Thursday, November 24, 2016

Withstanding Temptation

Gen 39:6  So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. Gen 39:7  And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, "Lie with me." Gen 39:8  But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. Gen 39:9  He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" Gen 39:10  And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

Other than the examples our Lord set when facing temptation, perhaps the above passage is the best known for resisting temptation and especially sexual temptation.  There are several ways people have tried to deal with temptation; some good and some not so good.  Origen was said to have castrated himself although that is disputed.  But it isn’t all that farfetched especially in a day when men would live on top of poles for years as a way to escape the defilements of this world.  Living in monasteries was a similar way to deal with sin and temptation.  Its problem was that it assumes sin is in those around you and not yourself.  Its fundamental flaw is that the moment you walk into the monastery you bring sin in with you.

Another more biblical sounding way is to approach sin in a more legal way.  God has told us what to do and so we obey his commands by doing what he wants us to do and not doing what he tells us not to do.  This can be effective in producing some outward morality but it also has some fundamental problems.  It often relies heavily on the strength of our resolve which is generally rather weak and it is easy to fall into self-righteous judgmentalism as we see ourselves obeying commands that others do not.  It also can easily miss the mark in motivation since without love all our good works can become legalism and self-serving as Paul teaches in Co 13:1  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1Co 13:2  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1Co 13:3  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing

It isn’t just what I do or don’t do, it is why I obey that matters to God.  Do I do it because I love him and want to honor him or do I do it to exalt myself in some way?  Such a legalist can easily fall into the trap of obeying merely to get some sort of blessing from the Lord and it all can become rather self-serving.  Obeying God’s law is good and proper but there must be more to it than just checking off commands.  It is the love factor that I think gets to the heart of the matter which is why I quoted Genesis 39 above.  After all, if love is the fulfillment of the Law than if it isn’t the heart of what motivates our resistance to temptation then we might be moral but we might not be godly.  Jesus is our example of godliness not just because he kept the Law but that everything he did, he did for the right reason; to please the Father.

The case with Joseph deals with the first great commandment to love God with our entire being.  Joseph understood that to succumb to temptation would be a sin against the Lord.  If we approach sin as merely rules to obey or not then we can come up with any number of reasons why disobedience might be okay.  If it pleases me now and there is some vague threat that someday I will pay for it, then it is easy to just live in the here and now and ignore the consequences.  But Joseph loved God more than himself and realized that sin dishonored the Lord and that was his primary motivator rather than his immediate gratification. 

If we put it in our Christian setting; the Lord is our God but also our Savior who loved the unlovely and died for us that we might escape his wrath and enjoy him forever.   Thus, the love of Christ constrains us out of thankfulness to give our lives to the one who saved us from eternal death.  It is no accident that Paul says as much in the context of taking the gospel to a fallen world, 2Co 5:14  For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 2Co 5:15  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

If I love God then when he commands me to do something it will be much easier to obey because I know it is for my good and to enable me to honor him that he gives me each command.  This is better than just seeing God as someone who doesn’t want me to have fun which is how so many tend to view his commands.

The second great commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  While Joseph might have had this in mind, it is not stated but it is something for NT saints to consider.  I think that one of the most effective ways to withstand temptation and especially sexual temptation is by considering the one we will sin with.  The root of sin is putting self above all else.  If we view a person for only what they can do for me then it will be much harder to resist temptation.  But if we see the other person as a soul who needs Christ or one in which we want to grow in Christ’s service, it is going to be much harder to sin with them and against them because our goal is to see good happen to them.  True love wants its object to flourish, first spiritually before all else. 

In this way love keeps me from sinning because I refuse to see that person as an object to use or abuse but as a soul, created in God’s image that I can minister to.  I think a good example of not looking at someone the right way in this matter is Amnon and Tamar.
(II Samuel 13)  He was so attracted to her that he ends up raping her and then we read that he hated her as much as he supposedly loved her before.  She was only an object to him and since it was all about him to begin with, she is easily discarded afterward.  Had he truly loved her his conscience hopefully would have stopped him from hurting her.

It is important for Christians to keep the flames of love burning hot, first for the Lord and this will produce love for one another.  When we make decisions based on this kind of love it will be easier to resist falling into such sins.  It takes time to develop a mindset that considers the Lord and others before yourself; that controls our thinking and actions throughout the day, but isn’t this what Paul is getting at in Rom 12:1  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Rom 12:2  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  

Love transforms our minds from self-centered to God-centered.  And we need a good sense of the sinful pit the Lord took us out of if we are to love him as we ought.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Four Cursed Women

Rth 4:11  Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, "We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, Rth 4:12  and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman." Rth 4:13  So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son.

The four women mentioned in Matthew 1 in the genealogy of Jesus are an interesting study.  (Bathsheba is referred to but not named outright)  Three, if not four, of them were Gentiles and therefore under a curse.  And three of them had very obvious sins that are mentioned as well.  Tamar seduced Judah, Rahab was a prostitute, Bathsheba committed adultery with David and Ruth, while evidently an upright woman was from Moab which placed her squarely under God’s curse, Deu 23:3  "No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever

But there is another commonality of all four that is even more interesting to me.  At least three had husbands who died but then they all came into contact with a man in the Messianic line that brought them into contact with the Messiah.  Whether they all were believers or not I am not sure but they are a wonderful type that we Gentiles, who were born under the curse of God due to the Fall, should be able to identify with.

We were born connected to a man who was under a curse which meant we were under a curse.  This man was Adam.  But when the Lord saved us we died to that life with its curse and were joined to a new man, the second Adam, Christ Jesus.  We now belong to a new family, the family of God and are received as sons of God.  Our destiny is joined with our current husband and not our old family.

Romans 7 says much the same thing only it has us originally married to the Law.  But the Law represents the holiness of God that is against us and condemns us as sinners; we are born under the curse of the Law, Gal 3:10  For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them."  Read the following in light of what I have said above:

Rom 7:1  Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? Rom 7:2  For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Rom 7:3  Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Rom 7:4  Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

Just as these women’s new union eventually bore the fruit of the Messiah so we who have been joined to him by the Spirit bear fruit that honors the Lord.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Joseph and the "Coat of Many Colors"

Gen 37:3  Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. Gen 37:4  But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

The following was a point made in a recent sermon:

The special favor of Jacob and the coat he gives him is an interesting study.  If we take this translation at face value as many do we might come to the conclusion that the brothers were somewhat justified at being upset with their father and Joseph for showing favoritism.  There is no doubt that this is also a failure of Jacob that leads to problems but it also plays a big part in the Lord getting everyone where they needed to be.  The question we need to ask is whether this coat was merely a fancy coat he gave Joseph because he loved him more or was there more to this than just unjustified favoritism? 

Literally it means a coat that went to his wrist and ankles, thus a tunic.  The word “colors” is somewhat of a commentary, not a literal translation.  A coat like this would be expected to be richly ornamented so perhaps colored but this is not the primary meaning.  Some of your translations probably bring this out.  Gen 37:3  Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, for he was a son of his old age. And he made a robe with long sleeves for him.  Gen 37:3  And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of old age to him. And he made a robe reaching to the soles of his feet.

This kind of coat would be worn by someone who was not expected to be working but supervising.  This might explain why Joseph felt it necessary to bring his father an unsatisfactory report of how his brothers were caring for the flocks.  This has been seen as tattling but I think it is better to see Joseph as not a tattler but a truth teller doing his job.  One of the things Jesus came to do was to expose Israel’s unbelief and disobedience.  Some commentators want to make this passage all about Jacob’s favoritism or Joseph’s foolishness to speak this way to his brothers and bring their wrath upon him; but this misses the main point.  Jesus came to tell us of his special relationship with the Father and the proper reaction is to see him as our savior not to do what the Jews did and try to deny this relationship. 

So it would seem that Joseph had been given a measure of authority and prominence over his brethren.  But why are we not to assume that this was just unjustified parental favoritism?  It is interesting that one of the four times Joseph is mentioned is to tell us that probably the only land the Jacob owned was given to Joseph; we read of this in John 4:5; why?  Because of what Reuben did in 35:22, he forfeited his birthright by sleeping with Bilhah, Gen 49:4  Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father's bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch! And we also read in 1Ch 5:1  The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he could not be enrolled as the oldest son. 1Ch 5:2  though Judah became strong among his brothers and a chief came from him, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph).  Judah got the spiritual blessing; Joseph the physical.  So in essence Joseph had taken the place of the eldest son!

Thus Jacob’s favor was justified; it would be like giving the oldest son controlling rights over the farm.  So the point seen in his brother’s hatred was that they hated him unjustly.  They were treacherous murders and he was unlike them; he was righteous and deserved his father’s love and the position he had.

Jesus is justly the heir of all that his Father has.  One before him, Adam, had been given charge of the world and his posterity and forfeited it by committing spiritual adultery, by desiring the glory that was his father’s alone and taking it for himself, just like Reuben.  So in another Son down the line there came one who was able to obey the Father and was given charge to take care of his brethren.

When he came to his own and told them of his glory, instead of seeing this as their hope of salvation and glory, they were jealous and crucified him.  But in that, they brought about their salvation.  In their very act to get rid of Joseph they secure their eventual salvation. 

This isn’t just a story of a father’s doting love in giving his favorite son a pretty coat.  This is the Scriptures testifying of the One who was to come!