Category Archives: Wisdom

Every Appearance of Evil, and the Billy Graham Rule

I’ve been gone and out of the loop for a while. The debate over the so-called “Billy Graham” rule, in light of the comments of Mike Pence, went on without me. That was probably a good thing.

But every generation renews its battle with the horrible interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You have probably heard it:

22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1Th 5:22 KJV)

This is generally interpreted by small-minded men as an excuse to avoid interacting for good in the lives of others. When the passage is poorly translated, and taken out of context, it appears as if it is saying that one should avoid doing anything that someone else might take as being evil. Thus, lazy and guilt-ridden men can avoid interaction with “undesireables” and still pretend to take the high ground.

For example, I heard one man say that if he were driving alone down the road and saw a beautiful woman stranded with car trouble, he wouldn’t stop to help, but would call someone at the next town. He wouldn’t want the neighbors to think evil of him being alone with a beautiful woman. And, as he said, the Bible says, “Avoid every appearance of evil.” (This rule only applies to beautiful women, apparently.)

Another man told me once that he couldn’t be seen with a troubled teen who appeared to be “effeminate” (I hate that word), for fear that someone might think evil of him. I just can’t even…

I do not wish to judge the heart of Billy Graham. I simply don’t know enough about the situation, and God did not assign to me the task of being everyone’s conscience. I only wish to make one point. Is dining alone with a member of the opposite sex an “appearance of evil” and thus forbidden by 1 Thessalonians 5:22?

If that is the case, then Jesus himself broke the rule. He spoke with women one on one, alone. He even dined with publicans and sinners.

Further, Paul wrote that we should not seek to please men, but to please God (Gal.1:10), and Jesus commanded us not to judge according to appearance (John 7:24). So does the Bible have contradictions? Certainly not!

A quick look at the historical and grammatical context of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 will sort out the issues, if one wishes to have eyes to see.

The historical context is this: Remember that the Thessalonians were real people with real problems, and Paul knew them.  Paul preached at Thessalonica and the conversions there caused the Jews to respond with furious envy (Acts 17). The believers in that city had to send Paul away quickly to spare his life, and Paul went from there to Berea, where they were “more noble”, since they searched the scriptures daily to “see if these things be so.…”

Paul, then, is very concerned about the new church in Thessalonica. He left them suddenly without new leadership in place. This in turn left them open to various itinerate preachers. Some were good and some were not so good.

This is the historical context of 1 Thessalonians.

Here is the grammatical context:

19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
(1Th 5:19-22 KJV)

As you can see, what Paul is saying is this. “When you hear the word of God preached to you, don’t despise it. But at the same time, don’t swallow everything you hear. Test it according to the scriptures (like the Bereans do). If it is good, grapple it unto your soul with hoops of steel. If it is evil, shun it strongly and completely, no matter what appearance it takes.”

When evil comes, don’t be fooled by the mask. Shun it, no matter what mask it wears.

So, in the context, if someone comes to you and says, “Don’t do good to others because someone might think you are doing evil”, perhaps we should apply 1 Thessalonians 5:22 and reject that counsel as bad. This is, after all, what the scripture tells us to do.

Let’s be discerning in what we hear. If what we hear is good, embrace it. If it is evil, reject it – no matter how pretty one makes it sound. It is only the scripture that determines what is pleasing to God, not the envious and self-righteous judgments of passersby.

There may be all sorts of valid reasons to try to avoid getting into a situation alone with a member of the opposite sex, but the “appearance of evil” is not one of them.

You can see my follow-up post here.

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Filed under practical theology, Sex, Sin and Grace, Wisdom

Snakes and Wisdom

I read an anecdote some years back. You can find it here.

Anyway, it goes something like this.

A man was drinking with his buddies at a local pub. On his way home, he and his buddies decided that they needed to find a snake to put in the aquarium at their pub. So they found one by the side of the road.

The snake that they found was one of the most deadly poisonous serpents in the world. The man picked it up with his left hand because he “was holding his beer with the other hand.” The snake bit him.

He put the snake into a bag and his buddies started to drive away. For reasons which are unclear, the man continued to put his hand into the bag. The snake bit him over and over – a total of nine times.

He ended up in the hospital; and according to all accounts, he is lucky to still be alive.

Moral of the story: Some people are like snakes. They only want you close so they can continue to hurt you. Wisdom would dictate that at a certain point, perhaps you should quit putting your hand in the bag.

10 Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease. (Pro 22:10 KJV)

10 Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition,
11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned. (Tit 3:10-11 NKJ)

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psa 1:1 KJV)

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The Secret Things of God

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deu 29:29 KJV)

Making decisions is a daunting process. There is much that goes into a decision, especially one that will change a life.

Take, for example, a decision to separate or divorce a spouse. This decision is terrifying enough, but it is often muddled by poor counsel. As Christian counselors and pastors, we must ensure that our counsel is based firmly upon scripture, and not the opinions or biases of men.

Whole books have been written on appropriate grounds for divorce, but the purpose of this post is to address just one area where we often go wrong.

We must remember that we cannot make decisions based upon what we hope God will do in the future. This belongs to the secret things of God. God has revealed to us what he wants us to know so that we can make right decisions that are honoring to him, but he has reserved the future for his hand alone.

To put this practically, suppose a wife reports – again –  to the elders that her husband refuses to keep his marriage vows. Perhaps he is violent, abusive or engaged in fornication. Perhaps he is a drunkard or a reviler. Let’s assume that these facts are not in dispute. Everyone knows that this is what the wife has been enduring  for years.

When she reports that she is filing for divorce, the answer of her elders is often something like this: “God can change hearts. Stay in the marriage. What will you do if he repents? What if he changes?”

It seems to me that this puts an unendurable burden on the heart of the wife (or husband, as the case may be). The church is asking her to make a life-altering decision based upon what God may or may not do in the future. But how can we ask our sheep to sin in this regard?

The devil took Jesus to the temple and told him to throw himself down, for God promised that he would not allow his foot to be moved. In other words, the devil told Jesus to make a decision based upon requiring God to act in a certain way. But Jesus called this testing God, which is forbidden in the law.

Let’s apply this to our example. The way that things stand now, she has grounds for divorce. Assume, again, that this is not disputed. But she is still counseled to remain in the marriage “in case he repents”. But repentence is a gift of God. Only God can change a heart. So now we are asking this woman to make a life-altering decision, or even put her life in danger, based upon what we hope God will do in the future.

But our text in Deuteronomy forbids doing just that. We cannot make our decision based upon the “secret things of God”. We are required only to make wise decisions based upon what we know today.

As of right now, is your husband a reviler, drunkard, abuser, fornicator? As of right now, is the marriage broken? As of right now, has he pulled asunder what God has joined together?

We can only make these decisions based upon what is revealed to us. To pry into the future is forbidden by God and is only a short step away from soothsaying and fortune-telling.

It is cruel and ungodly to force a spouse to stay in perpetual limbo because God may or may not act in the future, especially when Jesus himself said that God gave us divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Because men’s hearts are still hard, divorce is still sometimes an option.

To ask what the offended spouse would do if there was repentance is neither helpful nor biblical. I could ask what I would do if I won the lottery or became rich and famous, but to base your life and obedience upon a fantasy is not honoring to God. Let’s not fall into the heresy of Creflo Dollar’s prosperity gospel in our counsel to hurting men and women.

CAN God bring repentance? Of course he can. That isn’t the question. Can God fill your bank account with gold? Of course he can.

Why is one fantasy wrong while the another is right? Would it be foolish to buy a new car or a new house based upon hoping that God can fill our bank account with gold? Of course it is. Then why would we counsel a spouse to stay in a broken marriage based upon hoping that God will grant repentance?  All we can do is make the best decisions that we can based upon what we know NOW. Is the man a fool addicted to his folly? Of COURSE God can change his heart, but that isn’t the point.

Wisdom would dictate that throwing yourself off of the temple would be suicide. It would have been a denial of God. Wisdom also dictates that fools return to their folly. This is the norm, just as falling from the temple results in death.

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. (Pro 26:11 KJV)

This is what fools do and will continue to do apart from God’s free and unmerited grace. God can, of course, intervene. He often does, or we would all be lost. We call upon men and women to repent and believe and pray for God’s intervention in their headlong rush to hell. We urge, we exhort, we confront. But when it comes to decisions – whether we are judges deciding on a sentence, church courts deciding on discipline, or spouses deciding on divorce –  we must act in wisdom, not in fantasy.

Only God can soften a heart, and we pray that he will. But we have to make our decisions based upon what God has revealed to us, not through crystal-ball gazing or empty hopes.

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Filed under Divorce, Wisdom

Our Desperate Need for Wisdom

King Solomon was famous over the world for his wisdom. The Bible gives us an account to show us how Solomon’s wisdom truly was divinely given.  I would like for you to read it carefully:

16 Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.
17 And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house.
18 And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.
19 And this woman’s child died in the night; because she overlaid it.
20 And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.
21 And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.
22 And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king.
23 Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living.
24 And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king.
25 And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.
26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.
27 Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.
28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.
(1Ki 3:16-28 KJV)

At first glance, this seems an odd choice to display how Solomon’s wisdom far surpassed the wisdom of his peers. As a child reading the account, it mostly confused me. How did this display such great wisdom? Surely there were other accounts of Solomon’s judgments that were astounding, magnificent and awe-inspiring! What was so special about this one?

My childish mind had only a superficial and rather foolish view of human nature. I did not understand it. It still puzzles me, for the most part, but I think that I am beginning to get a handle on what was so astounding in Solomon’s judgment here.

When these two women presented themselves before Solomon, they both looked and sounded very sincere. Both were sinners (they were harlots). Both had the show of great grief. But they told a different story.

Woman A – we’ll call her Prima – tells Solomon that she woke up and her baby was dead. She knew that the dead baby wasn’t hers and claims that the other woman (we’ll call her Secunda) rolled onto her own baby during the night and then exchanged her dead baby for Prima’s living baby.

Secunda responds that Prima is lying. She claims that Prima rolled onto her own baby and killed it and now is trying to get Solomon to take Secunda’s baby away.

At issue is the living baby. Whose baby is it?

How is Solomon supposed to sort that one out? There were no DNA tests to prove it either way, and he was supposed to make a judgment. All he had to use was wisdom. He had to understand human nature, and especially fallen human nature.

A foolish judge would try to determine who was lying by the “looked me right in the eye” test. The one that seemed the most sincere would very clearly be the one telling the truth, according to this test. But this is utter madness. Even the devil can fool the wisest of men on those grounds. In order to use the “sincerity” test, you would have to deny the existence of pure wickedness, wolves, and oppressive sons of Belial. But all scripture testifies to the existence and prevalence of these kinds of people. In fact, right after the fall, God spoke of the seed of the serpent who would seek to destroy the seed of the woman. To ignore that is utter madness and folly, combined with extreme arrogance. Almost every book of the New Testament warn us that these people will be right in the middle of our congregations and we must mark them and have nothing to do with them.

A foolish judge might actually say, “Who cares? they’re both harlots anyway. Why are you bothering me?” But a wise judge knows that he has been given his task by God himself, and is required by God to judge righteously, without “respect of persons.”

If Prima’s story is correct, then Secunda is not a normal woman. She is a child of the devil, thoroughly corrupt – a liar and a murderer with no conscience. Think about it. She killed her own child during the night (according the Prima’s story) and then exchanged her own dead baby for the living one of her friend. She has no natural affection – babies were simply commodities to be used. You normal mothers out there, if you accidently killed your baby in the night, would you mourn and weep and cry out to God? Or would you simply get another baby and pretend like nothing happened?

A normal mother does not simply steal another baby and pretend it is her own. That would take a tremendous hardening of the heart.

If Prima’s story is correct, then Secunda also has no concern whatsoever about the grief she may be bringing to those whom she previously thought of as friends. Secunda is entitled to a baby, she is entitled to win, and if this causes tremendous grief to those around her, that’s not her concern.

In this day, we have a word for these kinds of people: They are sociopaths. If Prima is telling the truth, then Secunda is a sociopath.

On the other hand, if Secunda is telling the truth, then Prima is a sociopath, for the same reasons.

So Solomon may not know which one is telling the truth, but because of his God-given wisdom, he knows that one of them is the “seed of the serpent”, a liar and a murderer who will stop at nothing to establish her own control and sense of entitlement.

If that is the case, then the one who is the seed of the serpent is not REALLY concerned about the living baby; her primary concern will be to win at any cost. Her sense of entitlement – she is OWED a baby – will be far greater than any other need. How is one to determine this?

Solomon commands that the baby be divided into two. THAT’S the wisdom of Solomon that all of us must pray for, seek after and prize. To order this risky sentence, Solomon must know and understand certain things:

1. That there are people in this world whose sense of entitlement is so great that they will destroy everything in order to have power over others, to win at any cost.

2. That either Secunda or Prima was one of those women. They were not “making mistakes”; they were not misunderstood; consumed with grief; out of their minds with problems. One of them was a sociopath who would stop at nothing to win.

THAT is wisdom. It can only come from God. It is extremely rare, even in churches.

When the Prima cried out, “NO! Spare the baby. Let her take it rather than kill it!” Solomon had his answer. Prima was more concerned about life than about winning. She was more concerned about the welfare of her child than about even her own grief. She would rather lose everything than have this little child lose his life.

How we need wise judges. How rare they are!

By now, you have probably heard of the case in Michigan. A judge sentences three children to juvenile detention for refusing to have lunch with their father. They and their mother claim that the father is abusive. The father claims that the mother is alienating the children from him. His attorney says,

“It is unfortunate that the children are in shelter care due to the actions of their mother….She has continued to endorse the children’s behavior that she successfully instilled in them, effectively alienating them from their father. The court took severe action to attempt to remedy a heart-wrenching situation, solely created by the mother.”

I wish that the judge had just a small amount of the wisdom of Solomon. Who is telling the truth? Let me ask it this way, “Who is willing to destroy the children rather than lose the case?”

The father would rather see his children abused and neglected in Juvenile Hall than lose his battle of entitlement over his ex-wife. He’s a sociopath and should be removed from society.

When the Judge ordered the kids to be remanded to Juvenile Hall, a righteous father would have cried out, “NO, JUDGE! Let her have them rather then sentence them to the death of innocence and childhood!”

It is a curse from God when He removes wisdom from the land. Mourn and howl with me, that such foolishness reigns in high places! Pray that God would be merciful and give us judges who can tell the difference between sheep and wolves. Pray that our churches would wake up and discern between good and evil!

Pray that the Lord will be merciful to us!

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