Archive for December, 2006

Born for You a Savior

Born for you a Savior now

‘Tis Jesus Christ the King;

Humbly do before Him bow

And To Him praises bring. 

Born for you a Savior here

‘Tis Jesus Christ the Lord;

Joyful let your hearts draw near

And sing in one accord.   

Born for you a Savior child

‘Tis Christ the Prince of Peace;

God and sinners reconciled—

Let not your praises cease. 

And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

What should our presence be in the pulpit?

A few weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I was home sick in bed. I did something I rarely have opportunity to do, I turned on the TV to listen to some of my fellow local preachers. Among other things I was struck by how they spoke when in the puplit as compared to regular conversations. I know how many of these men talk over lunch because I’ve been with them on various occasions. What does it say about the preacher when he morphs into something he’s not in the everyday? This is a question that has numerous implications not the least of which is the preacher’s view of the preaching event itself.

On this note, Tim Bayly carries on a good discussion of the preacher’s presence in the pulpit. Be sure to follow the discussion here.

“How” are you preaching Christmas?

Here are some wise words from Warren Weirsbe:

“The first rule in advent preaching is to resist every temptation to say something new and clever about Christmas. Instead, try to say the old truths in a fresh way and wrap each series in an exciting new package.”

HT: Unashamed Workman

End of the year items

Here are a few things I’ve noticed around the blog world:

See you next year.

Guidelines for Studying Proverbs (Part 3)

4. Beware of assuming that proverbs are unconditional promises.

Proverbs are not to be understood as unconditional promises but rather as practical principles to follow as one seeks to fear God and live wisely. In other words, they are poetic guidelines for behavior, not legal guarantees from God, for proverbs state what generally takes place in certain circumstances, not what always takes place in those circumstances (Fee and Stuart 1982: 198-99).  

For example, consider Proverbs 10:4: “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” Is this true in every case? No, for some wealthy people are lazy and some poor people are diligent. Or Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Is this the way that an angry person will respond every single time? Of course not. As Parsons writes, “A gentle answer may turn away wrath, but at times such an answer may have no positive effect on stubborn individuals” (Parsons 1995: 159).  

So rather than unconditional promises from God, proverbs often consist of generalizations of what is likely to happen if a certain course of action is taken. In this way, they are intended to exhort people to walk the path of wisdom, not offer iron-clad assurances that A will always produce B. At the same time, some proverbs are unconditionally true, usually those connected to an attribute or action of God (e.g., 11:1; 12:22; 15:3; 15:8; 16:2, 4, 33; 17:3; 22:2) (Parsons 1995: 160). 

5. Beware of assuming that any one proverb is an exhaustive statement about the subject it discusses. 

As Ted Hildebrandt writes, “The truth of an individual proverb is limited to the specific slice of reality that it portrays” (Hildebrandt 1995: 249). In other words, no proverb is a complete statement of truth, and no proverb is exhaustive in its coverage of a particular subject (Fee and Stuart 1982: 201-03). For this reason, the interpreter of a given proverb will need to keep in mind that other proverbs and other portions of Scripture may fill in certain aspects of living wisely in the circumstances addressed by the proverb under consideration.

For example, Proverbs 16:9 (“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”) should give one confidence in the sovereignty of God, but in light of Proverbs 15:22 (“Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed”), it should not be understood as eliminating the need for careful planning. As Fee and Stuart write, “Each inspired proverb must be balanced with others and understood in comparison with the rest of Scripture” (Fee and Stuart 1982: 200).   So with these five principles in mind, enjoy and be blessed by your study of Proverbs. And always remember: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom!  

Works Cited:

Of the following sources, I would most highly recommend the chapter by Greg Parsons, to whom I am indebted for much of this series.

  • Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982.

  • Hildebrandt, Ted A. “Proverb.” In Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting the Literary Genres of the Old Testament, edited by D. Brent Sandy and Ronald L. Giese, Jr., 233-54. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995.

  • Osborne, Grant R. The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1991.

  • Parsons, Greg W. “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Proverbs.” In Learning from the Sages: Selected Studies on the Book of Proverbs, edited by Roy B. Zuck, 151-68. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995.

  • Ross, Allen P. “Proverbs.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, 5:883-1134. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991.

  • Zuck, Roy B. Basic Bible Interpretation. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1991.

Guidelines for Studying Proverbs (Part 2)

3. Recognize the significance of poetic parallelism in Proverbs. 

The dominant characteristic of poetry in the Old Testament is Hebrew parallelism in which one line corresponds with the other. There are four main types of poetic parallelism used in the book of Proverbs—synonymous parallelism, antithetical parallelism, emblematic parallelism, and synthetic parallelism. 

a. Synonymous Parallelism: In synonymous parallelism, the second line of the pair repeats the idea of the first line without making any significant addition or subtraction. This often includes the use of a strict grammatical parallel between the two lines:

  • 1:20: “Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square.”

  • 17:4: “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.”

As Osborne notes, “The interpreter in some instances should not read too much into the semantic variation between the two lines, for that could be intended more as a stylistic change for effect” (Osborne 1991: 176). In other words, the student of Proverbs should guard against the common error of seeing anything more than a subtle difference in meaning between two words being used as synonyms. In addition, when the interpreter encounters synonymous parallelism and comes to an obscure Hebrew word whose definition is unclear, comparing it to its synonymous counterpart will usually shed light on its meaning.  

b. Antithetic Parallelism: In antithetic parallelism—the most common form in Proverbs—the second line is set in contrast to the idea of the first line, and usually by means of the adversative conjunction “but.” This often consists of a restatement of the idea of the first line by asserting its opposite (i.e., both lines state the same idea but in antithetical ways):

  • 10:1: “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.”

  • 12:5: “The thoughts of the righteous are just, but the counsels of the wicked are deceitful.”

According to Allen Ross, this type of parallelism emphasizes the importance of choosing the way of wisdom and avoiding the fate of a fool by setting “before the reader the choice between the wise and profitable way versus the foolish and disastrous way” (Ross 1991: 888). When encountering this form of parallelism, the interpreter is aided in determining the meaning of certain key words by comparing them to their antonyms.          

c. Emblematic Parallelism: In emblematic parallelism, one line is figurative and the other is literal, and together they form a simile with the word “like” or “as” introducing one of the lines (usually the figurative one):

  • 10:26: “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who send him.”

  • 11:22: “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.”

The fundamental question for the interpreter is: How is A like B? In answering this question, he must determine the common denominators in the comparison as well as the overall point being made by the proverb (Parsons 1995: 155-56). 

d. Synthetic Parallelism: Synthetic parallelism is a form of synonymous parallelism in which the second line completes, advances, or develops the thought of the first line by supplying additional ideas. If the second line provides no further clarification of the first, the parallelism should be classified as synonymous, but if it does bring forth clarification or expansion, it is synthetic.

  • 15:3: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.”

  • 16:4: “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.”

The goal of the interpreter is to determine the contribution of that second line, as well as the point of the two statements taken together as a whole. Because synthetic parallelism usually takes the form of a wisdom saying (see 2b in part 1), the interpreter will need to determine the unstated exhortation implied by the proverb by wrestling with the question: How am I to live in light of this truth? To fail to take this extra step is to miss the point of the verse.  

Look for part 3 on Wednesday.

While we wait…(I’m thinking of a word that starts with “E” and rhymes with “regurging”)

While we wait for Waymeyer’s next installment in his “Guidelines for Studying Proverbs” series I thought I would drop a few lines regarding some items of interest, mostly about the “E” word (I have no chicken in this cock fight but I do care about how this conversation is shaping what preachers do when they are supposed to be preaching). For those of you who lack imagination, I’m talking about the emerging church.

  • The latest edition of The Master’s Seminary Journal (vol. 17, Num. 2, Fall 2006) should be required reading for expositors if for no other reason than Richard Holland’s (we like to call him “Rick”) article on “emergent preaching” entitled: “Progressional Dialogue & Preaching: Are They the Same?” Rick takes on the growing trend that has turned the pulpit into a place for “progressional dialogue”  resulting in “intentional interplay of multiple viewpoints” which has been part and parcel of the emerging church dialogue. The chief proponent of this view has been Doug Pagitt who has authored the provocative Preaching Re-Imagined. Holland argues (persuasively in my mind) that Pagitt’s counsel has more footing in Fosdick than Scripture. Surrounding the whole “emerging church” debate there has been little shortage of thoughts and ideas from a plethora of viewpoints but relatively little has been written specifically dealing with the preaching style of the movement. Rick’s analysis is a great place to start and will certainly balance-out the presently vapid tone of discussion that has permeated this overlooked area.
  • We need more “charity” in discussion. Is there anyone worth listening to that would argue against such an axiom (if by charity we mean “benevolent goodwill and love”)? However, and this is just an observation, often times “charity” is called for as a last rhetorical resort with the sole purpose of masking uncertainty on Bible knowledge.  There’s nothing wrong with not knowing something about theology or some finer point of biblical data but one should not retreat behind the battle cry of “show charity” simply because one has raised questions and didn’t like the resulting answers. I found Rick Phillips’ thoughts on “The Uncharitable Jesus” to be helpful and instructive on this issue.
  • Be sure to check out part one of Matt Waymeyer’s “Guidelines for Studying Proverbs” if you haven’t already and note the comments which have been equally informative.
  • If you are preaching this Lord’s Day, may you faithfully proclaim “Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

Guidelines for Studying Proverbs (Part 1)

One of the keys to interpreting Scripture accurately is to recognize that the Bible contains a diversity of forms of writing commonly known as genres. Each of these genres requires that we make slight but essential adjustments in our approach to interpretation. As Roy Zuck writes:

When we read a historical novel, we do not expect all the details to be accurate historically. But when we read a physics textbook or a Latin grammar, we approach it differently from a novel. The way we read a board report differs from the way we read a cartoon. We do not read a recipe and a will the same way. Since the Bible contains various kinds of literature, the unique characteristics of each form of literature need to be taken into consideration…. The Bible includes narratives, poetry, prophecy, letters, proverbs, drama, law, wisdom literature, apocalyptic visions, parables, and discourses. If we are not aware of these literary forms we may misinterpret statements in those sections (Zuck 1991: 65-66).

According to Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, “To interpret properly the ‘then and there’ of the biblical texts, one must not only know some general rules that apply to all the words of the Bible, but one needs to learn the special rules that apply to each of these literary forms (genres)” (Fee and Stuart 1982: 20). 

With this in mind, in this three-part series, I would like to propose a list of five principles which should govern our interpretation of the book of Proverbs. As you read, think of these as additional guidelines which are designed to supplement the grammatical-historical method of interpreting Scripture.  

1. Interpret individual passages in light of the overall theme of Proverbs. 

The overall theme of the book of Proverbs is found in Proverbs 1:7a: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (also see 9:10). This motto serves as the compass that provides orientation to the entire book (Parsons 1995: 154), for Proverbs is designed to teach believers how to fear God in every area of life. For this reason, the individual verses and passages in Proverbs should be understood as an expression of this kind of devotion to Yahweh. 

2. Recognize the two basic literary forms in Proverbs. 

When interpreting Proverbs, it is helpful to be aware of the two basic literary forms found throughout the book—the admonition and the wisdom saying.

a. The Admonition: The admonition consists of either a positive command or a negative prohibition, both of which occur in the imperative mood: “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be wiser still” (9:9a). The imperative in the admonition is often followed by a motivation clause introduced by the conjunction “for” (or sometimes “and” as in 9:9a above). This second clause conveys the practical consequences of the action mandated in the first clause, and the proverb as a whole is designed to convince the hearer of obeying the command or prohibition. As Grant Osborne writes, “At times the motivation clause may not be stated (20:18) or may be implicit (24:17-18; 25:21-22), but at all times commands are meant to stimulate response and obedience” (Osborne 1991: 196-97). 

b. The Wisdom Saying: A wisdom saying is an observation based on experience which is expressed by a verb in the indicative mood. Wisdom sayings are usually short sentences which make a general third-person observation about life. The unstated exhortation of such sayings is that the reader is to follow the path of wisdom rather than the path of foolishness, both of which can be recognized by the stated results of taking a given course of action. For example, when Solomon writes, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1), he does not actually command his readers to do anything—the statements are in the indicative mood—but the implied exhortation is that his readers are to give a gentle answer instead of a harsh word. The careful interpreter will understand this to be the intent of the proverb.  

Look for part 2 on Monday.

Theologian Frank James’ brother missing

Many of our readers are familiar with Frank James, Reformation scholar and President of Reformed Seminary in Orlando. He has been all over the news the past few days as his brother is one of the three hikers missing in Oregon. I had the opportunity to meet Dr. James a couple of years ago and he is not only a fine scholar but a warm Christian. He has served as the spokesman for the three families and has provided an encouraging witness to a seemingly desperate situation. Our prayers are with the families.

Humility: True Greatness (pt. 4)

Pastor Mahaney reminds us, “I must consider how DAILY, DILIGENTLY, and DELIBERATELY I can weaken my greatest enemy (pride) and strengthen my greatest friend (all motivated by the grace of the cross). With that said, how we begin our morning OFTEN sets the tone for the day (true?).  Why not get started in a God-honoring way?

Which brings us to CJ’s 4th lesson. The 4th practical step towards cultivating humility is to practice the spiritual disciplines (prayer, devotions, worship, meditation, Scripture memorization, fasting, etc). How does personal Bible study and prayer time specifically ATTACK self-sufficiency? CJ writes, “I’ve also learned that the very act of opening my Bible to read and turning my heart and my mind to prayer makes a statement that I need God!” So how are you doing? Have you grown in your faith this year? Do you love the Lord more this year then you did last year? Is your progress being made evident to all? Paul challenged Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:15, Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all.”

Have you worked more on your physical shape this year than on your spiritual condition? 1 Timothy 4:7-8 reminds us, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” So are you practicing the spiritual disciplines on a consistent basis? If not, why? The 4th practical step towards cultivating humility is to practice the spiritual disciplines.

The 5th practical way to grow in humility is to seize your commute. Do any of you drive more than 5 minutes to get to work each day? Does it take you more than 5 minutes to get to school? We can seize our commuter time by memorizing or mediating on Scripture, by listening to good sermon tapes or cds. What we are really talking about here is making the most of our MUNDANE TIME. Now if you have kids and you’re a mother you probably don’t have a TON of wasted mundane time.  But most have some down time which we tend to waste.  Ephesians 5:15-16 says, Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

Wouldn’t you admit that we tend to waste a lot of time? Some of us mindlessly surf the internet every day; others channel surf through their 120 satellite tv stations; some go through “Pottery Barn” magazine for the umpteenth time just because; many listen to junk radio during their commute to and from different places.  Christian Jocks often jog or run, listening to music when they could spend some of that time memorizing/mediating on Scripture. Many people spend their lunch hour doing nothing instead of spending a few minutes in the good Book (and in communion with God).

What’s the point in all this? We need to make the most of those mundane moments. This may require some creativity but it can be done. I’ve even heard of some Christians trying to utilize bathroom time in a positive way (but I wont got there today lest i fall into a Mark Driscoll snare). :)

The final item for each morning (#6), is to cast your cares upon Him. Let’s check out 1 Peter 5:6-7; “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.” This is written specifically to younger men but is applicable to all. What is one of the ways we can humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God? The answer is found in verse 7, “By casting all your anxiety upon Him.”

Do any of you ever struggle with anxiety or with sinful worry? The root of anxiety is often that we are trying to be self-sufficient. I’m acting independent of God. So what’s one of the biblical solutions to this problem? We should humble ourselves before God. We must acknowledge our NEED for Him. Thus we should keep ourself in a season of prayer (1 Thess. 5:17).

Our loving God promises to give grace to humble- Pastor Mahaney writes, “God wants us to learn to depend on Him, to need Him, and in the end to give glory to Him with an ever deepening appreciation for the mighty hand of God.”

As each day begins let us consider applying these practical principles.

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