Thursday, July 28, 2016

Loving One's Enemies in Context

Imagine if you were reading a book about a cat to your children. Page 1 says that the cat sat on a hat. Page 2 then says that the cat ate the hat. Then you get to Page 3 and it does not use the word "cat," but describes a four legged creature playing with an ant. One child speaks up and says, that sounds like an aardvark. Aardvarks are associated with ants. So the child concludes that the creature on Page 3 is an aardvark. You keep reading and see on Page 4 that the cat sits on a mat. On Page 5 the cat takes a nap.

The problem with the child's interpretation is that the book is about a cat, not an aardvark. To interpret that creature on Page 3 as an aardvark is nonsensical. It is essentially arguing that even though the entire book is about a cat, the author suddenly talks about an aardvark and then goes back to talking about a cat.

To put it plainly, it is to argue that the book is about X here, X here, X here, and X here, but a passage within the book is suddenly talking about Y that has nothing to do with X.

It is like reading Moby Dick and thinking that a passage about the "creature" against which Ahab has a vendetta is suddenly about a giant squid. The entire book is about a white whale. It is absurd to take it out of context because "creature" has a familiar ring to those who have read 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

Yet, there are two interpretations on the table. What is to decide between them if not the context? What often happens is that one interpretation wants to emphasize the context of the literary argument of a book, and the other wants to de-emphasize it in order to emphasize the context of his own argument and tradition. This is often the case when one reads that Christ commands His followers to love their enemies, and to give to those who do not necessarily love them.

It is simply taken for granted that the reader knows what Christ means when He argues that one should "love his enemies." The phrase is most commonly interpreted to mean, "love the unbeliever." The problem with this interpretation, as popular as it is, is that it ignores the context of the three passages in which it appears: Matthew 5, Luke 6, and Romans 12.

When I bring this fact up to most evangelicals, they just don't seem to care much. I think this may be somewhat due to their lack of interpreting texts in context as a practice. They simply are not use to reading Matthew or Luke or Romans as a literary work that is making a coherent argument.

Despite this deficiency, however, I want to attempt to communicate this idea here.

We'll start with Matthew. Matthew sets up his Gospel to address the Jewish-Gentile conflict within the church. He utilizes Christ's earthly teaching in such a way that he applies it to this conflict. Hence, he creates an inclusio with Christ's teaching that addresses how one treats fellow members within the covenant community.

In Matthew 5, He argues that the law has not been appropriately applied to one's practices if it does not love others in the covenant, whether one's brother with whom there is a disagreement, one's spouse, one to whom a promise has been made, etc. He finally applies the law of loving to not only one who the Jews consider their fellow Jews, but also to those with whom they are in conflict in the covenant community. The rabbinic tradition had taught that one was to love his friends but could hate his enemies. In the Jewish-Gentile conflict, Gentiles, even though they had become Christians, were considered the enemy. They were the Jews oppressors. The strong resentment that they felt toward Gentiles did not disappear once the Gentiles became Christians. In fact, many of the parables Jesus tells later in Matthew indicate that there was a lot of animosity on the part of the Jews for God even including Gentiles as equals in the kingdom. They wanted nothing to do with them, a common report we see throughout the New Testament.

Matthew ends his inclusio of Christ's teaching in Matthew 25, where it is also clear that Christ is concerned with whether someone who claims to be one of His followers evidences that by taking care of "one of the least of these brothers of Mine" who represent Christ Himself.

The middle of Christ's teaching in Matthew is filled with teachings about forgiving fellow believers, loving God and other members of the covenant as that which contains all of the law, and parables that let us in on the conflict that is going on between Jewish and Gentile Christians. There is also a large section that contains Christ's rejection of unbelieving Jews that communicates the idea that Jewish Christians should now identify themselves primarily as believers in Christ, and not as primarily Jews who need to separate themselves from Gentile believers, since those unbelieving Jews have rejected the Messiah. They, thus, have more of a connection with their fellow Gentile believers, because of their connection to Christ, than they do with the unbelieving Jews who became the murderers of Christ and the persecutors of the Jewish disciples. He even ends the teaching about His parousia by warning Christians that Christ will severely judge those who mistreat their "fellow servants."

What this helps us see is that the entirety of Matthew's message is about how one group of believers treat another group of believers, who they see as those who are their enemies, i.e., Gentiles. This is why Matthew starts his Gospel off with Gentile Magi and not poor shepherds, as in Luke.

So here is the problem with interpreting the enemy passages as unbelieving enemies. It essentially wants to argue that these texts are complete digressions that have nothing to do with the immediate context or the larger literary arguments of these books. It essentially argues that the book is about X, but this text is about Y that does not contribute at all to the argument of X.

Luke is very similar to Matthew in that Luke is also arguing about Christian brothers, but in Luke's case, he is talking to Christians who have wealth and power. His warning, from start to finish, is about how one treats fellow Christians who are in need. His entire argument, like Matthew's, is internally covenantal. It simply has nothing to do with how one helps unbelievers. Again, this misses the point. When Luke deals with one's enemies, he doesn't use the word "enemy/opponent," but instead describes one who does not love them. It is important to understand that love is often seen in terms of one who does good by giving to another, and hate is seen in one who does not give. Luke presents Jesus as saying that there is a visible community of believers and some will love and some will hate, some will give and some will withhold what is needed from other believers. Jesus simply teaches that His true followers within the community will give to other members of the covenant community. They will be the ones who love other believers in their giving, even when not loved by those other believers. Again, Luke's entire argument has to do with believers helping other believers, even if those other believers are not one's loving friends. The rebuke is that even unbelievers give to those who love them among them, but Christians are to give to other Christians, even when those other Christians have not shown the same love toward them.

Again, to argue that Luke is talking about Christians giving to unbelievers is to argue that Luke is about X, but this text is a digression that teaches Y that has nothing to do with X.

Finally, Romans is about the Jewish-Gentile conflict again. The Jewish Christians are having major issues with the Gentile Christians, and vice versa. Paul lays out that salvation is for both Jew and Gentile through faith, both become true Israel, and thus, both groups should see one another as one in Christ. Hence, Chapters 12 and 13 begins the conclusion of Paul's argument. It tells Christians that they are one body in Christ, and should therefore treat one another lovingly and in seeking one another's repentance in doing good to one another. In Chapters 14 and 15, he continues his argument that they should not judge one another for how they use created things like wine and holy days, etc.

Now, to make the idea that one is to love his enemies in Romans 12 and 13 about unbelievers ignores all of this. The opponent the Roman Christians are being called to love is one another. That is clear in the context of the book and the immediate context.

Again, to argue otherwise, is to say that the entire book is about X, but this text is a digression that talks about Y that has nothing to do with X.

It essentially argues that the entire book is about a cat, but here it is about an aardvark. Yet, it is the context that decides between interpretations. It gets to say what it is about, regardless of what it sounds like to the reader, who often replaces the context of the literary argument with their own context and tradition. But if it's a cat on page 1, and a cat on page 2, and a cat on page 4 and 5, then it's a cat on page 3, and to argue otherwise is to lose any objective sense on what a particular text was meant to convey in terms of authorial intent.

These texts are about internal covenant problems, problems within the church, where believers are told to love other believers, even if those other believers do not love them, even if those other believers are among the Gentile oppressors, one's enemies, even if those other believers do wrong to them. That is Christ's teaching. And why are they to do this? Because other believers represent Christ within the covenant community, and as representatives, they are to display Christ's forgiveness toward one another, Christ's love toward one another, because this displays the gospel to everyone who sees it.

Believers are sinners who are one another's enemies, who hate one another, but are brought together in Christ's love and forgiveness to be united to one another as they are to Christ. That is the context of these passages, and when we ignore it, we ignore what Christ has truly commanded His people to do, which, as John puts it, to "love one another as I have loved you."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Good Samaritan Made Simple

I think that there is a basic logic problem that many people have in reading the Scripture. Linguistics is simply the internal logic of language, but many simply don't apply it when reading Scripture sometimes. I think this is true mainly because traditions take over, and if one has always understood a text to mean such and such, then it is extremely difficult for one to get beyond that tradition and actually just read the text for what it says.

So I've broken it down in simple figures to illustrate the legitimacy of my interpretation and the illegitimacy of the common traditional one.

The key is as follows:

A = a worshiper of YHWH

+ = One who is thought of as the most prominent of the worshipers of YHWH in the view of the lawyer

no sign as the average worshiper

- = the least prominent of the worshipers of YHWH in the view of the lawyer

B = an unbeliever

The story, and the contextual interpretation is as follows:

An A was traveling down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and was injured and left for dead.
An A+ traveled by and saw him but did not help him.
Another A+ traveled by and saw him but did not help him.
An A- traveled by and helped him, taking care of his total need.

Logical Interpretation: The story deals with which one became a true A to the A. Thus one proves to be a true A by taking care of the needs of another A.

Now, here is the non sequitur of the traditional interpretation:

An A was traveling down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and was injured and left for dead.
An A+ traveled by and saw him but did not help him.
Another A+ traveled by and saw him but did not help him.
An A- traveled by and helped him, taking care of his total need.

Modern Traditional Interpretation: The story deals with which one became a true A by helping the A. Thus, one becomes an A by helping another B.

Likewise, the context of Luke itself is ignored, as the entire thing is internally covenantal, and does not deal with how an A should take care of B's. The whole interpretation is a logical fallacy.

Of course, the even more popular interpretation is even worse. It notes all of the above and then states, "Therefore, everyone, at least everyone in need, is an A," which is not even close to what the parable says, as the text actually says that only one of the three supposed A's became a true A to the A, meaning precisely that everyone is NOT an A.

It's simply amazing that anyone would think that this parable had anything to do with B's at all; but that's the power of tradition for you.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Taking Care of Poor Christians in the Book of Acts and the Judgment of the Western Church

I think one of the things that modern Western Christians don't realize is that the goal of taking care of the poor among them is to remove the need entirely in their midst. In other words, as you want to get rid of a need your child may have, so that it is provided for adequately, the church should want to also remove such a need from their brothers and sisters in Christ. The failure to understand that giving to the poor has the purpose of alleviating the Christian of his need has caused Western Christians to think that they do just fine in taking care of the poor, and have plenty left for unbelievers too.

Acts, however, presents us with a very different picture.

"They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles. All who believed were together and held everything in common, and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyoneas anyone had need. Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to housesharing their food with glad and humble hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the peopleAnd the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47)

First, we see that giving wasn't so minimal that it didn't take much sacrifice to give it. They sold houses and properties that would have made them quite the sum of money to keep. They gave much because much was needed to meet the needs in their midst.

Second to this, they gathered together every day in order to fellowship and meet the needs of poor Christians. These needs had to be met on a daily basis, or Christian brothers in poverty would go without.

In other words, the greatness of the needs required daily provisions, so that the need was completely addressed. Take another example from Acts.

"The group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his ownbut everything was held in common. With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesusand great grace was on them all. For there was no one needy among thembecause those who were owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds from the sales and placing them at the apostles’ feetThe proceeds were distributed to eachas anyone had need. So Josepha Levite who was a native of Cypruscalled by the apostles Barnabas (which is translated “son of encouragement), sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and placed it at the apostles’ feet." (4:32-37)

This exclusive financial focus on the church as the recipient of early Christian charity gave the church the ability to annihilate poverty among its members. Indeed, as v. 34 states, "there was no one among them who were needy" because of their giving to one another. The need was completely satisfied.

But such an accomplishment was only possible because physical resources were focused on the Christian community, and needs were met daily. For instance, there was a daily serving of food to the widows (Acts 6:2), showing that Christian giving was meant to take care of another believer's total need, not just an activity where someone throws a couple bucks their way or takes care of only part of the need, or does not take care of the need daily. 

In other words, Acts tells us that the goal of Christian giving is not to just throw some ineffective charity at poor Christians, but to actually take care of the total need. The church is only capable of doing this when all giving is focused on the Christian community. There is daily shelter to provide and daily food and water to supply. 

Part of the problem of Christian general giving is that Christians do not realize what taking care of the poor among them actually requires. Hence, they think they have plenty to go around, simply because they are not actually taking care of the needs among them. 

It is easy to give someone a bottle of water or some left over food or some junk laying around, but how will that Christian be sheltered from harsh weather and be filled with food and have his thirst addressed on a daily basis? Some old junk may be useful in some way, but it won't pay his rent. Some scraps of food will feed him that day, but not his family for the next week or month.  

Right now, the way that Christians view giving, does nothing but make charity a self-glorifying and feel-good act that contains very little sacrifice and care for the person who is receiving such charity. 

General waste and a general concept of charity has also depleted most churches of the resources they need to accomplish the task to which God has called them. It is no wonder that judgment, expressed in confusion of what the Bible says in general, a giving over to sexual depravity, and economic difficulty, has come upon the church, which, according to the biblical model, is not taking care of its poor in the way that it is supposed to take care of them.

If nations are judged for not taking care of their poor, then certainly the church, as THE nation, will be, and likely is being, judged for it.

This burden is placed on the church as a whole, as Christians individually merely contribute whatever they can to meet the need, and collectively are able to alleviate poor Christians from that need. Our goal is not to merely throw some charity at it, but to actually remove the need itself, the giving of the many sacrifices becoming the larger pool that enables the church to do just that.

The general sentiments of the social gospel in the church, however, have gotten in the way of this goal. Churches are poor, even though their people are not. Money goes to religious shysters who buy extreme luxuries for themselves. It goes to supporting unbelievers in general around the world. It goes to private luxuries of individual Christians. And it goes to sermon props, carnivals, and to build giant monuments that supposedly teach us about the Bible through image. All contribute to our unfaithfulness in the area of taking care of our widows, orphans, blind, deaf, disabled, sick, out of work, etc. in the way that we should.

Perhaps, the real question may be, not whether the Western church should be taking care of poor believers and unbelievers alike, but whether the Western church has been taking care of the poor at all.

Saying Christians Must Give to Unbelievers Is Legalism

If the believer is to provide resources, apart from that believer becoming government to the unbeliever, why does the New Testament continually instruct Christians to give to other Christians? In other words, why are not all of these just general commands to take care of the poor? Why is the judgment of the Christian placed in terms of whether he has taken care of believers who represent Christ in Matthew 25? Why is the distinction between the children of God and the devil based upon believers taking care of brothers in Christ and not a distinction made between those who give to the poor in general and those who don't? Why does James tell us that taking care of poor believers among us true religion and the genuine outworking of living faith, and not that taking care of anyone who is poor is true religion and the genuine outworking of living faith? Why are the Acts believers sharing to the point that there is no one in need among them, and not for the poor of the general population? Why does Paul say we should work hard so that anyone in need in the Body of Christ might be cared for, and he does not say that we should work hard so that anyone in need in the larger community can be cared for? Why is the injured man in the parable of the Good Samaritan not a Gentile unbeliever if it is to make the point that the recipients of kingdom resources can be anyone, believer or unbeliever?

My point is that the Bible only does this because fulfilling the law of loving my neighbor as myself is all fulfilled in how one treats a fellow believer. If it was desired by God that we use Christian resources to give to the unbeliever, one would think that would have been clearly expressed in these commands, and there would be no limitation to Christians in the commands themselves. The fact that they do not generalize says something.

If I tell my kids to take out our garbage, it may not logically exclude them taking out the next door neighbor's garbage, but it certainly is not implied in the command. Instead, if that is all I ever tell them to do, without telling them to do the other, it is certainly implied that I do not require them to take out the next door neighbor's garbage. And this is especially so, if I only punish them for not taking out our garbage, and never say I'm going to punish them for not taking out our next door neighbor's garbage. My desires for them are displayed in the limitations of the command. To add to this command would actually be a form of legalism, as it adds to the command what God does not require Himself.

God and the Reason and Means of Common Grace

There seems to be a bit of confusion on the matter of common grace and its relationship to Christian giving. Some people think that because God gives provisions to the unbeliever, this somehow means that we should be like God, as individual Christians and churches, and give to the unbeliever from our physical provisions as well.

Of course, this sentiment that we should be like God seems to end when we observe that God also has wrath upon the unbeliever, hates those who do evil, and actually takes away their physical resources, including their very lives. THAT is never applied to this, "We should be like God" sentiment.

The reason why none of it should be applied to the believer is because God giving common grace is never said to be through Christian and church provisions, which belong solely and exclusively to Christ and His people, as has been exhaustively proven to the chagrin of those who place themselves and their tradition over the Word of God.

Instead, God's means of common grace, in terms of charitable giving, is through the nations. God does not require one nation to take care of the poor of another nation, but rather to take care of their own poor. When a nation fails to do this, it, and its people, fall under the judgment of God. Hence, throughout the Old Testament, nations are judged, not because they neglected the poor in other nations who were not their obligation in God's eyes, but because they neglected their own poor. Sodom is not judged for neglecting the poor in Egypt, nor Nineveh for the poor in Persia. Each is responsible for its own poor (and there are theological as well as pragmatic reasons for this).

God is careful, however, in the New Testament, not to confuse the Christian and the church with the state, since the church now is a distinct nation to itself with a distinct King, in whom, His people, and only His people, share in the inherited blessings and provisions of His kingdom. To preach otherwise is to preach a false gospel. To act otherwise, is to act in accordance with a false gospel.

Instead, God, it seems, according to the Bible, takes care of the poor among unbelievers for four primary reasons:

1. The unbeliever may be one of the elect. He does not receive kingdom resources until he believes, since salvation is by the means of faith, and hence, he is not united to Christ until he believes; but God sustains his life by common grace through his respective nation for the obvious reason that God plans on having him hear the gospel and be saved. He draws them from every people, tribe, nation, and tongue. Augustine, for instance, did not become a believer until later in life. One of the points of his Confessions is that God was bringing him to the point of faith the entire time. This, obviously, has to include physical provisions to get him there. It is from the nations that God draws His elect, so, of course, He sets up general provisions through the governments of those nations to preserve His elect.

2. The unbeliever is created for the believer, so that the believer can understand God's mercy upon the believer by showing His wrath upon the unbeliever. Romans 9:22-24 states:

"But what if Godwilling to demonstrate his wrath and to make known his powerhas endured with much patience the objects of wrath prepared for destruction? And what if he is willing to make known the wealth of his glory on the objects of mercy that he has prepared beforehand for glory  even uswhom he has callednot only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?"

Hence, until the times of judgment, the unbeliever's life is sustained because his life is valuable as an example of God's eternal wrath to the believer.

3. In accordance with this, God's good provisions present the unbeliever with facts of His existence and provides him with no excuse on judgment day. God gives the unbeliever what he needs to acknowledge God, and it should testify to him that he needs to repent, but instead he stores up/increases wrath for himself. In other words, God is actually increasing judgment upon unbelievers by giving them provisions through the nations. Giving, in this regard, is part of God's ultimate judgment, not some hopeful love for the unbeliever where He really wants them to repent by giving them good things, but doesn't provide the regeneration necessary to do so. If He wanted their repentance through doing good to them, He would regenerate them, and even use these works as a way to endear the unbeliever to Himself. Yet, He neither regenerates them, nor are works the means He has set apart to do so, as faith comes by hearing the gospel that believers preach to the unbeliever, not by works of good that are done. Hence, these works are only judgments upon the unbeliever in the end, not an ultimate good that is done to them. As C. S. Lewis once said, "God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror . . . He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies . . . Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger--according the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way." In the case of God's common grace upon those who do not come to Christ, goodness is definitely the great danger. For instance, this is His plan with the unbeliever:

 "The Lord is a jealous God and avenging, the Lord avenges and He is full of wrath; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and reserves wrath for his enemies." (Nahum 1:2)

"That servant who knows his master’s will but does not get ready or follow his instructions will be beaten with many blows. But the one who unknowingly does things worthy of punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from him who has been entrusted with much, even more will be demanded. I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!…" (Luke 12:47-49)

Although this passage refers to those who have a claim to be Christian, the principle of being judged according to the witness given can be gleaned from it still. God requires more if more has been given. The same can be seen in Paul's rebuke of Jewish Christians in Romans 2:4-5, where they are told that God's patience toward them, when met with unbelief rather than repentance, is actually storing up/increasing wrath upon them.

4. There is a symbiosis between believer and unbeliever that exists due to God's other purposes for the unbeliever. By doing good to the believer, many times that spills over to the benefit of the unbeliever. If missionaries build a well for thirsty Christians in an area, unbelievers end up benefiting from the well also. Likewise, if government builds a well for its citizens in general, believers benefit from that. In a similar way, if God causes His rain to fall on the wicked and the righteous, it benefits the righteous in all the ways discussed both here and above.

There is simply no Scripture that talks about giving kingdom resources, the resources that belong to Christ and Christians, to unbelievers. There are plenty of texts that talk about the responsibility of the nations to take care of their own poor, although, even most of these have to do with rendering fair verdicts for them when they are taken advantage of. But many nations, like Sodom, are judged for having plenty but neglecting their poor. The means of God's common grace upon these nations, however, is not the covenant community, which exists as its own nation and is to support itself.

Instead, God has designed unbelievers who are poor to be supported by their nations, specifically government. The general welfare of the nation is supported by Christians through their paying taxes because taxes are not seen by Scripture as belonging to the Christian, but to the government who sets aside a certain amount of the income of its citizens as its own. Hence, Christians are told to render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar. They are not told to render unto Caesar the things that belong to Christ and Christians. The tax, then, is not a possession of Christ, but of the government of a nation. In paying taxes, Christians participate in the common grace of God in which He provides for the unbeliever. But kingdom resources belong to Christ and Christ only. Hence, they are never told to make unbelievers the recipients of their giving (see the numerous posts below). Instead, they need to be careful not to fall under the judgment of God, as other nations, by not taking care of their own poor. It should also be understood that our participation in God's common grace through taxes is a participation in all of the above. We are not only helping to sustain the lives of the elect, but we are also helping God store up wrath for the unbeliever. Our taxes are going to pay for their further judgment and destruction, an interesting thought for those who think they are helping unbelievers with their charitable giving.

We can see the contrast of the two kingdoms in Acts 14:8-18.

"In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. This man was listening to Paul as he was speakingWhen Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be saved, he said with a loud voice“Stand upright on your feet.” And the man leaped up and began walking. So when the crowds saw what Paul had donethey shouted in the Lycaonian language, The gods have come down to us in human form!  They began to call Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of the temple of Zeus, located just outside the citybrought bulls and garlands to the city gateshe and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard about it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowdshoutingMenwhy are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to youso that you should turn from these worthless things to the living Godwho made the heaventhe earth, the seaand everything that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own ways, yet he did not leave himself without a witness by doing good, by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasonssatisfying you with food and your hearts with joy.” Even by saying these thingsthey scarcely persuaded the crowds not to offer sacrifice to them."

Notice, that the man who receives a kingdom blessing from Paul has his need met only because, "Paul stared intently at him and saw that he had faith to be saved . In fact, the Greek, ἰδὼν ὅτι ἔχει πίστιν τοῦ σωθῆναι, indicates that it was contingent upon the man having faith, "seeing that he had the faith which is to salvation," he gave him what he needed. This indicates that Paul thought that it was necessary for him to have faith in order to have his desperate need met. 

In contrast to this, God's general provisions seen through common grace later in the passage, is said to have been given in previous generations. In other words, the church was not even around. It wasn't the means of this common grace. Israel certainly didn't supply it. The allusion is to the prophets, where it becomes clear that God takes care of those nations through their own governments and people. 

But also notice that this means their rejection of the gospel will be worse for them. The things God has done for them will lead to their destruction and damnation, not salvation. He has given them a witness of His existence, but they, both in general and in the passage, attribute these things to other gods, which are the demons they follow. Indeed, after this scene, those who do not believe stone Paul. Having been provided for by God through general government and now hearing the gospel, their condemnation will now be far more severe.

In conclusion, this is one of the many reasons Christians might not want to pile condemnation onto the unbeliever by giving them provisions from kingdom resources. Kingdom resources should be used for those in the kingdom, so that the kingdom is always one that saves, rather than condemns. God both supports His elect and condemns the world further through common grace, but He saves through His kingdom and its resources. There is no condemnation in the kingdom, and hence, its resources should never be used as instruments of condemnation. But if given to the unbeliever, they will be used as just that by God. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Stranger Is My Neighbor, the Pagan Is Not

One of the objections to my saying that believers are never commanded, whether in the OT or NT, to use kingdom resources to take care of unbelievers is that the Bible tells us to take care of "sojourners/resident aliens" among you. These resident aliens/strangers are viewed as unbelievers by the objector, and since believers are to take care of them with kingdom resources, it shows that the Bible negates the exclusive use of those resources for believers.

However, if one is to define גר "sojourner/resident alien/stranger," one must look at the contextual referents to know to whom the word refers in those instances. Abraham calls himself a גר (Gen 15:13; 23:4) because he is not native born in the land in which he resides. Moses also calls himself a גר (Exod 2:22) in the wilderness. A גר is anyone who is not of the ethnicity of the people group among which they now reside (note also that both Abraham and Moses stay in those lands for years—i.e., they are not just passing through). It has nothing to do with the person being an unbeliever, a non-member of God’s covenant community. It is an ethnic, not religious designation. In fact, Abraham is the only official member of the covenant community at the time he calls himself a גר. God calls all of Israel גרים with Him, since the land is His. This term is not a designation of a non-covenanted unbeliever (Lev 25:23).

Instead, it becomes clear that the "stranger" among the Israelites in the wilderness and the land, and even the ones celebrating with them in Egypt, are non-ethnic Israelites who are still covenant community members, i.e., followers of YHWH.

The גר are identified, even in the land of Egypt, in contrast to ethnic Israelites, as fellow covenant members who are participating in the Passover, and are given a covenant curse if they do not (12:19, 48-49). 

They observe Sabbath, which is a primary indicator that they are covenant members (Exod 20:10; 23:12). 

They are to observe the day of atonement to cleanse them with the rest of the covenant community (Lev 16:29). 

Leviticus 17:8-9 states that they are making sacrifices and calls the covenant community from which he’ll be cut off, if doing it wrong, “his people.”

Like the other covenant members, he is not to eat of blood, since God has made blood as an atonement for him, lest he be cut off from “his people” (Lev 17:10-12).

Since he is a worshiper of YHWH, he is to keep himself from the sexually immoral practices of the surrounding nations (Lev 18:26). 

He is not to give his children to Molech, since, like the children of the ethnic Israelites, his children belong to YHWH (20:2).

He is to make sacrifices just like the ethnically born Israelites whenever he wishes to do so (Num 15:14-16). 

The נכר “foreigner,” in contrast to the גר, is viewed as the enemy of Israel (Isa 62:8), who has false beliefs and practices, but any who repent and join themselves to the Lord are promised the blessings of fellow covenant members (Isa . 56:1-7), as they would then become a believing גר. But the נכר is the one who has foreign gods and evil practices. In fact, the common expression in the Hebrew Bible for “foreign gods” is actually the phrase, אלהי הנכר “the gods of the foreigner.” There is no verse in the Bible that tells us to give kingdom resources to the נכר, and in fact, there are verses that call it an abomination to do so. Instead, it is to the גר, the non-ethnic Israelite who is a believer that those resources should be given.

Lev 22:25 contrast the rejection of the sacrifice of a foreigner (נכר) with the sojourner (גר) in 22:18 who participates in worship and sacrifice that is acceptable to God.

Foreigners are not even aloud to reside in the land, as Israel was to remove them. Instead, the presence of foreigners and their use of Israel’s resources is a judgment on God’s people (Isa 60:10; 61:5; 62:8). Talk about not loving one's enemies. Not only do they not get kingdom resources, the Israelites are commanded to take their resources from them. Not so for the גר.

As a covenant member, the גר is not to blaspheme YHWH, or he will be stoned (Lev 24:16).

Numbers 15:22-26 talks about the whole covenant community, made up of ethnic and non-ethnic Israelites, natives and גרים as being forgiven for their unintentional trespasses via sacrifices. But he is held accountable to the entire law, just like the other Israelites, for intentionally rebelling against it (v. 30).

He can be unclean and in need of cleaning just like the rest of the covenant community (Num 19:10).

All of the verses concerning taking care of the גר are in this context. He is an Old Testament believer, which is why he is also promised a future inheritance of the land (Ezek 47:21-23), which only belongs to those who are united to YHWH who owns the land.

The "stranger," in continuity with this idea, in the New Testament is any believer, usually sent out by other churches, who are not known by the recipients personally, but are, in fact, coming in the name of the Lord. 

"Dear friend, you demonstrate faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers (even though they are strangers). They have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone forth on behalf of “The Name,” accepting nothing from the pagans. Therefore we ought to support such peopleso that we become coworkers in cooperation with the truth." (3 John 5-8)

Notice that the ξένους "strangers" are brothers who are sent out. They are contrasted with ἐθνικῶν "pagans" in this passage from whom they took nothing. 

In Matthew 25, Christ, who is represented by His people, is called the ξένος "stranger."

"For I was hungry and you gave me foodI was thirsty and you gave me something to drinkI was stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothingI was sick and you took care of meI was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lordwhen did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, I tell you the truth just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mineyou did it for me." (vv. 35-40)

This practice of receiving brothers in Christ who are considered "strangers" is what the New Testament describes as hospitality (Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2; 1 Tim 5:10).

It is not, of course, that a pagan cannot be a stranger. They are just not the strangers that believers are commanded to take care of. 

This is also not to say that one would not take care of an unbeliever in one's household or under one's national obligations, due to governmental responsibilities. It just means that the physical well-being of the believer in good standing with his church, even though I may not know him personally, is still my responsibility in terms of using kingdom resources for his benefit. The physical well-being of the unbeliever, with the exception of governmental responsibilities, is not. My responsibility with him is to invite him into the kingdom. I can even do this by inviting him into my house. Apart from my household, or other situations in which I become the hand of the government over him, however, he is not to receive what belongs to me, since all that belongs to me exclusively belongs to Christ.