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

Do You Swear?

During the Lord Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, He defined God’s standards for a righteous life. He cited common understandings for principled living and then raised the bar. Among these principles, He declared swearing (i.e., oath taking) off-limits.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’

But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. Matthew 5:33-37 English Standard Version (ESV)

Specifically, Christ prohibits using God’s name (or euphemisms for it) to bolster our sincerity in what we promise or declare to others and to God.

John Calvin comments:

You shall not swear falsely… The man who perjures himself is not the only person who takes the name of God in vain, (Exodus 20:7). He does so, who idly and contemptuously pronounces the name of God on trivial occasions, or in ordinary conversation.

Calvin points out that some have used the Lord’s command to reject all vows. He says they’re mistaken:

Do not take an oath at all… His statement amounts to this, that there are other ways of “taking the name of God in vain,” besides perjury; and, therefore, that we ought to refrain from allowing ourselves the liberty of unnecessary swearing: for, when there are just reasons to demand it, the law not only permits, but expressly commands us to swear.

Stating the obvious, Calvin concludes:

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ Christ now prescribes… that men act towards each other sincerely and honestly… Fairness and honesty in our words are, therefore, demanded by Christ, that there may be no longer any occasion for an oath.

And James, in his letter to the churches, echoed his Lord’s admonition:

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. James 5:12 (ESV)

Therefore, let us speak truth, one to another.

Us – Michael Been, The Best of The Call

Confess with Your Mouth, Believe In Your Heart

In case you don’t already know, an elevator speech is a short summary description of a product or service and the benefits that result from receiving them. The Apostle Paul offers us just such a statement:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I’ve always wondered; is that one sentence enough? Is its prescription adequate to attain eternal life?

First, where does this statement come from? The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church at Rome:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:8-10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Now, it’s important to realize that Paul is paraphrasing the prophet Moses and elaborating on what he said long ago:

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off…But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” Deuteronomy 30:11, 14 (ESV)

Moses was giving the people of his day the same Gospel. However, it was veiled. It was only a type and shadow of good things to come. Paul lifts the veil of Moses’s statement.

Further, Paul explains the sentence we are discussing by way of his very next:

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

The first clause: For with the heart one believes and is justified (i.e., made righteous) follows from another of Paul’s writings in the same letter, Romans 4:3, 23-25 (ESV):

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

But how is Jesus the Lord? The Apostle Peter proclaimed to those of his day:

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:36 (ESV)

The second clause: with the mouth one confesses and is saved is related to the first clause, as the Lord Jesus explains:

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45 (ESV)

That accounts for the relation between our hearts and mouths. But what is the benefit of confessing Jesus as Lord? The Lord Jesus makes this starkly clear:

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:32-33 (ESV)

And what is one saved from? Paul explains:

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Romans 5:9-10 (ESV)

As with any elevator speech, it’s meant to win an opportunity for a longer hearing.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

But, if you only have one chance, it’s a pretty good seed to plant.

“Oklahoma”, The Call (Likely lyrics, the Band, this Video)

Deluding Influence

Delusion is defined as:

De·lu·sion /dəˈlo͞oZHən/ noun: delusion; plural noun: delusions

An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.

“The delusion of being watched.”

“Was her belief in his fidelity just a delusion?”

The action of deluding someone or the state of being deluded.

“What a capacity television has for delusion.”

And, perhaps more directly:

De·lude /dəˈlo͞od/ verb: delude; 3rd person present: deludes; past tense and past participle: deluded; gerund or present participle: deluding

Impose a misleading belief upon (someone); deceive; fool.

“Too many theorists have deluded the public.”

In the second letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul speaks of deluding influences and the man of lawlessness:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness [emphasis added].

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin has much to say about these verses: 1–2, 3–4, 5–8, and 9–12. We’ll concentrate on what he said about verses 11 and 12:

Verse 11 – The working of delusion. He means that errors will not merely have a place, but [that] the wicked will be blinded, so…they will rush forward to ruin without consideration.

For as God enlightens us inwardly by his Spirit, that his doctrine may be efficacious in us, and opens our eyes and hearts, that it may make its way thither, so by a righteous judgment he delivers over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:28) those whom he has appointed to destruction, that with closed eyes and a senseless mind, they may, as if bewitched, deliver themselves over to Satan and his ministers to be deceived…

Verse 12 – That all may be condemned. That is, that they may receive the punishment due to their impiety. Thus, those that perish have no just ground to expostulate with God, inasmuch as they have obtained what they sought.

For we must keep in view what is stated in Deuteronomy 13:3, that the hearts of men are subjected to trial, when false doctrines come abroad, inasmuch as they [the false doctrines] have no power except among those who do not love God with a sincere heart. Let those, then, who take pleasure in unrighteousness, reap the fruit of it.

When he says all, he means that contempt of God finds no excuse in the great crowd and multitude of those who refuse to obey the gospel, for God is the Judge of the whole world, so that he will inflict punishment upon a hundred thousand, no less than upon one individual.

The participle εὐδοκήσαντες (taking pleasure) means (so to speak) a voluntary inclination to evil, for in this way every excuse is cut off from the ungrateful, when they take so much pleasure in unrighteousness, as to prefer it to the righteousness of God.

For by what violence will they say that they have been impelled to alienate themselves by a mad revolt from God, towards whom they were led by the guidance of nature? It is at least manifest that they willingly and knowingly lent an ear to falsehoods.

But none of this is new. Throughout history and in all lands, God has given over the disobedient.

Roughly seven hundred years before Christ and more than a century and a half before their decreed release by Cyrus the Great, the prophet Isaiah encouraged the future Babylonian exiles to flee from there and, by faith, return to the Promised Land. Speaking of their spiritual blindness, he says to them:

They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. Isaiah 44:18 (ESV)

Speaking to His disciples about the crowds gathered by the Sea of Galilee to hear Him, the Lord Jesus Christ cites Isaiah (Is. 6:9–10):

And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

“they may indeed see but not perceive,

    and may indeed hear but not understand,

lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

Mark 4:11-12 (ESV)

Later, during Lord’s entry into Jerusalem prior to the Passover, John recounts what Isaiah said about God’s hardening of hearts as a commentary on those who did not believe in the Lord:

“He has blinded their eyes

    and hardened their heart,

lest they see with their eyes,

    and understand with their heart, and turn,

    and I would heal them.”

John 12:40 (ESV)

Later still, Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome says:

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. Romans 9:18 (ESV)

This is a clear expression of God’s sovereign kindness and severity.

And yet, He sets Eternity in the heart:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)

Truly, His ways are past finding out:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Romans 11:33 (ESV)

Even though we deserve ruthlessness, He Himself seeks to persuade us with rational arguments:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;

Though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;

But if you refuse and rebel,you shall be eaten by the sword;

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 1:18–20 (ESV)

Then, of course, He speaks to us of an unmerited gift:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV)

With Paul (and Isaiah), I say to you: sleeper, awake!

Fall of Rebel Angels - Brueghel

The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1562), Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), PD in US

The Upper Hand – Bernhardt Writer

Some people always have to have the upper hand. My father was one of those people. He would do whatever it took to gain an advantage over those he met. He would be proper, humble, a terror, or a fool if it would give him power and control over others. Fundamentally, he both disrespected and feared them at the same time. He was an expert at what he did and I was a rebellious teen who rejected his ways (by God’s grace).

Such recollections remind me of the scripture:

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40 English Standard Version (ESV)

These prominent men displayed unwarranted pride and feigned humility as a cover for their real motive: greed. Further, we have:

But understand this: that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

My father was such a one. He said he took communion because he was merely hungry:

But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all… 2 Timothy 3:9 (ESV)

It saddens me, even today, that he did not repent while he had the chance. But such things should not characterize our behavior:

But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 1 Peter 4:15 (ESV)

In a note to this verse, the New American Standard translation renders meddler literally as: one who oversees others’ affairs. NAS adds troublesome to modify the noun in case we would misinterpret it. It’s the attitude, so prevalent today, of: “I know better than you,” put into action.

This should not be our way. Instead:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

Even further:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13:12-17 (ESV) [emphasis added]

I’ve always heard the Lord Jesus’s statement in John 13:8:

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,”

as a rebuke to Peter’s:

“You shall never wash my feet.”

But what if it were a plea?

Listening to good doctrine (as important as we think that is) is not enough to soften our hard hearts toward others. Or as one of our poets wrote: “I need love…to melt the frozen sea inside me.”

‘I Need Love’ by Sam Phillips – performed by Sixpence None the Richer (with lyrics)

But, exhibiting genuine humility in all circumstances that proceeds from a changed, crushed, and submissive heart may just be our duty.