Character and Reputation

July 28, 2017

Character is moral and ethical strength, or as someone has defined it — it is who we really are when no one is looking. Reputation is other people’s evaluation of our character. Although the words, character and reputation, do not occur in Proverbs 3:1-12, they are certainly concepts that underlie this speech to a young man.

The concern for reputation is found elsewhere in scripture. Proverbs 22:1 reads, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (ESV). In this speech, the young person who follows this teaching will gain a good reputation: “So you will find favor and good repute In the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:4, NASB). Notice that the teacher’s concerns go deeper than what people think of me. He desires a good reputation before God, who knows who we really are when no one is looking.

The path of character is the means to this good reputation before God and man. The law is not to be forgotten, but to be obeyed from the heart (3:1). Mercy and truth are also to be written on the heart (3:3). The person of good character is directed by inner principles and not by the outside influences of circumstances and pressures from other people.

The person of character is also directed by his or her relationship to God. God is to be trusted (3:5). Direction for life is to be learned from God. We are not trust our own moral sense or as Proverbs puts it — “not lean on our own understanding” or “be wise in our own eyes” (3:5, 7). We need our consciences trained by God. God is to be feared or reverenced (3:7), and we must depart from evil. This requires humility on our part so that we will be guided and corrected by God.

Character also has its rewards. Proverbs 3:1-12 pictures length of days, peace, health, strength, and blessings coming upon the person who follows these instructions. Yet even though there will be blessings for the life of character, this section also closes with a reminder that there can also be chastening: “for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12, ESV). Whatever the circumstances, the person of character must follow the law written on the heart and trust God from the heart.

Here in Proverbs 3:1-12 is the path to good character and reputation.

Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

July 21, 2017

Speaking in public is not an easy thing to do. In fact, you may always get “butterflies” even if you do it well. The Book of Lists gives the fear of public speaking as the number one fear for most people. It comes in higher than the fear of death and disease. No wonder that most of us need a lot of encouragement to do it the first time.

Part of the fear of public speaking is the fear of making a mistake, but the truth is anyone who speaks in public will make mistakes. That’s not an excuse for poor preparation or failing to improve, but it is part of the reality of being human. Only God is perfect. One author notes that expecting perfection from ourselves will probably make us more anxious and likely to make a mistake. He goes on to write:

The essence of public speaking is this: give your audience something of value. … Even if you pass out, get tongue-tied, or say something stupid during your talk . . . they won’t care! As long as they get something of value, they will be thankful.1

I can vividly remember one such mistake. When I was a teenager, I was encouraged to lead singing. It was one of my early song leading experiences. I started the song, and we sang about two measures and came to a crashing halt. We were singing the same words, but the tune was very different. I tried again with the same disastrous results. I wanted to hide behind the pulpit. Fortunately, the preacher sitting on the first row figured it out.

My songbook was dog-eared. The page number I was announcing was actually for the page beneath the page I was on. Unfortunately, both hymns were based on the same Psalm so they had the same words. Once we were all on the same page, the third time trying the song worked. I was embarrassed by it, but that is a part of learning humility—another one of those lessons we don’t like, but that God wants us to learn. The people in the congregation were actually very kind and encouraging.

Almost anyone who appears in public can tell such a story. I remember in a gathering of preachers, one of them told the story of the first time he baptized someone. He was very uncertain of himself. He had the person being baptized put on the waders by mistake. You can imagine what happens when someone wearing hip high waders is lowered beneath the water. The waders filled. He really had to struggle to get the person back up. After all it wouldn’t be good for the first time baptizing someone to turn into a drowning! Most of these experiences can seem humorous…afterwards.

Overcoming the fear of public speaking is aided by doing it, and realizing the goal is not perfection but edification.

1Morton C. Orman, M.D., “How To Conquer Public Speaking Fear”

They Had Believed

July 14, 2017

Jesus addressed a group described as “the Jews who had believed in him” (John 8:31). Yet the speech which follows may seem odd given this description of the audience. C.H. Dodd captures the tension with these words, “A group of Jews described as believers are accused of attempted murder and roundly denounced as children of the devil.”*

Yet, the description of the audience needs to be noted: “they had believed.” There was a point in their past in which they had come to believe in Jesus as the Christ. But observe this commitment in their past was not enough. Jesus’ instructions make a great deal of sense given this audience.

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  (John 8:31–32, ESV)

What does it mean to abide? The standard Greek lexicon states it is used “of someone who does not leave a certain realm or sphere: remain, continue, abide” (BDAG, p. 631). This is the person who continues to believe in and practice the teachings of Jesus. Only such persons can be described as “truly my disciples.”

What is the benefit of this continued relationship with Jesus? “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But what kind of freedom is envisioned? Jesus makes this clear in 8:34-36. It is freedom from sin. It is to no longer be enslaved to sin. Earlier in this section of speeches Jesus had said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, ESV).

But what was true of this audience as Jesus addressed them:

  • They were seeking to kill Jesus, 8:37, 40.
  • They were not able to hear Jesus’ words, 8:43.
  • They are acting like the Devil’s offspring, 8:44.
  • They do not believe Jesus, 8:45.

Believing is not something I check off my list. It is not enough for it to be true of my past. Believing in Jesus must be something that continues, abides, and remains. These “Jews who had believed” are a warning example of starting off right and finishing wrong.

If continuing and present evidence for belief is missing, it would be a sad epitaph to have said, “they had believed.”

*As cited by George R. Beasley-Murray, John, p. 132.

Baptism Is Not Just a Symbol

July 7, 2017

The teaching of the New Testament is that baptism when done in faith is the point at which one becomes a Christian and receives the blessings that are available in Christ. In other words, baptism is not just a symbol that can be dispensed with. It has symbolism of burial and resurrection, but scripture teaches that something really happens in it. It is not just a symbol. Although this view of baptism is not popular in the religious world, ironically it is found among New Testament scholars outside churches of Christ. Frederick Dale Bruner in his A Theology of the Holy Spirit cites works by G.R. Beasley-Murray, R.E.O. White, and Johannes Schneider as examples (p. 264, footnote 52).

The late Beasley-Murray, a British Baptist, in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (I:144) writes, “Despite assertions to the contrary, it seems that baptizo, both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant ‘immerse’, and that even when it became a technical term for baptism, the thought of immersion remains.” In his book, Baptism in the New Testament (p. 263), Beasley-Murray after citing a quotation from Adolf Schlatter comments, “He meant, of course, that there is no gift or power available to man in consequence of the redemption of Christ that is not available to him in baptism. On the basis of the exposition offered above, and without any attempt to give exhaustive references, the ‘grace’ available to man in baptism is said by the New Testament writers to include the following elements…” (the following is simply Beasley-Murray’s paragraph given in a list form).

  • Forgiveness of sin, Acts 2:38 and cleansing from sins, Acts 22:16, I Cor. 6:11.
  • Union with Christ. Gal. 3:27, and particularly union with Him in his death and resurrection. Rom. 6:3ff, Col. 2:11f, with all that implies of release from sin’s power, as well as guilt, and the sharing of the risen life of the Redeemer, Rom. 6:1-11.
  • Participation in Christ’s sonship, Gal. 3:26f.
  • Consecration to God, I Cor. 6:11, hence membership in the church, the Body of Christ, I Cor. 12:13, Gal. 3:27-29.
  • Possession of the Spirit, Acts 2:38, I Cor. 6:11, 12, 13, and therefore the new life in the Spirit, i.e. regeneration, Tit. 3:5, Jn. 3:5.
  • Grace to live according to the will of God, Rom. 6:1ff, Col. 3:1ff.
  • Deliverance from the evil powers that rule this world, Col. 1:13.
  • The inheritance of the Kingdom of God, Jn. 3:5, and the pledge of the resurrection of the body, Eph. 1:13f, 4:30.

We can only hope that the scholarship of Beasley-Murray and others on the subject of baptism will help convince the religious world to reexamine scripture. What is needed is for people everywhere to return to the teaching of the New Testament on baptism. Baptism is not just a symbol.