I am writing in response to David Warner’s article on Homosexuality in the December 2011 issue of the Beacon Lights. Warner cites I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:4-9, which lay out criteria for office bearers: namely that, among other things, they be faithful to their wives and manage their houses with faithful children. “Gay men,” Warner wisely notes, “do not have the wife and children that are clearly stated as requirements in Scripture.”
I am in full agreement with Warner on this point; we must be faithful to scripture in all things, and the ordination of elders is a crucial place for the application of biblical principles. Furthermore, the Protestant Reformed Churches are to be commended not only for denying ordination to homosexuals, women, and homeschoolers, but in whole-heartedly condemning the practice in wicked, ungodly, apostate churches.
But I do take issue with the random manner in which the PRC applies these criteria. If the Bible mandates that an elder have a wife and children, why do the Protestant Reformed Churches not prohibit, as the Bible commands them to, the ordination of bachelors, widowers, and men who are childless? While it is true that the conscientious application of these verses would prohibit the ordination of Paul himself, as well as the other apostles, and even Jesus for that matter, it is not for us to question God’s will as laid out in the Scriptures. It is only for us to obey.
It is time for the Protestant Reformed Churches to repent and to revise the church order to show the world that they are obedient to the Bible in all things. No wife, no children, no ordination.
Derek Vanden Akker
The statement that seems to be the issue is the result of hastily using inadequate language on my part, and I also apologize for that. Reading it again, I see how I wasn’t very clear in stating what I was thinking. I don’t hold to the position that a man must be married with children in order to hold office in the church. God doesn’t give every man a wife, and at times he does not give them children either. Those passages in I Timothy and in Titus lay out principles for officebearers who are married and have children. Obviously, if a man does not have a strong relationship with his wife or has no control over his children, doing little to maintain his family unit, he most likely will not be a good candidate for overseeing and handling matters of the larger family of the church. Notice how the other qualifications Paul lists deal with the character of the man, such as self-control and temperance—one who doesn’t get drunk or brawl or get greedy, etc. In this same way, he must have control over his desires and not be flirtatious. He must be faithful to his one wife if he is married, but if he is single, he still must demonstrate this self-control and be mature in such matters because anything otherwise would be adultery (Matt. 5:28). If Paul was implying that an elder or office bearer is required to be married and have children, it would seem contrary to his own teaching in I Corinthians 7:6-9, 25-34 in which he shows the benefits of being single. The single person, not burdened with the responsibilities of caring for spouses and/or children, is able to establish a very strong bond with the Lord and grow in spiritual matters. If the widower, bachelor, or childless man shows the fruits of the spirit and shows those qualities of a good office bearer, they should be able to take those positions in the church.
Also, in reading the Form of Ordination of Elders and Deacons that the PRC uses, there is no mention that the man must be married with children. Rather, it explains the gifts, talents, and responsibilities of those ordained into office. Bachelors, widowers, and men who do not have children are still capable of having these characteristics and fulfilling these duties, and are thus eligible for these offices. The gay man, even if he is faithful to his “partner” or rules his “family” well, is living in deliberate disobedience to God. This willful, open sinning is ultimately what disqualifies them from being office bearers (as elders and deacons and ministers must be men after God’s own heart), more-so than the fact that they don’t really have a family unit for ruling over or demonstrating the necessary qualities of office bearers.
I hope this clarifies my statement. I apologize for not using the best choice of words initially.
Earlier this year, the Presbyterian Church (USA) decided to alter its constitution in order to allow openly-active gays into positions of ministers, elders, and deacons. After more than 30 years of debate on this issue, the PC(USA) joins the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Episcopal Church as mainline Protestant churches that accept gay clergy members and leaders. The measure changes the church’s constitution by removing a 1997 amendment that said that those ordained were required to live “either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman” or in “chastity in singleness.” The Rev. Heidi Vardeman, senior minister of Macalaster Plymouth United Church in St. Paul and a spokeswoman for a pro-gay church group called More Light Presbyterians, said in an interview, “Finally, the denomination has seen the error of its ways and it will repent, which means, literally, to turn around.” Yes, you read that correctly; the PC(USA) is basically saying that they were sinning in formerly prohibiting homosexual office bearers! The homosexuality issue is not over yet, however, because gay advocates are likely to try to pass an amendment at the church’s next General Assembly in 2012 calling for the church to bless same-sex marriages and unions. It should be noted that the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a smaller and more conservative denomination, still holds (as of today) to prohibition of women officers and openly gay clergy and leaders.1
In Canada, a similar movement was seen in 2002. It was then that the First Christian Reformed Church in Toronto opened church leadership positions to practicing homosexuals, even though the denomination itself prohibited it at the time. First CRC’s pastor, Nick Overduin, said that this positive move would make First CRC a more inclusive congregation. Pastors in nearby CRC congregations, such as Hendrik Bruinsma of Maranatha CRC, stated that his “deepest concern is that the very salvation of people is at stake, because people will be misled about the basics of a new life in Christ and the nature of sin, repentance, and salvation.”2
The Acceptance of Homosexuality
So how did homosexuality begin getting a stronghold in society, and get a foot in the door of so many churches? The past two decades have shown the “gay agenda” spreading through social engineering. In their book: After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s, Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen argue that gays must portray themselves in a positive way to straight America, and that the main aim of making homosexuality acceptable could be achieved by getting Americans to think that it is just another thing, with a shrug of their shoulders. Then their battle for legal and social rights is virtually won. Kirk, a researcher in neuropsychiatry, and Madsen, a public relations consultant called for homosexuals to repackage themselves as mainstream citizens demanding equal treatment, rather than as a promiscuous sexual minority seeking greater opportunity and influence. Kirk and Madsen laid out several steps within this “gay manifesto” for success. They advised homosexuals to argue that they were born that way (a position that has recently been blasted from the radio into the ears of millions of young Americans thanks to Lady Gaga), even though the authors themselves state that “sexual orientation, for most humans, seems to be the product of a complex interaction between innate predispositions and environmental factors during childhood and early adolescence.” The gays needed to convince the public that homosexuality is natural for some people, and that sin and seduction have nothing to do with it. If not, religious groups would claim that homosexuality is a moral choice of sin. Gays needed to identify themselves as victims in order to make straights feel uncomfortable and ashamed. With the explosion of AIDS over the last few decades, homosexuals have used the disease as their chance to appear as a victimized minority needing and deserving special care and protection by the rest of America. Gays also tried to look good by “revealing” that certain historical (Abe Lincoln, King James I) and even biblical (King David and Jonathan) figures were actually homosexuals still in the closet. Another piece of advice to gays given by Kirk and Madsen was to overcome the obstacle of Christianity by “muddying the moral waters,” in which they could get support from moderate churches to gain theological objections to conservative Biblical teachings. This meant portraying the religious groups as those full of hatred that was inconsistent with their doctrines, antiquated and not up with the times in science, psychology and culture.3 Whether you realize it or not, the tactics laid out in this book are working. The homosexual movement is creeping in to every crevice of society, including religion. We need to be wary and watchful.
So how do we properly answer to the PC(USA)’s vote to allow homosexuals into office? First, let’s look at what church leaders are called to do. Verses two and three of I Peter 5 say that the elders are to feed the flock of God, taking oversight willingly, leading the flock by their own exemplary lives. Those who practice homosexuality are continuing in sin and unrepentant, disobeying God and thus are teaching the church by example that they, too, can disobey God.
Secondly, let’s see what qualifications leaders in the church should have. Both passages of I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:4-9 say that a man who desires to be an elder desires an honorable thing because he must be a man whose life cannot be spoken against. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exhibit self-control, be able to teach, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must not be a drunkard, pugnacious, or greedy, but rather a patient man that manages his own house with faithful children. The requirements for deacons, in I Timothy 3:8ff, are similar. Based on these passages, practicing homosexuals cannot be leaders in the church. In remaining homosexuals, they purposely and willfully disobey God. Their lives of unrepentant sins can be spoken against, and they will not have a good report by others. Gay men do not have the wife and children that are clearly stated as requirements in Scripture.4
The Bible is very clear about homosexuality being against God’s will—something we should not practice. After God created Adam and Eve, he gave them the command to “Be fruitful, and multiply.” The woman is the help that is fit for the man. This same command was given to Noah and his family in Genesis 9:1. Those who are in homosexual relationships cannot be fruitful and bring forth children, and are again disobeying a command of the Lord. Genesis 19 records the story of the great sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the punishment they received for their homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 says “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” I Corinthians 6:9-10 reaffirms the sin of homosexuality when it says that fornicators, adulterers, the effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind—among other unrighteous people—will not inherit the kingdom of God. Romans 1:21-27 shows the foolishness of these ungodly men. This passage says that, even though God has made himself known so that they are without excuse, these men claim to be wise by changing the glory of the incorruptible God into that of a corruptible man, changing their filthy sins into something worth bragging about. They put themselves above God, and were unrepentant, so that God gave them over to their uncleanness and they continued to dishonor their bodies between themselves with vile affections. Women practiced lesbianism and men lusted after other men. Verse 32 of the same chapter states that these homosexuals know the judgment of God, and that they realize they deserve death; yet they continue in their own sin and take pleasure in others that partake in those sins. II Thessalonians 2:11-12 agrees, “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Even those that merely have “homosexual tendencies or desires” but do not actually carry out the physical act of homosexuality are included, when Matthew 5:28 is applied. “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Objections Brought Up
Gay advocates try to say that God is continuing to reveal new things to us through our culture, so if homosexuality is culturally acceptable, it must be acceptable to God as well. We know, however, that God communicates with us through the Bible, not culture. Culture is formed by people. If God was communicating to us through culture, we would have to say that the American culture and those that accept homosexuality are the true cultures blessed by God. More importantly, this would imply that God changes based on what people want (which changes frequently!). If God can change, we cannot be sure of anything. The uncertainty of what is right or wrong, what God loves and hates, or how we can be saved would leave us as lost souls. However, we find comfort and assurance when Malachi 3:6 reveals that God does not change.
Several more objections are brought up concerning our position against homosexuality. One of them states that if homosexuality is wrong based on Old Testament laws, then all of the laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy must still be upheld. However, we know that the civil laws recorded were for the Jewish theocracy, of which we are not a part today. The priestly laws contained in these books dealt with the Levitical and Aaronic priesthoods representing the High Priest Jesus, who has fulfilled the laws so that they no longer apply to us. The third group of laws, the moral laws, was not abolished in the sacrifice of Christ because these laws were based upon the unchanging character of God. These moral laws were re-established in the New Testament, and that is why homosexuality is still condemned as a sin. A second objection states that a loving, committed homosexual relationship is acceptable to God. However, this is never supported in the Bible, and goes against the order that God created. It is unnatural and defies God’s command to fill the earth. Homosexuals are trying to say that they have no sin—but they are deceiving themselves, and the truth is not in them (I John 1:8). A third argument is that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 was really the sin of not being hospitable to the “visitors” who were really angels. This has no validity, as the men of Sodom told Lot they wanted to have relations with the men, and refused to fulfill their lusts with Lot’s daughters when he offered them instead. Genesis 18:20 tells us that the sin of Sodom was “very grievous”—a description that fits homosexuality rather than lack of hospitality.5
Our fight against homosexuality will not get easier. We are told in II Timothy 3:13, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” Let us be thankful of the stance that the Protestant Reformed Churches take and pray that we continue on in the truth of Scripture regarding this matter.
- L. Goodstein, Presbyterians Approve Ordination of Gay People (The New York Times, May 10, 2011).
- S. Guthrie and C. Lowes, Homosexuality: Reformed church in Toronto welcomes active gay leaders (www.christianitytoday.com, December 9, 2002).
- Dr. R.A. Mohler, Jr., After the Ball—Why the Homosexual Movement has Won (www.freerepublic.com, June 3, 2004).
- M. Slick, Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (http://carm.org/christianity-and-homosexuality)
Hope to be a Hananiah. Mimic the mind of Mishael.
Aspire to be an Azariah. Dare to be a Daniel.
The first three, the friends of Daniel, were
High in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar;
But when they refused to bow down to his idol,
He threatened to take away from each his title.
But when he gave them another chance,
The three refused to bow and dance.
When the music played and all others bowed,
Only those three stood among the crowd.
And since they did not go along with the world,
Into the hot furnace they were hurled.
‘Twas seven times hotter at the king’s decree—
It burned up the men that cast in the young three.
Astonished, the king of his men did inquire
“Did not we cast three men bound into this fire?”
For he had seen men walking loose in the flame
And no sign of hurt to their bodies came.
But it wasn’t three men that he saw—it was four!
So Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door;
The fourth walking man was not of the norm
But had the glorious Son of God’s form.
And all of the men of the king’s grand palace
Saw that the fire lacked power and malice.
The heads of the young men had not one singed hair,
Fire didn’t change the coats they did wear,
The smell of fire and smell of smoke
Had not passed into the threads of the cloak.
So Nebuchadnezzar blessed the God of Shadrach,
Of Abednego, and of Meshach,
Who sent His angel to save each servant
That trusted in Him, and prayed in fervent,
Who the king’s words disobeyed,
Yielded their bodies, a decision made,
Not to worship or serve or give laud
To anyone but their own God.
And if something against this God is said,
He’ll kill that ill-speaker and cut off his head,
He’ll make their nice house into a dunghill,
For no other God delivers by His will.
And so, this must needs be well-noted,
That the king of Babylon promoted
The three friends named Shadrach,
Abednego, and Meshach.
Psalm 139:13-16 “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”
The cell is the smallest unit of life. Some organisms, such as the amoeba or bacteria, consist of only one cell. However, many organisms that we think of today are comprised of many cells. This allows different cells to be specialized, meaning that they have different forms and shapes to serve different functions and purposes. When many cells work together, they are organized into tissues. Several tissue types make up organs, which form the organ systems that make up the organism.
The church is known as the body of Christ. Ephesians 5:30 says, “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” It is made up of many individual people, the cells. These people are from every tribe, tongue and nation, and have different strengths and weaknesses. Romans 12:4-5 tells us, “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” However, each one is valuable and necessary to the body as a whole. They must work together in harmony to serve the body, and those who rebel will be cast off and destroyed. This is taught in Ephesians 4:16, which says, “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
The Bible speaks in many places about the human body, or its different parts. Many are found in the Psalms and the book of Job. Scripture mentions bones, skin, heart, hands, arms, hair, sinews (tendons and ligaments), for just a few examples. In verses 12, 18, and 25 of I Corinthians 12, we read that all parts of the body are different, but are part of one body, as the members of the church are of the body of Christ. God has placed each believer in their specific spot as it pleased him, and has given them the abilities to carry out their functions. It is necessary for the members to love and care for one another, for “there should be no schism in the body.” The different parts of our own bodies are also interdependent on one another. The relationships between the skeleton, muscles, nervous system, and skin reflect the relationships that the body of Christ has among itself, with its head, and with the outside world. Let’s begin at the framework of the body.
In bones we see the basic hard frame that protects vital organs and gives shape and support to the body. This is much like the doctrines and truths found in Scripture being the skeleton holding the church in its proper form and protecting it, with the creeds and confessions being the cartilage of additional strength and support. Perhaps we would rather not have bones so that we could move more flexibly or to be able to squeeze through tight spots. However, the truth is that we need bones to stand, move, or even just to sit up. Bones protect our heart, lungs, brain, spinal cord, and other vital and delicate organs. Bones aren’t restricting our abilities to move, but instead are giving us the liberty to move. The same can be applied to the Ten Commandments. Some people think they are unnecessary rules and boundaries, but they in fact give the church structure and the life of freedom to serve God. Many people outside of our churches might think that our doctrines are dead and old fashioned. Oh, but bones are not dead! Bone is continually growing, repairing and replacing itself. Bone marrow itself is the factory that produces blood cells in our bodies. The truths of the gospel have continued to grow and develop throughout history. The blood cells necessary to keep the rest of the body’s cells living could be compared to the faithful saints in the past who brought the great news of the word to those who needed it. Think of Martin Luther (the blood cell) who shared the doctrine of justification by faith alone (which came from the bones of Scripture). The relationship between bones and blood is often overlooked by many, but it is an important one to remember.
Motion comes from the coordination of the nervous system with the muscles of the body. A muscle must be exercised in order to grow strong and remain healthy. The body of Christ must act in love and exercise its faith and works of thankfulness to God, or muscular dystrophy (shrinking and inability to contract) will occur. Just as the nervous system works to balance any spasms or unnecessary contractions by muscles in the body, so the members of the church are controlled by the head. The brain is constantly sending impulses throughout the body as it receives various stimuli from the five senses and regulators in the body. It needs to decide which stimuli to ignore as it responds to others. For example, someone who lives near the train tracks will eventually be able to sleep through the night peacefully. This is because your brain has become accustomed to the sound, and even though nerves impulses are still coming from the ears to the brain, the brain has recognized that that train whistle is not important for the body to be warned against. At this point in time, the body doesn’t need to prepare to fight or flee from the outside object making that noise, so the brain seemingly ignores this stimulus in order to take care of more important ones. Christ, as head of the church, regulates in a way which stimuli or issues the body responds to, and which are “ignored.” For example, the big issues in the early church had to do with Jesus Christ and his divine and human natures, leading to our Creeds. In the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance period the issue was more focused around the way of salvation, leading to the Reformation. Today the issues could range from our view of war, politics, homosexuality, and the end times. That being said, the muscles of faith cannot be moved unless they are anchored to the bones of the truth of the gospel, and they must be stimulated by the communicating nervous system of Christ and the ministers whom he has called to preach the gospel. Communication must occur between the cells, as the church has by means of the fellowship and communion of saints. Communication must also occur between the head and the body, as the church has with Christ through singing praises, prayer, and the reading and preaching of the word. Without communication, there is no growth or movement of the body.
The skin that clothes the body is one large sense organ. It is a continuous sheet, yet displays such a range of variety. The skin of the lungs and lips are very thin so that blood can be near the surface, yet the skin on the heel of the foot is very thick due to constant rubbing and abrasion. Different areas of the body’s skin have varying amounts of hair (compare your head to your arm to the palm of your hand), sweat glands (under your arms, your forehead, your palms sweat more than your elbows or ankles), patterns (compare the swirls, loops, and whorls of fingerprints to the wrinkled knuckle or the back of the hand), and color pigments (freckles and moles are darker for this reason). Even though skin diversity is so vast on a human being, it serves its purposes. The main one I will focus on is that it always reveals whether or not there are problems underneath. Rashes, bug bites, paleness, and bruises all tell the body and the outside world that something’s wrong inside. But what is the skin of the church, the body of Christ? That would have to be the witness of the believers. The outside world first sees and can begin to see any problems in the inside of the church by detecting the signs in the Christian walk that has gone awry. Skin must be strong and united to be a defensive barrier against the attacks of abrasion, viruses, bacteria, and other foreign chemicals and substances. That is why blisters come off in sheets, not cell by cell—they are strongly bonded. Believers must be united by their faith in Christ in order to be effective defenders of the truth against heresy, even if it means becoming martyrs. God will call new saints to take their places, just as skin continues to renew itself in layers. Skin transfers warmth and love into, out of, and throughout the body. The warm love of Christ clothes the church, and that love radiates from the believers.
We needn’t go to the four corners of the world to find some untouched wilderness to see the greatness and beauty of God. Yes, if we do go to the heights of heaven, or depths of the sea, or the ends of the earth, God is there, but it should not be necessary to go to such extremes in order to be amazed by his handiwork. We need only to look at ourselves, the beings created in the very image of God, to stand in awe before our maker. Saint Augustine once wrote, “Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.” A simple look at the human body is enough to make one say, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!”
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
In this passage, the apostle Paul is beseeching us. To beseech, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, is to ask earnestly; to entreat or implore almost in a begging manner. Paul is calling us to present our bodies a living sacrifice. The reason we must present our bodies as a living sacrifice is because the condition of our spiritual heart is shown outwardly in the whole of our lives, mainly through the use of our bodies. You might ask how somebody could be a living sacrifice. God showed Adam and Eve how sacrifices were to be made when he killed the animal that clothed them after their fall into sin (Genesis 3:21). In the very next chapter, we read that Cain’s offering of the fruit of the ground was not acceptable unto God, as Abel’s offering of the firstlings of his flock was pleasing. In Exodus 12, the Passover was instituted. Verse five tells us that the sacrifice had to be a one-year-old male lamb without blemish. When Aaron was ordained as priest, the LORD said that the firstlings of a cow or sheep or goat were to be sacrifices of a sweet savor to the LORD. Many passages in Scripture tell us that this lamb without blemish or spot was a picture of Christ’s sacrifice of himself on the cross in our stead. John 1:29, 36 call Jesus the Lamb of God. I Peter 1:18-19 tells us that we are redeemed by his blood, and Hebrews 9-10 assure us that he is the one sufficient sacrifice. The sacrifice of many animals is not needed anymore since Christ has come as our one complete sacrifice and savior. Revelation 5:12-13 worships the Lamb that was slain, as described in Isaiah 53:7. However, if the saints have overcome deceitful Satan by the blood of the Lamb, as Revelation 12:9ff tells us, to what purpose would the multitude of sacrifices be unto God (Isaiah 1:11)? He doesn’t delight in these. So why would Paul be imploring, almost commanding, us to be living sacrifices?
Surely we cannot all become ordained to work in the house of the Lord, as Samuel was “sacrificed” by Hannah to God in this manner (I Samuel 1-2). Surely we will not be tested as Abraham was in Genesis 22 to offer up our children as a sacrifice. And certainly to be a living sacrifice we do not need to be literal burnt offerings to the Lord, as Jephthah’s daughter was (Judges 11:29-46).
No; to present yourselves a living sacrifice is to be washed, made clean, to put away the evil doings from before the eyes of the Lord, to cease to do evil, to learn to do well, to seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless and plead for the widow. In being willing and obedient, we are living sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11-20). In I Samuel 15:22, Samuel asks, “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart. These sacrifices of righteousness please the LORD (Psalm 51:16-19). Proverbs 21:3 and Mark 12:33 show us that to do justice and judgement, as well as to love God with all our heart, understanding, soul, and strength, along with loving our neighbors, are more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. The Lord desires mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6).
To present ourselves a living sacrifice then is to follow God, as his dear children, walking in love as Christ has loved us (Ephesians 5:1-2). Christ has “given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor.” Becoming living sacrifices is part of bearing the name Christian (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 12, Question and Answer 32).
But what does it mean to be a holy living sacrifice? To be holy is to be pure and separate. This is our reasonable service, our whole life devoted to serving him. Not because he is a tyrant and we are his slaves, but because we love and praise him in thankfulness for sending his only begotten Son to pay the price for our sins in his love for us (I John 4:10). We are his children, and we love him, so we must show in our lives that we belong to him. Yet we are able to do this only by the mercies of God, as the apostle Paul tells us. It is through God’s gifts to us that we are able to give back an offering or sacrifice to the Lord. Through the gift of faith we are able to offer up the sweet savor of our prayers to him. Through our various talents we are able to praise him. Through the commandments we obey him. Through covenant ministers, parents, teachers, and friends we can learn of his truths and continue to grow in the body of the Church. We can present our selves living sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God through the blessings which he has bestowed upon us, for “of him, and through him, and to him, are all things” (Romans 11:36). In obeying the law and taking joy in him, we carry out the calling God has given to each of us. Psalter number 109 sings of this wondrous fact: “The offering on the altar burned Gives no delight to Thee; The hearing ear, the willing heart, Thou givest unto me. Then, O my God, I come, I come, Thy purpose to fulfill; Thy law is written in my heart, ‘Tis joy to do Thy will.”
Being a living sacrifice is to hear him, to love him, and to obey him by heeding his will for us in every aspect of our lives, which we do only by his grace and Spirit.
How many times have you told someone a secret about somebody else, or even yourself, but only if they promised not to tell another person? Sooner or later the word gets around, whether it’s a true story or not. Why is it that gossip seems to spread like wildfire, whether intentionally or not, yet good news and compliments about others are hard to come by (or at least take a long time to get around)?
Although it is usually hard to carry out, most of us know how we can stop the spread of gossip, slander, and backbiting; which is by bridling the tongue, as James 3 explains. But it is even more difficult to “promote the advantage of [our] neighbor in every instance [we] can or may,” as we read in question and answer 111 of Lord’s Day 42 in the Heidelberg Catechism. It is further explained in question and answer 112 that God commands us in the eighth and ninth commandments that we must not only stop ourselves from negatively hurting our neighbor, but also that we positively defend and promote them in our speech, thoughts, and lives of confession and witnessing. This is part of the fruit that we must bear, so the question is, “Has your fruit been flourishing, sweet and beautiful? Or is your fruit quickly withered and rotted away, bitter and repulsive?”
Matthew 7:16-20 and Luke 6:43-44 tell us that a man is made known by his fruits, and those fruits will fall into only one of two categories: good and corrupt. A good tree can bring forth only good fruit, and a corrupt tree only corrupt fruit. One cannot gather figs from thorns or grapes from the bramble. Let’s take a look at these two kinds of fruits from two different vines.
In Deuteronomy 32:32-33 we read that the wicked are vines from Sodom and of the fields of Gomorrah. Their grape clusters are bitter like gall, and their wine tastes like the poison of venomous snakes. Every man in his sinful human nature grows here among the degenerate and strange vines (Jeremiah 2:21). This is due to the fall into sin by our first parents, Adam and Eve. These plants, representing us without Christ and the Holy Spirit, will be consumed by the Lord. Jeremiah 8:13 tells us there are “no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade.” Joel 1:12 further explains that “the vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men.”
I could not agree more! The reason there are so many murders, violence, depressions, thefts, gossiping, and backbiting today is because there seems to be no Joy in the world. Men do not want the Joy of the gospel and the Joy found in salvation through Christ. Because they cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit as found in Galatians 5:22ff and Ephesians 5:9, they try to find joy in themselves. They do this by spreading lies that hurt their neighbors and spreading rumors about themselves in order to look better in the eyes of men. They cannot bear fruits of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance because they are so busy growing the tempting fruits of self-worship, pride, covetousness, and the like. These fruits are not pleasing to the Lord. As Christians, do you have the joy that comes from money, love, games, food, clothes, music and bands, sports, and looking good in the eyes of others at the expense of your neighbor’s reputation? Or do you have the joy in your hearts that comes from reading the truths of Scripture and seeing the covenant carried out among your fellow saints?
If the latter is true, then you are no longer looking at the vines of Sodom and Gomorrah. Rather, you are finding the vines that have been cast out of Egypt and the heathen place and which have been healed and replanted near the River of Life. Psalm 80:8-11 show us that these vines will take deep root and shadow the earth like giant cedars. These vines have a tender grape and give a good smell (Song of Solomon 2:13), yielding fruits of strength (Joel 2:22) and peace in the summer (Hebrews 12:11). In Malachi 3:10-12, the Lord promises that the devil won’t destroy these fruits, and that these vines won’t produce their fruit before the appointed time. These vines will be blessed because they are growing in a delightsome land.
However, these vines don’t grow and bear good fruits by their own will. The first six verses of John 15 clearly state that Christ is the true vine, and God the Father is the husbandman, or gardener. We are the branches that have been engrafted into this true vine so that we may be filled with fruits of righteousness (Philippians 1:11). Without this true vine, we wither and die and are cast into the fire. Therefore, we must see that we are kind to our neighbors by preventing ourselves and others from speaking evil of them and by loving them through word, thought, and deed. When we do this, we will see that others will do the same for us. These fruits of our lips ultimately grow from our heart, which should be firmly rooted in Christ, and they are a means of thanks to him that we must offer up continually (Hebrews 13:15). When he returns to the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, will he find a flourishing vine, budded pomegranates and tender grapes on the branches of the True Vine, as we read of in Song of Solomon 6:11 and 7:12? Or will he find withered and rotten fruits among a network of brittle grapevines fit for the furnace? Let us make sure that the poisoning words of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh are not flowing through the grapevines. Rather, let the Water of Life nourish us and help us to encourage others to grow in the mountain of the Lord’s inheritance (Exodus 15:17).
- Faith is the substance of things which we hope for,
The evidence of things which we can’t see, but grope for.
- The elders who on this faith were firmly stood
Obtained a report that was honest and good.
- Through faith’s eyes we know, it isn’t absurd,
That the worlds and all in them were framed by God’s Word.
So all things we see now that do exist here
Were certainly not made of things which appear.
- By faith Abel offered his choicest sheep,
The best from the flock which he did keep.
Of his gifts God the Lord had testified
And witnessed this righteous man, now justified.
His sacrifice was better than that of Cain,
The earth drank the blood up of Abel, the slain.
And though the blood of this first martyr was shed,
By faith he yet speaks to us all from the dead.
- By faith Enoch was taken away
And God didn’t give him a dying day,
But translated him up to heaven above
Because he had walked with and pleased God in love.
- But without faith one cannot truly please God,
For one that comes unto Him with praise and laud
Must believe that He is, and that He will reward
Those that truthfully, diligently seek for the Lord.
- By faith Noah God’s warning did hear,
Preparing an ark and moving with fear.
The world was condemned by the Flood so great,
But the Church had been saved in the ark – just the eight –
For of faith’s righteousness Noah was heir,
He and his family were all in God’s care.
- By faith Abraham the call did obey
And in his homeland he did not stay,
Knowing not where he went, in God he believed,
The inheritance land he thus received.
- By faith he sojourned in the promised land,
And in this strange land did heed God’s command.
Both Isaac and Jacob blessed God’s holy name
To be heirs with their fathers, their promise the same.
- He looked for a city which hath firm foundations,
The builder of which is the King of all nations.
- By faith also Sara gained strength to conceive
And did in her old age a child receive.
She judged him who promised a faithful one
Who was able to give her, the barren, a son.
- There sprung from just one old and almost dead man
More sons than the stars in the heavenly span,
Innumerable, like the sand of the shore,
For God His promises cannot ignore.
- Having not received the promise themselves yet,
They died and with the Lord were met,
Persuaded of promises seen afar off,
They embraced them amid every sneer, every scoff.
As strangers and pilgrims on earth they confessed
That through their rejection by earth, they were blessed.
- They declared plainly for what they had sought,
Their seeking a country had not been for naught.
- And if they were mindful of whence they came out
They could have returned to it, without a doubt.
- But now they desire a heavenly place
Where God is called their God with unashamed face
And shows to His people His mercy and pity,
Preparing a place for them each in His city.
- By faith through the trial Abraham didn’t falter,
Offering his only begotten on the altar.
- Because in Isaac his seed would be called,
In this same act he was not appalled,
- For God would be able to raise from the grave
From whence unto Abraham a figure God gave.
- By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau;
Though blind, the things yet to come Isaac saw.
- By faith Jacob blessed when he was near death
Manasseh and Ephraim with his last breath.
The only True God He worshipped and praised
While the staff which he leaned upon kept him raised.
- By faith Joseph told Israel they’d one day leave Egypt
And with his own people his bones must be shipped.
- By faith Moses was a proper child,
Hidden three months by his parents mild,
Who were not afraid of the king’s command,
Entrusting all things into God’s sovereign hand.
- Though found in the Nile River’s water,
He wouldn’t be called son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
- Affliction and trouble did Moses endure,
Choosing rather to suffer with God’s people pure
Than taking the pleasures of sin for a season,
But in choosing thus, Moses had reason:
- For treasures in Egypt were far lower priced
Than that which is found in the reproach of Christ.
- By faith Moses made Egypt’s people forsaken,
Feared not the wrath of Pharaoh, was not shaken,
For Moses endured and he persevered,
As seeking the Invisible One whom he feared.
- Through faith Moses had the great Passover kept,
So only Egyptians the next morning wept
In rooms of their firstborns, now empty and void–
Where there was no lamb’s blood, the angel destroyed.
- By faith had the Israelites from Egypt fled,
They passed through the sea that is still now called Red.
Israel crossed where God made it dry ground,
God caused all the chasing Egyptians to be drowned.
- By faith did the city of Jericho fall
After Israel marched around the great wall,
Doing it God’s own specific way,
The Canaanite town fell the seventh day.
- By faith Rahab died not as a wicked harlot,
For Israel saw her cord hanging scarlet.
She was spared alive as one who believed
Because she had peacefully spies received.
- And what else can I tell about?
For time would surely soon run out
Before I told of Gideon
Or told of Barak, or of Samson,
Jephthae, David, Samuel too,
And all the other prophets who
- Through faith subdued the mighty kingdom,
Made righteousness to Israel come,
Who all the promises obtained,
Stopped the mouths of the lions maned,
- Quenched the violence of fire,
Escaped the sword’s edge in times dire,
Out of weakness were made strong,
And amid the alien throng
Turned the enemy to flight
And waxed valiant in the fight.
- I could tell of faithful women,
Their dead were raised to life again.
Tortured prophets wouldn’t take
Deliverance – they’d rather wake
In a glorious perfection
Through death and the resurrection.
- Others were cruelly scourged and mocked,
In bonds and prisons they were locked,
- Stoned and tempted, sawn asunder,
Slain by sword, or else they’d wander
Clad in skins of goat or sheep
They’d sow a lot, but little reap.
Chosen by God as subjects sent
To bear destitution, affliction, torment.
- The world wasn’t worthy of these men of God,
It saw them as vagabonds wandering abroad,
Through deserts they traveled, bearing the heat,
In mountains they tried to find a retreat.
They went to the dens and the caves of the earth,
Yet none of them starved in the times of great dearth.
- These all had obtained through their faith good reports
But entered into the Lord’s heavenly courts
Not having received the Promise yet,
Their Savior on whom their eyes were set.
- God having provided for us something better –
We read of it in His own Word, His love letter –
They should not be made to be perfect without us,
‘Til all of the Church has been gathered about us.
Liken me unto the moon or a star;
Let me reflect of Thine image afar.
Liken me unto the trees to the sky;
Let me raise Thee-ward both arms up on high.
Liken me unto a mount, tow’ring tall;
Let me be seen as Thine only to all.
Make me a river that runs to the sea,
Pouring my heart and my soul into Thee.
Liken me unto the clear springs that flow;
Let my whole life a clean purity show.
Liken me unto a canyon, O Lord;
Echo, I’ll echo, I’ll echo Thy Word.
Be Thou my banner, the rainbow in heav’n;
I’ll see Thy beauty in those colors, sev’n.
Be Thou my shade in this wilderness land;
Thy hand of power will keep me to stand.
Yet Thou wilt lead me to valleys more green;
There will I rest and on Thy bosom lean.
Be Thou my wind, always whispering by;
Comfort me always; forever be nigh.
Be Thou my rain, Lord, in day and in night;
Wash me and make my soul handsome and white.
Be Thou my All, Lord, and keep me from wrong;
Thy blood has bought me; to Thee I belong.
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