Book, Chapter, and Verse

October 9, 2020

When a Christian refers to book, chapter, and verse, he or she is locating a portion of the Bible. Although the word, Bible, means book, the Bible is really a library of 66 books — 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The chapter and verse divisions were a later addition to the text. The chapter divisions are usually attributed to Stephen Langton in the thirteenth century, and the verse divisions were added by Robert Estienne (also know as Stephanus) in the 16th century. Chapter and verse indicators are not essential, but they are certainly helpful. When citing book, chapter, and verse, you can point to a portion of the Bible very easily and precisely. The system works very well to provide a location in the Bible.

When a Christian demands book, chapter, and verse, he or she are making a plea to base our authority for religious matters on the Bible. I’m not wanting an opinion that we should do thus or so when it comes to worship, church life, or Christian living. I’m wanting to know that it is from God’s word. Citing specific passages allows others to examine the evidence, just as the Bereans did at Paul’s preaching: “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 ESV).

Citing the evidence of book, chapter, and verse is important because the Bible can be misunderstood. Peter reflecting on how some have misunderstood Paul’s letters says, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures”(2 Peter 3:16 ESV). That means we need to check out what the Bible says for ourselves.

There are no special rules for inspired writings. We have to ask the same questions as we would any other text. What genre or kind of writing is this? We have to ask the typical reporter’s questions: who, what, when, where, and why? We must understand what is said in context — both the literary and historical contexts. But citing book, chapter, and verse allows others to read and conclude for themselves. I don’t want someone to believe something just because I said it, but because I’ve provided the evidence which others can check for themselves.

For the novice to the Bible, “book, chapter, and verse” can seem like a code. But once you see that it is a system of navigation for this library, it begins to make sense. What is required is to get familiar with the library of books which comprise the Bible. Citing book, chapter, and verse is our way of citing the evidence for our beliefs and practices, because the Bible is our sole authority for Christian faith and practice.

— Russ Holden


Where Jesus Is Called God

October 2, 2020

In Christian teaching, God is more complex that what the philosophers of Ancient Greece may have thought. We believe in one God as some of them did, but God is in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Several passages teach this, but there are a couple of often overlooked passages where Jesus is called God. But we have to check our translations to get the Greek grammar correct.

“… waiting for … the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:13 ESV)

The ESV makes clear that in this verse Jesus Christ is called both the great God and Savior. The NKJV, NASB, NIV, NET, CSB, and NRSV render it the same way. The King James has the following.

“Looking for … the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” (Titus 2:13 KJV)

So why is there a difference in the translation? In 1798, Granville Sharp, a linguist, noted that in Greek when you have an article, a noun, the word “and” (which in Greek is kai) followed by a noun without the article, if the two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper nouns), the two nouns are governed by the same article and always refer to the same person. Sharp and the scholars who followed him demonstrated that God (theos) and savior (sōtēr) were common nouns. Proper nouns in Greek are words that cannot form a plural. Both God (theos) and savior (sōtēr) can be found in the plural. Grammarians have attempted to disprove the Granville Sharp Rule for the past 200 years but have been unable to do so. Modern translation after the ASV have reflected the rule in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. In both passages, Jesus is called God.

The teaching about the deity of Christ is not dependent on these two verses. We also find it in passages like John 1:1-14, Hebrews 1:1-4, and Philippians 2:6-7.

Sometimes I’m asked do I understand the teaching about the godhead (the traditional term is “trinity”). I would answer yes. But do I necessarily comprehend it all? I would say no. But that is also true of qualities like God’s eternal nature, omniscience, and omnipotence. I understand that these things are taught about God. I understand the implications of these teachings, but do I totally grasp them? The answer is no. The practical outcome of the teaching concerning the deity of Christ is that we worship Jesus Christ. I can accept the plain teaching about the godhead, but I suspect that even in eternity we will be growing in our understanding of the nature of God. God is worth eternal contemplation and worship.

— Russ Holden


Church and Politics

September 25, 2020

As I write this, we are in the midst of a presidential campaign year. Politics is everywhere, and we may be tempted to bring a little too much of politics into church. Although churches have freedom of speech, they have limitations if they want a tax-exempt status.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.

By the way, I believe we can clearly teach about the moral issues of our day, but we shouldn’t be endorsing candidates or political parties.
But this is about more than tax-exempt status. My experience through the years teaches me that Christians may come to different judgments on politics and still have a moral reason for their choice. I have visited in church member’s homes and heard politics brought up and know from experience that good Christian people disagree. I have also held my tongue in such situations, keeping my own political views private as the opposing candidate was being endorsed. I just know that if these individuals had debated their views at church, it would have been a messy distraction from the mission of the church.

Batsell Barrett Baxter was the chairman of the Bible Department at Lipscomb University when I was a student. He was also the radio and TV speaker for the nationwide Herald of Truth, and he preached for the Hillsboro Church of Christ in Nashville. He was well known in the church at that time.

Baxter told a story on himself to his preaching students. He wanted to caution his students about politics in church. He wanted us to learn from his mistake. In the 1960 presidential election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, Baxter preached a sermon addressing the election. Many Protestants feared having a Roman Catholic in the Whitehouse, because according to the fear, he would be subject to the Pope, a foreign power. Like many Protestant ministers of the time, Baxter preached such a sermon. The closing prayer was led by a man who gave a 20-minute rebuttal to the lesson. Baxter learned his lesson painfully.

My point is simply this: we may agree on the faith and still have political disagreements. Let us not offend our brother or sister on matters that will simply pass away with the coming of the Lord.

—Russ Holden


Under the Knife

September 18, 2020

The tabloid press continually report on beautiful people who went under the knife to be more beautiful. They went under the knife of cosmetic surgery pursuing a vision of outer perfection. Although such surgery seems extreme, all of us would willingly consent to surgery when our life or health is at stake. None of us like it, but we are willing to go under the knife.

But there is a surgery more important than the ones to enhance outward beauty or repair physical health. This surgeon wields more than a scalpel. He wields a sword.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:11–13, ESV

The message about the sword is bracketed by some important ideas. We are to strive to enter the rest which is heaven itself, and we are warned that this rest can be missed by disobedience. At the end, we are told that everything about us is exposed to God before whom we must give account. God has already seen all our spiritual x-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs. There is nothing about us that he doesn’t already know. We shouldn’t play games or think we can hide. Faking it leads to disaster even if others buy our sham.

The point of sword is that it pierces. The sword of the word can pierce all the way to our thoughts and intentions. God has always wanted our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5). God has always wanted his law written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). This is surgery to make us more beautiful on the inside. This is surgery to correct our failing spiritual health. Without it, we will spiritually die. The surgeon wants us more obedient, more holy. The word’s penetration into our heart is to make us more like the one we are following – Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Hebrews reveals all too clearly that there have been others who have heard the word and responded with hardened hearts (3:7-8). We have a spiritual surgeon who wants to penetrate all the way to thoughts and intentions. He wants to make us more beautiful on the inside. He wants to make us more like Him. Are we willing to go under the knife?

−Russ Holden


Finish the Race

September 11, 2020

Have you ever been in a race? Have you ever watched a race? I’m going to assume that you answered, “Yes,” to at least one of these questions. Races are familiar, and it makes a powerful image for Christian living. Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So, run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. “So I do not run aimlessly” (1 Corinthians 9:24–26 ESV).

Purposeful and disciplined. Races have a starting line and a finish line. They are goal oriented, which makes a great analogy for Christian living. We are to live a life of faith and be pleasing to God, so that in the age to come, we will spend an eternity with God. That’s why in this race analogy Paul notes the self-control of the runner. He notes about himself that he does not run aimlessly. The Christian life is to be purposeful and disciplined because we have a finish line that we are running towards. And unlike the race where there is one winner, Paul encourages that the victor’s wreath is available to all the faithful.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7–8, ESV, emphasis mine)

When Paul speaks of “the crown of righteousness,” there is a parallel with the wreath of 1 Corinthians 9:25. Both crown and wreath are the Greek word stephanos (στέφανος, Strong’s #G4735). It refers to the victor’s wreath as opposed to the royal crown, which in Greek is diadem. So, Paul is comparing the prizes of an athletic contest to the reward of Christian living. The athlete’s wreath is perishable, but the Christian’s wreath is imperishable. There are many things people chase after. Most of them are perishable. If I want to capture the true meaning of life, I must be aiming for the imperishable and eternal with purpose and self-control.

Finish the Race. When I was in college, I would run laps around a track for exercise. I would reach a point where I couldn’t go on but hadn’t quite reached my goal. But by pressing on, I would gain “a second wind.” Perseverance made the difference. For most of us, the Christian race will not be a sprint but a marathon. We need to ponder Paul’s statements about his Christian life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Christian living will involve opposition which we must resist. It involves finishing a course. Races are not meanderings that go anywhere you want to go. To change metaphors, our course is “the narrow way.” And finishing this course means, we have kept the faith. We have believed the Scriptures. We have trusted in the One revealed there. We have followed Jesus to the end.

— Russ Holden


Two Ends

September 4, 2020

All of my life someone has been predicting a date for the Second Coming of Christ. They have all been wrong. I fear that such wrong-headed date setting may discourage people from the endurance needed to wait for the Second Coming. Jesus said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only”
(Matthew 24:36 ESV). In the light of the fact we don’t know, Jesus goes on to command us to “be ready” (Matthew 24:44).

The Second Coming will be the end of human history, but it will also be a beginning for life in eternity with God or without. But there is another end which we must consider. Besides the end of human history, there is also the end of my history in this physical life. I admit that I didn’t think about this much as a younger man. I am more aware of it now that I’m older, and I’ve had life threatening health problems. I still hope I have many years of service left, but I don’t know. The end of my physical life is the other end I must consider.

Whether Christ returns during my lifetime or I die, I must be prepared spiritually for eternal life with God. There are two ends, and I’m not certain which one I will meet, but both require preparation not worry. This life is for spiritual preparation for the next. But someone recently asked, “Have you ever known anyone who waited too long to be prepared?” Unfortunately, I can think of many.

I received a call from a man who wanted to be baptized, but he was in the hospital. Doctors were not giving him good odds for survival. I met with him, and I talked with hospital officials. But the hospital would not allow the baptism. The man had IVs, and the hospital was concerned about liability. I couldn’t dissuade the hospital of their position. If he was dying, why deny him spiritual comfort?

But the man survived and went home from the hospital. A couple of us called on him to see if we could meet his spiritual needs. We would have gladly studied with him or baptized him. We could make the baptism as convenient as possible for him. But he refused to study, and he refused to be baptized. I don’t know whether he was upset about not being baptized in the hospital, which was outside both of our control. But before any progress was made, he died. And that sort of thing haunts me. The end came before he was ready.

Remember there are two ends: the Second Coming of Christ and our death. The answer for both is be prepared. As Paul wrote:

For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  (2 Corinthians 6:2 ESV)

— Russ Holden


The Book of Books

August 28, 2020

I’m a book lover and an avid reader. And like most book lovers, I have a stack of books that I haven’t gotten to despite the number that I do read. But I certainly can’t keep up with the number of books published each year. The US publishes over 300,000 books a year, and that is not counting self-published books which could make the count go up to a million. Of course, a vast amount of those books wouldn’t interest me, but even among the books that do interest me, I have to choose. I can’t read them all. So I relate to the words of Ecclesiastes:

My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
(Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV)

The quote is a reminder that there is no end to the making of books, but it also is a warning about priority: “beware of anything beyond these.” The passage is putting “the many books” on one side and “the words of the wise” put down in “the collected sayings” in verse 11 on the other side. The priority is because the words of the wise “are given by one Shepherd” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). Priority in the midst of many books must be given to inspired Scripture.

I’ve learned this lesson. I’ve prioritized Bible reading in my life. It has been the habit of my life. I’ve learned that reading religious books doesn’t give you knowledge of the Bible. That must be gained firsthand. And without the knowledge of the Bible, you can’t test the truth of merely human religious books. So if all you are doing is reading religious books, you have your priorities wrong. The Bible must come first.

This is especially true for church leaders who teach: elders, teachers, and evangelists. I’ve actually heard sermons that came from popular religious books that contained the same errors that were in those books. Discernment can only come from knowing your Bible thoroughly. Paul as he departs from the Ephesian elders for the last time, having preached “the whole counsel of God,” says, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified”(Acts 20:32 ESV). It’s God’s word that builds up. It’s God’s word that will give you the eternal inheritance.

The weariness that comes from many books is still with us. Some of those books are worth reading, but we need our priorities straight. Priority in the midst of many books must be given to the book of books — the Bible.

— Russ Holden


Peace Like a River

August 14, 2020

With what are God’s requirements to be compared? Is God like a cosmic-Simon-says who is attempting to trip us up? Or is God more like a parent setting limits for the protection of his children? Listen to the instruction of Moses in Deuteronomy.

And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. (Deuteronomy 6:24 ESV)

God is not a killjoy. His commandments are for our good, for our benefit. I’ve witnessed too many times people who rebelliously go their own way making a train wreck of their lives. Even my own experience tells me that the instructions of scripture are good for me (even when temptations want to lead me another direction). Blessings come from the path of righteousness.

Moses had warned Israel of this, but despite this warning, Israel paid for their stubbornness with the Babylonian captivity. Judgment came against them. In the midst of prophesying judgment, Isaiah pictured God’s lament that it could have been very different if they had listened.

This is what the LORD says–your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea” (Isaiah 48:17-18, NIV).

They could have had peace like a river. The land of Israel does not have many rivers. The land is semiarid with only marginal rainfall in many places. The land does have numerous wadis or dry riverbeds that flow with the runoff from the rains, but those are not constant. The image of a river is a picture of abundance. They could have had peace that was abundant and constant — peace like a river.

Righteousness could have characterized their lives so that it was like waves on the shore. Waves are rhythmical and repetitious. There is always a new wave coming to shore. Again, we see a picture of abundance. What is it like to live in a community where righteousness is the norm — a place where you expect it just like you do the next wave?

What about us? Do we stubbornly go our own way only to reap the consequences of our sinful decisions, or do we have peace like a river? Let us discover the blessings of a humble walk with God.

— Russ Holden


Actions, Consequences, and Responsibility

August 7, 2020

People have difficulty with the idea that their actions have consequences, and that they are responsible for their actions. We often want to blame what has been done to us as an excuse for bad behavior. No doubt some people must overcome greater difficulties than others. Yet, we each choose the attitude with which we approach life and the actions we take. We are not programmed like a computer. We are not helpless marionettes of a malicious puppeteer.

Part of our problem with actions, consequences, and responsibility occurs with the difference between moral choices and the law of physics. If I fall from a 30-story building, I can expect fairly consistent results. But one act of fornication may lead in one case to an “unwanted pregnancy,” in another–a sexually transmitted disease, and in still another–just a bad memory. The consequences may vary from the same act, but consequences come with both good and bad moral choices, and we must accept responsibility for the choice.

Proverbs looks at the general trend of certain choices. It’s not that we might not find some exceptions, but that learning the lessons from human experience and God’s revelation teach us that certain things are bad choices and others are good choices. Listen to a sampling.

Laziness vs. Industriousness. “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4-5, NIV).

Violence. “The violence of the wicked will drag them away, for they refuse to do what is right” (Proverbs 21:7, NIV)

Lying. “A man of perverse heart does not prosper; he whose tongue is deceitful falls into trouble” (Proverbs 17:20, NIV).

The above are simply examples, Proverbs covers many more categories. The assumption in Proverbs is simple. Given that actions have consequences, I don’t have to do every possible action to know something of the possible consequences. I can learn from the experience of others and the revelation of God. Be responsible. Choose wisely.

–Russ Holden

 


Faith Not Sight

July 20, 2020

I don’t like the fact that our bodies disappoint us with aging or disease or both. Somehow it just doesn’t seem fair that the best body we will ever have is at age 18 (at least in this life). We see the aging process in others, but eventually we have to admit to it in ourselves. What Paul called “the outer person wasting away” is observable in life (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Yet Paul placed beside this unwelcome fact another wondrous observation. In Christ, the inner person can continue to grow and become better. “Our inner person is being renewed day by day” (1 Corinthians 4:16). God is transforming us to become more and more like His Son. Our character, our kindness, and our love can grow and mature throughout our lifetime. The best our inner person can be in this life may be the day we breathe our last.

Paul compared this body that disappoints us to a tent (1 Corinthians 5:1). Tents are temporary. They are fragile and frail in comparison to a permanent structure. The disappointments of our bodies are reminders we are sojourners here. We are just passing through; this is not our enduring home. A tent may become frayed and worn until it wears out, or it may be suddenly pulled down, but it is never permanent.

The God who renews our inner person also builds us a permanent dwelling. As Paul wrote, “[W]e have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (1Corinthians 5:1b, ESV). In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul described our physical bodies with words like “perishable,” “dishonor,” “weakness,” and “natural”. While the resurrection body that we await at Christ’s return is described by words like “imperishable,” “glory,” “power,” and “spiritual.” The transient will be swallowed up by the eternal.

The processes of the outward wasting away and inward being renewed take place in the course of daily life. Daily life filled with its ups and downs, its trials and temptations, and its moments of doubt and faith. Paul used the word, “groaning,” to describe this present life. He spoke of “slight momentary affliction,” although slight affliction doesn’t seem to adequately describe Paul’s life (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). He could only call it that when weighed on the balance with eternal glory. The eternal outweighs the transient and makes the walk of faith worth it all.

Paul had confidence that to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. The God who is doing a great work of renewing and transforming in our inner person is also preparing for us a permanent dwelling place. Eternal glory is worth it all “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7, ESV).