of the world (I Corinthians 1:26-29), can be especially gullible when it comes to intellectualism, and some stumble.

Even so, Scripture displays no animosity toward the use of the intellect, nor is it against rational arguments and dispassionate reasoning. When used properly, these things are good. God Himself gave us these skills, and we must use these tools to understand God's way of life. In fact, He wants us to use them in our ongoing pursuit of the truth of God. The true teachings of God that we understand and believe have all undergone deep scrutiny by these means and methods—scholarship, rational arguments, and dispassionate reasoning—and they pass muster on all counts. The doctrines that we in the churches of God agree on are sound and biblically based.

While not condemned by any means, human reason, scholarship, logic, and abundant research must take a back seat to two important elements, both of which are given directly by God: divine revelation and the Holy Spirit. These two pieces must be present before the rest of the puzzle will fall into place. Revelation is God's gift to us of His truth through His Word, and the Holy Spirit must be used to understand it properly. Once we have this initial understanding, we can apply scholarship, rational arguments, and dispassionate reasoning to glean further understanding. The important thing is that divine revelation and God's Spirit must come first.

We tend to forget about divine revelation because it is right in our Bibles, right under our noses, and we take it for granted. Of course, we study it frequently, but we rarely think about how the words and the truths they form got there in the first place. They are there because God revealed them, they were recorded by willing minds, and transmitted down through the centuries, guided and protected by God Himself. That is an awesome thing to consider.

We need to be careful to understand that the revelation we interact with in our Bibles is not direct revelation, as experienced by the apostles and prophets in visions, dreams, and the actual appearance by angels or even God Himself from time to time (Hebrews 1:1). Direct revelation is exceedingly rare. What we have in reading God's Word can be called "general revelation." It is what is available to everyone generally.

Scripture contains all that we need to know about our salvation, about God's Plan, and about our parts in it. If it is not in the Book, we can be sure that whatever it may be is not necessary for us to know in terms of salvation. If a fact does not appear in Scripture, it probably does not have much bearing on our calling and our future in the Kingdom of God. Extra-biblical knowledge may be occasionally helpful, and it may even add depth to our understanding. However, when it comes to a conclusion about whether something is spiritually true or not, the words of the Bible itself must be the final arbiter short of a direct appearance from God.

Another way of putting it is that general revelation—what is contained in God's Word—trumps every other source of information available—even church of God publications. Many people have taken Herbert W. Armstrong's booklets and made them into the equivalent of the Epistles of Herbert, metaphorically stapling them at the backs of their Bibles. We should understand that, though inspired by God's Spirit, his writings are not Scripture (see Isaiah 8:16; the canon of Scripture was finished with the death of Christ's disciples, the original twelve apostles). While his works contain quotations from Scripture, they also contain a great deal of material that was simply his explanations of various topics. They should be accorded respect but not veneration.

The only real source of divine revelation that we have access to, then, is the Bible. Certainly, it is more conclusive a source than any Bible resource help, such as concordances, lexicons, commentaries, and Bible dictionaries. Those books can be helpful, adding information and perspective, but they are not the final word on a given topic or doctrine. That is the Bible's job.

In the same way, the Bible is more authoritative than Jewish sources like the Talmud, the Mishna, the Targums, or any Jewish tradition. It is far more trustworthy than any opinion from a sage, rabbi, priest, or historian. The Bible is simply the last word on any matter of true Christian doctrine or practice.

The Bible itself claims this position. Jesus, for instance, in John 17:17, while praying to His Father just before His arrest, says plainly, "Sanctify them [His disciples, including us] by Your truth. Your word is truth." In reality, we need to look no further for the truth—those truths that have to do with our salvation and future in the Kingdom are in God's Word. Our Savior said so.

In II Timothy 3:14-17, Paul instructs the younger Timothy on what is to be the basis for his ministry and preaching:
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Timothy had learned the truth from Paul, who had learned them from Christ. There was a direct line of descent of truth from the Source. That same truth has been preserved and made available to us in our Bibles. In a larger respect, Paul tells us that the Bible—the instruction that we have received from the prophets, apostles, and Jesus Christ Himself—is all that we need to equip us completely for the Kingdom of God.

So, beyond learning and applying these things, what is our responsibility to the revelation given to us? In II Thessalonians 2:13-15, Paul answers this question:
God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth . . . for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.
The apostle warns that difficult times are coming, times of apostasy, so we must hang on to the revealed truths we have been taught, including the godly traditions we have learned. The revelation of God is precious and should not be sold for a bowl of soup. Do not let cunning arguments or even rational discussions, which may be completely bogus, take us off track. Stick to the pure words of the Book.