Four Sentries: Verity, Charity, Necessity and Wisdom

David prayed in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.”

I was reminded recently of this prayer for help in communication. In applying this verse with an analogy, one writer said that the “guard” before our mouth should include four soldiers or sentries. A sentry is “a soldier posted at a given spot to prevent the passage of unauthorized persons” (AHD). These sentries are Verity, Charity, Necessity, and Wisdom. These four should guard our lips, not from what comes in but from what potentially goes out. They keep guard by refusing to let anything out of our mouths that shouldn’t be out.

The first sentry is Verity. He asks, “Is it true?” (Eph 4:15). Is this word that you are about to speak a true word? Does it correspond to reality or is it a lie? If your word is not true, Sentry Verity says, then it may not pass.

The second is Charity, who asks, “Is it loving?” (1 Cor 13; Eph 4:15; Eccl 10:12-14). Is this word that you are about to speak a loving word? It may be true, but if it is not also loving, Sentry Charity says, then it may not pass.

The third is Necessity. He asks, “Is it necessary?” (Prov 10:19; 17:29). Is this word necessary to say? It may be true. It may be loving. But is it necessary to say. Does the person already understand and know all too well what you are thinking about saying. Determining the necessity depends in part upon the recipient of your words. Sometimes repetition aids learning. Sometimes repetition is not necessary. If the word is not necessary, Sentry Necessity says, then it may not pass.

The final sentry is Wisdom. Wisdom asks, “Is this wise to say this now, in this way?  Is it best to come from me?” (Eccl 9:17; James 3:17-18). It may be true, loving and necessary, but it may not be the right time for this word to be said. It may not be the proper occasion for this word to be said. I may not be the proper person to speak this word. If I’m a child, is it my place to say this to my father or mother? If I’m an outsider to this family, would this word be better said by a family member? If the word is not a wise word, Sentry Wisdom says, then it may not pass.

Each thing that I choose to say should, in a sense, meet those sentries prior to coming out of my mouth. One by one, each Sentry should ask his question. If the answer is “no” to any of the questions, the words should be turned back and never be uttered. The sentry refuses the words and keeps them from exiting.

“Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.”

What is “Fellowship”?

As it is used in Christian vernacular, the word “fellowship” often describes a meal shared by the church after a service or simple social activity between Christians. But is “fellowship” mere conversation between Christians regardless of venue or subject of conversation? Is getting together with a group of Christians on a Sunday afternoon to watch a football game “fellowship”? Does it describe getting together with an unbeliever for coffee?

Biblically speaking, the word “fellowship” has a richer and deeper meaning than mere conversation or social activity and the concept is much broader than what takes place in the “fellowship hall” of a church building. The Greek word translated “fellowship” in the New Testament is koinonia. It is related to the word koine, which means “common,” and a study of its usage in the New Testament reveals that it means a “participation” or a “sharing” or an “association.” It refers to what believers have in common with one another. The fellowship between extended to material things like  (Acts 4:32; Romans 15:27), but it also involved spiritual things and personal relationships.

In the Bible, the fellowship is both vertical and horizontal. The Greek word koinonia describes the fellowship that we have with God–Father, Son and Spirit (1 John 1:1-3; 2 Cor 13:14; Phil 2:1). It also describes the relationship we have with “one another” as believers (1 John 1:3). So fellowship is a very personal thing. It involves our relationship with God as well as those who know Him.

The Bible teaches that God the Father initiates fellowship with believers, calling them into fellowship with His Son (1 Corinthians 1:9). As a person exercises faith in the Gospel message, he enters fellowship with God through Jesus Christ and with those who know Him (1 John 1:1-3). Implicit in John’s teaching in 1 John 1 is the thought that there are boundaries to fellowship. Paul is very explicit as he describes the boundaries with five contrasts in 2 Corinthians 6. He commands believers not to be “bound” together with unbelievers. The word he uses is heterozugeo, which means to be “yoked up” or “mismated.” Althought the word never occurs elsewhere in the NT, it is used in the Septuagint of Leviticus 19:19 in a commandment forbidding the cross-breeding of two different kinds of beasts–cattle, donkeys, etc. Paul is obviously speaking on a human level in 2 Corinthians 6, but he is not  forbidding believers to bind themselves to unbelievers in marriage. That is certainly forbidden in Scripture (1 Corinthians 7:39), but here the primary point of the passage is about worship.

It is obvious that this passage is primarily about worship because of Paul’s identification of believers in the context as the temple of God (2 Cor 6:16). Interestingly, Paul says “we are the temple of God.” He is not merely talking about a local church in Corinth (Corinth likely had many congregations), but the universal church. Paul uses the plural “we,” for Paul himself was not a member of a Corinthian assembly. It is also evident from the recipients of the book, for Paul addresses the church of God which is at Corinth, as well as all the saints who are throughout Achaia, which is a region (2 Cor 1:1-2).

Paul commands that believers must not bind ourselves, yoke ourselves up with, partner with, unbelievers from the standpoint of worship. To do so is to mix righteousness with lawlessness, light and darkness, true worship with idolatry, Christ and Belial (the Devil), and belief with unbelief. The church must be separate, and as it is separate, it distinguishes itself in a true family relationship with God. The promises of 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 include God’s reception of us and His fatherhood of us. Without that separation, we call into question our own identity as His children.

Praying for One Another

The following thoughts are from a chapter about a Puritan named Anthony Burgess in Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer by Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour. There are many helpful points in the chapter, which focuses largely on Burgess’s teaching about Christ’s prayer in John 17. I found the following summary of Burgess’s teaching on praying for one another to be helpful:

“1)  God has made you part of the body of Christ. If a part of your own body is injured, how does it affect you? You should have the same empathy for the body of Christ as for your own body.

2) God instituted prayer as a means to help others. Instead, we are quick to criticize each other. Rather than finding fault, we should pray for fellow believers. That is our duty.

3) Praying for one another will ease differences, jealousies, and suspicions. It will make the godly of one heart and one mind. If you find yourself thinking how poorly a brother has treated you, pray for that man. It will immediately ‘quiet those winds and waves.'”  (Beeke and Najapfour, 103-104)

A Man May Make a Remark

A Man May Make a Remark
by Emily Dickinson

“A Man may make a Remark –
In itself – a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature – lain –

Let us divide – with skill –
Let us discourse – with care –
Powder exists in Charcoal –
Before it exists in Fire -”

My wife recently shared this poem with me recently, and I found it to be a good reminder of the power of words. Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov 18:21), and James says that the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity (James 3:6). We ought to be careful not to sin with our tongue. Dividing with skill and discoursing with care is certainly important, and disciples of Jesus Christ are obliged to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9).

This is not to say that our remarks should never cause a stir. Words can offend without being sinful. Indeed, telling the sober truth often offends and sparks fuses. Consider the first sermon of the God-Man at Nazareth (Luke 4:16ff.). Jesus’s words ignited the anger of the Jews in the synagogue and they led Him to the brow of the hill to cast him over. What was that word? He claimed that Israel was a hardhearted people that would not listen to the prophets sent to them. While the words of Elijah the prophet were received by a Sidonian widow and a Syrian soldier, they were largely rejected by the ancestors of those in the synagogue. They proved to be the true children of their fathers as they led Jesus to the brow of a hill to cast him over. They would not accept his words.

Another incendiary discourse is Jesus’s claim in John 8. His argument in John 8 centers on the fact that He is the unique Messenger of the Father (OT–Angel of the LORD). Although Jesus describes Himself as “I AM” twice in the chapter without their catching it (8:24, 28), Jesus makes the incendiary claim: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus’s clear claim to deity ignites the anger of the Jews, who pick up stones to stone him. John 10 tells a similar story.

While I think the poet’s words reflect an important ethic found in Scripture regarding our words, we must not think that a situation where there is no argument and no disagreement is necessarily healthy. Yes, we must take care in discourse. Yes, we must be skillful in dividing. But truth must be set in the sunlight, and if that truth becomes a spark, so be it. Jesus is God in the flesh. May that truth set the world aflame.

Luther on the “Amen”

“Finally, mark this, that you must always speak the Amen firmly. Never doubt that God in his mercy will surely hear you and say “yes” to your prayers. Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition which God cannot disdain. Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, ‘Very well, God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth.’ That is what Amen means.”  Quoted in Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer, eds. Joel R. Beeke and Brian J. Najapfour (Grand Rapids: RHB, 2011), 16.

The opening chapter on Luther’s teaching on prayer is excellent.

C.H. Spurgeon on Exposition

This is a great quote about the proper way to handle Scripture in exposition. It comes from a sermon preached on December 2, 1877, titled “God’s Thoughts and Ways High Above Ours.”

“There are many ways of handling Scripture, but to my mind the freshest and most instructive is to expound it by its surroundings. To pick out a plum here and there is the children’s method, but hardly satisfies students of the Word. ” Let us not rend it,” is exceedingly good advice with regard to Scripture, which is in some sense the garment of God. I will take hold of the central part of the rich piece of silken truth contained in this chapter, and I will lift up the whole fabric before you and bid you observe its texture, and note how wonderfully it is wrought throughout. Exposition is ever nourishing to the Lord’s people . . . .”

The Irrationality of Intellectual Autonomy

“What distinguishes modern views of revelation from orthodox (to my mind biblical) views is their affirmation of human autonomy in the realm of knowledge. Intellectual autonomy is the view that human beings have the right to seek knowledge of God’s world without being subject to God’s revelation. It first appears in the history of thought in Genesis 3’s narrative of the fall, in which Adam and Eve make their decision to disobey God’s personal word to them. In their decision, they affirm their right to think autonomously, even to the point of contradicting God himself. The spirit of autonomy underlies every sinful decision of every human being. . . . How could anyone imagine that contradicting the Master of the universe could be a wise decision? This foolishness mirrors the biblical paradigm of irrationality, the foolishness of Satan himself, who (again in the face of clear knowledge) tries to replace God on the throne of the universe. In this satanic project, man seeks to become his own lord.” John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, P&R Publishers, 2010

I’m enjoying my first read of Frame’s final contribution to his Theology of Lordship series. It is excellent so far.

Why am I sick?

The Bible gives lots of reasons and truths about illness/sickness. Ultimately the answer is God. He is the God who sends disease (Exodus 15:26), and He is Jehovah Rophe, our Healer (Exodus 15:26). Why he sends the disease is not always because of sin, although many times in Scripture it is.

God plagued the Egyptians with sickness as a judgment (Ex 15:26).

David’s son was sick because of his own sin (2 Sam 12:15).

Jeroboam’s son became sick and died as a mercy from the Lord to spare him from the judgment coming upon his father’s household (1 Kings 14:12-13).

Naaman’s physical trial led him to the one true God (2 Kings 5).

The leprosy of Gehazi was given as a judgment for sin (2 Kings 5).

Even Elisha became sick and died though he had the power to do the miraculous (2 Kings 13:14).

The man born blind was born that way so that Christ could be glorified through him (John 9). (The Gospels alone are a great source of material for this study).

Job was afflicted physically by Satan with the Lord’s permission (Job 2:7).

Sickness in the Corinthian church was evidence of sin by eating the Lord’s Table unworthily (1 Cor 11:30).

Lazarus’ sickness was for the glory of God (John 11:4).

Paul’s sickness enabled him to preach the gospel to the Galatians (Gal 4:13).

Paul’s own thorn in the flesh seems to have been a physical ailment to keep him from pride (2 Cor 12:7).

Hezekiah became sick and was told that he was going to die. His prayer to God was answered and he was healed (Isa 38). His prayer is an excellent argument with God (in a good sense) for continuation of life. He argued that the living give thanks and teach their children about God’s faithfulness. He also intended to worship the LORD with his own songs in the house of the LORD. God’s healing would enable him to write songs that could bring more praise to the Lord (Isa 38:20).

In light of the evidence, it seems that the best application is that God sends sickness and affliction for different reasons. For myself and others, I ought not to assume that sickness or death are due to sin, though they could be. For Paul his sickness turned him to prayer (2 Cor 12). James gives explicit instruction to do just that (James 5:13-14).

Jesus, the “Lord of the Small”

About a week and a half ago I was listening to a song called “Lord of the Small” on danforrest.com and was so blessed by its presentation of the Lord’s tenderness toward His creatures, especially the weak. It reminded me of the Messiah’s tenderness toward those whom He healed (Matt 15:29ff.) I shared it with one of our pastors the day that a young lady named Jennifer Norris passed away in the community where I live. It was later sung at a memorial service for Jennifer at our church (Grace Church of Mentor).

The text of the song (below) was written by Johanna Anderson, and it was originally commissioned by the parents of Erin Buenger. Erin was a courageous young lady who passed away after a remarkable fight with cancer.

Praise to the Lord of the small broken things,
Who sees the poor sparrow that cannot take wing,
Who loves a lame child and the wretch in the street,
Who comforts their sorrows and washes their feet.

Praise to the Lord of the faint and the frail,
Who girds them with courage and lends them His aid.
He pours out His Spirit on vessels so weak
That the timid can serve and the silent can speak.

Praise to the Lord of the frail and the ill,
Who heals their afflictions, Who carries them till
They leave this life frame and to paradise fly
To never be sick and never to die.

Praise Him, O praise Him, all ye who yet live
Who’ve been given so much and can so little give,
Our frail, lisping praise God will never despise
He sees His dear children through mercy filled eyes.

Dan Forrest wrote the music, and you can listen to his arrangement on his website at danforrest.com.

Dramatically Preached Spurgeon Sermons

I have been blessed in the last couple of years to listen to sermons by C.H. Spurgeon preached dramatically (like he was preaching them himself). Several of my favorites include “Do You Know Him?” and “Is it Nothing to You?”  My favorite is “A Golden Prayer,” a sermon on Christ’s prayer in John 12, “Father, Glorify Your Name.”

Here’s an excerpt from “A Golden Prayer”:

“Observe right well that the text indicates the deep intent which steadied our Lord’s resolve. Why is Christ resolved to die ? Is it to save men ? Yes, but not as the chief reason. His first prayer is not, ” Father, save my people,” but ” Father, glorify thy name.” The glory of God was the chief end and object of our Saviour’s life and death. It is that the Father’s name may be illustrious that Jesus would have souls redeemed. His passion had for its main intent the exhibition of the attributes of God. And, brethren, how completely he has glorified Jehovah’s name! Upon the cross we see the divine justice in the streaming wounds of the great Substitute : for the Son of God must needs die when sin is laid upon him. There also you behold infinite wisdom, for what but infallible wisdom could have devised the way whereby God might be just and yet the justifier of him that believeth. There, too, is love, rich, free, boundless love—never so conspicuous as in the death of man’s Redeemer. Till this day it still remains a question concerning the atonement which of the letters best is writ, the justice, the wisdom, or the love. In the atonement the divine attributes are all so perfectly glorified that no one crowds out the other: each one has its full display without in the. least degree diminishing the glory of any other. Our blessed Lord, that the Father might be glorified, pushed on to the end which he had set before him. Whatever conflict might be within his spirit, his heart was fixed upon bearing to the death our load, and suffering to the end our penalty.”

These sermons can be purchased in MP3 format via download or CD on http://www.chspurgeon.com/. Many of them can be listened to for free here.