A pastor’s primary function is to preach and teach God’s word to the sheep that Jesus has placed in his care. In order to do this effectively, he must be a lover of language. He must become a master of communication. Not, indeed, the language of the world wielded by the manipulators of rhetoric, but as a steward of the treasure that God has placed in his care. The ungodly man uses language to manipulate people, to get people to act in a way that he wishes them to act. As Christians, however, we must learn how to use language in order to convey truth clearly and effectively. But unfortunately, pastors frequently become manipulators of people instead of preachers of truth.
To be a God-pleasing preacher of truth, a pastor must understand two things:
First, he must understand what God teaches in His word. Good seminaries drill this into the heads of their students with original language classes, systematics, apologetics, Old and New Testament survey classes, exegesis classes, and other offerings.
But unfortunately this is not enough. A man may be an expert in the meaning and theology of the scripture and be completely unable to communicate that effectively, for he has not yet understood the English language. Through poor choices of words, truth is skewered and equity is fallen in the streets.
So the second thing that a pastor must understand in order to communicate God’s word effectively is how the English language works and how to put the truth of God’s word into accurate language to be understood clearly by his audience. The goal in communicating truth is to speak in such a way that the ideas in the speaker’s head are transferred to the mind of the hearer with as little loss as possible. We may think that we are communicating one thing, when in fact our hearers hear something else entirely. If pastors do not understand this, their work will be ineffective at best and outright harmful to the soul at worst.
A word in any language may have different nuances or even different meanings altogether depending upon the context of the word.
Take the word “love”. I saw a car with two bumper stickers. One said, “I love my Golden Retriever.” The other said, “I love Jesus.” Same car; same bumper.
What the owner of the car was attempting to communicate was lost to me. Two abstract thoughts, one referring to the affection that a man feels for his dog, and the other a religious affection for our Lord and Savior, were both denotated by the same word: “love”. Two thoughts. One word.
At the very least, I would hope that in the mind of the car owner these were two separate ideas. But perhaps he meant that his love for his dog was exactly identical (univocal) to the love that he has for Jesus, in which case we would have to charge him with polytheism, in the same way that you would charge a man with bestiality for loving his dog and loving his wife univocally.
For those who may think that I am splitting hairs, or using ridiculous examples, I would like to remind you that we are currently inundated with predators and pedophiles who use the same techniques to cover their horrendous and vile actions. I take great offence at the North American Man/Boy Love
Association for using the word “love” to describe their filthy lusts, hoping that our refusal to analyze language will give them a pass. But do not be deceived. What they mean by “love” and what I mean by “love” are two different things entirely.
A recent blog, A Christian Wife’s Marriage Catechism commits a similar error, with similar deadly consequences for the truth of the Gospel.
You can find some excellent refutations here.
I have much to say. But I will limit my comments to only one question of this catechism:
Q11. How good a husband is my husband to me?
A11. Much better than I deserve, and therefore I will thank God for him every day.
Here the writer makes a deadly error. Here we see the error of using a word with several different meanings as if it only had one meaning. Let me illustrate:
What he is saying in effect is this: Because I deserve eternal punishment in hell for my sins, it follows that I deserve to take whatever injustice and abuse that my husband wishes to dish out to me.
But does this follow, or is it possible that the English word “deserve” has different meanings depending on the context?
In Shakespeare’s great tragedy Hamlet, Hamlet the Prince asks Polonius to take the newly arrived actors to their accommodations and make sure they had what they needed for their comfort. Polonius replied, “I will treat them according to their desert.”
Hamlet replied, “God’s bodkin, man, much better! Treat every man according to his desert and who shall ‘scape whipping?”
Hamlet has made the same error. Polonius was merely speaking of giving them the accommodations and amenities that their station and their labors warranted. Hamlet then replied, swearing by the bodkin, or dagger, of God, referring to their standing as sinners before the Throne of God. But the desert of the actors at the hands of Polonius and the desert of the actors at the hands of God are two different things!
Are we to believe that since no one has ever earned any favor from God whatsoever, but has received every good thing by grace alone that it would therefore follow that my boss can withhold my paycheck from me, since I deserve far worse?
If the blogger in question would be consistent with his univocal use of the word “deserve”, we would expect the following exchange: “My employer has robbed me of my wages. What should I do?”
Answer, “Rejoice that you have received far more than you deserve and continue to work for him with a meek and quiet spirit. Don’t make a fuss.”
Take it one step further: “My family was slaughtered by a wicked man.”
Answer: “It was better than they deserved. Let it go, and don’t make a fuss. No need to involve the police.”
It is indeed true that God’s mercy can never be earned – or deserved. We increase our guilt daily before God. We are fallen sinners. Unless we are born again, we deserve nothing but eternal wrath and damnation. This is taught clearly throughout Scripture.
(Eph 2:8-9 KJV) 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
But this is speaking of our standing before the Judgment Throne of God. It does not follow that we therefore deserve to be treated with cruelty, hatred and dishonor by wicked men.
If the grace of God can be used to justify injustice and cruelty, then words no longer have any meaning.
From the hand of God we always and continually receive far more that we can ever merit or “deserve”, for even the best works in this life are all polluted by sin.
Does it then follow that we do not deserve kindness, love, respect and honor from our fellow man? Not according to the Bible.
Consider the following passage:
(Rom 13:7-8 KJV) 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
God teaches here that there are those who deserve our taxes, our honor, and our tribute. But then in verse 8, he carries the argument further: We owe all men love. Not the love of the world, but love defined by the law of God.
For a husband, we owe our wives the same love with which Christ loved his church. Does she earn it? Of course not. But does she deserve it? She certainly does.
In another place, Paul teaches that husbands and wives are both owed benevolence – they deserve it because they are husband and wife:
1 Corinthians 7:3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.
If it were not possible to treat our wives worse than they deserve, as this blog implies, then it would not be possible to defraud your wife, and Paul’s command would make no sense (1 Cor. 7:5). Paul’s argument depends upon the Biblical truth that a husband owes his wife benevolence (favor, good-will, sexual intimacy). To put it passively, she deserves it because she is his wife. To withhold those things is to defraud her – or to treat her less than she deserves – directly contrary to the statement made by this blogger.
To the beloved daughters of God, do not allow your husband to treat you less than you deserve as his wife. On the same token, do not treat your husband less than he deserves as your husband. God requires equity in our dealings, not fuzzy appeals to misunderstood grace.
Equity means that we treat others fairly, or as they deserve. Fulfill those obligations and remember that you have a right to expect the same in all of your relationships. This is what a covenant of marriage is. We are in a covenant and there are covenant obligations. A husband owes his wife the fulfillment of his vows, and she deserves that fulfillment, because she is his wife.
If I make a contract, the other party deserves for me to fulfill my end. Why is marriage any different?
Let us exegete scripture correctly, lest we become prey for the devil, and expose ourselves to the abuses of wicked men.
To affirm the covenant of marriage is to affirm the obligations of that covenant. The husband deserves for the wife to fulfill her vow, and the wife deserves for the husband to fulfill his vow. Neither party deserves to be treated with abuse, cruelty, violence and hatred.
The Bible also teaches that a husband or a wife can behave in such a monstrous way that they ultimately forfeit the benefits of this covenant, but that is another post for another time.
I have much more to say, but I have wearied the reader enough for the day.
10 responses to “God’s grace an excuse for cruelty??”
Great post, Ps Sam!
I have put links to it on our two posts about the Wife’s Catechism at our blog. And on our FB page.
I like the way you have explained why Q 11 is so bad. The guys over at the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog didn’t nail the problem with Q 11. But you have done it well. They got lost in a whole lot of theological hairsplitting and seemed like they were stumbling over their bootlaces. You have put it simply and clearly. Thank you.
BTW, if you add links to other blogs, make sure you link to the exact post that you wish to draw your readers’ attention to. If you only link to another blog’s home page, no ‘pingback’ will show on that blog, so the readers of that blog will not become aware of your blog post.
cheers — Barb
Thanks for the technical advice, Barb. I’m new to this, so I greatly appreciate it.
Trying not to be so much of a luddite,
Thank you Pastor Powell. You said it better than I could. In fact then that “catechism” is a false gospel. It is that serious. Because it goes to the very essence of what Jesus Christ has done for us in His redemption, adopting us as His beloved children, making us heirs with Him of the New Creation promises, giving us new hearts that love Him and much more. To stand in a pulpit and preach to the people of Christ that whatever evil they receive is more than they deserve is to deny the gospel. Thus it is our duty to do what Paul did when Peter withdrew from the Gentiles.
Thanks, Pastor. This really bothers me. I followed up with another post, explaining why. To say that we deserve hell as Christians is to deny the justice of God, the gospel and the work of Christ. Righteousness is imputed to me by grace. I didn’t earn it at all, but I am STILL considered righteous before God and an heir of eternal life because of the work of Christ. Unmerited favor always needs explaining, doesn’t it? It doesn’t mean that God decided to be nicer. It means that God’s dealings with me are perfectly just, because he considers me now in Christ.
Thanks for your work on this issue!
The more I have mulled this “catechism” over in my mind, particularly the Q&A you pointed to, the more convinced I have become that, as you say, this is indeed heresy. Because it is a denial of our justification by faith in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a denial that every Christian has been sealed by God with the Holy Spirit of promise, the guarantee that the promised inheritance WILL be ours in its entirety, by RIGHT. Yes, we have a right to it. We….deserve it! All of course because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus, but we are in Him, joined to Him, joint heirs with Him. Thus what we have here in regard to this catechism by Pastor Meadows is, in fact, a Paul/Peter scenario in which every minister of the gospel needs to stand up and say “Stop! You are denying the gospel of our Lord!”
Thank you Pastor for this comforting post. You speak in love and truth. By no means was I weary of reading what you had to say.
Thank you so much for speaking out against this. We need to stop the false doctrine that women are to be used and abused because the abusers can and that the women are getting far better treatment than they deserve.
The “more than I deserve” has bothered me for years even before the publication of this catechism. Thank you for effectively showing that Q. 11 is not supported Biblically and, in a sense, puts the justice of God and the injustice of man on par with each other.
This was important to call out, and you’ve laid out why very clearly. Thank you.
Oh wow – this is excellent preaching – thank you so much. I never weary of hearing God’s truth logically applied.!! One thing that I love about God is that logic comes from Him, and so it must be also in His Word. He is not confusing, illogical, or random in His intentions toward us. He DOES make sense, He is not “easy” but He is GOOD!
Amen, thank you!!