Too Much Talking

“It is I– and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,” Job 42:3

Confession is warfare speech.

Job’s confession: The man who maintained relentlessly his innocence throughout a brutal trial of public opinion, confesses his sin of presumption, in that he spoke of “things far to wonderful for [him].”

God called him blameless. His dutiful commitment to sacrifice, offering, prayer, and conscientious living was unparalleled. Indeed he was rich in integrity and in possessions. He experienced what the psalter proclaims in Psalm 112:

How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying His commands. Their children will be successful everywhere; an entire generation of godly people will be blessed. They themselves will be wealthy, and their good deeds will last forever. Light shines in the darkness for the godly. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous. Good comes to those who lend money generously and conduct their business fairly. Such people will not be overcome by evil. Those who are righteous will be long remembered. They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust in the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly. They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. They will have influence and honor. The wicked will see this and be infuriated. They will grind their teeth in anger; they will slink away their hopes thwarted. Psalm 112

Before Job’s afflictions, this psalm described his life perfectly. He was committed to goodness and from his giving he received.

But this is the gospel that Job learned– the wretched and poor and blind and naked, the unclean must look to Jesus so that from His giving they might receive.

Job’s most damning affliction was his skin disease, the boils and oozing sores. The reason this was more oppressive to his spirit than losing everything, even his children, was that it mortified his attempts at righteousness. A skin disease made him unclean.

Job of course predates Levitical law, but even if just prophetically, let’s contemplate the spiritual weight of his ceremonial uncleanness.

His religion was useless if he couldn’t perform it. An unclean person could not sacrifice. They were quarantined. They couldn’t be touched, less they render the other person unclean.

If the skin disease was chronic they were required to leave their hair uncombed, tear their clothes, and call out as they passed other people, “Unclean! Unclean!”

For a person who did heal, they had to present themselves to the priests to be examined, receive a purification ritual involving sprinkling on of blood, shave their head, wash their clothes, and take a bath. (Leviticus 13 & 14)

I want to draw a parallel here between pre-affliction Job– wealthy, religious Job– along with his wealthy, religious friends and the church of Laodicea.

We meet the Laodicean church in both Revelation and Colossians. Paul instructed the Colossians to pass on his letter to the Colossians to the Laodiceans, and for the Colossians also to read the letter he wrote to the Laodiceans (which is unfortunately lost in antiquity.) The two must have had a bit in common for their individual admonitions to be mutually applicable.

In Colossians and Revelation you will find 4 shared themes: references to riches, treasure, inheritance, wealth, and gold; references to “putting on,” “clothe,” “clothing,” and “white robes;” baptism and water; and the identity of Christ as the only saving, renewing, justifying authority in the universe.

The Colossians are told to” put on your new nature.” Putting on our new nature is our baptism in Christ as we have died with Christ, are hidden in Christ, and have been born again a new creation– find this argument everywhere in the epistles of Paul.

Paul also tells the Colossians to “be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like Him,” Colossians 3:10.

The Colossians, and also the Laodiceans, did not think very much of Jesus. They didn’t take very seriously what Jesus did by sprinkling His blood on their uncleanness and being the living water baptismal font into which they were cleansed.

The Colossians bought into a lie that Jesus was an angel. So Paul begins his admonition to  the Colossians with a strong statement about Christ:

Christ is the visible image of an invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realm and on earth. Colossians 1:15-16a

In Revelation, Jesus introduces Himself to the Laodicean church saying:

This is the message from the one who is the Amen– the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation. Revelation 3:14

The Amen is the “let it be so.” In other words, their is nothing God does without materializing it through Jesus. Strong parallels between Colossians and Revelation!

But also to the book of Job! Oh my goodness, if only Job and his friends could know what we get to know through our inheritance of scripture!

That our works do not save us, that Jesus was not just a good teacher or our chummy guru. His is the blood for our purification and the baptism that makes us clean–

A clean that we must have to approach God!

We are baptized once to be cleansed, and it is enough, because Jesus died once for all to purify us and we only need to be baptized once, not over and over and over as it was under the old law, because Jesus is the Amen; once you’re baptized in Him “it is so.”

Jesus could easily say to Job and His friends what He said to the Laodicean church:

Buy from Me gold that has been purified in fire! Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be ashamed of your nakedness. Revelation 3:18 (paraphrase of NLT). 

“Trade in your good works for my good works!”

The Laodiceans are famous for their indifference. If they were anything like the Colossians, indifference does not mean that they lacked in religious fervor and diligence. Job gave fastidiously and energetically to his religious practice. So does the American church.

The Laodiceans water, of course, is also famous. They had no water of their own, so they piped it in and travelled it through valleys using a siphon. A siphon is basically a big U, so enough water had to pour down into the bottom from one side of the valley to create enough force to push the water up the hill and out the other side of the pipe.

Because the water was piped in from an outside source rather than being generated from a natural spring, I’m imagining that water could settle at the bottom of that siphon for a while before there was enough water accumulated to move it up and out. The pipes of the siphons of Laodicea are still scattered about its ruins. They are heavily corroded and are thought to have gone into disrepair frequently while in use because of quick calciferous build up.

Colossians 2:21 tells us of the works of the ceremonial laws: “that such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them.”

In comparison, Jesus is Living Water.

Living Water, in rabbinical tradition and still used today– is the name given to a baptismal font (Mikva) connected to a natural source of water. Being tapped into a natural water source causes the baptismal to stay clean as opposed to a bath that would need to be emptied, purified, and refilled.

The Laodiceans, and Job, and his friends were indifferent about their baptism. They were indifferent about the glorious, praise-worthy, awesome, re-creating power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our partaking in His work through our one-time cleansing baptism.

They instead preferred their own riches of goodness. Lame.

They say, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing! Revelation 3:17

Presumption of the highest order! They were so satisfied with the heady perfume of their own trifling, ceremonial rightness, that they didn’t want very much for Jesus. And they didn’t think very highly of His taking away of their uncleanness and His washing of their garments.

They’d rather crucify Christ over and over for justification, and empty and refill that baptismal font over and over and over for their purity.

Job’s oozing, chronic, boil-y, skin disease is the best thing that ever happened to him.

The one thing that he couldn’t fix himself– the one point of righteousness he couldn’t attain himself– lead him to the Living Water, which alone could make him clean.

And that is what he confessed when he said, “It is I– and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things that are far to wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen, I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard of you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” Job 42:3b-6

Buy from Me… ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. Revelation 3:18

Our confession, what we must speak out, especially if you have been a Christian for awhile is: I will never stop needing Jesus.

 

 

For a more detailed study read:

Revelation 3:14-22; Colossians 1-4; Zechariah 3; John 1; Hebrews 7-9; Matthew 23; Matthew 8:1-4; John 7:37-39; John 2:23-4:42; Luke 4:27; 2 Kings 5:1-19; Leviticus 13 & 14; Hebrews 6:1-6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liturgical Holidays

“Eat whatever is offered to you…” 1Corinthians 10:27

With Thanksgiving two days away, for the sake of family unity, I think we should contemplate deeply the Apostle Paul’s advice to the Corinthians: “Eat whatever is offered to you.”

In Paul’s context this was not a matter of passing on saccharine-sweet candied yams, or appropriating to your plate as few slices of overly dry turkey breast as possible, or debating whether the cranberries should have been stewed or if the ones from the can really are the best.

Paul wasn’t talking about that. Paul was talking about idolatry.

First Corinthians 10 finds Paul giving detailed and sometimes contradictory advice to early Christians on how to behave as dinner guests when the holiday feast was baked on the altar of a pagan god.

“Feasting” in the ancient world– Old Testament, New Testament, Hebrew, or Greek– was always about worship. It was part of the sacrificial worship of Yahweh as detailed in Leviticus 6:18; 29 and Numbers 18:8-11– the meat from the sacrifice was eaten by the priestly families.

The Old Testament Passover lamb, emblematic of Jesus, was roasted– as would happen on an altar– and then shared by native born Israelites as a feast; and left overs were forbidden to the dismay of college students everywhere! (Exodus 12:6-10.)

Sacrificial consumption explains why Jesus would instruct his followers to “feed on me” in John 6:22-63.

Well before He inaugurates the first Holy Communion at the Last Supper, He is preaching about eating his flesh and drinking His blood. Why? Because He is the sacrifice.

Consuming the sacrifice was for priests; it was for the common family at Passover; it was an act of participation in worship and a rite of membership.

So, eating “whatever you’re served” has major implications to the Corinthian Christians. If they go to a pagan holiday dinner, and they are served meat that had been sacrificed to idols, are people going to think that they are still pagans– that they belong in the Pantheon not the Upper Room?

The interweaving of holidays and identity is a concern that pops up periodically throughout church history. Only a handful of Christians today are deeply concerned about pagan pageantry in major Christian holidays.

However, pagan intrusion into Christianity was of concern to the Pilgrims.

We owe our “Thanksgiving” to the Puritans who obviously really liked the idea of a feast commemorating the fall with a spirit of generosity and neighborliness, but couldn’t abide celebrating Martinmas, or St. Martin’s Day.

Puritans derided Catholics, above all, for the kind of idolatry that gives Martin of Tours not only a “sainthood” but a feast day. So, Martin had to go, even if the turkey dinner stayed.

The themes of St. Martin’s Day are generosity to others and gratitude for the harvest. It takes place every year on the 11th of November. And it is celebrated with a feast of roast goose, duck, or hen…or perhaps wild turkey.

If you’ve ever wondered why only Americans celebrate a Thanksgiving in November; it’s because literally all of Europe is celebrating St. Martin’s Day this time of year. Which also happens to be essentially the same exact holiday.*

The Puritans might have tried to bury the worship component of St. Martin’s Day by taking the idol’s name out of it, renaming it Thanksgiving, and de-spiritualizing it to mere “generosity,” “gratitude,” and “neighborliness,” but the spirituality of feasting is not something any person has the authority to undo– even if their intention is to ferret out idolatrous heresies in the church. In fact, de-spiritualizing feasting has a historical track record of fomenting heresy as we are introduced to in the book of Acts.

In Acts 6:5, we meet a man named Nicolas. He is appointed as a deacon to the church in Jerusalem.

Nicolas appears to have been a lover of ideas. A bit of a spiritual sojourner, he was a pagan Greek who converted to Judaism first and then to Christianity.

He is strongly believed to be the namesake, if not the leader, of the Nicolaitans of Revelation 2.

The Nicolaitans were a group of Christians that held to the heresy that the body mattered so little that what you ate, drank, or engaged in physically had no bearing on your holiness– only what you believed with your mind mattered.

This heresy happens to be the heresy that Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 through 9 before he directly addresses the question: “Can Christians eat at a holiday party where the meal was sacrificed to idols” in chapter 10.

Before Paul can broach the lawfulness of eating food sacrificed to idols, he has to dismantle this heresy of de-spiritualization. You cannot de-spiritualize physical actions to the point of living out a disembodied faith. 

If you think that “only what you believe” matters, and your physical actions don’t, you become easy prey for a special satanic trap known as “the Doctrine of Balaam,” which the Nicolaitans employed as we are told in Revelation 2:14-16.

The Doctrine of Balaam is a New Testament phrase named for an Old Testament character. The Apostle Peter and the Apostle Jude equate Balaam to the false teachers that plagued the early church by polluting the gospel in various ways.

Balaam was a prophet that was asked to place a curse on the Israelites before they entered into the Promised Land. Balak, the Moabite king who asked for the curse to be placed, was very frustrated by Balaam’s inability to curse Israel. Because God was determined to bless them, (Numbers 22-24) Balaam was entirely unable to curse them.

But Balaam was a crafty man. Though he couldn’t curse Israel while they were under God’s blessing, he instructed Balak to entice the Israelites into sexual immorality and idolatry says Numbers 31:16.

Revelation 2:14 condemns Balaam of “[showing] Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by commiting sexual sin.”

Balaam knew about a covenant  loophole– once the Israelites had engaged in sexual immorality and idolatry, God’s chosen and protected people would be punished by Him for ungodliness.

And they were. They were punished by a plague and the offending Israelites were killed.

What we do in the physical is spiritual. The Israelites partook with their bodies and worshipped with their inner being. And both body and spirit were punished…Jesus has a lot to say about this (see Matthew 10:28; Matthew 5:29).

The Nicolaitans were accused of the same folly as Balaam. They tripped Christians up by teaching them to eat and act in their bodies however they wanted; because after all, only the mind mattered.

Old Testament and New, our faith has never been simply cerebral.

By changing its name, the Puritans must have believed they had elevated St. Martin’s Day from an idolatrous feast day to a cerebral holiday that glorifies, not a man, but, ideas– the ideas of gratitude and community.

But you can’t just change a name, or the verbiage and think that that sanitizes the worship out of a holiday or food or drink or sex or feasting.

In talking about liturgical holidays, and which ones have pagan accoutrements, and which and what the kids can participate in, and where and when and how much…stop with the splitting of hairs over the meat sacrificed to idols! This is what Paul would say.

There is a whole other axe to grind:

That is, are you aware of just how spiritual this time of year is?

Are you aware that from a spiritual perspective a meal is just a meal; and from a spiritual perspective a meal is way more than a meal?

From a spiritual perspective the holidays are just a collection of days a year; and from a spiritual perspective the holidays are a hot-bed of spiritual warfare.

Are you aware that this is a sacred season for people who do quite literally sacrifice to idols? Do they pray to no one or nothing?

Investigate 1 Corinthians 8 & 1 Corinthians 10:19-22.

The worst thing we could do this time of year is to ignore the very present spiritual atmosphere while we worry about the past origins of these traditions. The traditions are a technicality.

They are the kind of technicality that Balaam exploited to distract and sabotage the Israelites.

Whenever we can be convinced to focus on only the physical or only the spiritual, rather than considering them and weighing them together, we fall prey to the Doctrine of Balaam and the heresy of the Nicolaitans.

We will be exploring these final four questions regarding spiritual warfare, the “distract to destroy” tactic of the Doctrine of Balaam, and how these concepts have everything to do with the holidays, in my Christmas post due out right around the Winter Solstice.

 

*Side Note: Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October closer to Halloween, which is ironic because Martinmas is also called Old Hallowmas Eve or Old Halloween. In some European countries, children trick or treat and carry jack-o-lanterns during St. Martin’s Day festivities.