Lecture: Conversion of a Gang Member

1

“Conversion of a Gang Member” was a part of the Conversion Series for the 11th annual Affirming the Faith Seminar held at the North MacArthur church of Christ (Oklahoma City, OK). The 2018 theme was Unfinished Business.

Lecture Audio

Click the image to listen, audio will open in new tab.

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Lesson Summary

The conversion to Christ by a gang member comes with its own challenges culturally, spiritually, socially, and developmentally. The stark contrast between the evils and perils of the world from the lives of long-time church-goers is often hard to quantify and hard to appreciate. We need a cooperative learning model that gives the church insight to enter and help their communities and provides a “training in righteousness” mentorship for the new covert.

The Lecture Presentation Slides

Notes

  • Related reading: Jovan Payes, “Leaving a Street Gang for Christ,” Gospel Advocate (April 2015).
  • “Lessons and Suggestions…”
    • I was able, for the most part, to blend and weave “lessons and suggestions” throughout the lecture.
    • Let me add a few Lessons
      • Even when we do not understand “where” our new converts are coming from socially and culturally, we can love them and plug them into the culture of the church. What we do not understand about them should not hinder us from incorporating them.
      • Shaming converts because they are urban, ethnic, or from a broken home will never do. The world no longer has the old “normal” standards or expectations. We need to be flexible with our expectations of what people know, how they think and relate, and where their pains exist – for not all scars are skin deep, some go to the soul. We do not need to add to their trauma. There are no “normal” people, there are only people.
      • In our excitement to celebrate people’s conversions to Christ, we need to be careful not to tell their story without permission. Some people are not ready emotionally to talk about where they come from, or what they’ve done in their life. Learn to embrace their new life in Christ, without forcing them to dig out their skeletons and trauma. They will do that when it is right for them to glorify God in Jesus.
    • Let me add a few Suggestions
      • We -the church- need to stop taking ourselves so seriously. We are all in need of grace and forgiveness… that includes our elderly members as well. So, we need to take Paul’s words to heart: “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7 ESV).
      • Develop a “adopt a new Convert” program, or adopt a new convert on your own. Sometimes we wait for churches to create programs that need to happen now. Don’t wait for approval to serve… just serve. If you need permission… I permit you to serve. :) : “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).
      • Remember the goal is to make disciples, but everyone starts at a different start line. Jesus’ words are clear, we are to not leave them to figure things out, but to develop them – give them moral and spiritual goals: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20).
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Book Review: The Safest Place on Earth

Safest Place on Earth - Crabb.jpg

Dr. Larry Crabb is an established licensed psychologist, a well-known Christian author on marriage and biblical counseling topics, and current Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Colorado Christian University (Morrison, CO).[1] 

Dr. Crabb earned his Ph.D in Clinical Psychology from the University of Illinois, and has been a professor of psychology since 1970. Dr. Crabb also provides workshops and weekend seminars across the United States as part of his non-profit New Way Ministries and its web presence which features interviews, video lectures, and other multimedia outlets to share resources from his School of Spiritual Direction.

Dr. Crabb has been involved in counseling and marriage, in self-help ministry, and in developing a context of “spiritual community” for over 40 years, and so has earned a place among the various “Christian voices” seeking to make the church a better place.

In 1999, Dr. Crabb released a significant but brief volume on the church as a safe spiritual community. The volume is entitled, The Safest Place on Earth: Where People Connect and Are Forever Changed (238 pages).[2] Dr. Crabb has registered his own frustration with two elements which bear upon the community of the church and its spiritual health, which he further addresses in Real Church: Does it Exist? Can I Find It? (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 2009).

In The Safest Place on Earth, however, Dr. Crabb establishes a vision for the church as a group of believers on a journey towards God, and it is within the journey that spiritual community must begin and end for spiritual healing and direction. Despite Dr. Crabb’s own training in psychology, he believes when it comes to the soul care that ought to go on within the church, such assistance must yield “to special revelation and biblically dependent thinking.”[3] Dr. Crabb is adamant,

We don’t need more churches, as we usually define the word. We need more spiritual communities where good friends and wise people turn their chairs toward each other and talk well.[4]

Structurally, The Safest Place on Earth is organized in seventeen chapters, divided into three parts, and finishes with a section of questions for each chapter. The layout follows a very clear program of development, and the content is written in a popular style. Dr. Crabb is able to articulate and shape a conceptual paradigm of what is a spiritual community and what is not a spiritual community without complex vocabulary. His illustrations, personal anecdotes, and insights from personal interactions are delivered to support his vision for a spiritual community is very clear and helpful ways.

Dr. Crabb also interacts with and depends upon the works of Dutch Catholic priest Henri Nouwen[5] (1932-1996), who focused on spiritual solitude, spiritual community, and spiritual compassion, along with Swiss Catholic philosopher Jean Vanier (b. 1928) and his work connected to L’Arche communities which have overlapping concerns.[6]

A Book Summary

In part one, Dr. Crabb develops and sharpens the idea of spiritual community and how the church needs to develop sensitivity to being the spiritual community it was intended to be. Spiritual community is, according to Crabb, at the core of what the church is.

It is people facing each other in intimate, honest, and safe ways as they journey together on their way to God. Spiritual community, however, will not occur if there is no opportunity for vulnerability and a full sense of validation from these that witness the vulnerable parts of who we are.

One of the difficulties in church community life is to wrestle with the crux,

if they knew who I really was, the church would probably not like me.

To be a spiritual community, then, we must be able to love free from ego and embrace those so broken by those things which burden our souls and even cripple us.

The health metric of a spiritual community is its ability to love the unlovable, the broken, those that can only let you love them in their brokenness.

In part two, Dr. Crabb reframes the New Testament discussion of flesh and spirit elements of our soul in terms of the analogies of the Lower Room (carnal/wretchedness) and the Upper Room (spiritual/greatness).

It is in this phase of the book that Dr. Crabb focuses on the part of the church community that needs to be addressed first — our internal struggles to be spiritual. Enter Dr. Crabb’s “two rooms” analogy which he builds from the words of Jesus:

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 14:23)

And he amplifies these words with Paul’s regarding “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27).[7]

In essence, the two rooms represent fully furnished environments that exist within us.

Now there are two rooms inside us, the one we built where our natural self thrives, and the one the Spirit built where our natural self suffocates and our new self flourishes.[8] 

Dr. Crabb does not explicitly use all the terms, but these “rooms” parallel the Freudian id, ego, and superego dynamics, the difference being they are spiritualized.[9] The lower room is self-furnished by our wretchedness and “dark forces” with its corruption and stench (id). The upper room is furnished by the Spirit of God only enjoyed once we open the doors of the lower room, acknowledge its stench, and celebrate the confidence to be a new us (an obedient us) empowered by God’s grace and teaching (superego?).

Finally, we consciously (ego?) take these “two rooms” within us and the internal struggles that go with them —because we prefer to be in the lower room— to receive outside help from “another room” which is the spiritual community, the church. This room is furnished by the Spirit with safety, vision, wisdom, and power.

In part three, Dr. Crabb continues his visioning for spiritual community with another analogy of “turning our chairs toward each other” but now by “turning our souls toward each other.”

In this process, the members of the church community must practice three needed things. First, spiritual community can only be done by the Holy Spirit. Second, personal holiness grounded in the Spirit influences the pursuit of personal holiness of others. Third, there must then be a safe place to “own and trace our desires to their source.”[10] 

Spiritual community, however, will only occur when spiritual passions are “supernaturally” aroused when we are together in spiritual community experiencing acceptance, mutual faith in God’s presence in our lives, affirm the “upper room” elements in our lives, and allow God to change us without applying human pressures of forced change.

It is certainly a place of risk, but risk will always be a factor when embracing the need for vulnerability. Therefore, the real question is: will we, the church, be the safe place for those being vulnerable?

Response and Review

I chose this book principally because of the title. In fact, I had seen this title on the cover of the September/October 2001 New Wineskin magazine as part of the issue theme of “Authentic Christian Community.”[11] The concept peaked my interest because I do feel the church has not been the safest place on Earth in managing people’s sin. One example will suffice. I once heard a preacher react to the exposed sins of others with the derogatory question, “where are the normal people?” That’s not a safe place for healing. Nor is the following response to a fellow congregant’s addiction any safer, “there’s a word they need to learn – repent.”

Rebuking sin is the easy work of preaching, but creating a compassionate environment to help brothers and sisters work through repentance is the harder – and in my judgment – more fruitful work of ministry.

Crabb’s book further calls the church to be the community through which Christians experience spiritual healing for spiritual problems often mistreated —according to Dr. Crabb—as psychological disorders or problems. The gospel and the New Testament teaching that the church is the dwelling place of God, and Christians are the temple of the Holy Spirit, seem to support the overall agenda that the culture of the local congregation should be more attuned to openly working through sin, temptations, and openly celebrating grace, and spiritual empowerment by God. Even Paul declares that the church is being recreated (2 Corinthians 5:17) and repurposed for ministry (Ephesians 2:10).

Dr. Crabb’s book both intrigued me and made me uncomfortable in that he elevates the spiritual components of the church where the Holy Spirit dwells. Again, it is not that I’m troubled by the Holy Spirit, it is that in many pockets of the Churches of Christ the Holy Spirit and the use of “community” have been so tinged with so-called “liberal agendas” in the latter, and doctrinal controversial hotbeds regarding the former. His emphasis that the church is specifically designed to be a spiritual community and therefore it must be that spiritual community on a journey to God is what stands out the most to me. If we are not a spiritual community, then there will not be the Spirit.

I do not agree with all of his points on the “wretchedness” of man, but Dr. Crabb has challenged me to speak more about the Spirit and the church as the community in which God does His best work to heal us from the effects of sin.

Concluding Thoughts

What I liked overall about the book is the Dr. Crabb’s challenging call to the church to be a safe place for the sort of healing love that needs to exists between God’s people, so that the Spirit of God may work through the church to heal its members as they bear each other’s burdens with the gifts of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). The church must be so, because, as Dr. Crabb reminds us, we are traveling together on a journey to God.

I recommend the challenge of this book to every Christian and church leader. The reminder that Scripture centers the body of Christ as the place where the Spirit dwells, and therefore must be the safe place where the members of the body can serve each other empowered by the same Spirit. To overcome sin, the church must be, and in some cases become, the place where no one struggles with sin void of love, compassion, support, and patience as we journey to God breaking free from the bondage of sin.

Endnotes

  1. “About Larry Crabb,” http://www.newwayministries.org/larrycrabb.php.
  2. Full details: Larry Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth: Where People Connect and Are Forever Changed (Nashville, TN: W Publishing, 1999).

  3. Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, 7.

  4. Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, 10.

  5. “Henri Nouwen Society,” http://henrinouwen.org.

  6. “History of L’Arche,” https://www.larcheusa.org/who-we-are/history.

  7. Unless otherwise stated all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of The Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).

  8. Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, 62–63.

  9. Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, 78–79.

  10. Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, 121–30.

  11. Larry Crabb, “Is the Church the Safest Place on Earth?,” New Wineskins 5.4 (Sept/Oct 2001): 12–15.

Proverbs 1-9 and the Teaching of Wisdom

college papers

The book of Proverbs was the first book of the Bible that I read as a new Christian in 1996. It called my attention and spoke to me with wisdom that I did not have. It literally saved my life. I come from a street gang background, and after leaving it behind for Christ I would receive invitations and phone calls to “go out” with friends still living the life I had abandoned. The hard part was that I cared for my friends but I knew that the life they were living was dangerous. On one occasion, after reading Proverbs, I denied an invitation to go out. My friend asked, “Why?” I said, “Let me read you something.” I read to him Proverbs 1:1-33 verbatim from the American Standard Version.[1] He did not like what he heard, but he understood. It would almost be a decade later when I would have a safe outing with my old friends. In that moment, though, Proverbs spoke for me with the wisdom I did not have at the time, the words of wisdom which promise life when followed, and warnings of calamity when not.

On face value, Proverbs promises to all those who would read and apply its words of protection from calamity. The first verses invite people to learn wisdom. It calls out with the words, “To know wisdom… to discern the words… to receive instruction… to give prudence… knowledge and discretion” (1:2-4 ASV). These synonymously paralleled ideas highlight the strength, beauty, and power of this book. I am indebted to Proverbs for giving me the words and a plan of action for speaking to my friend when I was very tempted to say yes and go out with him and others. It cannot be overstated that this paper on Proverbs is not a mere academic exercise in biblical hermeneutics and interpretive methods, and their bearing on Hebrew Poetry and Wisdom Literature. I do not believe that an academic judicious study of the Scriptures must ignore or be disinterested in practical engagement of the same. The wisdom psalm says our “delight” must be “in the law of the Lord” wherein we should meditate upon it “day and night” and, as a consequence, our actions bear its fruit (Psa 1:2-3 ESV).[2]

The present paper focuses, though, upon the contents of Proverbs 1-9 and the methodology within this section to teach wisdom. The impetus for this paper is the intriguing use of two women (Lady Wisdom, Dame/Madam Folly) dueling for the attention of a “lover/spouse” (the reader), the use of a father-figure addressing his son as to the importance of selecting a companion from one of these women, and how this motif and strategy is used to teach wisdom —presumably from God. This paper will contextualize Proverbs 1-9 in order to properly understand its literary features (genre), structure (the instruction speeches), and strategies (how it teaches wisdom); so that, trajectories may be suggested for personal spiritual growth in wisdom. The home and the church needs more wise people active in this world.

Consider first the cautionary words of Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman, III:

We will surely distort God’s message to us if we read the Old Testament as if it had been written yesterday. We will surely misapply it to our lives and the communities in which we live if we don’t take into account the discontinuity between the Israelites… and us Christians living at the beginning of the third millennium.[3]

In an attempt to reduce these potential gaps, this paper will have two movements. First, Proverbs will be considered as a work of Hebrew Poetry set within the international context of Wisdom Literature. Second, the strength of interpreting Proverbs 1-9 as a significant collection within the anthology of the whole book will be examined. Finally, some conclusions will be drawn.

1. Contextualizing the Genre of Proverbs

Proverbs is a work of Hebrew Poetry set within an ancient international context of Wisdom Literature. Proverbs must be read in light of the stylistic poetic methods of the ancient Hebrews rather than in the light of modern literary expectations. Karen Jobes reminds that the “unfamiliarity of ancient literary genres found in the Bible is undoubtedly a stumbling block to interpretation — and has been throughout the history of the church.”[4] Due to the antiquity and foreignness of the Hebrew Bible, it is important to bridge this interpretive gap by understanding the form through which God communicates His Word. To even begin to understand Hebrew poetry the Bible student must enter into “the image world of the poet” derived from “the ancient biblical culture” which is most likely quite different from the present modern (or post-modern) era today.[5] To lament with Samuel Sandmel, outside of allusions to David, Solomon, “certain ‘guilds,’” and the mentions of Asaph and the sons of Korah in the superscriptions of the Psalms, “Scripture tells us virtually nothing about the poets.”[6] Nevertheless, the legacy of their poetry suggests that they were wordsmiths and craftsmen[7] leveraged by the Spirit of God to communicate His Word in poetic form.

Poetry Appreciation

Poetry —ancient Near Eastern (ANE) or modern— is quite a different literary creature than narratives and civic codifications. To appreciate poetry and non-prosaic literature, it must be approached “with our imaginations sharpened, our rhythmic senses ready to carry us along the swells and recesses.” In others words, a poetic frame of mind must be at the ready if there will be any enjoyment or profit when reading poetic sections and books of the Bible.[8] Why? Because poetry is crafted to convey truth by means of emotion and imagery; the imagery is not to be pressed for its literalness. This is critical because the Hebrew Bible particularly is comprised of many books and sections which are framed in poetry (verse or proverb). This is a core hermeneutical skill needed to interpret and understand a large section of the Hebrew Bible, of which only Leviticus, Ruth, Ezra-Esther, Haggai and Malachi have no poetic sections.[9] Ultimately, poetry is regarded as the second most prevalent form of literature in either testament.[10]

Proverbs must be set within the international context of Wisdom Literature for this is the background of its poetic forms. This is not comfortable for some Bible students; however, when the biblical writings are set within their historical context, it becomes observable that biblical writers use the literary genres and conventions of their day and international heritage.[11] This is true as for the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament. For example, the Greco-Roman world was a letter writing community and its capacity to send information through a letter as a surrogate for a personal visit was powerfully used by the apostles and Christian prophets.[12] This utilitarian means led to the dominance of the epistolary genre of the New Testament. Likewise, it is clear that the form and function of Proverbs that its poetic nature is tied to an internationally known literary genre which centers upon teaching wisdom. It is not the form that makes them unique, it is the revelation they bear from God which set Israel’s Wisdom Literature apart from its international counterparts (2 Tim 3:16).

Consequently, while the context of God’s relationship with Israel may satisfy many interpreters of Proverbs for understanding the formation of the wisdom genre, it is probably better to understand Israel’s Wisdom Literature within the “contemporary” international context of the ANE. Merrill F. Unger offers, however, a valuable caution. Unger stresses a value for the contributions of scholarship from a variety of disciplines external to the text of Scripture (archaeology, ethnology, history, etc.), provided such disciplines are “purged of the leaven of unbelief and the unhappy results of a professed scientific but invalid method of approach that reposes [i.e., sets, lies] authority in unaided human reason.”[13] The concern is a valid one, but this conviction must not breed a fear which hinders properly contextualizing the Old Testament (cf. Longman).

International Wisdom Literature

With this said, Kenton L. Sparks, John H. Walton, and William W. Hallo have cataloged a vast array of documents and texts which make it clear that “wisdom was an international rather than strictly Israelite/Jewish phenomenon.”[14] These wisdom texts are spread across three broad ancient international regions and “states”: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the West Semitic and Hittite. The existence of Wisdom Literature external to biblical sources goes back to the third millennium BC. In Mesopotamia, wisdom is identified in such texts as the Sumerian Proverbs, the Instruction of Shuruppak, the Instruction of Urninurta, the Counsels of Wisdom, and the Advice to a Prince.[15] In Egypt, “Instruction” texts such as the following share a striking literary correspondence with Proverbs: Instruction of Ptahhotep, Instruction of Merikare, and Instruction of Any and Instruction of Amenemope.[16] In the third group, the Aramaic Proverbs of Ahiqar bears similarities with the numerical sayings of Proverbs (6:16-19).[17]

Consider a few conclusion drawn by Old Testament scholars regarding these extra-biblical international sources of Wisdom Literature. First, Walton demonstrates (following Kitchen)[18] that “a great deal of formal similarity exists between the Instruction of the ancient Near East and the book of Proverbs.”[19] Thus, one cannot ignore this similarity. Second, Israel’s wisdom genre is a late-comer, however, when compared to the international community. Nevertheless, despite the existence of international Wisdom Literature which predates Israel’s, one should not confuse pre-existing genre and form as a subversive challenge to divine revelation. Third, many of these texts are generally framed between a father and a son, provide advice and counsel, and employ riddles and figurative language. 

In the Akkadian Counsels of Wisdom (lines 81-84)[20] a father speaks to his son:

//My son, if it be the wish of a ruler that you belong to him, //If you are entrusted with his closely guarded seal, //Open his treasure (and) enter it, //For no one but you may do it.

In the Instruction of Shuruppak (lines 31-34)[21] there are sections reminiscent of the concern about proper conduct especially around a married woman (Prov 2:16-22, 5:1-23, 6:20-35, 7:1-27):

My son, do not commit robbery, do not cut yourself with an axe. //Do not act as the bridegroom’s friend in a wedding, do not … yourself. //Do not laugh with a girl who is married; the slander is strong. //My son, do not sit (alone) in a chamber with a woman who is married.

Fourth, the wisdom “Instructional sayings” texts emphasizing the passing on of instruction by imperatival phrases (“listen, my son”) find strong intertextual similarities with Proverbs 1-9, 22-24, and 30-31.[22] For example, the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemopet shares common literary features with the prologue of Proverbs 1 and 22:17-24:22.[23]

Solomon’s Placement

These findings stand in agreement with the biblical narrative which frames the international influence and fame of King Solomon’s wisdom (1 King 4:29-34). Solomon’s kingdom (ca. 960-922 BCE) is connected to the international community of the world. There are five elements to this passage which underscore the international stature of wisdom in Israel due to Solomon.[24]

First, as a result of Solomon seeking wisdom and “an understanding mind to govern” Israel (1 King 3:9), God grants him “wisdom [hakmah] and understanding [tebuna] beyond measure” (4:29).[25]

Second, the richness of his wisdom is as the “breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore” (4:29).

Third, Solomon’s hakmah is intentionally stated to have surpassed the pre-existing wisdom tradition of the east (Mesopotamia?) and Egypt (4:30).[26]

Fourth, Solomon’s wisdom was regarded as exceptional at home among the men of Israel (4:31).[27]

Fifth, Solomon’s wisdom had achieved international acclaim (4:31-43). Perhaps, the catalogue of Solomon’s 3,000 proverbial sayings and his 1,005 songs (masal) were appealing for their artistry and craftsmanship: “And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” (4:43).[28]

Furthermore, the mention of the Ezion-geber seaport and capable seamen in 1 Kings 9:26-28 and 2 Chronicles 8:17-18 provides insight into the international trade and military capacity of Israel during the reign of Solomon. The capacity to use the sea would extend Israel’s connection to other nations and implicitly suggests that here was to some degree the transference of cultural and religious ideas. The point is, Israel was connected.[29]

Exploring the Purpose of Proverbs 1-9: Order and the Fear the Lord

What is the purpose the Wisdom Literature as revealed in Proverbs 1-9? A survey of scholarly sources can easily demonstrate the difficulty inherent in defining biblical wisdom. Some define wisdom, and ultimately the purpose of Wisdom Literature, from the point of view of a chase to obtain wisdom or to become wise. Dave Bland asserts that Wisdom Literature concerns itself with “how one gains wisdom” so that one may have ability and expertise to negotiate the difficulties of life (2:1-5).[30] James G. Williams, describes wisdom as the ability to voice and apply perspective, “wisdom is dedicated to articulating a sense of order.”[31] Williams goes on to define that “sense of order” through the lens of positive and negative retributive justice; which is it say, if you do x, then y follows — whether to reward you or to punish you. Furthermore, and what is inviting to Williams’ treatment of wisdom codified in proverbial sayings, is that the power of wisdom resides in its capacity to instill discipline and self-control (musar 1:1-7).[32]

Indeed, Kevin J. Youngblood[33] sustains and extends this thesis by arguing that “discipline” functions in four relational levels, all of which maintain the “cosmic boundaries” which protect wisdom’s order. They move from the proper order that should exist in the comprehensive first level of the cosmos as God orders it, the second level of the city with its cultural and political order, the third level being the family and household order, and finally the fourth level where self-discipline reflects the “individual expression” of the cosmic order.[34] The foundation to this order of wisdom is spelled out in the prologue of Proverbs (see Youngblood’s figure below).

screenshot-2017-02-17-00-47-13
Figure from Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” ResQ 51 (2009): 147.

The language of wisdom from Proverbs 1:2-6 is distinctively summed up[35] by the synonymously parallel concept of “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7a). Bruce Waltke calls this verse the essential “spiritual grammar for understanding” Proverbs and in effect wisdom.[36] In agreement, if Bland and Williams may be synthesized, the pursuit to gain wisdom is to articulate and practice the treasury of human knowledge which provides the understanding and guideposts to live within the proper divinely sanctioned order of existence. In light of Proverbs 1:7a, then, the emerging wise person must begin with the primary source of earthly order, namely — the Lord. Roland Murphy believes this phrase enunciated the motto of the sages. It takes little to explain how this function of “fear” in the God of Israel is the only thing which aligns the emerging person with a right relationship with their surroundings.[37]

In addition, when seeking a broader perspective on the notion of fearing the Lord, Kenneth T. Aitken calls attention to two elements of “the fear of the Lord” illustrated in the Hebrew Bible. First, there is “deep-seated reverence and awe,” and second, there is the commitment of the emerging wise person to be loyal and obedient to the Lord’s law.[38] It was Moses who was afraid to look at God when He manifested at the burning bush (Exod 3:6), and it was Isaiah who spoke of regarding “the Lord of Hosts” as holy, your “fear” and “dread” (Isa 8:13). However, Proverbs use of “the fear of the Lord” is quite clear. The phrase is used in Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10. In the conclusion to the preamble of Proverbs (1:7), the emphasis is laid upon a promotion to begin practicing the essence of wisdom; later, Proverbs 9:10 functions as a warning to those who would be seduced by the way of folly, or as Whybray calls her Lady Stupidity.[39] “Fear of the Lord” or “fear the Lord” is used as a shorthand (Waltke’s “spiritual grammar”) for the wisdom of obedience to God’s order (Prov 3:7; 14:2; 24:21; 28:14; 31:30). In these references for “fear the Lord,” one can observe in the juxtaposed tension found in the antithetic binary line the contours of what wisdom-obedience is and is not.

We may then conclude that “fear of the Lord” or “fear the Lord” is used as a shorthand (Waltke’s “spiritual grammar”) for obedience to God’s order as it connects down the one’s personal relationships (Prov 3:7; 14:2; 24:21; 28:14; 31:30). In these references for “fear the Lord,” one can observe how the contours of what “wisdom-obedience” is and is not by the tension created in the antithetic binary line.

2. Understanding the Structure of Proverbs 1-9

The strength of interpreting Proverbs 1-9 as a significant collection within the anthology of the whole book will be examined. The book of Proverbs may be outlined in three movements: (1) the preamble (1:1-7), (2) the Instructional Sayings (1:18-9:18), and (3) the Proverbial Sayings (10:1-31:31). An outline like this demonstrates the broad outlook of the book which is framed as a father encouraging his son to follow after wisdom.[40] However, it is very clear from the headings staggered throughout Proverbs (1:1, 10:1, 22:17, 25:1, 30:1, 31:1), that the canonical form of this inspired book is the result of a purposeful editorial hand(s) marked by these collections. This anthological insight provides guideposts for knowing how to read the different parts of Proverbs.[41] It is precisely due to this diversity of literary forms in Proverbs that forces Whybray to say, “there is little gained from attempting to read the book straight through without a break.”[42] In the case of the two Solomonic headings (1:1, 10:1), it may be to acknowledge the change in literary form from Instructional discourse to two-line proverbs.[43] These headings provide internal seams to distinguish between literary collections.

Unfortunately, the academic community is divided over the exact structure of Proverbs 1:8-9:18.[44] Merrill F. Unger offers a common three-point outline: (1) the call of wisdom (1:1-33), (2) the rewards of wisdom (2:1-7:27), and (3) praise of divine wisdom (8:1-9:18).[45] Yet, the outline is simplistic and does not take into account the prologue (1:1-7), nor the various individualized thematic Instructions given on the wayward woman throughout chapters 2-7. To be fair, Unger is providing an introductory outline, and yet his outline represents the problem of oversimplification.

Outlining the Structure of Proverbs 1-9

So while there is wide agreement that Proverbs 1-9 is framed in a series of lectures or Instructions, this is where the agreement ends. Some scholars organize Proverbs 1-9 along self-proclaimed traditional lines of fifteen discourses (Bullock, Archer). Meanwhile, other scholars carve out 10 instructional speeches with a varied number of interludes (Whybray, Bland, Crenshaw). However, Patrick W. Skehan[46] takes his cue from Proverbs 9:1 advancing a seven speech (Instruction) model:

“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.”

For Skehan this is the best interpretive place to start, as the seven pillars of Wisdom personified are best explained in literary terms (a “literary edifice”). Chapters 1 and 8-9 function, according to Skehan, as the framework for the seven speeches of roughly 22 lines each within chapters 2-7. Despite some promising observations, Skehan’s forces every speech into this paradigm which runs him into trouble with Proverbs 6:1-19. His solution is to cut it out of his structure, labeling it as “intrusive.”

What is clear is that there is an intentionality in how Proverbs 1-9 was organized, but at this point, there is not total agreement among biblical scholars, who have similar and overlapping outlines. Furthermore, these smaller sections within chapters 1-9 do work together and provide the “hermeneutical guide to the interpretation of the rest of the book” (10:1-31:31).[47] It is not held here that the value of the structure of chapters 1-9 falls because of the difficulty of outlining it; instead, the value of the structure is upheld if it accomplishes its intended goal: to instruct the simple to find wisdom through the fear of the Lord. The overlapping ideas and grammatical nuances which create structural tensions may, in fact, be another measure to provoke the interconnected nature of these Instructions.

The Personification of Wisdom and Folly

The theological contribution of chapters of the Instruction sayings 1-9 is found particularly in its personification of wisdom and folly. There is the pursuit of the proper order of things (Lady Wisdom) and the disruption of the proper order of things (Dame Folly, the Adulteress, etc.). Wisdom and Folly are personified throughout Proverbs 1-9: Folly (1:10-19, 4:14-17, 5:1, 7:1, 9:13-18) and Wisdom (1:20-33, 8:1-21, 9:1-6). The personification of wisdom and folly is particularly developed in Proverbs  8:1-9:18, when the emerging wise person is called upon to make the final decision. The pageantry is over. Unlike Adam who woke up “clean slate” to Eve in the Garden, the emerging wise son must choose between two beauties. Will he choose Lady Wisdom or Dame Folly?

Bringing a mind ready for the imagery of poetry, recognizing this personification is critically important. Personification may be understood as when “an inanimate object or entity or an animal (or a god, or God) is spoken of as though it or he were a human person with human characteristics.”[48] The power in such figures of speech, over against the clarity of literal speech, relies on its power to communicate with “richness, depth, and emotional impact.”[49] Although it can be argued that such women may and do exist in real life,[50] it can not be ignored that throughout the context of chapters 1-9 they function as figurative expressions to illustrate the object lesson of both wisdom and folly.

Personification plays another important role besides providing imagery. It is clear that even “the way” which an emerging wise person will go is personified by the home of either Wisdom or Folly. These all reflect one choice to follow God or to reject His counsel. In chapters 8-9, Wisdom’s origin is above the city, “the highest places in the town” (9:3); likewise, so is Folly situated in a seat “on the highest places of the town” (9:14). It is believed by some that this is a direct allusion to the ANE idea that only the god of that city would dwell in the highest locales.[51] Derek Kidner illustrates from Canaanite practice the precedent to personify a deity from the pantheon with the principle which best represented their god or an attribute of their god (anger, war, love, etc.). Personifying God’s wisdom by a faithful honorable woman was then in keeping with literary strategy; likewise, personifying the opposition to God’s wisdom (idolatry? paganism?) by a distrusted dishonorable covenant breaking woman also fits.[52] Thus, personification is more than mere imagery. It serves as a literary feature —a tool— procured by Israel from the international religious community, and incorporated it into their own wisdom speeches to epitomize God and the deceitful “competition.”[53]

The Strategy’s Terminus

The first nine chapters of Proverbs creates a framework for understanding that seeking wisdom, and upholding how things ought to be, demonstrates the “fear of the Lord.” This “discipline” and “self-control” to choose wisdom functions then in relational ways. What the speeches in Proverbs 1-9 address is that our choices affect the order of things around us. In the four concentrated sections dealing with the adulteress or strange woman and the unfaithful wife (2:16-22; 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:1-27), wisdom is explained in terms of marital faithfulness, foolishness is explained in terms of the pitfalls of misplaced sexuality.

Again, Youngblood is correct when he observes that wisdom (for Youngblood “self-control”) “is a matter of submitting oneself to Yahweh’s governance as does all creation.”[54] It begins with the self, then in the home, then the civic interactions, and then before God himself (see figure above).[55] This transition is borne out by comparing Proverbs 3:19-20 and 24:3-4. The same wisdom that founded creation also builds our households; the same understanding by which the heavens are established also establishes our own home and life; by means of his knowledge creation functions, so to our family.[56] The choice of the which woman to dine with and to be with, is a demonstration —a graduation of sorts— for the emerging wise person, for in that choice they have shown fear and discipline (or, vice and disorder), and are living in the order that ought to be (or, how it ought not to be).

Two outcomes result at this point. In the first place, the emerging wise person has chosen the direction of their life, which according to Proverbs 1-9 ought to be wisdom and fear of the Lord. In the second, this perspective will give the reader the proper guidance for understanding judiciously and applying the binary proverbs in the later collections of Proverbs. Proverbs 1-9, then, provides the context to understand the rest of the book.

3. Models for Teaching Wisdom

Let us consider some thoughts on how to articulate a model for teaching wisdom within the home and the church.

Wisdom-Training Must Begin in the Home

The motif of a father (and mother) speaking to their son is a significant reminder of the importance Scripture places on the home as the primary location for spiritual formation. The shema passage of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is not only the Law but also provides and demands parents and guardians to find appropriate ways to make faith the “air that the family breathes.”

Every parent should be willing to recognize the obvious truth that with the raising and caring for children comes a learning curve — a learning curve that seems to never straighten. Nevertheless, the task in the home is to connect the children to the divine order of wisdom which speaks to their behavior. In Malachi the prophet condemned Judah for their lack of faithfulness. And in this condemnation, the Lord clearly addresses His desire for “godly offspring” (Mal 2:15).

What is at stake is establishing early the human boundaries created by God for self-control and responsible involvement to be the creative force that establishes God’s order in the world.[57] Furthermore, as Sandmel acknowledges,

a person can be trained in wisdom and, if by chance he does not himself become personally wise, he can at least absorb the wisdom in the book well enough to live prudently… to live without unnecessary risk.[58]

Proverbs is useful for developing the emerging wise person because its counsel is “safe and reliable” and fosters the virtues of “thrift, hard work, foresight, and piety.”[59] 

It was through a home education in God’s sacred writings which provided the wisdom for Timothy to obtain the salvation which is in Christ (2 Tim 3:14-15). Fathers and mothers are called upon to raise up children (1 Tim 3:4, 5:14; Tit 2:4) and train them in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:1-4).

Everyday Choices are Spiritual Choices

In the use of personification in Proverbs 1-9, the spiritualization of everyday things can assist dramatically in demonstrating the consequences of wisdom and folly.

Wisdom, then, is different from learning, for an unschooled person may posses it, out of rich experience. On the other hand, there are people with rich experience to whom we would not attribute wisdom, for even that experience does not necessarily lead them to it.[60]

What are the gods of this age? How might one describe drug addiction or sexual pornographic addictions, or greedy consumerism? It comes down to choices. If we could reframe our spiritual focus down to the kitchen table choices, the check book choices, the wandering feet choices, etc., then it is possible to illustrate with clarity the heart of the problem and not the symptom.

It is the rejection of a loving obedience to God’s order which enables a lack of self-control. If you lack self-control, then you may eventually be controlled by a vice you never learned to say no to. The wisdom of Proverbs 1-9 highlights the creative ways we may seek to instill wisdom one choice at a time. Too many times, we believe simply by knowing or quoting the Scripture it will be sufficient. This is unsatisfactory.

In the temptation of Jesus, his identity as the Christ was under attack (Matt 4:1-11). It was not simply that he was hungry, or a test of God, or a test of ruling the kingdoms of men that was at the heart of the temptation. Jesus’ identity was under attack. In each response, Jesus quotes Scripture, but it was his choice to abide by the wisdom of those passages that led his victory over Satan. There was an order that he respected, thus, as the practice of fasting often typified Jesus showed himself disciplined to the leading of God.

There is a great social need for discipline and the wisdom that provides the contours of discipline. Some seek to develop spiritual discipline in recovery programs, particularly those built upon the sermon on the mount. For all the stigma such recovery programs receive, they at least are addressing the matter of discipline head-on and are not ignoring or whitewashing the issue.

For those who face their hurts, hang-ups, and habits, everyday choices are spiritual choices of restructuring their world order based upon the “fear of the Lord.” We need to champion their cause rather than subvert them, or stigmatizing them. They know who has the antidote for their weaknesses. The real question is, “do we?”

The Church Needs Wise People

Third, James A. Sanders speaks to the need for the church to develop and “produce more ‘wisemen’ and fewer ‘prophets’ for the responsible guidance of the people of God.”[61] For Sanders this would include the concern for the survival of God’s people. Wise people, as conceived in terms of Proverbs 1-9, scrutinize the power structure of any given situation, or the problem, and then work them out in realistic ways which honor their relationship with God.[62] James 1:19-20 reads,

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Developing men and women to think in terms of the fear of the Lord, to choose faithful means to serve God, is what will reinforce the ideal Divine order. Paul clearly connects the church’s identity to the outflow of God’s wisdom and the order which it creates:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1:7-10)

Thus, it will take a variety of means to develop members of the body of Christ. This must be primarily accomplished at the level of the local congregation. This will require developing mentoring relationships within the body of Christ. One has wisely said, “Academic training is not the only kind of training we should utilize, however. A young person can benefit from working with someone older, wiser, more experienced.”[63] I fully concur. We must cultivate wisdom-seeking from within the church, this will aid us to be receptive to God’s lead (Eph 3:10-11; Luke 7:31-35).

Conclusion

Proverbs 1-9 stands as a powerful section of Wisdom Literature. It shows that God’s people can learn from others how to teach wisdom. It also reveals that wisdom is more than knowing what to do, but also doing so because of a godly “fear of the Lord.” God’s people can and must use all expedient methods to teach wisdom. As an inspired anthology, Proverbs 1-9 demonstrates a measure of creativity for teaching wisdom in the home, in the community, and in the church. Proverbs 1-9 provides guideposts for teaching wisdom and discipline in the home and the church, for living by the fear of the Lord creates God’s order.

Endnotes

  1. American Standard Version of The Holy Bible (1885, 1901; repr., Fort Worth, TX: Star Bible, 1992).
  2. Unless otherwise stated all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of The Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).
  3. Tremper Longman, III, Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions (1998; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 22-23. Longman argues that there are four major causes for this interpretive distance, two of which are the antiquity (“vast space of time”) and foreignness (culture, civilization, images, and literary genres and forms) of the Hebrew Bible (19-22).
  4. Karen Jobes, “Stumbling Block #1: Literary Genre: Missing Clues in the Text,” Bible Study Magazine 9.1 (Nov.-Dec. 2016), 25.
  5. Jack P. Lewis, “The Nature of Hebrew Poetry,” in When We Hurt: Tragedy and Triumph in Job, ed. David L. Lipe (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardemen University, 2003), 187.
  6. Samuel Sandmel, The Enjoyment of Scripture: The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (1972; repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1981), 195.
  7. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 196.
  8. A. Berkeley Mickelsen and Alvera M. Mickelsen, Understanding Scripture: How to Read and Study the Bible, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992), 115.
  9. Lewis, “Hebrew Poetry,” 185. This means that thirty-two books of the Hebrew Bible are composed either completely or in part (sections) as poetic literature (82%).
  10. Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1984), 87.
  11. Leland Ryken, “Bible as Literature,” in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation, eds. David S. Dockery, et al. (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1994), 56.
  12. Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985), 13. “Examined within the full context of early Christian literature, the documents which came to constitute the NT canon are not, as a group, recognizably unique.” Cf., W. Hersey Davis, Greek Papyri of the First Century (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1933; repr., Chicago, IL: Ares, n.d.).
  13. Merrill F. Unger, “Scientific Biblical Criticism and Exegesis,” Bsac 121 (1964): 64.
  14. Kenton L. Sparks, Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 56. John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context (1989; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 169-97; William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, eds., The Context of Scripture (New York: Brill, 1997); James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction, rev. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 205-26.
  15. Sparks, Ancient Texts, 58-60.
  16. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature, 172-75.
  17. Sparks, Ancient Texts, 76-77.
  18. Kenneth A. Kitchen, “Proverbs and Wisdom Books of the Ancient Near East: The Factual History of a Literary Form.” TynB 28 (1977): 69-114. Kitchen insists that Proverbs 1-24 should be viewed as “one large composition” followed by three more main sections (25:1; 30:1; 31:1).
  19. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature, 177.
  20. Robert D. Biggs, trans., “Counsels of Wisdom,” in The Ancient Near East, ed. James B. Pritchard (London: Princeton University, 1975), 2:147.
  21. Bendt Alster, “Shuruppak,” COS 1.176.
  22. Dave Bland, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2002), 17.
  23. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom, 210-13.
  24. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature, 177; James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997), 20-21.
  25. Louis Goldberg, “hakmah,TWOT 647a;  Louis Goldberg, “tebuna,” TWOT 239b.
  26. Harvey E. Finley, “The Book of Kings,” in Beacon Bible Commentary, ed. A. F. Harper, et al. (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1965), 2:362. “The ancient Near East could claim a considerable deposit of wisdom (hokma) before Solomon’s time. This the Historian recognized.”
  27. Are Ethan and Heman mentioned here the Ezrahites cited in the subtitles of Psalm 88 and 89?
  28. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 196. “Meter and parallelism suggest that these poets were craftsmen. One would need to conclude, too, that the people were receptive to the poems; some high status of the poet is certainly to be inferred from the epithet applied to David, that he was Israel’s sweet singer.”
  29. The visit by the Queen of Sheba by camel and the seaport mentioned lend strongly in favor of a Solomonic kingdom that was an international player. Furthermore, add the centralized placement of Israel between Egypt in the southwest and Mesopotamia in the northeast. See Samuel J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks, 5th ed. (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 141-53.
  30. Bland, Proverbs, 12.
  31. James G. Williams, “Proverbs and Ecclesiastes,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (1987; repr., Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University,1999), 263.
  32. Williams, “Proverbs and Ecclesiastes,” 264-65. “Everything in traditional Wisdom, from its basic ideas to its literary forms, affirms order. What this means when the principle of retribution, the necessity of wise utterance, and the authority of the fathers are brought to bear on the individual is the imperative of discipline and self-control” (246).
  33. Kevin J. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries and Self-Control in Proverbs,” ResQ 51.3 (2009): 139-50.
  34. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 147.
  35. Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 180-81.
  36. Waltke, Proverbs, 180-81.
  37. Roland Murphy, Proverbs (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1998), 5. Robert Alter marks this as a distinctive emphasis by Israel which is “not evident in analogous Wisdom texts in Egypt and Mesopotamia” (The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes [New York, NY: Norton & Co., 2010], 194).
  38. Kenneth T. Aitken, Proverbs (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1986), 14-15.
  39. R. N. Whybray, The Book of Proverbs (London: Cambridge at the University Press, 1972), 55.
  40. Tremper Longman, III, “Poetic Books,” in The IVP Introduction to the Bible, ed. Philip S. Johnston (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 104.
  41. Thomas H. Olbricht, “The Making of Old Testament Books,” in The World and Literature of the Old Testament, ed. John T. Willis (1979; repr., Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University, 1984), 234.
  42. Whybray, Proverbs, 12.
  43. Olbricht, “Making of OT Books,” 233. Waltke labels 10:1a as a Janus verse linking the 1:1-9:18 collection and the 10:1b-22:16 collection (Proverbs, 447; cf. Murphy, Proverbs, 64).
  44. Raymond Dillard and Tremper Longman, III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 238.
  45. Merrill F. Unger, Introductory Guide to the Old Testament (1951; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 372.
  46. Patrick William Skehan, “The Seven Columns of Wisdom’s House in Proverbs 1-9,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 9.2 (April 1947): 190-98.
  47. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the OT, 239.
  48. John C. L. Gibson, Language and Imagery in the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 16-18.
  49. Craig C. Broyles, “Interpreting the Old Testament,” in Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis, ed. Craig C. Broyles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 37.
  50. Dave Bland, Proverbs, 81.
  51. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the OT, 243.
  52. Derek Kidner, An Introduction to Wisdom Literature: The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1985), 38-43.
  53. Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York, NY: Paulist, 1984), 480.
  54. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 140.
  55. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 147.
  56. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 141.
  57. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 149.
  58. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 210.
  59. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 210.
  60. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 208.
  61. James A. Sanders, Torah and Canon (1972; repr., Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1976), 100.
  62. Sanders, Torah and Canon, 101.
  63. Stan Mitchell, Will Our Faith Have Children? Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation (Henderson, TN: Hester, 2016), 10.

Bibliography

Aitken, Kenneth T. Proverbs. Daily Study Bible Series. Old Testament. Edited by John C. L. Gibson. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1986.

Alter, Robert. The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary. New York, NY: Norton & Co., 2010.

Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Revised and expanded edition. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1994.

Bland, Dave. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs. College Press NIV Commentary. Edited by Terry Briley and Paul Kissling. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2002.

Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York, NY: Paulist, 1984.

Broyles, Craig C. “Interpreting the Old Testament: Principles and Steps.” Pages 13-62 in Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis. Edited by Craig C. Broyles. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003.

Bullock C. Hassell. An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books. Revised and Expanded. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1988.

Crenshaw, James L. Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction. Revised and Enlarged. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1998.

Dillard, Raymond B., and Tremper Longman, III. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth. 3rd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

Finley, Harvey E. “The Book of Kings.” Pages 337-507 in vol. 2 of the Beacon Bible Commentary. Edited by A. F. Harper, et al. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1965.

Gibson, John C. L. Language and Imagery in the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998.

Guthrie, George H., and David Howard. “Reading Psalms and Proverbs.” Pages 111-30 in Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word. Nashville, TN: B&H, 2011.

Hallo, William W., and K. Lawson Younger. Editors. The Context of Scripture. 3 vol. New York: Brill, 1997.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1999.

Jobes, Karen. “Stumbling Block #1: Literary Genre: Missing Clues in the Text.” Bible Study Magazine 9.1 (Nov.-Dec. 2016): 24-25.

Kitchen, Kenneth A. “Proverbs and Wisdom Books of the Ancient Near East: The Factual History of a Literary Form.” TynB 28 (1977): 69-114.

Lewis, Jack P. “The Nature of Hebrew Poetry.” Pages 185-93 in When We Hurt: Tragedy and Triumph in Job. Edited by David L. Lipe. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 2003.

Longman, Tremper, III. Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions. 3 Crucial Questions Series. Edited by Grant R. Osborne and Richard J. Jones, Jr. 1998. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005.

Longman, Tremper, III. “Poetic Books.” Pages 95-113 in The IVP Introduction to the Bible. Edited by Philip S. Johnston. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Mickelsen, A. Berkeley, and Alvera M. Mickelsen. Understanding Scripture: How to Read and Study the Bible. Revised edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992.

Miller, Clyde M. “Interpreting Poetic Literature in the Bible.” Pages 158-67 in Biblical Interpretation: Principles and Practice: Studies in Honor of Jack Pearl Lewis. Edited by F. Furman Kearley, Edward P. Myers, and Timothy D. Hadley. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1986.

Murphy, Roland E. Proverbs. Word Biblical Commentary 22. Edited by Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1998.

Paterson, John. The Book that is Alive: Studies in Old Testament Life and Thought as set Forth by the Hebrew Sages. New York, NY: Scribner’s Sons, 1954.

Pritchard, James B. Editor. The Ancient Near East. Vol. 2. London: Princeton University, 1975.

Ryken, Leland. “Bible as Literature.” Pages 55-72 in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation: A Complete Library of Tools and Resources. Edited by David S. Dockery, Kenneth A. Mathews, and Robert B. Sloan. Nashville, TN: B&H, 1994.

Ryken, Leland. How to Read the Bible as Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984.

Sanders, James A. Torah and Canon. 1972. Repr., Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1976.

Sandmel, Samuel. The Enjoyment of Scripture: The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. 1972. Repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks: A Complete Survey of Old Testament History and Literature. 5th edition. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Skehan, Patrick William. “The Seven Columns of Wisdom’s House in Proverbs 1-9.” CBQ 9.2 (April 1947): 190-98.

Smith, James E. The Wisdom Literature and Psalms. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997.

Sparks, Kenton L. Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005.

Unger, Merrill F. Introductory Guide to the Old Testament. 1951. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979.

Unger, Merrill F. “Scientific Biblical Criticism and Exegesis.” Bsac 121.481 (Jan.-March 1964): 58-65.

Youngblood, Kevin J. “Cosmic Boundaries and Self-Control in Proverbs.” ResQ 51.3 (2009): 139-50.

Waltke, Bruce K. The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Edited by Robert L. Hubbard. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

Walton, John H. Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Library of Biblical Interpretation. 1989. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990.

Whybray, R. N. The Book of Proverbs. Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible. Edited by Peter A. Ackroyd, A. R. C. Leaney, and J. W. Packer. New York, NY: Cambridge at the University Press, 1972.

Williams, James G. “Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.” Pages 263-82 in The Literary Guide to the Bible. Edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode. 1987. Repr., Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1999.

Book Review: Relaunch

Relaunch - Rutland - CoverMark RutlandRelaunch: How to Stage an Organizational Comeback (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook, 2013), 206 pages.

A walk in the clearance section (because I hate paying full price) of my local Lifeway Christian bookstore led me to the present volume on leadership. The price, packaging, and presentation of this David C. Cook book persuaded me to purchase it. I am very thankful I did and now I feel I’m playing catch up on leadership insights from Dr. Mark Rutland.

Dr. Mark Rutland has 13 books under his belt that can be obtained in many formats, and he also maintains an active teaching, humanitarian and blogging presence through his National Institute of Christian Leadership and Global Servants organization. In Relaunch, Rutland provides insights into his ministerial roles as Associate Pastor (Mt. Paran Church of God) and Senior Pastor (Calvary Assembly of God), and his presidential posts (Southeastern University, Oral Roberts University). These experiences serve as a springboard to show his credibility to speak to leaders about the core issues of turnaround leadership in a variety of settings.

ReLaunch: A Survey

ReLaunch is about turnaround leadership. It is comprised of 14 chapters, arranged in three parts followed by an epilogue all wrapped within 206 pages. In Part 1 (chapters 1-4), Rutland casts a common sense vision for understanding the intangible nature of leadership. Leadership is, in a nutshell, the art and skill to understand an organization’s goal and dream and to connect all its actions into realizing the dream, so that when the leader’s work is “done” the organization is in a better position for the next person to lead. Leadership then is to make the dream a reality by being the everyday “driving force” behind this achievement.[1] Here, Rutland spends some time surveying key experiences within three organization’s turnarounds (Calvary Assembly of God, Southeastern University, and Oral Roberts University).

In Part 2 (5-11), Rutland articulates and sets forth seven steps which are critical to turnaround leadership within a failing organization. Turnaround leadership, according to Rutland, cannot be accomplished without facing institutional reality and communicating the organization’s vision relentlessly top to bottom (Steps 1-2). Turnaround leadership must focus on alignment for the organization within the correct niche market, by its message, and through the most effective medium (Step 3). This requires creating an executable strategy by finding which system within your organization that can make the most impact (Step 4). Rutland demonstrates that in a turnaround you must either restore or create the organization’s dream and this is done by shifting its internal culture so that its members can support the organization’s promise to the world (Steps 5); moreover, this fuels the need to keep an eye on quality, which is to say it that the organization clearly delivers what it publically promises (Step 6). Finally, Rutland underscores the psychological importance of measuring and celebrating success within a turnaround because these actions promote meaning and value, and generate higher levels of positive energy within the members of the organization as they drive towards turnaround (Step 7).

In Part 3 (12-14), Rutland closes ReLaunch with a section on how to build a turnaround team. I believe these chapters alone would be worth the purchase of the book. The premise upon building a turnaround team is to have the proper alignment within the organization. In such a case, adding new members (“hiring”) which fit the goals, vision, and culture of the turnaround is critical because, otherwise, you are starting “the old cycle over again.”[2]  This boils down to finding the right person, at the right time, for the right reason (“job”). Rutland spends time developing a system he uses to put the right people in the right roles (his helpful Finder-Binder-Minder-Grinder system). Unfortunately, the changes which take place during a turnaround are hard for the established members (employees, board members, volunteers, etc.) of the organization. Rutland discusses, then, the last resort a turnaround leader must face when preexisting employees can not adjust – he talks about the troubling art of firing. Rutland shows compassionate insight. It is important to clearly promote your new vision and continue to hold everyone accountable to this turnaround goal to recapture the old dream (or create a new one). He counsels, “Some can make the change. Some can be retrained. But not everyone can make the turn.”[3] Finally, Rutland address the importance of forming a board and sketches the difference between an emotional (undependable) board, a legalistic (robotic; holds to if-then thinking) board, and a holistic (balances the tensions found in emotional/legalistic thinking) board. Rutland praises those boards which respect their limits, supports their leader’s role in the organization, and “empowers” their leader to do their best.

ReLaunch ends with the Epilogue where Rutland speaks to the inner life of the turnaround leader. It is honest, frank, and interwoven with experience of a leader who has “nosedived” and had his own inner turnaround within his life and family. Rutland warns that a leader must keep pushing forward and never fall into the trap that defeat or victory are final experiences. Also, leadership is costly because it is all-consuming: “There is always a cost.”[4] I found a sense of great depth when Rutland discusses “the most important truth” he has learned: to be a healthy leader, “stay free in God’s hand.” In other words, be willing to take the roles you are “called” into, execute its duties faithfully, but understand that you do not need to have it; moreover, learn that you can be “good” (acceptance) if you have to leave that role. Your identity should not be tied to your role, but instead, tied to your God.

Strengths and Weaknesses

ReLaunch is about turnaround leadership and Rutland succeeds in providing the key principles and steps which can deliver what he himself has accomplished and promises – turnaround. Rutland clearly articulates, with a narrator’s voice, addressing the philosophical terrain of turnaround realities. There is no fluff in this book, it is direct honesty, based on real life examples and personal illustrations. If anything, ReLaunch provides excellent insights on how to point out the turnaround benchmarks when discussing the future of your congregation, school, and organization. This is not a book on theory alone, but practice, and framed by someone who has lived on the front lines. The seven steps are “shovel ready” and awaits a bold leader to employ them when faced with the need to stage an organizational comeback. ReLaunch is a real book for real leaders.

I found the leadership insight focused as Rutland epitomizes his definition of leadership as tethering all of an organization’s parts to its dream and goals. This is particularly displayed in this compassion and awareness when discussing hiring and firing team members during the turnaround. Also, Rutland’s experience with working with a board demonstrates the common problems felt not only in the business world but also in the church. It illuminates that even within churches elderships (“boards”) may not always embrace a healthy culture (emotional, legalistic). Too many times, we tie such roles with a right to be right, but Rutland shows that boards and elderships may be vulnerable to being imbalanced. Rutland is spot on.

If I had to make a critique regarding ReLaunch it would be in terms of its top-down leadership approach (as assumed in the book) and its application to the leadership model of the church as revealed in the New Testament. Dr. Rutland assumes the equivalent role of pastor and preacher which is common in many circles of Christendom.[5] The New Testament does not make these equivalent roles, instead, a pastor (= elder, overseer) is a distinct responsibility that applies to a very uniquely qualified man, as he serves within a group of other men of equal caliber. This does not apply to the role of preacher or evangelist.[6] This is not to say that mentors cannot shepherd their fellow believers, but in terms of a distinct church role the terms are not equivalent. Still, this does not undermine the richness and essence of the book, but it does begin the leadership discussion from a different point than the New Testament. Rutland would probably disagree with that assessment.

Of course, Rutland addresses a readership from a broad spectrum. ReLaunch is not specifically a church leadership book, it is a book which may apply to a ministerial context like mine among churches of Christ. Nevertheless, the preacher often finds the need to be Chief Culture Officer (CCO) of the congregation; consequently, a preacher can within their role help lead an organizational comeback with the cooperative efforts of their overseeing eldership. But, as Ron Clark observes, “few books are written specifically for ministers about our style of ministry” where the pastor and the preacher are distinct ministries in the body of Christ. Clark observes that most church leadership material is based upon church models which are dissimilar to churches of Christ, or based upon business models which have been given a Christian spin.[7] Again, this is not to say the principles are not applicable, nor does this speak to the quality of ReLaunch. The quality of the content of the book exceeded my expectations.

Recommendations

Aside from the exception and critique provided above, Dr. Mark Rutland provides a leadership model that is exceptional. An administrator, board member, president, father and mother, elder, preacher, deacon, and if there be anyone in between can yield a great deal of practical wisdom for a turnaround in their public professional lives but also in their private lives. The principles in ReLaunch and their capacity to effect meaningful change has broad application.

I would recommend this book to every leader in any context. I would also recommend ReLaunch to every incoming preacher entering an established church, to every incoming administrator entering a new organization. I would also recommend this book to every elder and leader who believe their church, ministry, or organization is in decline. The truth is, every organization needs to ReLaunch at times. We must at times create a new dream, but most of the time we must recapture the dream and relaunch to do so. Jesus even told the church in Ephesus to relaunch, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Rev 2:4-5 ESV).[8]

References

  1. Rutland says, “Some dream well. Some define well. Others may tether well or excel at organizing. The art, though -the great craft of leading others- is the connection between the dream, its proclamation, and making the dream the driving force of everything that is done” (23).
  2. Rutland warns, “You can’t let the people who are devoted to the old ways do the hiring, or else you’ll just start the old cycle over again. You’re cultivating the soil in which your new vision and culture can grow” (161).
  3. Rutland counsels, “when you are honest about your expectations, and your team members are honest about their ability and their commitment, parting ways doesn’t have to be a crisis or a drama. In the end, you have to articulate exactly what you expect from your employees. You have to hold people accountable. If you’re going to turn a ship, there are going to be people who did things a certain way to get them into this mess. Some can make the change. Some can be retrained. But not everybody can make the turn. You need to communicate this to your staff long before it becomes an issue” (174).
  4. Rutland frankly says, “There is always a cost. If we don’t consider it before we begin to lead, then the cost may catch us by surprise midcourse. Emotional and mental exhaustion can lead to a dangerous level of toxicity” (198).
  5. By Christendom I mean to describe all religious groups (denominations, non-denominations, etc.) which historically follow Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Messiah (Christ), and accept the Bible as the revealed word of God. I make a distinction between Christendom and the Christianity revealed in the New Testament and supported by the Hebrew Scriptures.
  6. I have written several essays in connection to elders, overseers (“guardians”), and pastors. They are available on my blog: “‘Is the Pastor In?’: A Brief Look at a Misnomer,” “Guardians of the Church: A Reading of 1 Timothy 3:1-7,” and “Organizing God’s House in 1-2 Timothy and Titus.”
  7. Ron Clark, Emerging Elders: Developing Shepherds in God’s Image (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2008), 9; Jovan Payes, “Book Review: Emerging Elders,” BiblicalFaith.wordpress.com.
  8. English Standard Version of the Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).

The Value of Godly Women to the Church

Define value. Dictionary definitions notwithstanding, John Keats (1795-1821) begins his poem, “Endymion,” with the words, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Keats speaks to the power that people —their character and actions— have in retrospect. “That, whether there be shine or gloom o’ercast, They always must be with us, or we die.” The Scriptures show, however, what is “a joy forever”; in a word: godliness. Paul writes, “for bodily exercise is profitable for a little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim 4:8). [All Scripture references are from the American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.]

Nothing is more valuable and potent in this world than “godly seed” (i.e., offspring; Mal 2:15). Humanity, after all, was made to bear the image of God on the earth (Gen 1:26-31): “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” While there is tremendous learning to be gained from understanding the binary nature of humanity (“male and female”), we wish to pursue a study on the value of godly women to the cause of God as it is manifested in the NT church in the past and today.

Godliness is a Matter of Character

Godliness is reflected in the content of a person’s character and conduct. The church is an amazing place full of potential when it reflects the character of its godly women. There is no greater influence in the Lord’s church than godly women. For example, David once said, “know that Jehovah hath set apart for himself [she] that is godly: Jehovah will hear when I call unto [her]. Stand in awe, and sin not: Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psa 4:3-4).[1] The Hebrew word (hāsîd) for “godly” (holy) one implies a “kindness” that extends grace toward others because they have at one point received grace.[2] The word is used with great regularity in the Psalms. Godliness is seen, then, as a matter of character, of piety.

Godliness is fundamental to Christian conduct (2 Pet 1:6-7, 10-11). Paul writes that Christian women are to profess godliness through good works (2:9-10): “that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but (which becometh women professing godliness) through good works.” The Greek word (theosébeia) for “godliness” speaks to a reverence for God manifested in a set a beliefs and practices.[2] Christian women are to ground their value in their character and record for a reverence for God (1 Tim 4:7-8; 6:11; 2 Tim 3:12; Tit 1:1, 2:12; eusébeia).[3]

Godly women of such character are of inestimable worth to the church. They leave an indelible mark upon everyone they touch. When they show divine kindness to their neighbor, when they extend grace to others because they have experienced it as well, and when godly women focus on the content of their character and faithfulness to God, then the world will understand the value of godly women to the cause of Christ. Any home, company, and church knows the powerful influence of such godly women for they cast a beautiful shadow of faith and devotion, of service and evangelism, of determination and selflessness. This value is seen in the end of Proverbs 31 (10-31), “a woman that feareth Jehovah, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; And let her works praise her in the gates” (30-31).

Examples of Godly Women in New Testament

Let us consider a few examples of the value women have to the church. Women disciples have always been a part of Jesus’ ministry (Matt 27:55; Mark 15:41; Luke 10:38-42; John 4:1-26). Luke’s Gospel Account provides a note on some of the financial supporters and companions of Jesus as he and the twelve went throughout cities and villages “preaching and bringing the good tidings of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1-3). Among these many women were named three in particular: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. They served Jesus and the twelve from their own possessions and property (“their substance”). After being healed from infirmities and evil spirits, they served as continuous financial supporters of Jesus presumably to bring the same “good tidings” into the lives of others.

The Gospel Accounts reveal that the women disciples of Jesus were the first to witness and share the resurrection event of Jesus with the disciples. Matthew recounts the encounter of Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary who came to Jesus sepulcher, and were greeted by the angel who had rolled back the stone of the tomb (28:1-10). Mark adds that the “other” Mary is the mother of James, and that a third woman was them them – Salome (16:1-8). Luke adds that there was a second angelic man, and several other women including Joanna that were greeted with, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” (24:1-12). John’s Gospel shows Mary Magdalene confused over the empty tomb, comforted by Jesus himself, and told to say that Jesus would ascend to the Father (20:1-18). At a time when the prevailing cultural theory was that a woman’s testimony was inferior to a man’s, the earliest witnesses to the empty tomb of Jesus are the women disciples of Jesus.

Luke continues to demonstrate the value and influence of women in the early church. The Acts of the Apostles demonstrates at every turn the value of godly women to the church. Women (including Mary, Jesus’ mother) were among the disciples in the upper room as they waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus (1:14), and Peter declares the prophetic words of Joel (2:28ff) that “your daughters shall prophesy… and on my handmaidens… will I pour forth of my Spirit” (2:17-18). Paul himself would abide with Philip the evangelist who “had four virgin daughters, who prophesied” (21:8-9; 1 Cor 11:5).

Luke, by the Spirit, give ample attention to a disciple named Tabitha who “was full of good works and alms deeds” who had fallen ill and died (9:36-37). Peter would be summoned by the church to be with them during this time. Her good works and influence were demonstrated by those who grieved at her death because “all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments” she made “while she was with them” (9:39). Caring for others —particularly widows— has always been an important demonstration of pure religion before God (Jas 1:27). Paul would instruct on the importance of the church and women of faith to care of widows (1 Tim 5:1-17; Acts 6:1-7).

As the Hebrew writer says (11:32), “for the time will fail me” to continue tell of Christian women who were patrons, fellow workers for the truth, founding members of congregations and “house church” hostesses (Acts 16:11-15). They corrected false teachers (Acts 18:24-28). They raise up godly men to be evangelists (2 Tim 1:3-8, 3:12-17). They loved their husbands and children and demonstrated administrative skill in their homes (1 Tim 5:14; 1 Pet 3:1-6). Finally, Romans 16:1-16 demonstrates that many sisters served in the Lord as servants of God, evangelistic collaborators, teachers and financiers. Christian women ministered the gospel to the first-century world without hindrance.

Godly Women in the Church Today

The Lord-God envisioned an invaluable and elevated place for women in the world. These divine truths hold true today despite the ongoing debate over social gender expectation of men and women. Godly women have tremendous value to the church today, because their roles are still as invaluable as ever. Godly women continue to manage their homes, whether they are a full time stay-at-home wife/mother, work from home, or go to the office. They embrace their domestic role in the home as wife and mother (1 Tim 2:15).

Single women, however, bring a singleness of zeal to the church. Paul says they are “careful for the things of the Lord” (1 Cor 7:34). The breadth of their valuable influence is tremendous. They lead ladies’ Bible classes and workshops, are congregational Bible class teachers, write books and blogs, and contribute to academia. They mentor other disciples.

Our sisters minister to the widows and widowers in senior/assisted living homes, and they comfort the sick in hospitals —some even being/training to be hospital chaplains. Some with a medical background participate in medical-evangelistic campaigns. Others enter the world of missions, focusing their energies on evangelistic pursuits. Many have been brought to Christ due to the teaching efforts of godly women who teach overseas through Bible teaching correspondence courses.

Concluding Thoughts

May the church always embrace the ministries women have in the kingdom of God. This being said I am struck with the climate which often arises in the necessary discussion concerning the ministry of women in the church. I often feel the discussion is filled with much angst and the second guessing of motives when it comes to the reconsideration of my beloved’s sisters’ role in the world. Unfortunately, I think some roadblocks also lie in gender expectations which are culturally driven (“perceived” roles) rather than biblically driven (“biblical” roles). Nevertheless, this brief essay is about extolling the influence of godly women to the church and I believe it has succeeded to reach our goal.

Endnotes

  1. I have replaced the masculine for the feminine in brackets [] simply to express the point of this essay, which is to emphasize the godliness of women.
  2. William Wilson, Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies (repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, n.d.), 196; R. Laird Harris, “hsd,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, eds. R. Laird Harris, et al. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1980), TWOT 1:305-07.
  3. theosébeia,” BDAG 452.
  4. eusébeia,” BDAG 412.

This is a reformatted and slightly expanded version of the article which originally published in The Glendale Gleaner (Newbern, TN: Glendale church of Christ).

The Widows church of Christ

Untitled design

Reprinted from the December 2015 issue of Gospel Advocate Magazine.

20180131_133232When I was a younger preacher looking for opportunities to preach and teach, I helped a congregation which was, to my surprise, exclusively comprised of widows. The “Widows church of Christ” (as I shall call them) taught me a great deal about fidelity to God’s Word in the face of a temptation to do otherwise.

It had never crossed my mind that I would stumble upon an all woman congregation. My assumption that there would always be mix-gender congregations was completely shattered. I’m glad.

My first reaction, I must admit, was arrogant. “Poor brethren, you have no leaders.” I had forgotten that still they had the Lord, the Apostolic Word. They had different talents and skills to be used on behalf of the Lord (1 Cor 12; Rom 12). They still gathered in His name, communed at the table of the Lord, gave of their financial means, offered the fruit of their lips. They were still the blood-bought body of Christ (Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:18; Acts 20:28). They still had the responsibility to bring the gospel to the world (Mark 16:15-16; Matt 28:18-20).

I Asked a Question

I asked a sister why they invited male preachers to teach and preach when they could minister the word to themselves. After all, Scripture shows that Christian women prophesied and prayed in New Testament times (1 Cor 11:5; Acts 22:8-9), taught the Word of God accurately (Acts 18:26), and brought people to salvation (2 Tim 1:5; 3:14-15). Christian women also served one another in many diverse ways (1 Tim 5:2; Tit 2:3-5; Acts 9:36-43).

Too, Christian women were patrons, fellow workers for the truth, and “house church” hostesses (Rom 16:1-16), demonstrating that there is not a ministry our sisters cannot participate in (Acts 8). There are many sisters in the Lord mentioned throughout the New Testament as servants of God, evangelistic collaborators, and financiers. To say it in another way, Christian women can minister the gospel to the world without hindrance.

She responded, “Because the men are to lead prayers and preach God’s Word in the assembly.” She further explained, “We do have our own Bible study together as sisters during the week, but on Sundays we plan for visitors. We respect God’s plan for the worship assembly.”

This was a reference to 1 Tim 2:8-15, and the Apostle Paul’s instructions for prayers and teaching in the public assembly. In fact, the phrase, “in every place” (en panti topō 2:8) is a New Testament shorthand for “in every place of assembly.” In the assembly, Paul emphasizes “the preservation of male and female distinctions” by providing a “distinctive sphere” for Christian men and women to operate within.

In this setting, Christian “males” (Grk. andras) are to lead prayers on behalf of the body of Christ (2:8), provided they have a lifestyle consistent with godliness. Christian women are to “likewise” demonstrate godliness when assembled for prayer (2:9-10). Paul, then, adds the command that in the assembly Christian women “must learn in silence in full submission” (2:11). This does not suggest that she should check her brain in at the pew, nor is this a term that requires absolute silence. It simply explains her participation in the assembly as peaceful (2:2).

Paul goes on to explain, however, that a sister’s participation in the assembly is limited (2:12). He affirms, “I do not permit a woman” (1) “to teach” nor (2) “to have authority over a man.” Instead, she is “to be in silence” as an active learner (2:11). This instruction is explained (2:13 “for”) to be connected to the order of creation and the order of the fall along with its consequences (Gen 2-3), and a reminder of her demanding ministry towards her own godliness, her family and household (12-15).

Expanding the Role of Women

Although there is considerable literature centered on expanding the role of Christians sisters in the assembly beyond the above biblical dimensions, it was refreshing to see a group of sisters in Christ concerned with God’s guidelines for the worship assembly – even though they could have worshipped God among themselves.

It was a few years earlier that I had received a letter from a congregation where their elders unanimously offered “a position statement on the expanded role of women” in the congregation where they had oversight. They acknowledged that the “congregation’s thinking on this subject has been evolving for the past several years.” The letter outlines several roles where their sisters had evolved including teaching and co-teaching co-ed adult Bible classes, and Scripture reading in Sunday morning worship.

They further expressed their “intention to, in the near future, begin using women to serve the communion emblems, preside at the communion table and lead public prayers during the regular worship services.” They had not, at that moment, any intention to have “women as elders” and “women as pulpit ministers.”

One of the arguments used to sidestep the words of the Apostle Paul is that the text reads, “I do not permit”; hence, this verse does not represent “God’s law.” Far from it. The argument goes, that since he is “addressing a specific time and place with his statement” then Paul has no concern for providing “a law for all time.”

The question then becomes if the injunction by the Apostle is only valid when addressing the situation Paul is speaking to, and has no permanent place as God’s law for the church, then what about the other logical appendages to his argument? Is quietness a situational matter? Are the issues of holiness, modesty, self-control, learning in quietness merely situational and hence not of any permanent value because Paul writes, “I desire” (2:8) and “I do not permit” (2:12)? Or is it only the prohibitions which are situational (“I do not permit”)? If so, the positive statements in this text demand our sister’s presence in the assembly to be embraced with godliness, modesty and learning in quietness and submission. Or are these situational as well and therefore not God’s law?

The fact of the matter is that Paul ties this entire argument for the when the church assembles “in every place” to the events of creation, the order in which the first humans were made, and the admission of Eve being deceived. The weakness is not in Paul’s argumentation, nor in his use of “I.” The weakness lies with a hermeneutic which circumvents the natural reading of the passage.

Concluding Thoughts

My brief stint with the good sister at The Widows church of Christ was a powerful reminder that we can be faithful to God’s inspired texts regarding our gender roles in the assembly. My good sister showed me that faithfulness in the face of a difficult and complicated ministry was possible. Furthermore, they did not sell their building and go elsewhere; instead, they remained in the town, “because,” as she concluded, “the Lord’s body needs to be here.” God bless our sisters who are convicted to maintain their godly roles in the assembly and participate in so many amazing and unsung ministries.

Jovan Payes preaches for the Highland Church of Christ in Bakersfield, Calif.

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Lecture: “Leaders Stand Up for the Weak” (Mark 10:14)

Audio Resources (1)

“Leaders Stand Up for the Weak (Mark 10:14)” was a part of The Master’s Plan for Leadership series for the 80th annual Freed-Hardeman University lectures.  The 2016 theme was In My Place: The Servant Savior in Mark (Get book).

The Lecture Audio

Lecture Summary

In Mark 10:14, Jesus corrects his disciples for rebuking those that brought children to Jesus. In this kingdom saying, Jesus explains that he and the kingdom are at the disposal of those most vulnerable and often forgotten elements of our society. He sets the stage for a reversal of their rejection by receiving them into his arms (10:16). The passage is a powerful corrective and guideline for Christian servant-leaders, focusing on proper discipleship means to be at the disposal of those coming to Jesus, for to such belong the kingdom of God.

The Lecture Presentation Slides

Notes

  • The chapter for this lecture and the lecture follow different pathways but come to the same conclusion. Please read the essay “Leaders Stand Up for the Weak (Mark 10:14).”
  • The statement on aphesis/aphiemi in connection with Barabbas is a generalization of one of its meanings but is not technically used (apolūo is) in the passages discussing his release (Mark 15:6-15). Thayer has “release, as from bondage, imprisonment, etc.: Lk 4:18 (19)” (“aphesis,” Greek-English Lexicon, 88). The ESV renders aphesis as “liberty” twice in Luke 4:18 and refers to those liberated (released) from their bondage. Aphesis is quite significantly the term used to describe “forgiveness” in its redemptive sense predominately in the New Testament. The term used in the Barabbas texts is apolūo which more often than not is used in the sense of “release” from incarceration though it can have the sense of forgiveness. I apologize for the inaccurate portrayal on that point.