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When "scholar" isn't necessarily a compliment

On two occasions this past weekend, I read comments by women who resist the use of commentaries in Bible study. Both women suggested to me that simply studying the Bible for themselves, in context, without relying on commentaries meant that they were relying on the Spirit of God to teach them, not the voices of other people. One of the people, a friend, said to me that she is not the "scholar" that I am, and simply gets more out of Bible study if she just listens to the Spirit.

The last comment reveals two attitudes: first, there is a division between the Christian who is seen as a "scholar" and one who is not; and second, the Spirit is prevented from working through scholarly pursuits. I reject both of those premises, and it frustrates me that such attitudes remain common, and not just among women.

That my friend says I am a scholar is amusing. I've finished half of my MTS; I'm hardly a scholar. And even if I were, that doesn't automatically mean I am out of reach of the Spirit. Listening to the Spirit and intellectual pursuit are not mutually exclusive. I certainly don't think every woman needs to study as much as I do, and yes, there is a danger that Bible study can become mere academic exercise. However, that I love to study does not mean I am in a different class than another Christian who is "doing it on her own." There is an attitude of individualism rearing its head when one takes pride of doing it "on her own."

The idea that commentaries interfere with the Spirit suggests that in order to really engage with the Spirit, one must disengage from her intellect. Yes, the Spirit is our teacher, and yes, he does work mightily through our study of Scripture, but by consulting a commentary, I am not out of the Spirit's reach. A commentary will help me unravel the meaning, and as I understand more of what Scripture means, the Spirit teaches me. The Spirit is not divided up into little compartments within me, out of reach of my intellect. The Spirit affects my whole person, and walking in the Spirit does not necessitate rejecting the expertise of commentators.

As long as many women hold such views, they will prefer books which emphasize experience and emotions. It will be seen as more "spiritual" to study a book which is not too intellectual. I think this is why there are so many such books marketed to women: they're buying them. I'm re-reading Gone With the Wind right now, and one passage comments about how Scarlett O'Hara's mother only pretended to be interested in politics to please her husband, because real women aren't interested in such things. Are "real" Christian women seen as those who disengage from their intellects?

A friend on Facebook shared with me this quotation from Spurgeon. Spurgeon is talking to preachers in this passage, but the principles are applicable to study in general: 

It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries. If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors, but the existence or approach of such a danger we do not suspect. The temptations of our times lie rather in empty pretensions to novelty of sentiment, than in a slavish following of accepted guides. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences."

--Spurgeon, "Lecture 1," Commenting and Commentaries


Daily Readings - John 11:38-44

J.R. Ryle - Daily Readings
John 11:38-44

So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes and said, "Father I thank You . . . " (John 11:41)

We should mark the words which our Lord addressed to God the Father when the stone was taken from the grave. We read that he said, 'Father, I thank thee that thou has heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou has sent me.'

This wonderful language is totally unlike anything said by prophets or apostles when they worked miracles. In fact, it is not prayer, but praise. It evidently implies a constant mysterious communion going on between Jesus and his Father in heaven, which it is past the power of man either to explain or conceive. We need not doubt that here, as elsewhere in St. John, our Lord meant to teach the Jews the entire and complete unity there was between him and his Father, in all that he did, as well as in all that he taught. Once more he would remind them that he did not come among them as a mere prophet, but as the Messiah who was sent by the Father and who was one with the Father.

Deep and high is this this truth is, it is for the peace of our souls to believe it thoroughly and to grasp it tightly. Let it be a settled principle of our religion that the Saviour in whom we trust is nothing less than eternal God, one whom the Father hears always, one who in very deed is God's fellow.


Someone is offended on the internet

I think most people have seen the cartoon about someone being wrong on the internet. I think one could easily substitute the word "offended," and have the cartoon be just as meaningful.

I know a lot about feeling offended. It is a struggle I have had all of my life. As a Christian, I know this is a path to sin, and I understand that I must be willing to be offended. Ultimately feeling offended all of the time is a sign of pride, of self-focus. Self-focus can lead to negativity, and that is a destructive force.

Holineses requires that we look to Christ, that we be devoted to showing the reality of our union with Christ by taking on his character. Christ was not characterized by negativity, and he didn't complain about being offended.

In recent weeks, along with making an effort to purge my closets and cupboards of things I don't need, I've been thinking about what things in my life could be let go of for my benefit. It all does begin with my heart attitude, but there is also room for the principle of putting off things that are potentially harmful (Ephesians 4:17-24). My first area of observation is my time online, because I know that it's probably one of the biggest ways to not only waste time, but to generate negativity.

Because I tend to be easily offended and negative, I notice it in other places, and there are days when I wonder if there are Christians who blog and use social media whose goal every day is to find something to be offended about. There are some who never seem to share anything positive about their faith. There is little praise to God for his goodness or for answered prayer. It's all about how bad things are, and how indignant we should all be. I have been far too long a participant in such things, and it's getting wearisome.

Certainly this world we live in is full of dark times. Mothers are innocently sending their children out of the house only to have them be the victim of bombs and terrorism. The political situation in North America is shockingly bad. And on top of that, we are directed to every flaw and weakness of the Church in general. Is it any wonder that we fall into the stereotype of being dour and hopeless? Where is the hope?

I am sure it is out there. While it seems overshadowed by the naysayers, I do see the words of praise, the attitude of joy, and the way of peace. To see it, though, I have to consciously forsake the negative to make room for the positive. In my desire to be holy before God, I may have to forsake things that will simply tempt me to follow the crowd. I need to follow Christ.

Praise God for a day of worship. The one thing I can count on week by week, even amidst its imperfections, is the Body of Christ meeting together to worship. The praise songs may be mediocre, but my heart can praise God with gusto in the gathering of his people and the preaching of his word. I am thankful for that. I can put on a heart of worship while I put off a spirit of indignation and offense. I want to be so conformed to Christ that I lose the taste for negativity. It's a tall order, but I am relying on the Spirit of God to do a work in me.


The battle is fierce

I finished Sinclair Ferguson's book Devoted to God. It was a book which has been making me think hard. Some of the challenges in the book remind me of that moment in The Voyage of the Dawntreader where Eustace is a dragon and begins pulling away at his skin; painful and laborious. I am going to read J.I. Packer's Rediscovering Holiness next. 

What does holiness look like? That's a question always in my mind. Holiness should be evident, but it cannot be reduced to our conduct. That is when we get into legalism. Of course holiness will affect our conduct, but it must begin inside of us. Ferguson discusses throughout the book the reality that our holiness is an overflow of our union with Christ. Our identity becomes entwined with Christ's, and that means we will change as we are confronted with the standard of holiness. If we truly want to be Christlike, it means change.

That is hard. I don't like change. And there are times when I feel overwhelmed at the prospect of significant change. I grew up in a home with an underlying theme of combat. I had a fairly unremarkable childhood, but there was combat and confrontation. That kind of environment makes one defensive. If we feel we are going to enter into a battle, we put up our defenses. It gets to the point where we put up defenses as a rule even when there is no apparent conflict. It has taken me a long time to recognize this, and it is only a recent ephiphany, but understanding it has been very illuminating.

When we're defensive, we are self-focused. And while we may feel the need to be defensive to protect ourselves, there are times when that self-focus can run rampant and make us a generally self-focused person. That can result in living always with a view to pleasing ourselves. I thought about that when I read this passage from Ferguson:

Jesus himself is the litmus test for all of our attitudes. His example is to be the driving force iin our devotion. He never sought to please himself. If we are his we too are called to live in the same way.

I can't change the past. I can't undo the things in my childhood which I look back at with regret. But I am a new creature in Christ, and I do not have to stay mired down in those things. That means releasing my defensiveness. It means striving to live in a way where my primary concern is not to please myself. I really appreciated Ferguson's questions to ask ourselves when contemplating our choices:

Is this going to build up?

Is this going to strengthen the fellowship of God's people?

Is this going to advance my goal of running towards Jesus Christ and glory?

Is this something that laying to one side will better enable me to serve Christ?

That last question is a good one. What could I release today that would enable me to serve Christ better?

Holiness is hard. As Ferguson says, " . . . the battle to be holy is fierce, the conflict is long, the opposition is strong, and the obstacles are many. "

Thanks be to God that we do not enter into this particular battle unequipped, but that we rest in the sovereignty of God and the knowledge that his Spirit is what brings about the victory.


Daily Readings - Mark 5:1-13

J.C. Ryle, Daily Readings
Mark 5:1-13

The demons implored Him, saying, "Send us into the swine so that we may enter them." (Mark 5:12)

We probably have not the faintest idea of the number, subtlety, and activity of Satan's agents. We forget that he is the king over an enormous host of subordinate spirits who do his will . . . The malice of Satan appears in his strange petition (v.12). Cast forth from the man whose body they had so long inhabited and possessed, the spirits still thirsted to do mischief. Unable to injure any more an immoral soul, they desired leave to injure the dumb beasts which were feeding nearby. Such is the true character of Satan. It is the bent of his nature to harm, to kill, and to destroy. No wonder that he is called Apollyon, the destroyer (Rev. 9:11).

Let us beware of giving way to the senseless habit of jesting about the devil. It is a habit which furnishes awful evidence of the blindness and corruption of human nature and one which is far too common. Well would it be for us all if we strove more to realize the power and presence of our great spiritual enemy and prayed more to be delivered from him.