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The Sermon on the Mount in Context

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Tonight I’m starting a new Bible study with my youth group on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (hereafter SM) in Matthew 5–7. My lessons with the youth will closely (but not exactly) follow Dale C. Allison, Jr.’s outline for the SM.1 Following Allison’s outline of the SM, tonight’s lesson focuses on the context of the SM in Matthew 4:23–5:2, where we read:

And he [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: (ESV)

In Matthew 4:23–5:2, we see Jesus ministering in Galilee (4:23), famous in Syria (4:24–25), and seated on the mountain to teach (5:1–2).

According to Matthew 4:23, Jesus’ ministry in Galilee consisted of teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every affliction. Luke 4:16–21 fills out the content of Jesus’ teaching in synagogues: Jesus taught that he is the Servant of the Lord prophesied about in Isaiah 61:1–2.2 That Jesus taught in synagogues also reinforces that in his humanity, Jesus was a first–century itinerant Jewish rabbi.3 Furthermore, while Jesus taught in the synagogues, he was simultaneously preaching the gospel of the kingdom, which demands repentance in response (Matt. 4:17). Finally, to teaching and preaching Jesus added miraculous healing, which “pointed to the validity of his message.”4

Jesus’ miracles earned him a wide following early in his public ministry, as we read in Matthew 4:24–25. Jesus’ followers, broadly speaking, included both Jews and Gentiles: Jews from Galilee, Jerusalem, and Judea; and Gentiles from Syria and the Decapolis. Melvin Tinker rightly notes that the presence of Gentiles in the crowds following Jesus points to the fact that Jesus is a light for salvation not only to Jews but also to Gentiles.5

Jesus “went up on the mountain” because he saw these large crowds following him, and he took this opportunity to teach them what has come to be called the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1–2). Matthew 5:1–2 tells us three important things about Jesus:

  1. Jesus is a new Moses.
  2. Jesus is his disciples’ authoritative rabbi.
  3. Jesus speaks with the authority of God himself.6

First, Jesus is a new Moses. Jesus “went up on the mountain” (Matt. 5:1). As Charles Quarles notes, this phrase from Matt. 5:1 is “an exact verbal parallel” to Moses’ ascension of Mt. Sinai as recorded in Exodus 19:3.7 Jesus is “a new Moses who leads a new exodus for a new Israel replete with a new Sinai, all pointing forward to the new covenant.”8

Simultaneously to being a new Moses, Jesus is his disciples’ authoritative rabbi. His seated position on the mountain was “customary” for Jewish rabbis at the time.9 Furthermore, Jesus refers to himself as a rabbi in Matthew 23:8, and he accepts this ascription both from Nicodemus and Mary Magdalene in John’s Gospel (3:1–2 and 20:16).

Of course, Jesus is more than a new Moses, more than a new rabbi, and this fact brings us to our final point: Jesus speaks with the authority of God himself. Following the SM, we read that “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28–29). Jesus’ authority exceeded that of the highest human religious authority for first–century Jews. Whose authority is higher than the highest human authority but God’s? Unlike Quarles, I do believe that Matt. 5:2, with its emphasis on Jesus not only teaching and “saying” but also “open[ing] his mouth,” echoes Matt. 4:4 in which authoritative words are “from the mouth of God.”10 According to Matthew 5:2, when considered in its context within Matthew as a whole and indeed of the Bible as a whole, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—as are all Jesus’ teachings—is a sermon directly from God himself.

Matthew 4:23–5:2 thus sets the SM into its context, without which we cannot appreciate the SM in all its fulness. Matthew 4:23–5:2 presents Jesus as the herald of the gospel of the kingdom, which calls on everyone to repent in light of Jesus’ life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection. This text also presents Jesus as a new Moses with an authority greater than his fellow rabbis because Jesus is not only fully human but also fully God. As we begin to look at the Sermon on the Mount, before we even get to Jesus’ actual words there, may we submit ourselves to him as the rightful King of God’s kingdom, which covers the whole universe of his creation, through repentant faith that he died to save us from our sins, “to enable us to live the Sermon on the Mount,” to use the phrase of D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones.11

Notes

1 Dale C. Allison, Jr., “The Structure of the Sermon on the Mount.” Journal of Biblical Literature 106.3 (1987): 423–445.

2 Melvin Tinker notes that Isaiah 61:1–2 also “lies behind the commencement of Jesus’ public ministry in Matthew as represented by the Sermon on the Mount” (“The Servant Solution: The Co-ordination of Evangelism and Social Action,” Themelios 32.2 [2007], 12).

3 At the conclusion of his article, Allison argues that the SM, particularly in Matthew 5:13–7:12, “addresses the three things upon which, according to Simeon the Just, the world stands [the Law—Matt. 5:21–48; Temple service—Matt. 6:1–18; and godly social behavior—Matt. 6:19–7:12], and it addresses them in precisely the same order” (“Structure,” 443).

4 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, Word Biblical Commentary 33A (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 81.

5 “The Servant Solution,” 11.

6 These three observations were inspired by three observations Hagner makes about Matthew 5:1–2 (Matthew 1–13, 85). My three points, however, are more explicit than Hagner’s.

7 Charles Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church, NACSBT 11 (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 22.

8 James M. Hamilton Jr., God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 369.

9 Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 86.

10 Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, 38 n. 8, citing Robert Gundry for this position.

11 D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976 [1959–1960]), 12.

Is God Anti-Gay? (Review Thursday #2)

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71gwlJNkHoLSam Allberry. Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions About Homosexuality, the Bible and Same-Sex Attraction. The Good Book Company, 2013.

This short book, part of the Questions Christian Ask series published by The Good Book Company, is worth well over its weight in the wisdom it contains on homosexuality. Perhaps more than any other subject, homosexuality is the “hot topic” of recent years both in American evangelicalism and in the broader American culture at large. Not only unbelievers but also Christians have been asking the question, “Is God anti-gay?” So Allberry’s answer is timely. More importantly, Allberry’s answer is biblical.

Allberry’s biblical answer to the titular question is most evident in his constant grounding of the issue of the Bible (and God) on homosexuality in the gospel. In Allberry’s own words: “God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone. Repent and believe. It is the same invitation to find fullness of life in God, the same offer of forgiveness and deep, wonderful, life-changing love” (10). No one is reducible to his or her sexuality, so the gospel–although it addresses our sexuality–addresses our whole persons. This truth resurfaces repeatedly in this book, most notably in the final chapter when Allberry answers the question, “What’s the best way to share Christ with a gay friend?” (75-76). The central strength of Is God Anti-Gay? is its tight focus on the gospel of Jesus, which is good news for both heterosexual and homosexual people.

Allberry’s book is superb from first to last. The introduction builds Allberry’s rapport with the reader: he is a Christian who has struggled with same-sex attraction (SSA) since his teenage years (10-13). Chapter one appropriately begins with the broader issue of which homosexuality is but a part: sexuality. Specifically, Allberry reviews how God ordained all people to express their sexuality exclusively in monogamous, heterosexual marriage. From there, Allberry notes how the Bible specifically addresses homosexuality in chapter two. After concluding that the Bible consistently condemns homosexuality, Allberry counsels Christians who struggle with SSA to pray, think about homosexuality biblically, and seek others’ support. He also affirms the application of the Bible’s teaching on sexuality for Christians who struggle with SSA. The sexual options for them, as for all people, are either heterosexual marriage or chaste celibacy. Himself celibate, Allberry does an excellent job highlighting the healthiness of singleness, going so far as to call singleness (rightly) a “blessing,” just as much a blessing as marriage is for married couples (54). The final two chapters of the book go hand-in-hand because Allberry offers practical advice to Christians on how to relate both to homosexuals within the church (whether visiting nonbelievers or Christians who struggle with SSA) and homosexuals in the world. Allberry concludes these chapters well:

It will be the quality of our community life as a church, as much as our ability to speak clearly into the public square, that will most visibly show a watching world that the Christian stance on sexuality is the most compelling. (79)

To reflect on the conclusion of the book is to return to the gospel-saturated nature of Is God Anti-Gay? because the conclusion is itself a meditation on John 6:35, where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (ESV). Allberry’s main point about this verse is that Jesus is the bread of life. In Allberry’s own words: “The great gift that Jesus gives us is himself” (83). Amen. The gospel is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, who promises everyone who repents–turning away from sin, whatever forms it takes in an individual’s life–and believes this good news that Jesus has given himself to us and for us to save us from our sins by his life, death, and resurrection.

For all these reasons, I cannot more highly recommend to Is God Anti-Gay? to every Christian I know. This book is accessible and gives great returns for the less than $10 investment to purchase it. The wisdom Allberry shares in this book is valuable because it is biblical–and being biblical, this book is first and foremost gospel-saturated. The gospel of Jesus Christ undergirds every page. May Is God Anti-Gay? help Christians respond biblically not only to the ideology of homosexuality but also to homosexuals. May this book help Christians “speak the truth in love” to homosexuals, for they are no worse sinners than we.

We Want to Be with Our Father

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Fatherlessness

We all want to be with our fathers. Biologically speaking, there is an inborn desire in each of us for the approval, love, and support of our earthly fathers. The various effects of either a father’s presence or absence in his child’s life corroborate this fact, as does the fact that a majority of even abused children describe their fathers positively. We all long for a father figure in our lives.

But as of 2009, 31.5% of all children living in the United States live apart from their father. In my own youth group, most of the kids live without a father. Some of them have suffered physical and/or emotional abuse at the hands of their fathers. All of the youth, both those with and those without their father in their lives, long for a father’s approval, love, and support just like you and I do.

How can we best minister to the fatherless in an increasingly fatherless society? 

My Joy as a Father

God has blessed me with a baby girl named Hadassah Joy who adores me, and I’m so grateful to him for her and for the joy she brings my wife, Abi, and me. All the time I see just how much Hadassah wants my approval, love, and support. She has learned how to do a lot of things the past couple of weeks, and when she demonstrates her new skills of waving and shaking her head either yes or no, she is so proud of herself when I say, “Good job, baby! You’re so smart!” She smiles and shows her dimples when I shower her with approval. If Hadassah is sitting down when I praise her, she sits up as high as she can and laughs through her nose while nodding yes.

I also see how Hadassah longs for my love and support. On the mornings that I get her up out of bed, she reaches for me to pick her up as I near her crib. When I give her a kiss, she giggles and squeals. When she cries, she wants me to hold her in my arms and pet her hair (or, more likely, feed her a bottle!).

This morning, I saw Hadassah’s desire to be with her dad in a whole new way. Abi, Hadassah, and I were eating breakfast before I left for Calvary. I finished before Hadassah did, and it was time for me to go. Although she was loving the “bites” Abigail was feeding her of scrambled eggs and biscuits, after I kissed her goodbye and was heading out the door, she started bawling. I looked back in before closing the door and she was looking back at me because she wanted to be with her father; she didn’t want me to leave her. (Of course, it then took me a lot longer to leave because I didn’t want her to be sad when I left!)

I can’t imagine life without Hadassah. I can’t imagine not being a father any more than I can imagine not being a husband, not being a preacher, or not being a Christian. My heart is burdened for my own youth who are in such desperate need for a father figure. My age limits me pretty much to an older brother figure at best for the kids in my youth group, but even when I’m old enough to be kids’ parents, the best way I can minister to the fatherless around me is by pointing them to the Father who is in heaven.

God’s Trinitarian “Family”

To defend this statement requires careful Trinitarian writing. John in his Gospel makes it clear that Jesus, God the Son, and God the Father are one God and yet distinct from one another. Jesus is the “Word” who “became flesh and dwelt among us,” whose “glory” is the “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). As the Word, Jesus “was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (1:1-2). Jesus is “the only God, who is at the Father’s side” who “has made him known” (1:18). Jesus and the Father are one God, but they are distinct Persons (to use Nicene language). Therefore, Jesus can say in one breath,

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (10:27-30)

Jesus is both distinct from the Father in his person and one with the Father in his essence. Although Jesus is our older brother (Rom. 8:29), he can therefore say to his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18). Although Jesus is distinct from God the Father, “he is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), and “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). “God [the Father] has chosen to dwell amongst his people in a yet more personal way, in the Word-became-flesh [God the Son]” (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 127).

We, of course, live after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. He is no longer physically present among us as he was among his disciples. We, along with his original disciples, are the recipients of the promise he made them concerning how we will experience God’s Triune presence in between Jesus’ first and second comings.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. … If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:16-18, 23)

In these verses, Jesus promises his disciples that after his ascension, they will receive the indwelling presence of the Triune God. The Holy Spirit who dwelt among them before the ascension will dwell in them after the ascension (v. 18). Jesus also promised that he and God the Father would also indwell believers (v. 23). Christians have the indwelling presence of the entire Trinity.

Becoming a Member of God’s Family

God the Father is the best father you or I could ever present to anyone. Jesus Christ is the best “big brother” you or I could ever present to anyone. He embodies the saying, “Like father, like son.” And all of us, father or no father, family or no family, need God as our Father and Christ as our Brother. God is a Father to the fatherless; he is “the helper of the fatherless” who “upholds” them (Pss. 10:14; 146:9). God is the Father who always “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:10). And Jesus Christ, God incarnate, is coming back for us God’s children. “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:27-28).

Is God your Father? Do you want to be with him for eternity? You can become his child right now by faith that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross saves you from your sin (John 1:12-13). Because my heart breaks not only for the physical fatherlessness of many of Calvary’s youth but also for the spiritual fatherlessness of so many of them, it is my prayer for them that they would reach repentance before the Lord comes back (2 Pet. 3:9) and thus become children of God. But my prayer is also that of John’s at the end of Revelation. I want to be with my Father. I want him to come back in the Person of Jesus Christ from heaven even more than Hadassah wants me to come home from work. I hope you can and will join me in the simple prayer, that honest heart’s cry: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

A Universal Call to Repentance in Proverbs 1

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I have recently begun teaching the book of Proverbs to Calvary’s youth group for our Wednesday night Bible studies. Tonight I’m finishing chapter one, which is a text full of application to us today (whether young or old). In Proverbs 1:20-33, “Wisdom cries aloud in the street” (v. 20, ESV, as are all subsequent Bible references) and calls the simple, scoffing, foolish readers of Proverbs to “turn at [her] reproof” (vv. 22-23). She, however, will judge the people’s continued unrepentant folly (vv. 24-32) unless they listen to her by repenting (v. 33). In his commentary on Proverbs, Tremper Longman III contends that Woman Wisdom “is the personification of Yahweh’s wisdom and thus stands for God himself” (Proverbs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, 111). Based on other biblical texts, Longman’s identification of Woman Wisdom with God himself is accurate, and this identification makes Wisdom’s call to repentance in Proverbs 1:20-33 foreshadow God’s universal call to repentance upon the death and resurrection of Jesus.

How Wisdom Personifies God

Proverbs 1:20-23 describes Woman Wisdom’s public call to repentance:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you,
I wil make my words known to you.”

Wisdom’s call to repentance in these verses is public. She “cries aloud in the street,” for all to hear. “She raises her voice” to a large and diverse audience “in the markets.” The streets in which she issues her invitation are “noisy” with the hustle and bustle of city crowds. Indeed, she addresses everyone as they pass through “the entrance of the city gates.” Wisdom calls everyone to repent of their foolish scoffing of the knowledge of God (cf. 1:7, 29).

Of special note is the promise Wisdom makes people if they repent: “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you.” This promise parallels God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:27: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Since God is the only one who can give a spirit, Wisdom is performing a role that only God can fill when she offers her spirit to repentant sinners. Furthermore, Joshua “was full of the spirit of wisdom” (Deut. 34:9), which would “rest upon” the coming Messiah (Isa. 11:2), and Paul prays that God would give the Ephesian Christians “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17). Wisdom offers her spirit (an offer that only God can fulfill), and God is the one who always gives the spirit/Spirit of wisdom, whether to Old Testament leaders or to New Testament believers; therefore, Woman Wisdom in Proverbs is a personification of God. Metaphorically speaking Wisdom personifies God (Longman, 59).

How Wisdom’s Public Call to Repentance Foreshadows God’s Universal Call to Repentance

Since Wisdom personifies God, her public call to repentance foreshadows God’s universal call to repentance upon Jesus’ death and resurrection. Consider Paul’s sermon to the Areopagus in light of Proverbs 1:20-23:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each of us, for

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31)

At the Areopagus, Paul addresses Gentiles, people who for centuries had worshiped a pantheon of gods. They had lived in ignorance of the one true God, Yahweh, the God of Israel, and God had “overlooked” their former ignorance (v. 30). Paul is not saying that God did not hold these idolaters’ sin against them; rather, Paul is saying that God had placed that judgment in the future on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death for the time of his second coming (v. 31). Because of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and coming judgment, God now “commands all people everywhere to repent.” The public call to repentance in Proverbs 1 has become a universal call to repentance in Acts 17.

In Proverbs 1, Wisdom publicly addresses everyone within earshot to repent, but her audience is largely limited to Jews (with the exceptions of the occasional Gentile proselyte). With the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, however, the God of all creation now commands “all people everywhere” to repent. The audience of Proverbs has thus expanded from its original Jewish readers to readers the world over. As Longman puts it:

The reader of Proverbs … is represented by the son, or in the case of 1:20-33 and 8:1–9:18 by all young men. These are the implied readers of this part of the book. However, … the preamble broadens the audience of the book to include everyone, male and female, naive and wise (1:1-7). Thus, all actual readers must identify with young men, who are the implied readers of the book. (60)

Wisdom’s appeal in Proverbs 1:20-33 did not merely foreshadow and anticipate God’s universal call to repentance as preached by Paul in Acts 17:22-31; in light of God’s universal call to repentance, Wisdom’s public call to repentance becomes universal in its scope.

But if God calls people to repentance, we need to understand what repentance is, what it means to repent. In his Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Ceslas Spicq defines repentance as

the attitude of unbelievers and sinners returning to God…. The change is that of the soul, of the whole person (the new creature), who is purified of stains and whose life is transformed, metamorphosed. … [T]his contrition is inspired by the knowledge of God and has as its effect eternal salvation. (trans. James D. Ernest, 2:475, 477)

Understanding repentance in this way helps us to see repentance as the difference maker between judgment and salvation. As Paul said to the Athenians, God now “he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed,” Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30-31). Those who repent, who return their allegiance to God, will be found righteous by faith on the day of Jesus Christ’s judgment of the world. (John Murray rightly notes that repentance and faith are inseparable: “It is impossible to disentangle faith and repentance. Saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with faith” [Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 113].) Those who do not repent, however, will be condemned at the final judgment because of their disobedience to God’s command to repent.

Judgment or Salvation?

The reader of Proverbs 1:20-33 is thus presented with a choice. Will you repent of your idolatrous folly and be saved from sin, or will you continue in your idolatrous folly and face eternal judgment for it?

“Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
I also will mock at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster. (vv. 24-33)

Vv. 24-32 focus on judgment and actually explain in two rounds why God in his wisdom judges unrepentant folly (vv. 24-25, 29-30) and how God in his wisdom judges unrepentant folly (vv. 26-28, 31-32). This opera of gloomy judgment ends, however, on a single quivering note of hopeful salvation (v. 33).

God judges unrepentant folly because it is sinful rebellion. Those who remain in their folly “refuse to listen” to God and do not “heed” his outstretched hand (v. 24). Fools “ignore God’s counsel” and “have none of his reproof” (v. 25). Ultimately, this rebellion to God amounts to a rejection of God. Wisdom, speaking for God, indicts her audience for “hating knowledge” and “not choosing the fear of the LORD” (v. 29). She condemns unrepentant folly because it rejects her wise “counsel” and “despises all her reproof” (v. 30). John Kitchen comments aptly: “What may appear as ‘neglect’ of wisdom is in fact simply that we ‘did not want’ it” (Proverbs, Mentor Commentary, 50). God in his justice cannot leave such sin unpunished and will judge such sinners for their sinfulness at the second coming of Christ.

God’s coming judgment is a prime example of poetic justice. Solomon has already warned the reader that those who “make haste to shed blood” actually “lie in wait for their own blood” and “set an ambush for their own lives” (Prov. 1:16, 18). Wisdom similarly judges those who do not listens to her pleas by not listening to their pleas when they finally get around to calling for her help.

In their own good time, the foolish will reciprocate wisdom’s invitation and search. … However, it is their timing that is the problem. They wanted to go their own way and God has granted them their wish. (Kitchen, 52).

As we in the South like to say, “You reap what you sow.” This indeed is Wisdom’s sobering message. She will mock those who had scoffed at her. Those who hated knowledge will “have their fill of their own devices” (v. 31). Those who are simple and had refused to fear the Lord, who had turned away from him instead of turning to him as Wisdom had entreated, will be “killed by their turning away” (32). G. K. Beale’s thesis in his book on idolatry is applicable to our discussion of God’s judgment on unrepentant folly: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, 16 and throughout, italics removed). Those who had revered themselves rather than God will be ruined precisely for their self-reverence, for their unrepentant folly of rebelling against and ultimately rejecting God.

But as Beale noted in connection with idolatry, there is the hope of restoration for those who revere God rather than themselves. “Whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster,” Wisdom promises (v. 33). Reading this verse in light of the New Testament, we understand that “dwelling secure” is eternal in its extent. Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Revelation are apt. I will use the first and last to prove my point:

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. … He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Rev. 2:5, 7)

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. … The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 3:19, 21-22)

Just as Wisdom does in Proverbs 1:20-33, Jesus in Revelation 2-3 exhorts people to “repent.” Although his words are addressing seven particular churches in Asia Minor at the end of the first century, he exhorts anyone (“he who has an ear”) to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Jesus’ message, like Wisdom’s plea, presents readers with one of two options: judgment or salvation (see Beale, 252-254). Those who “repent” and “conquer” are rewarded with eternal life at his judgment (Rev. 2:7) and reign with Jesus (3:21). Those who do not “repent and do the works they did at first” are eternally cast out of Jesus’ presence at his judgment (2:5; cf. 21:8 and Matt. 7:21-23). In light of the New Testament, “dwelling secure” refers to eternal life, which Jesus in his letters to the seven churches of Revelation refers to as a result of repentance.

Just as “dwelling secure” refers to the eternal life of the repentant, “disaster” likewise refers to the eternal punishment of the unrepentant. The Greek Septuagint of Prov. 1:33 translates the Hebrew word for disaster as kakos, which appears in the New Testament in connection with eternal punishment:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil [kakos]. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Tim. 6:9-10)

By looking at the relationship of v. 10 to v. 9 in 1 Tim. 6, we see that a specific evil that the love of money bring about is “destruction,” which in Hebrews and 2 Peter refers to eternal punishment:

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Heb. 10:39)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. … And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Pet. 2:1, 3)

“Destroyed” in Heb. 10:39 refers to eternal punishment because it parallels the “preservation” of the souls of the faithful, who enjoy eternal life. “Destruction” in 2 Pet. 2:1, 3 refers to eternal punishment because it is coupled with “condemnation,” which refers to the condemnation at the last judgment. Since 2 Pet. 2:1, 3 and 1 Tim. 6:9-10 describe greed as a cause of destruction or eternal punishment, and since 1 Tim. 6:10 describes this eternal punishment as an example of “evil” (kakos), then we understand “disaster” (kakos) in Prov. 1:33 to have within its purview the eternal punishment of the wicked, whom Wisdom in Proverbs 1:24-33 describes in terms of unrepentant folly.

Conclusion

I have attempted to prove that Wisdom’s public call to repentance in Proverbs 1:20-33 foreshadows God’s universal call to repentance as preached by Paul in Acts 17:22-31. To do this, I have shown that various biblical passages corroborate Tremper Longman’s suggestion that Woman Wisdom be identified not merely as God’s wisdom but as a personification of God himself. Since Wisdom is a personification of God, her call to repentance anticipated God’s universal call to repentance. In light of God’s contemporary universal call to repentance, we now read Wisdom’s call to repentance in Proverbs 1:20-33 as universal in scope. Similarly, her threats of judgment and promise are salvation are also enlarged upon by the New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, the Christ, the Savior of all who believe and repent. Wisdom’s reasons for and methods of judgment are consistent with Jesus’ reasons for and methods of judgment upon his second coming. As wisdom commended repentance for resulting in dwelling securely, so now Jesus’ command to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15) results in dwelling securely for eternity. The New Testament reveals that the “disaster” to which Wisdom consigned the unrepentant is none other than the eternal punishment to which Jesus will consign the unrepentant at his final judgment.

When we acknowledge a universal call to repentance in Proverbs 1 in light of the New Testament, we see how urgent the gospel is, both for us and for others. If you’re not currently trusting Jesus Christ to save you from your sin by his death on the cross, I pray that the message of these Bible passages would prompt you to trust him now for salvation, repenting and turning away from your sin to follow him. For those of us who are already Christians, we do well to heed Jesus’ words in Revelation 2-3. As Beale notes,

The use of the formula “he who has an ear let him hear” in Revelation, while indicating a spiritually anesthetized majority in the churches, is an address to those who really do have spiritual ears to hear “what the Spirit is saying” to them in order to persevere, not compromise and to continue to reflect the image of God in the world. (282-283)

Jesus’ words, while addressing churches, were written to mixed audiences of both believers and unbelievers. The call for us believers is, as Paul puts it, to “examine ourselves, to see whether we are in the faith”; you are to “test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13:5). Or as Paul had written earlier to the Corinthians: “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). May we take seriously John’s words: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). J. D. Greear is absolutely right: “Salvation is not a prayer you pray in a one-time ceremony and then move on from; salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life” (Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved, 5).

May God help us, fellow Christians, prayerfully to examine our lives for pockets of remaining sin. May God help us to confess those sins, when found, to him. May he help us to combat those sins, and may he help us to maintain our repentance for the rest of our lives, to the praise of his glorious grace in predestining us to be adopted as his sons and daughters in Jesus Christ! Amen.

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