Despise – Part 2

In a previous post, we explored why we should not despise those in the church (Romans 14: 10-13.) Here, we try to understand the Lord Jesus’s command:

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 18:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Much is said of these ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation. But what does this verse mean?

John Calvin, well regarded in some circles and not so well in others, said:

Beware of despising one of these little ones – As pride is the mother of disdain, and as contempt hardens men in giving offense, our Lord, for the purpose of applying an appropriate remedy for curing this disease, forbids his disciples to despise the little ones.

And certainly, as we have already hinted, no man who has a proper care for his brethren will ever allow himself, on light grounds, to give them offense. This conclusion of our Lord’s discourse has the same tendency as the commencement of it, to remind us that we ought to [compete] with each other who shall be most submissive and modest; for God embraces with wonderful love the little ones.

He goes on to explain the untenable position despisers put themselves in:

It would be strange indeed that a mortal man should despise, or treat as of no account, those whom God holds in such high esteem. He proves this love from the fact, that angels, who are ministers of their salvation, enjoy intimately the presence of God.

Yet I do not think that he intended merely to show what honor God confers on them by appointing angels to be their guardians, but likewise to threaten those who despise them; as if he had said, that it is no light matter to despise those who have angels for their companions and friends, to take vengeance in their behalf. We ought therefore to beware of despising their salvation, which even angels have been commissioned to advance.

And, in order to encourage the Church and thwart theological errors that are as common now as then, Calvin says:

The interpretation given to this passage by some commentators, as if God assigned to each believer his own angel, does not rest on solid grounds.

For the words of Christ do not mean that a single angel is continually occupied with this or the other person; and such an idea is inconsistent with the whole doctrine of Scripture, which declares that the angels encamp around (Psalm 34:7) the godly, and that not one angel only, but many, have been commissioned to guard every one of the faithful.

Away, then, with the fanciful notion of a good and evil angel, and let us rest satisfied with holding that the care of the whole Church is committed to angels, to assist each member as his necessities shall require.

Finally, he clarifies our relationship to the angels of God:

It will perhaps be asked, Do the angels occupy a station inferior to ours, because they have been appointed to be our ministers? I reply, though by nature they take rank above us, this does not prevent them from rendering service to God in dispensing the favor which he freely bestows upon us. For this reason, they are called our angels, because their labors are bestowed on us.

Let us always follow His command to: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven,” and beware, for: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” And finally, to those who esteem the Church lightly, scripture declares that the angels encamp around (Psalm 34:7) the godly who are in Christ Jesus.

Guardian Angel

The Guardian Angel, 1656, Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), In the Public Domain in the United States

Honoring Our Feet

Peculiar topic, no? Have you ever thought of someone’s opinions as second-rate and subtly (or so you thought) told them so? Have you been slighted or brushed off for some unfathomable reason, only later putting two and two together? Though we expect this treatment in the world, we shouldn’t expect it in the church. However, it’s there and He doesn’t like it. Through the Apostle Paul, He says:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

1 Corinthians 12:21-26 English Standard Version (ESV)

There is a lot in this admonition. First, let us consider the key word: honor. We know honor more sharply by what it is not:

dis·hon·or [disˈänər]

VERB

bring shame or disgrace on:

“the politician dishonors her good campaign by resorting to sniping.”

synonyms: disgrace, shame, discredit, bring into disrepute, humiliate, degrade, debase, lower, cheapen, drag down, drag through the mud, blacken the name of, give a bad name to, sully, stain, taint, besmirch, smear, mar, blot, stigmatize

antonym: honor, respect

The reformer, John Calvin, had some pointed things to say about these verses:

Hitherto [Paul exhorted] the less honorable members to…not envy the more distinguished members. Now, he [directs the] honorable members not to despise the inferior members, [with whom] they cannot dispense.

The dishonor of one member [results in] the common disgrace of the whole body, as appears from the care that we take to cover the parts that are less honorable…The body is not merely shattered, and the order of nature perverted, but the authority of God is openly [treated as of no importance] whenever anyone assumes more than belongs to him.

There is no room for envy or contempt. To be honored [means] to be in prosperity and happiness. Nothing, however, is better [suited] to promote harmony than…when everyone feels that he is proportionally enriched by the prosperity of others and impoverished by their penury.

Further, the Apostle Paul instructs us to listen to the Spirit’s guidance and refrain from looking down on our brothers and sisters:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:25-26 (ESV)

To this, Calvin says:

Among Christians, whoever [desires their own] glory departs from true glory, and therefore is justly charged with idle and foolish ambition. It is not lawful for us to glory but in God alone. Every other kind of glorying is pure vanity.

Mutual provocations and envying are the daughters of ambition. He who aspires to the highest rank must of necessity envy all others, and disrespectful, biting, stinging language is the unavoidable consequence.

So we see the origin of this form of strife: vaunted ambition. He who wants to be first, will be last.

But Paul’s admonitions about honor are not all negative. In the Letter to the Romans, he says:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. Romans 12:10, 17 (ESV)

In these verses, Calvin catches several subtleties we often miss:

Everyone is to give honor to his brethren and not to himself; for there is no poison more effectual in alienating the minds of men than the thought, that one is despised.

As there is nothing more opposed to brotherly concord than contempt, arising from haughtiness, when each one, neglecting others, advances himself; so the best fomenter of love is humility, when everyone honors others.

We render evil for evil sometimes…when we treat unkindly those who do us no good…When any one denies help to us when we need it, we…do not help him in time of need, any more than he assisted us.

We ought to diligently labor, that all may be edified by our honest dealings. For as purity of conscience is necessary for us before God, so uprightness of character before men is not to be neglected.

When we are [called] to prepare good things before men, …[it] is not that men may admire and praise us but that their minds being elevated to God, they may give praise to him, that by our example they may be stirred up to practice righteousness.

And so, we must “honor our feet,” that is, give sincere respect and due care to those who we consider less capable in word, thought, and deed, for the sake of the unity of His body, the church. Each of us contributes what we’ve been given, if we’re following the Spirit’s leading. To God, alone, be the glory.

U-MV021 – Sam Phillips – I Need Love, posted on YouTube by mypartofthething, lyrics

Schadenfreude

Have you ever laughed when someone trips up, makes a mistake, or some other calamity befalls them? That’s an example of Schadenfreude.

Wikipedia defines it as:

Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. This word is taken from German and literally means ‘harm-joy.’ It is the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune. It is also borrowed by some other languages.

But it’s not something we should practice towards those we call brothers and sisters.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Romans 12:15-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

We shouldn’t practice it toward those who do us wrong either.

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,

and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,

lest the Lord see it and be displeased,

and turn away his anger from him.

Proverbs 24:17-18 (ESV)

And not because we wish them harm, but because we’re commanded:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19 (ESV)

and

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 (ESV)

But if we do persist, we’re on a slippery slope. Soon, we may find ourselves siding with the Pharisees and looking down on the Tax Collectors in our midst:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

What does John Calvin think of the passage in Luke?

There are two faults at which Christ glances, and which he intended to condemn, — wicked confidence in ourselves, and the pride of despising brethren, the one of which springs out of the other. It is impossible that he who deceives himself with vain confidence should not lift himself up above his brethren. Nor is it wonderful that it should be so; for how should that man not despise his equals, who vaunts against God himself? Every man that is puffed up with self-confidence carries on open war with God, to whom we cannot be reconciled in any other way than by denial of ourselves; that is, by laying aside all confidence in our own virtue and righteousness, and relying on his mercy alone.

I urge you to read what else Calvin says about the passage.

It always seems to come down to: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone…” And it needs to start with me.

The Swallow's Nest Castle near Gaspra

The Swallow’s Nest Castle near Gaspra, Yalta municipality. Republic of Crimea, 4 April 2014, A. Savin, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Restore to Repentance?

Having been in the church a while, I’ve seen and heard things. This verse has always troubled me:

For it is impossible,

in the case of those:

who have once been enlightened,

who have tasted the heavenly gift,

and have shared in the Holy Spirit,

and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,

and then have fallen away,

to restore them again to repentance,

since they are:

crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm

and holding him up to contempt.

Hebrews 6:4-6 English Standard Version (ESV) emphasis mine

I had once presented the gospel to a fellow who said to me that he knew he was not redeemable because of these verses. Ignorant as I was at the time, I tried to convince him that there was always hope while he yet lived. He, a non-believer, quoted these verses to me, thanked me for my concern, and wandered away. I never saw him again.

John Calvin comments:

Let us then know, that the Gospel cannot be otherwise rightly known than by the illumination of the Spirit, and that being thus drawn away from the world, we are raised up to heaven, and that knowing the goodness of God we rely on his word.

But here arises a new question, how can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Romans 8:14) and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish.

To all this I answer, That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts.

But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts.

Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mark 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.

And by this bridle the Lord keeps us in fear and humility; and we certainly see how prone human nature is otherwise to security and foolish confidence. At the same time our solicitude ought to be such as not to disturb the peace of conscience. For the Lord strengthens faith in us, while he subdues our flesh: and hence he would have faith to remain and rest tranquilly as in a safe haven; but he exercises the flesh with various conflicts, that it may not grow wanton through idleness.

So the bitter admonition in these verses serves us well: to keep us striving for holiness, humility, and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in all we think, say, and do.

Fallen Angels in Hell

Fallen Angels in Hell, circa 1841, John Martin, 1789 – 1854, Public Domain in US