Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings
Next week, we’ll begin a four-day guest speaker series with Kenny Chumbley. Brother Chumbley has a special balance to his preaching that few others achieve: the ability to speak deep, thoughtful truth with clear, understandable simplicity.
There’s an inherent blessing in being able to hear the Gospel spoken by different personalities. In the same way that the different Bible writers’ methods strike chords for different readers, a guest speaker can strike different chords and bestow evergreen insights into the word upon us.
There are a handful of different approaches that people take toward guest speaker events at a church. Here they are, brought out into daylight, for us to consider which is our usual and which is the best approach for us to take to next week’s series:
- We wonder if the speaker “will be any good.” We think that the event’s purpose is to be impressed with a speaker’s ability, and so if he’s great, we consider the event a success. And if not, then we are tempted to think that our time was wasted.
- We expect that a single event will revive our personal feelings of excitement that we have experienced at special moments of spirituality in the past. And so if that doesn’t happen—if the very next Sunday feels like most other Sundays—then we are tempted to think that our time was wasted.
- We expect to learn something new that we’ve never heard before. If we do, then it we consider it a success. But if we cover familiar territory and receive well-timed, needed reminders about faithfully living for Christ… we are tempted to think that our time was wasted.
- If the speaker does his work with excellence and we do feel a sense of revival, we start to develop feelings of envy and a desire for more than what we believe our local church can offer us. This sense of comparison steals joy from the event and from the long-term relationships with our local church family.
- But at the end of the day, if the lessons declare the truth, speak it with clarity and reverence for God, help us live more faithfully for God, and speak with sincere love for God and his revealed word… then we’ll know that God is glorified and that our time is well spent.
Events like these should in no way be treated like an exhibition or opportunity for comparison. We should come to this like any occasion where the word of God is preached: with our hearts open wide to receive the truth as revealed by one of God’s servants.
I can’t wait to share these times of learning and worship with you!
- Dan Lankford, minister
This series of articles has covered most of the basics of Biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality. In fairness to the Bible’s overall teaching, let’s consider this one final discussion in the series: the matter of polygamy (or polygyny), which is the practice of being married to multiple spouses at the same time. This practice hardly needs to be warned against in the cultural moment of twenty-first-century America, first because it’s illegal in all 50 states, and second because the practice seems almost inhumane to us. America’s sensibilities are trained by a Judeo-Christian thought heritage in which the thought of marriage usually carries the idea of exclusivity with it, and we are so accustomed to that thought that we even struggle within the Bible to make sense of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, and other men who had multiple wives at the same time.
I don’t want to over-explain something which seems obvious to so many, but it bears saying out loud: Genesis 2:24 says, "Therefore a man [singular] shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife [singular], and they shall become one flesh" (clarifications added). From that statement and plenty more, Biblically speaking, it’s wrong for more than two people to be married to each other, and that’s all that needs to be said in direct address of the matter. But let me make three quick and relevant observations that are slightly more indirectly related to this practice.
First: As mentioned above, we struggle to make sense of the many examples of polygamous unions throughout the Bible, especially by men who are held up as great examples of faith in God. A couple of realizations can help us reconcile this. First, we should pay careful attention to how the stories are written and what those men are actually commended for, because we will search the Bible in vain to find a place where their polygamy is commended. Second, we should keep in mind that those Bible characters are not held up as examples of perfection, but of faith in crucial moments. And that helps us to see that they were imperfect like we are, which makes us all look to the one example of human perfection: Christ. The Old Testament narratives are often not telling the stories of what should have happened, but rather what did happen. They show us the human players in God’s grand drama with honesty; not as morally whitewashed men who did all things right.
Second: You may occasionally hear the term ‘polyamory’ bandied about in the cultural conversation about modern sexual ethics. You should know that this term does not refer to polygamous marriage, but rather to multiple unmarried sexual partners. Obviously, in a world where many are calling evil good and putting bitter for sweet (cf. Isa. 5:20), we expect this behavior from the world and yet we see it for the sin that it is.
Third: There is a lingering thought among many religious people that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints endorses the practice of polygyny. According to official teaching from the church, this is no longer true. It was accepted by that religious organization over a century ago, but it is strongly condemned in their official teachings today, and it has been for a long time. I point that out here for the benefit of any of us who get into conversations about the Gospel with a Mormon friend: we would do well not to criticize their religious beliefs regarding this matter, because while their church once taught that it was okay, the person that you’re talking to probably has a strong belief in one-man-one-woman marriage.
Again, it’s easy to see that polygamy/polygyny is a sinful practice. It appears to have been one of the many things in “the time of ignorance [which] God overlooked” (Ac. 17:30), but it was never given divine approval. And so we are thankful that this sinful practice is largely out of fashion in our time and place, and we pray that our culture will be reformed to see all other sexual and marital sins with the same sort of repulsion with which this one is generally viewed.
- Dan Lankford, minister
PS – I had thought that this article would hardly be meaningful in our cultural context, but then the matters of monogamy, polyamory, and sexual infidelity came up in this article from USA Today on Monday of this week, which just reminded me that these matters of right and wrong are always relevant.
In our recent series of midweek articles, we have discussed the Biblical sexual ethic, the permanence and exclusivity of marriage, and the problem with adultery. Now, it’s time to discuss one of the hardest batches of truth in this series: what the Bible says about divorce.
This is a hard batch of truth for two reasons: 1) Because the Spirit has shown us the where hard lines of right and wrong are drawn on these matters, and 2) because many of us find that these teachings are fraught; emotionally hard to hear and hard to think about for a variety of reasons.
The Bible does have enough to say about this matter for us to clearly understand that divorces have never been God’s intention for married people. When Jesus was asked whether divorce is approved by God, the conversation went like this: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said:
‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Mt. 19:4-9)
His words call for little explanation or clarification. They come down to a few core points:
- Divorce is not God’s intention for married couples. It breaks a union that is put in place by God (see Gn. 2:24). The intent was always that they would be joined by God and therefore not separated by mankind.
- Divorces have happened often throughout the history of God-fearing people groups, but they are not an equally valid option in the plan that God put in place. Jesus’ perspective on the Law of Moses’ teaching about divorce was essentially: “Yes, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives under certain circumstances, but that was never what God intended for you.”
- A divorce is always a bad thing. Sometimes, it is the lesser of two (or more) evils that can present a path through a particular situation, but it’s never morally neutral or morally good. That doesn’t mean that every person who experiences a divorce is at fault for it. Nor does it mean that every divorced person has sinned by getting divorced. But it does mean that in every divorce situation, something has gone wrong. It is never a thoroughly good thing in the eyes of God.
Jesus’ teaching on the subject is a concise recapitulation of what we would learn from elsewhere in the Bible. Jesus quoted the words from Genesis and showed how they ought to be instructive to all of his followers. And Malachi said, “the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts.” (Mal. 2:16) And it’s the same in the New Testament. Admittedly, some of what the apostle Paul wrote about marriage and divorce is unclear, especially in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. But even in that context where some things are unclear, the apostle’s underlying assumption is that married Christians will stay together (“To the married I give this charge… the wife should not separate from her husband…and the husband should not divorce his wife.” [1 Cor. 7:10-11]). The choice—and it is a choice—of whether to stick with one’s spouse or not is something about which God has spoken clearly. The command, with one exception mentioned in Scripture, is to stay with our spouses through the whole of life.
Now, there is one circumstance of which the Lord spoke in which a person may divorce their spouse righteously (the exception previously mentioned). It’s this: one who is the innocent party in a marriage that has been adulterated may righteously divorce the guilty spouse. Jesus said this in Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:9, and other passages in the Gospels which repeat these same occasions (cf. Mk. 10:1-12, Lk. 16:18). And it’s important that our awareness of this righteous exception leads us to be compassionate toward our Christian brothers and sisters who have suffered a divorce resulting from a spouse’s infidelity. Theirs is a pain that should be handled with compassion and care by the church. We will address the topic of the difficulty that many of them face in overcoming a perceived stigma from their Christian family in another venue, but for this writing, let it suffice to say that those whose life pathways have led them through this door should NOT be treated as guilty, damaged, or spiritually inferior because of it. They have suffered the consequences of someone else’s sin, and they are not the guilty ones. The Lord said that their divorces are righteous ones.
Divorce is something that married Christians should not even consider as an option, except, as Jesus said, in cases of sexual immorality. Among those of us who are married, our default position should be total devotion to faithfulness in our marriages, with no consideration of a way out. Does that sound like a lot to ask of a person? Yes, it does. And we’re not the first people to think so. The apostles answered Jesus’ words in Matthew 19 by saying, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Mt. 19:10) Essentially, they were saying that if marriage is going to be so permanent, even in bad times, then maybe it’s better to just never enter one. While that wasn’t what the Lord was teaching, it does belie the great weight of commitment that is the warp and woof of godly marriage.
A few other things are worth a quick, passing mention:
- Divorce is a sin of which a person can repent and be forgiven (like any other sin).
- People have often said that, “Half of all marriages end in divorce,” but that isn’t true any more. In fact, it may never have been true. The method used for the initial study that revealed that truth were almost certainly mishandled, and things have actually trended in a better direction in America since that stat was first published.
- Christians should think of being committed to our marriages rather than stuck in our marriages. One can understand why the difference in verbiage would make a big difference in our daily lives.
- Homosexual “marriages” are not something that God recognizes as holy; likely he does not even recognize them as marriages. And so in the case of two people of the same sex who are ostensibly married to each other, when one or both of them come to Christ, that “marriage” would need to be ended, including a legal filing of divorce if that was what was required by the laws pertinent to them at the time. A similar rationale would apply in cases of transgender people’s relationships when they come to Christ and repent of the old ways of their former life.
- If you and your spouse find yourselves struggling to make good things happen in your marriage, and especially if you worry that your only options are either divorce or a life of marital misery, then make some time to click here and listen to this sermon for some good starting guidance toward repairing the relationship.
As God’s people, we want to protect ourselves from the evil of divorce. God’s intent was that a man and a woman become one flesh, cling to each other through all of life, and that mankind does not separate what God has joined together.
- Dan Lankford, minister
A familiar Christian hymn says, “This is my Father's world: He shines in all that's fair; In the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me everywhere.” And a familiar psalm says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” (Psa. 19:1-2) The earth and its fullness all demonstrate part of the glory of the God who created them.
But this is an important distinction that right-minded Christians must retain: that even while it speaks volumes, creation “speaks” only part of God’s glory. Truly, even the apostle Paul noted that the natural world demonstrates God’s eternal power and his divine nature (Rom. 1:20), but this knowledge barely scratches the surface of what can be known about him. The natural world tells us that there is a transcendent creator God, but it leaves us wondering as to his nature, his personality, and the nature of his relationship to humanity.
So how can we come to know him further? Is it only through the observations we make about the natural world? No. To know him more fully (though never exhaustively on this side of eternity), we look to the sacred texts in which he has revealed himself—the inspired writings contained in the Bible. And if we want to see him fully, we listen, not just to hear him pass in the rustling grass, but to his son, of whom he said, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).
All creation speaks to the glory of God, but only the word and The Word that became flesh speak in all fullness of the God whose handiwork surrounds us every day.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The Bible speaks clearly about the importance of faithfulness to a marriage covenant. As long as it is within our power to do so, those of us who are married are commanded to be enduringly faithful to our spouses, as the traditional vows say, “forsaking all others.”
This is a simple truth stated by Christ himself when he said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mt. 19:6) And unfaithfulness is one thing for which God gives very strong criticism of his people during the time when they were rebuilding after Babylonian exile. In Malachi 2, he said, “the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant… So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (Mal. 2:14-16) And in many of the prophets’ words, the idolatry of God’s people is held up as a parallel evil to the unfaithfulness of a spouse who forsakes their marriage vows by committing adultery (cf. Ezk. 16 and Hos. 3).
There are a few notable exceptions to the permanence of a marriage that God proclaims to be righteous, but this writing is focused on what ought to be the rule among Christians: that in attitude, in action, in word, and in prayer, we are devoted to healthy, lifelong, exclusive marriages.
This requires a high level of devotion, akin to the devotion that is called for in a life of faithfulness to God. It reminds us that marriage is a commitment of the will to the other person, regardless of how our emotions toward them may undulate over time. This requires us to protect our hearts and our marriages from flirtation with others, from lustful intent, and from all-out adultery. It requires us to be willing to repent of our own sins against a spouse and to forgive a spouse’s sins against us. It means that we should pray for God to give us all the good blessings that come from a righteous marriage. It requires that we must each make up our minds from the very beginning that we will truly “forsake all others” and cling to our spouse, putting a hand to the plow and not looking back (cf. 9:62) as God has called us to.
Again, there are a few notable exceptions in which the permanence of marriage may be undone with God’s approval, but let’s be clear that they are exceptions—not the rule. And so may God bless his people more and more with married couples who keep the vows that we make to him “until death parts us.”
- Dan Lankford, minister
There are some ideas within the framework of Biblical Christianity that long-time believers assume everyone among us just knows. And yet, if we aren’t deliberate about teaching the whole counsel of God (cf. Ac. 20:27), we may find that some among us simply don’t know certain Bible doctrines that we had assumed to be common knowledge. Additionally, when commonly-accepted doctrines are questioned or rejected by the world, some Christians can become convinced to go the world’s way unless we periodically make plain statements of Biblical truth.
So, in the interest making sure that the the whole counsel of God is spoken with conviction among us, consider these straightforward reminders of some basic morality of Christians’ sexual behavior.
The Bible is clear that sexual activity is right in only one relationship: a righteous marriage between a biological man and a biological woman. This is implicit in the creation story (cf. Gn. 2:24-25), and it is made explicit in the Ten Commandments (cf. Ex. 20:14) as well as many of the laws that God gave to the Hebrews after they left Egypt (cf. Lv. 18 & 20:10-21). With only a very few exceptions, these rules are restated by the Apostles in the New Testament (and good arguments can be made in favor of the unmentioned ones), with the apostles often just assuming the righteous ways in which Christians would behave in these ways (cf. 1 Cr. 5:1, Rm. 7:1-4, 1 Cr. 7:15, and other examples).
The bottom line is this: According to the Bible, sexual activity outside of a righteous marriage between a man and a woman is sinful. That means that a dating couple sleeping together before marriage is sinful. It means that homosexual activity by either gender is sinful. It means that sex with someone other than a person’s spouse is sinful. And the Lord himself added to all of that a prohibition against lustful thoughts about a person of the opposite sex, noting that such sexualized thoughts are also sinful (Mt. 5:27-28).
Does all of this really matter? Yes. A great deal. And we’ll talk in another writing about the many deep reasons why that is, but it’s one area where Christians ought to be exceedingly clear and convicted about who we are and how we are to faithfully serve God our king.
- Dan Lankford, minister
On Sunday, we talked about the importance of following the divinely-spoken words of the Bible as the authority for all things, both in our personal lives and our church practices. We said in that message that we must be careful to do things God’s way and not our own. But tradition, philosophy, and personal preference are all sources that we sometimes look to for authority alongside or above the objective truth of God’s word. Here, I’d like to add one more channel thru which we often receive guidance contrary to God’s way: tribal knowledge.
Tribal knowledge, in one sense of the term, refers to the way that some principles, policies, and procedures get passed by word-of-mouth through an organization and inevitably get corrupted in the passing. In the restaurant where I work, it’s things like how sick pay functions, what to do in order to get shift coverage, and the specifics of our uniform policy. But the specifics aren’t the issue: the mentality is. Over time, like in a group of people playing a game of Telephone, legitimate elements of our work get passed from team member to team member and gradually become corrupted with each verbal transmission until they are flat-out wrong and a wholesale correction has to be made by the leaders. When we leaders become aware that it’s needed, we typically just open up the company handbook and point straight to the actual words that describe the requirements and remind everyone that they are going to be held to that standard. It’s simple and effective: an appeal back to the authority of a written standard that is accessible and knowable to all involved. And even though it must happen fairly often, it’s typically the only correction needed to the tribal knowledge that has led us astray.
As God’s people, we must have a clear and correct understanding of what the Bible says: not just the tribal knowledge of a community of believers. In Ezekiel 18, Israel had begun to use a proverb to explain why they were in Babylonian captivity. The proverb blamed the current misfortunes of God’s people on the generation that came before them (cf. Ezk. 18:1-2). But God told them, “As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel” (Ezk. 18:3), and he went on to explain that he is righteous and holds each generation responsible for their own sins. The tribal knowledge that they had was wrong, and the authority of God’s prophetic word corrected it. The same thing is at play in the passage where Jesus condemns The Jews for “teaching as doctrine the commandments of men” (Mt. 15:9, Mk. 7:7). It’s a problem common to all humanity: when the amassed and embedded knowledge of a culture guides us more than the truth from the Holy Word.
The takeaway for us is simple and weighty: The general senses of Christianity and the verbiage that we accumulate from church services, YouTube videos, commentaries, and podcasts are not enough to compensate for a lack of thorough Bible knowledge. This warning applies to our general conversations with other believers: we may pick up phrases and figures of speech common among believers in our time, but we should have ears that are trained by the word of God to be discerning as to whether these things are objectively true or they are just tribal knowledge. This warning also applies to the guidance that we often hear from the realm of psychology: some beliefs that are accepted among the psych community aren’t biblical (for example: that our decisions are not actually ours—all is determined by external factors of our upbringing, experiences, etc.), but some are right and biblical, and we need to be able to tell the difference. And there could be more places where we heed the tribal, cultural voices. We just need to have our hearts trained to hear to the words of God above all of them.
Tribal knowledge creates a lot of inconsistency in a restaurant environment. It creates confusion. It even causes conflict as some who know the real policies butt heads with those who operate on the tribal knowledge. And the same sort of things can happen in a church family. If our knowledge of spiritual things is only tribal—not carefully aligned with the actual words of Scripture—we’ll face many of the same problems. So let’s go back to the authoritative written standard and agree to uphold that as our first commitment. As the Hebrews writer said, “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard” (Heb. 2:1) as God has spoken through his angels, his prophets, and especially his Son.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Last Sunday was Mid-Year’s Day: the exact middle date of a calendar year. And while the middle of a year is accompanied by far less pomp and circumstance than New Year’s, it does present us with an opportune reminder to occasionally take stock of our spiritual state.
How has our discipleship progressed through the first half of this year? Have we grown? Have we met our goals? Have we pursued them with the effort they merit? Have we set ourselves up for future success? Or are we on a downward trend in in our discipleship?
In 1 Samuel 7, under the leadership of Samuel and the protection of God, the Israelites had begun to move toward a time of renewed faithfulness. Their progress wasn’t much yet (remember that they were coming out of the time of Judges when things were truly terrible), but every step in the right direction matters and Samuel knew that. So, after the Lord had given them a significant victory over their enemies, Samuel set up a stone to memorialize God’s grace to them. He named it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help,” to remind them that, “Till now YHWH has helped us.” (1 Sam. 7:12)
What is your Ebenezer? What are the things that you can look to in your life that show how God has helped you to this point? Especially as you think back on the first half of this year, where can you see God’s hand at work for good in your life and the lives of those around you? What are the markers that show how far he’s brought you?
It’s good for us to always live with a general sense of God’s provision, but it’s all the better when we put in the effort to specifically notice his goodness and thank him for it. I hope that at Mid Year’s Day, you can say happily: “Till now the Lord has helped me.”
- Dan Lankford, minister
“The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.” (Ecclesiastes 12:10, NASB)
I sure wish that I could say I’ve always spoken words of truth correctly and that they were spoken in a way that was delightful to my listeners. But I haven’t. My preaching has often been filled with far too much of my own thoughts on the world and far too little of the words of truth that God has spoken. May God help me do better.
“The Preacher” that’s mentioned in the verse above is King Solomon, who did his best to share the wisdom of God with audiences from all over Creation. And yet, even in the life of Solomon, there must have been times when he gave a teaching and then later realized that there was a better way that it could have been spoken. But the point of the passage is that he tried to do it right, for the glory of God.
And that’s what all faithful preachers do: We try to speak for God in a way that gives befitting honor to his own spoken words. We try to give knowledge, clarity, motivation, and inspiration to our hearers so that they will turn their hearts toward God and glorify him all the more with their lives. This is a tall order for fallible men to fulfill, but if that’s the way that God’s determined to disseminate his message, we’d better do it right.
One evangelical teacher has well said, “No [minister] lives up to what he preaches. If he does, he is preaching too low.” To fix that, we dare not lower the level of God’s oracles to make them easier for us to attain. Rather, we’d better learn to teach the truth in its righteous height and depth, with words of truth spoken in a divinely delightful way.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The following words from Genesis 1 are familiar to most Bible believers. But read them here, and take note of how often God talks about humans in plural terms.
“Let us make man[kind] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion… So God created man[kind] in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” (Gen. 1:26-28)
It’s important to see in this passage that when God created humanity, he imbued both men and women with his divine life and image. It was not good that the man should be alone, because without the helper whom God gave to him, he was unable to fully bear the divine image. Mankind is made in the image of God, meaning that both man and woman are made to shine with his glory.
One of the most important ways that this truth can be observed in creation is in the different abilities of male and female parents in raising kids. A father’s firm guidance and discipline are demonstrations of God’s nature, and a caring mother’s gentle provision for a child is also a powerful demonstration of God’s nature.
I’m reminding us of these truths today because it’s Mother’s Day, and it’s important that moms are occasionally reminded that the work you do is a demonstration of God’s own love for his children! Mothers, I hope it’s encouraging to you to remember that your lovingkindness to your kids matters a great deal in the scheme of eternity. God bless you, moms!
- Dan Lankford, minister