Results tagged “wisdom” from Reformation21 Blog

Wisdom Christology and the Bread of Life

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When Calvin speaks of sharing the Lord's Supper with Christ, covenantal concepts naturally arise, most notable when Calvin is discussing 1 Corinthians 10-11. Throughout his commentaries, Calvin frequently emphasizes that in the Supper we enjoy both the presence and the benefits of Christ. These are distinctly different lines of thoughts and they represent two different dimensions of Calvin's theology of the Supper. Whereas the motif regarding the presence of Christ involves Pauline themes and images, the motif regarding the benefits of Christ involves Johannine themes and images. When Calvin deals with passages about feeding on Christ, we discover the influence of the Wisdom School. In particular, John 6, which presents Christ as the bread of life, is filled with sapiential themes so typical of the wisdom writers of the Old Testament.

Central to the development of the ideas found in John 6 is Proverbs 9:1-6 where Wisdom invites the faithful to a feast. The wisdom theology understood this banquet as a figure for the delight of sacred learn. Wisdom, according to this passage, has built her house, set up her seven pillars, arranged her table and now invites all to come and eat of her bread and drink of her wine. The Bread of Life Discourse picks up on this figure to show that Jesus is the Word of God upon whom the Christian feasts. However, a passage of Scripture that may have been more important for Calvin would have been Isaiah 55:1-3:

"Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price! Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in fatness."

Calvin explained that references to eating and drinking are taken as figures for receiving divine teaching and thereby entering into an everlasting covenant. The idea that the Word of God should be understood as spiritual food and that the bread and wine were signs of that spiritual food is embedded in the biblical wisdom tradition. Near the beginning of his commentary on the Bread of Life Discourse, Calvin says that its simple meaning is "our souls are fed by the teaching of the Gospel, the inner work of the Holy Spirit, and all other gifts of Christ." If it is true that the Word of God is a sacred food and drink which nourishes unto eternal life, it is also true that this food is given both in the reading and preaching of Scripture and in the celebration of the Supper. In fact, according to Calvin, the Supper is a sign and seal that Christ is the Bread of Life for us today, just as it was a sign for the multitude of Galileans whom Jesus fed with loaves and fishes.

Even more important to the Bread of Life Discourse in the story of the feeding of the manna. The rabbis of New Testament times had richly elaborated and augmented the story of the feeding of the children of Israel with manna in the wilderness. We already find this in the Old Testament itself where manna is called the grain of heaven and the bread of angels (cf. Psalm 78:24-25) and in Deuteronomy the manna is understood sacramentally as a sign of the Word of God delivered on Mt. Sinai. God fed Israel with manna to teach them that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3). The Law of Moses came down from heaven as a gracious gift from God to enlighten the people of Israel with sacred wisdom. Of this, the manna was the divinely given sign. However, the soul is fed now with earthly things, but God's Word from heaven. Thus, a sapiential interpretation of the story of the manna demonstrates that the Word of God is clearly a heavenly or spiritual food. In the Bread of Life discourse, John contrasts the manna (which fed the bellies of the murmuring children of Israel) with the spiritual food believers receive from Christ in the ministry of Word and sacrament.

The last central theme of the Bread of Life Discourse is the Feast of Passover. At the beginning of John 6, John indicates that the event took place around the time of Passover. If we are to understand the sacrifice of Jesus in terms of Passover imagery, speaking of feeding on the Passover lamb comes quite naturally. Toward the end of his commentary on the Bread of Life Discourse, Calvin recognizes the paschal theme and stated: "It would be of no use to us that the sacrifice was once offered, if we did not now feed upon that sacred feast."

This should make it clear that Calvin's understanding of the Lord's Supper had a place for feeding on Christ. At the Supper, as Calvin sees it, we feed on the paschal lamb whose sacrifice atoned for the sin of the world. Hence, the Word of God is the Lamb of God, who by His sacrifice takes away the sin of the world. The paschal themes alluded to in the story of the feeding of the multitude and the Bread of Life Discourse becomes patent in John 6:51-58. The Supper reveals that the wisdom which nourishes to eternal life is the cross.

Here, the Passover imagery is essential for an understanding of this passage. The vicarious suffering of the Lamb of God is the sacred food which enable those who believe to pass from death to life. Hence, the proclamation that the Lamb of God who died for the sin of the world and is alive forevermore is the Gospel of salvation, the divine wisdom which unmasks the wisdom of this world. When this Word is received by faith, it is a sacred food that nourishes unto eternal life. This is the great feast of the children of God - to feed upon the Lamb of God. It is a feast kept in faith and by faith, for it is faith that feeds upon the divine Word, the holy Wisdom from on High. 

The Lord's Supper is not only a symbol of this truth. It is, to use Calvin's words, "actually presented;" it is promised and sealed. When the bread and wine of the sacrament is offered, Christ is truly offered for salvation. When we accept it, the promise is sealed. The sermon and the Supper both proclaim the Lord's death until Christ comes, and yet they are two distinct moments in our receiving God's gracious gift of salvation. In the sermon, it is presented; in the Supper it is sealed. Thus, Calvin understands the Bread of Life Discourse to mean that in the worship of the Church, both in the sermon and the Supper, we feast upon the divine Wisdom - the wisdom revealed in the cross.

Gabriel Williams (Ph.D., Colorado State University) is assistant professor of atmospheric physics at the College of Charleston and a member of Christ Church Presbyterian in Charleston, SC. He also writes at The Road of Grace. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the College of Charleston.

Wisdom Christology in James and 1 John

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In the previous post in this series, we briefly considered how Calvin's appreciation of wisdom theology is particularly present in his comments on the Johannine literature. In Calvin's commentary of 1 John, we discover one of the marks of the wisdom theology, namely, its appreciation of the transcendent nature of God's Word. For Calvin, The Word "which believers we have heard and believed" is the same Word who is from the beginning the divine Wisdom. We find this very clearly in the following comment by Calvin:

"Moreover, the term Word may be explained in two ways, either of Christ, or of the doctrine of the Gospel, for even by this is salvation brought to us. But as its substance is Christ, and as it contains no other thing than that he, who had been always with the Father, was at length manifested to men, the first view appears to me the more simple and genuine. Moreover, it appears more fully from the Gospel that the wisdom which dwells in God is called the Word."

The Word of God is a transcendent reality. In fact, it is the fundamental transcendent reality of our salvation. We also notice from Calvin's commentary that the Word of God has the capacity to enliven. Wisdom, as it is understood in Scripture, is far removed from the sort of abstract intellectualism that many associate with an education in philosophy, the humanities, and the sciences. Wisdom is a way of life, but more than that, it is a power and "sacred vitality". This, too, is a mark of wisdom theology. When the text speaks of the "Word of life", Calvin interprets this to mean the "vivifying Word." This vivifying "Word of life" was with the Father, according to the text. Calvin comments:

"This is true, not only from the time when the world was formed, but also from eternity, for He was always God, the fountain of life; and the power and the faculty of vivifying was possessed by His eternal wisdom."

As Calvin understood, the eternal Wisdom is a creative, redemptive, and sanctifying wisdom; therefore, this Wisdom is a fountain of life. This divine Wisdom is a redemptive, transforming power. The ability of the Word to transform human life is the basis of its authority and its glory. It is this Word of life - the divine Wisdom - which brings us into fellowship with God and restores the bond of love between believers and God, and between believers one with another.

A very different aspect of the biblical wisdom theology is found in the Epistle of James. James describes Christian wisdom - both its theoretical knowledge and practical application - as embodied within the covenant community. James, like the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, is a collection of wise sayings on good conduct which reverberates with themes from the biblical wisdom tradition. Neither of these books tells a story nor develops a systematic line of thought. Typical of the wisdom writers (such as the sages of ancient Israel) is this delight in collecting proverbs on living the godly life.

As is well known, Luther had little appreciation for the moral concerns of James because it seemed to him to be be bogged down in works righteousness. Calvin was of a different mind, as he relates in the introduction to his commentary on James. In responding to the claim that James was not as clear on the subject of the grace of Christ as an apostle ought to be, Calvin commented:

"See how the writings of Solomon differ widely from the style of David. The former was concerned with the training of the outward man, and with handing down rules of social behavior, while the latter is noted for his profound attention to the spiritual worship of God, peace of mind, God's lovingkindness, and the free promise of salvation. Such diversity does not make us praise one and condemn the other."

This passage clearly indicates that Calvin recognized a "Solomonic theology", that is, a wisdom theology. By saying that James is to the rest of the New Testament as the writings of Solomon were to the Old Testament, we discover Calvin agrees in substance with what modern biblical scholarship has recognized concerning the strongly Semitic and sapiential character of James. The whole nature of Calvin's piety was positively disposed toward those beautiful passages in the Epistle of James which speak of the character of wisdom. Consider Calvin's comments on James 3:13-18:

"For James takes it as granted, that we are not wise, except when we are illuminated by God from above through his Spirit. However, then, the mind of man may enlarge itself, all its acuteness will be vanity; and not only so, but being at length entangled in the wiles of Satan, it will become wholly delirious... For wisdom requires a state of mind that is calm and composed, but envying disturbs it, so that in itself it becomes in a manner tumultuous, and boils up immoderately against others."

Consistent with the sages of Old Testament Israel, Calvin understands that wisdom is truly a divine gift. The notion that wisdom is obtained by asking God for it is rooted in the prayer of Solomon (1 Kings 3) and the relationship between wisdom being a gift and, therefore, the need to ask for it is developed in Wisdom of Solomon 8:17-9:18. In addition, because true wisdom comes "from above" it is inappropriate to boast about it. True wisdom is therefore humble. Calvin elaborated on this point further in his commentary, when he wrote:

"He now mentions the effects of celestial wisdom which are wholly contrary to the former effects. He says first that it is pure; by which term he excludes hypocrisy and ambition. He, in the second place, calls it peaceable, to intimate that it is not contentious. In the third place, he calls it kind or humane, that we may know that it is far away from that immoderate austerity which tolerates nothing in our brethren. He also calls it gentle or tractable; by which he means that it widely differs from pride and malignity. In the last place, he says that it is full of mercy, etc., while hypocrisy is inhuman and inexorable. By good fruits he generally refers to all those duties which benevolent men perform towards their brethren; as though he had said, it is full of benevolence. It hence follows, that they lie who glory in their cruel austerity."

It's clear that Calvin appreciated wisdom that was calm and well composed - the kind of wisdom that was learned but without pretension. Rather, Calvin admired simplicity, sincerity, and sobriety. Following the biblical wisdom tradition of the Old Testament, this sobriety is most clearly demonstrated in speech ethics (cf. James 3:1-12) and humility (cf. James 3:13-18). Calvin understood that true divine wisdom produces ethical fruit primarily because it is the "vivifying Word". Because this divine Word transform human lives, it is expected that the wisdom from above produces true humility, true learning, and true godliness. The Epistle of James taught exactly the sort of piety that he so much admired and that he lived to emulate throughout his life.

Gabriel Williams (Ph.D., Colorado State University) is assistant professor of atmospheric physics at the College of Charleston and a member of Christ Church Presbyterian in Charleston, SC. He also writes at The Road of Grace. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the College of Charleston.

Wisdom Christology in the Gospel of John: The Prologue

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Having grown up in traditional Black churches, I have learned that being Reformed is more than simply assenting to a number of important doctrines (e.g. the doctrine of grace, the regulative principle of worship, covenant theology, etc.). By sitting under Reformed preaching and probing the mind of godly men, I have come to discover that the mode of Christian spirituality as expressed within the Reformed tradition is quite different than my own upbringing. In particular, I believe that wisdom theology has profoundly shaped the thinking of many of the fathers of the Reformed faith (especially John Calvin) and the temper of Reformed piety in general.

Calvin's greatest appreciation of biblical wisdom theology is discovered in his commentaries on the Johannine literature--in which Old Testament wisdom concepts are put into Christian form and developed into the Logos theology of the early church. According to Calvin's commentary on the Gospel of John, the Apostle calls the Son "the Word" because "He is the eternal wisdom and will of God, and secondly because He is the express image of His purpose." Throughout the remainder of his commentary on the prologue of John, the word "Wisdom" is used as a synonym of "Word". This is a crucial insight because (as Calvin understands it) when the apostle John was speaking about the Word, he had in mind the divine Wisdom.

In the first book of the Institutes where Calvin is developing his doctrine of the incarnation, Calvin calls attention to the logos theology of the prologue to the Gospel of John. Calvin states:

"Word' means the everlasting Wisdom, residing with God, from which both all oracles and prophesies go forth. For, as Peter testifies, the ancient prophets spoke by the Spirit of Christ just as must as the apostles did [1 Peter 1:10-11; 2 Peter 1:21], and all who thereafter ministered the heavenly doctrine... And Moses clearly teaches this in the creation of the universe, setting forth this Word as intermediary. For why does he expressly tell us that God in his individual acts of creation spoke, Let this or that be done [Genesis 1] unless so that the unsearchable glory of God may shine forth in his image?... And indeed, sane and modest men do not find obscure Solomon's statement, where he introduces wisdom as having been begotten of God before time [Ecclesiasticus 24:14], and presiding over the creation of things and all God's works [Proverbs 8:22]... But John spoke most clearly of all when He declared that that Word, God from the beginning with God, was at the same time the cause of all things, together with God the Father [John 1:1-3]. For John at once attributes to the Word a solid and abiding essence, and ascribes something uniquely His own, and clearly shows how God, by speaking, was Creator of the universe. Therefore, inasmuch as all divinely uttered revelations are correctly designated by the term 'Word of God,' so this substantial Word is properly placed at the highest level, as the wellspring of all oracles. Unchangeable, the Word abides everlastingly one and the same with God, and is God himself." Institutes of Christian Religion, I, xiii, 7.

In this excerpt, Calvin explicitly states that "Word" basically means Wisdom. What is even more interesting is that he draws this idea out of two very important passages of the wisdom literature - Proverbs 8 and Ecclesiasticus 24. At this point in the Institutes, the wisdom theology is primarily of interest to Calvin because it helps him understand John's Christology. According to Calvin, understanding Christ as the Wisdom of God aids in understanding how the Father has a priority to the Son while simultaneously being co-eternal with the Son (since there was never a time when God was without wisdom).

However, the chief point that Calvin emphasizes in his exposition of the prologue of John is that the Word of God is the source of life and light. It is the Word - the divine Wisdom of Proverbs 8 - who was with God from the beginning, whom the Gospel of John proclaims to be incarnate in the flesh of Jesus. This Jesus, as the only begotten Son of the Father, is Savior of the world. He is the divine Wisdom who empowers, enlightens, and animates those who receive Him by faith. Christ is the divine Wisdom who imparts wisdom; because of His Word - the Word of grace and truth - believers are brought from darkness to light. From Calvin's commentary on the prologue to the Gospel of John, we gather that Calvin understands in that crucial passage the main wisdom themes of the fourth Gospel.

A question that arises is how does this approach to the gospel of John affect one's view of Christian spirituality and discipleship? Because wisdom theology is characterized by its emphasis on the Word as divine wisdom, this sapiential approach to piety places a high value on teaching and preaching in the life of devotion. The Judaism in which Jesus was brought up gave a tremendous amount of time to the study of the sacred text, the scholarly exposition of the Scriptures, and the hearing of sermons which applied this scholarly work to the life of the community. The "School of Wisdom" produced a scholarly bent to piety and practiced a very devout type of scholarship. The same was true of the early Christian church. Studying Scripture, memorizing it, meditating on it, and interpreting it were regarded as the most sacred of tasks and the most essential devotional disciplines. Therefore, the study of Scripture was understood as worship in its most profound sense. Calvin's view of Christian faith and life is particularly clear in his commentary on the prologue to the Gospel of John when he says:

"For the knowledge of God is the door by which we enter into the enjoyment of all blessings. Since, therefore, God reveals Himself to us by Christ alone, it follows that we should seek all things from Christ. This doctrinal sequence should be carefully observed. Nothing seems more obvious than that we each take what God offers us according to the measure of our faith. But only a few realize that the vessel of faith and of the knowledge of God has to be brought to draw with."

From this passage it should be clear how important the knowledge of the truth is to our salvation. This saving knowledge, received by faith, is very different than being saved by mere knowledge. For Calvin (consistent with the Wisdom School), the divine Wisdom is a rich and comprehensive wisdom. The divine Wisdom is filled with every blessing, with power and vitality, and with all the holiness and righteousness for which we hunger and thirst. According to wisdom theology, as we find it in the Gospel of John and as we find it in Calvin, the imparting of the divine Wisdom - in all its power, all its illumination, and all its vitality - is of the essence of God's saving work in Christ.

This approach to religious devotion had a profound influence on Calvin and other 16th century Reformers. In many ways, it encapsulates the mode of religious devotion that characterizes the Reformed faith.

Don't Leave Those Kids Alone

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Because of the obsession of what has been called "youth culture," it has been said that 1 Timothy 4:12 ("Let no one despite you for your youth...") may be the most incomprehensible passage in our modern American culture. A cursory look at our culture (such as our clothing selections, diet regimens, and social media accounts) easily demonstrates the infatuation with youthfulness. However, I think this there is an entire book of the Bible that is incomprehensible in our culture: the book of Proverbs. Consider the opening passages of Proverbs:

Hear, my son, your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching; Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head (Proverbs 1:8-9).

My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding...(Proverbs 2:1-2).

My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments. For length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart (Proverbs 3:1-3).

Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, and give attention that you may gain understanding, for I give you sound teaching; Do not abandon my instruction (Proverbs 4:1-3).

There are many more passages that can be added here, but there is a constant theme which runs through the pages of Proverbs - namely the follies of youth. Proverbs clearly teaches two important truths for our modern culture: (1) folly can only be cured by acquiring wisdom and (2) true wisdom cannot be acquired by ourselves in isolation, but it must be taught to us. Although wisdom is inseparable from knowledge, wisdom in Proverbs does not refer to the Greek conception of wisdom as mere philosophical theory. Wisdom involves masterful understanding and skill along with insight and discretion within ethical, moral, and spiritual spheres. This is why some have defined Biblical wisdom as the learned skill of godly living. In wisdom, we act on the moral-spiritual knowledge which we have internalized so that we are able to thrive in the midst of the enigmas and adversities of life. Therefore, the possession of wisdom is necessary in order to improve the life of an individual and/or a community. However, the qualities of wisdom (such as insight, discernment, holistic understanding, etc.) are usually absent in young men and women.

This spiritual-ethical wisdom is a divine gift that is acquired by anyone valuing it above everything else (cf. Proverbs 2:6, 3:13-18, 8:11-12) and by making it a single-minded decision to accept it in humility. It cannot be bought with money or acquired merely by keen observation and cogent reflection (cf. Proverbs 30:1-6). In other words, we must be instructed and grow in the ways of wisdom. We must look to the God of all wisdom in order to receive it. Although the Word of God is the source of all spiritual wisdom, it should be noted that God has always used His covenant community as the environment and primary means in which this wisdom is transmitted generation to generation. Within the Old Testament, the ways of wisdom were transmitted within the covenant community from Israel's elders (and fathers) to subsequent generations (cf. Deuteronomy 4:9; Psalm 34:11-16; Psalm 78:1-8). The young men and women who were nurtured within the covenant community learned how to acquire wisdom by receiving and hearing this instruction. Within the New Testament, the responsibility for the transmitting wisdom from generation to generation resides within the church. It is within the local church that elders shepherd and instruct God's people (cf. 1 Peter 5:1-2; Ephesians 4:11-16) and it is within the local church that older saints serves as a witness to young believers (cf. Titus 2:1-4).

In summary, God uses His church to nurture disciples and rid those of us who may still be young in folly. Our foolishness manifests itself in a number of ways (such as our pride, our thoughtlessness, our shortsightedness, our fear of man's opinion, our rebellion against authority, our love for ease and pleasure, etc.); however, God uses the preaching of the Word, the shepherding care of our elders, and the witness of godly older saints to confront us in our folly and to lead us in the path of spiritual wisdom. Within the local church, God uses older saints to teach us how to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.

This also explains why the infatuation with youth culture is deeply problematic. This infatuation encourages the natural rebelliousness and pride of youth rather than confronting it. JC Ryle in his sermon "The Dangers of Young Men" wrote:

"How common is it to see young men with big heads, high-minded, and impatient of any counsel! How often they are rude and uncourteous to all around them, thinking they are not valued and honored as they deserve! How often will they not stop to listen to a hint from an older person! They think they know everything. They are full of conceit of their own wisdom. They think elderly people, and especially their relatives, are stupid, and dull, and slow. They want no teaching or instruction themselves: they understand all things. It almost makes them angry to be spoken to. Like young horses, they cannot bear the least control. They must be independent and have their own way. They seem to think, like those whom Job mentioned, 'You are the people, and wisdom will die with you' (Job 12:2). And all this is pride."

The pride of youth blinds us to the true extent of our folly and it gives the impression that only the counsel of the youth is worthy of a hearing. King Rehoboam was such a person, who utterly despised the counsel of the older experienced men and listened to the advice of the young men of his own generation instead (cf. 1 Kings 12:1-15). Rehoboam lived to reap the consequences of his folly and his folly produced ramifications for numerous generations. Rather than learning from the error of Rehoboam, our culture has encouraged us to repeat Rehoboam's folly by encouraging a generation of Christians to forsake the wisdom of elder saints and to listen to its own unique insights.

Moreover, an infatuation with youthfulness has displaced the role that God has purposed for godly older saints within many churches. As a young Christian, nothing is more encouraging than to fellowship with men and women who have been walking with the Lord for multiple decades. Their words are measured and filled with the wisdom that experience brings and their life is a testimony of God's lifelong covenant faithfulness. Conversely, there is something incomplete and unsettling about a church full of young people without the blessing of gray hair in the congregation. By extension, there is a danger when any church (or denomination) displaces the wisdom of older saints and allows the young and inexperienced to chart its course. Overturning God's appointed means and forsaking those ancient paths can only lead to peril. Ignoring the voice and wisdom of the past demonstrates that we have no true regard for future.

Wise Technological Parenting

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It is the apex of foolishness for parents to allow their children to have free and unaccountable access to technology-- smart phones, tablets, iPods, computers, etc. Before I explain the reasons why I believe this, I want to make clear, in no uncertain terms, that I'm not a Luddite. I'm not against the advancement and use of modern technological devices. Indeed, I have no desire to go back to the sixteenth-century! Quite the contrary, I'm profoundly grateful for the seemingly endless and valuable functions of iPhones, iPads, and computers. It's wonderful to be able to stay in touch with family and friends around the world through FaceTime and Skype, as well as through social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram. Even so, there is a dark and insidious side to our brave new world of information and connectivity; and, we would be exceedingly foolish to ignore it. Here are a few reasons why our children should not have free and unrestricted access to technological devices:

Internet Pornography. Internet porn is a pandemic of massive proportions. The statistics related to this wicked industry are staggering (see http://www.covenanteyes.com). The porn industry generates thirteen billion dollars of revenue each year in the United States alone. One in eight online searches is for pornography, and the same goes for one in five searches on mobile devices. Twenty-four percent of smart phone users admit to having pornographic material on their device. Fifty-six percent of divorce cases involve one spouse with a porn addiction.

These statistics do not bode well for our youth. Did you know that nine out of ten boys and six out of ten girls are exposed to pornography before the age of eighteen? The average age that boys first come into contact with porn is twelve, and sixty-eight percent of young adult men (18-24 years old) use porn at least once a week. Nineteen percent of 18-24 year olds have sent a pornographic text (i.e. sext). It is most often during puberty that our youth get addicted to porn. Seventy-one percent of teens hide online activity from their parents, and the kinds of porn that teens access are too repulsive to even mention.

Yes, the problem of porn really is this bad. Having served in youth ministry for over ten years, there was always a steady stream of students confessing to me their deep struggle with internet pornography. Many at age fifteen or sixteen had already been regularly looking at it for several years. Over the course of my ministry I have counseled dozens of men (all ages) struggling with porn addiction. It has caused serious marriage problems.

For most the problem begins in their youth. And this makes sense, doesn't it? Tweens and teens are hormonal, curious, and immature. They are becoming more aware of their bodies and their attraction to the opposite sex. These discoveries and desires are natural and good. But the evil one seeks to twist, corrupt, and pervert these desires. Satan has come to "steal, kill, and destroy" (Jn. 10:10) our covenant children, and he is actively doing so through the porn industry.

To allow our children to have free and unrestricted access to the internet on one or more of their devices is to practically guarantee that they will be exposed to all manner of sexual perversion online-- and the consequences will be long-term. Therefore, any parent that knowingly gives their children this kind of freedom on their devices is acting profoundly foolish.

Ungodly Relationships. The world of social media and mobile connectivity is also causing significant issues among our youth. With little to no parental oversight, youth ages ten and up are privately texting, instant messaging, emailing, and calling friends, acquaintances, and those whom they hardly know. One friend shared with me that their seventh grade granddaughter had sent and received over 10,000 texts in a couple of weeks-- partly because she was texting half the night with her friends. Her parents weren't too happy with the over-usage fees that appeared on their monthly bill!

Many of the friendships and conversations that occur through these media sites would be off-limits if parents actually knew what was being seen and said. How are we to teach, shepherd, and protect our impressionable children if we are ignorant of the substance of their relationships? God's Word teaches us that "Bad company corrupts good character" (I Cor. 15:33). If our children are sending and receiving thousands of texts, instant messages, and emails per month without parental accountability and oversight, then we are being unwise at best.

There is a lot more that we could unpack on this important subject. But for now we must ask, "What should we do?" How should we, as Christian parents, approach these thorny issues related to modern technology? Well, certainly not as the world handles it. The world says to give kids what they want. The world says that kids will be kids, and we should let them sow their wild oats. The world says that everybody's doing it and we shouldn't make such a fuss. The world says that we shouldn't be so prudish. But none of these responses takes into account the word of God and the spiritual health of our children.

Christian parents are commanded to bring up their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). This entails protecting our children from the deceitfulness of the world, the schemes of Satan, and the foolishness of their youthful hearts. Here are a couple of simple ways to protect our children in our fast moving, technological age:

Password Protect/Block Internet Access. Can anything be more commonsensical? Make sure that every device in your home with internet access is password protected! This includes devices that a friend or neighbor may bring into your home. Make sure that you change your device passwords on a regular basis in case one of your kids may have looked over your shoulder and figured it out. If your child has an iPod, smart phone, tablet, or laptop, be diligent to password protect the internet access on the device and any other apps that might be an avenue for porn or soft porn (e.g. iTunes is full of illicit album and movie covers, and the search engine for Instagram contains a cesspool of filth). If you are unsure how to password protect the web browser on a device simply go online and find out how. If your kids need to get online for a school research project or for some other reason, make sure they do it in a visible location in the home (e.g. living room, kitchen table, etc.). Moreover, it is critical that you prepare your kids for what they might encounter outside the home, and how they should respond in situations where others seek to show them illicit images.

Strict Oversight/Social Media. How many of you would allow strangers to walk into your child's room, talk to them for several hours per day, and show them lots of personal pictures? How many of you would shrug your shoulders if your teenager developed inappropriate online relationships? That's essentially what's happening when we allow our kids to have unrestricted and unsupervised social media, texting, emailing, etc. Parents, it is extremely unwise not to monitor and limit your child's time on social media, especially in the early tween and teen years. Apps like Facebook and Instagram can be fun, but you need to set down clear rules, and consequences for breaking those rules. Also, please be aware that apps like Snapchat are almost impossible for parents to monitor, since images that are sent disappear almost immediately. It is easy to see how Snapchat has become a primary means of sexting among teens. I would recommend that it be deleted from our children's phones.

Of course, as our children get older, and as they approach college years, we need to slowly loosen the reins of parental oversight. One day our covenant children will be out on their own. Hopefully they will have gained some considerable wisdom and maturity before they go. However, especially in the early tween and teen years, they need consistent, firm, and loving oversight.

I realize that I have only scratched the surface of this important subject. Allowing our tweens and early teens carte blanche freedom on their devices is equivalent to letting our toddlers play soccer next to the freeway during rush hour. It's absolutely foolish, plain and simple. If ever we needed to be wise and courageous in our parenting, it is now.

Prepping in Biblical Perspective

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Like any movement, the prepping community includes a wide range of individuals. From preparing for zombie attacks to doomsday scenarios to hurricanes to simply preparing for the winter season, the underlying motives behind this movement have taken many forms--spanning the spectrum of personal preparedness and personalities. Some, within the prepping community, simply enjoy a homesteading lifestyle while others seem to be preparing for World War III.

To be transparent, I am sympathetic with the overarching idea of prepping. I learned early on as a boy scout to "be prepared." As an adult, I have come to understand the sobering reality of buying insurance, locking the front door at night, and having a fire escape plan--all "just in case" something bad happened. From preparing for our week ahead to thinking through the coming year, we all prepare to some degree or another. But is preparation contradictory to biblical teaching? Didn't Jesus tell his disciples not to worry and be anxious about tomorrow (Matt. 6:25-34)?

Before answering these questions directly, here is a survey of some biblical passages that speak about our need to be prepared--both by way of example and precept:

  • (Gen. 6-9) - the example of Noah, preparing for the flood. See also (Heb. 11:7) "By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household."
  • (Gen. 41:47-49) - the example of Joseph. During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured."
  • (Neh. 4) - the example of Nehemiah rebuilding the wall and all of the preparations of both building and protection involved.
  • (Prov. 6:6-9) "Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?"
  • (Prov. 16:9) "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." We see here the complementary truths of our planning and God's sovereignty.
  • (Prov. 22:3) "The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it."
  • (Prov. 24:27) "Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house."
  • (Prov. 27:12) "The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it." [note: repetition of Prov. 22:3]
  • (Eccl.  11:1-2) "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth."
  • (Ezek. 33:6) "But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes away one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity."
  • (Ezek. 38:7) "Be ready and keep ready, you and all your hosts that are assembled about you."
  • (Luke 14:28) "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?"
  • (Luke 22:36) "He said to [his disciples], 'But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one."
  • (1 Tim. 5:8) "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
  • While one could include all of the passages on preparing and being ready for Christ's Second Coming under the general theme of "preparation," I've chosen to leave these out for the purposes of this discussion.
  • The words "prepare," "preparation," "keep watch" (and the like) appear over 150x throughout Scripture.

As is evident from the passages above, faith and preparedness often go hand-in-hand. We see this so clearly the example of Noah. If you see danger coming--whether from a forecasted ice storm, home invasion, solar EMP, financial collapse, or a hurricane--you prepare. God has given us minds to use and guidance to follow.

At the same time, we are called to trust in God and not to be plagued by worry or anxiety. The biblical "prepper" trusts in God's goodness and sovereignty and, therefore, doesn't succumb to being gripped by sinful fear. However, he is also one who looks ahead with wisdom to provide for his family (1 Tim. 5:8) and, in a broader context, the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).

We should also strive to be less dependent on others--including the government--for basic means and living (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:6-12). The Scriptures include many "one another" instructions (e.g., forgiving, bearing with, caring for, etc.), but we should not want to be a perpetual burden on others or become reliant on Uncle Sam to take care of us (as many in New Orleans sadly learned the hard way in 2005). As our society and nation have become increasingly interconnected with other societies and nations, one weak link can have an increasing crippling impact on the entire "system." We've seen this in recent times with the collapse of Greece's financial system and its subsequent havoc on Western retirement accounts. We've seen how a leak in a gas pipeline cripples many states over night. One company's bad news in the stock market sends fear throughout our entire culture. Most of us have lost the old arts of preserving food, keeping a family garden, obtaining clean water, making household items, taking care of animals, and even changing oil in a car. As a whole, Americans are not prepared to weather any significant storm.

The church, in particular, will face perilous times in the coming years. Christian men, women, and children will have to endure increasing persecution from an increasingly hostile culture, intolerant government, and from Islamic militants. This shouldn't surprise us. Jesus often prepared his disciples for this reality. In many ways, the church is starting to reflect the plight of Israel in Babylon. In the midst of their exile, God told his people, "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce...seek the welfare of the city" (Jer. 29:5-7). Build houses, plant gardens, and pray for your city. Not exactly earth-shattering news; just simple, sustainable, and faithful living.

If you and your family do the research and sense a significant likelihood of danger approaching, take reasonable and appropriate steps to prepare. If you live in Florida, the preparations you would make will certainly be different than if you live in Kansas or Alaska. If you live in a volatile financial culture, consider other ways to diversify your assets, like acquiring commodities. I'm not suggesting that you spend your entire retirement overnight on a doomsday bunker, but I am suggesting that you think about whether or not you and your family could survive for a short season (at the least) if you didn't have access to electricity, gas, or the grocery store. That doesn't seem too far-fetched. As an Uzbek Christian once said, "Trust God and keep your donkey tied up."

Brian Cosby (PhD, Australian College of Theology) is senior pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church (PCA) on Signal Mountain, Tennessee, and visiting professor of church history at Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta. Brian has authors numerous books including Giving Up the Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture.

Before You Post...

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Criticism is usually given much more freely on the internet than in person. It is one of the chief reasons why the internet seems to generate more heat than light. It is so easy to hit that "post" button when you don't have to face that person's reaction. In some ways, the internet can reveal our hearts better than personal interactions. This is why it is very important that we meditate on how to give and receive criticism. Proverbs tells us that the way we receive criticism marks us either as foolish or wise people.

Proverbs 9:7-12 occurs in a context of the choice between Lady Wisdom (verses 1-6) and Lady Folly (verses 13-18). The passage itself forms an envelope with chapter 1, especially since the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom is located in both places (1:7 and 9:10). The key verse for my purpose here is verse 8 (in the ESV): "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you."

The first (and rather obvious) point is that the wise one responds to criticism in exactly the opposite way to the fool. The wise man loves the one who reproves him. The foolish person responds with hatred and scorn for the messenger. The contrast is explained in the enveloping verses. The scornful person's response is laid out in more detail in verse 7. Abuse and injury are the results that the reprover can expect from trying to correct the scornful. Verse 9, however, shows that greater wisdom and learning will be the result from reproving the wise man.

This shows us the underlying attitude towards correction and rebuke that the foolish and the wise have. The foolish person believes that he cannot improve anywhere, and that he is perfect just the way he is. He has enough experience in the ways of God, or he has enough letters after his name, in order to be someone of importance. That means he has arrived. The wise man, however, realizes that he is so far from God's standard that he always has room for improvement, no matter how mature he is in the Christian faith, how old he is, or how educated he is.

How is this possible? What is the logic here? The answer is in verse 10. If a person fears God, he will not fear man. Fear of God and fear of man is a zero-sum game. They cannot co-exist peacefully. The wrong reaction to criticism stems from the fear of man. Read that last sentence again. So, if a person fears God, he will react quite differently to criticism, because he is not trying to look good in front of men, but is instead seeking to please his God. It will be a perception of iron sharpening iron, rather than personal attacks. The person who fears God does not wrap up his identity in how other people think of him. Instead, his personal worth is entirely dependent on what God thinks of him. The wise man would rather look foolish to the whole world, rather than be foolish in God's eyes.

Our reaction to criticism, therefore, shows us the degree of pride and arrogance in our hearts, especially when the criticism has a mixture of truth and error in it, as is often the case. Do we focus on the incorrect part of the criticism, or do we seek for what is true in the criticism? If we are honest, we will have to admit that criticism is not our favorite way of gaining wisdom. We would rather get it from a book that isn't directly attacking us, or from someone who always phrases things in a positive way. Here, however, the proverb is plain: we are fools to hate the messenger who criticizes us, especially if that criticism has any validity whatsoever. Instead, we should thank the messenger for pointing out our blind spots.

When reviled, Jesus did not revile in turn. With Jesus, of course, all criticism is wide of the mark. He was actually perfect. There is no valid criticism of Him whatsoever. So, did Jesus blow up when people reviled Him? He was as a lamb silent before its shearers. This kind of thinking is quite foreign to most of us. If even the slightest criticism comes our way, we start World War III, even if the criticism is true! But if a calm reaction is Christ's response to wrongful criticism, then how much more positively should we receive criticism that has any truth in it?

So, our reaction to criticism should be much more humble. When criticism comes our way, we should analyze the criticism to see if there be anything true in it. If there is, we should be glad of that, and take it to heart. Anything that is not true should simply roll off our backs. We do not need to defend ourselves from every attack that comes our way.

Furthermore, we do not need to correct everyone on the internet who is wrong. A little application of the golden rule would greatly improve internet culture. Ask yourself if you would want to receive the criticism you are about to dish out. Ask yourself if you are writing in anger (don't do that unless you are absolutely convinced that it is a righteous anger, and even then you might want to ask someone you trust if it is so) or from love. If you are angry, you should be extremely hesitant to write anything. Ask yourself if you would say the same thing to that person if they were standing right in front of you. Use some imagination and seek to discern how the other person will perceive what you write. Pray about what you write. It is not a bad idea to pray over every comment and post that you write. Stick to the issue at hand, and do not attack the person. Insults immediately close people's ears.

Be wise about criticism, and not foolish. One has to think about these things in advance. There is no time to develop wisdom on the spot, in the middle of a cat fight. Think these things through in advance. Learn from your mistakes, and grow.

Proverbs: Written to Christ, for Christ

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Connecting Christ and the Proverbs isn't so easy. How do we read the book of Proverbs as Christians in a way that would distinguish us from how a Jew might read the same book? Also, why then was the book of Proverbs written? 

In understanding Christ in relation to Proverbs we need to understand Christ himself. The Christ of the New Testament is both fully God (Jn. 1:1) and fully man (Jn. 1:14).  Regarding his divinity he is the all-wise God (Rom. 11:33; 16:27); his understanding has no limit (Ps. 147:5); thus, we are to praise him for his wisdom (Dan. 2:20). If the book of Proverbs is the book of Wisdom - and it is - we are bound to confess as Christians that the Son of God is both Wisdom and the author of wisdom (Prov. 2:6). The Son of God, however, is also the Son of Man. As a man, he is finite; that is, besides being 'very God of very God', Christ is also fully human. And because he is a human, his knowledge and wisdom are limited and capable of increase (Lk. 2:52), though never reaching the same level as that which the Godhead possesses. These points about Christ's person are, I believe, absolutely vital if we are to understand the relation of Christ to the book of Proverbs.

In the third "Servant Song", Isaiah provides an interesting glimpse into the life of Jesus. We are told that Christ receives from his Father "an instructed tongue" so that he may "know the word that sustains the weary" (Isa. 50:4). From his earliest childhood Christ was wakened every morning so that he might be taught by his Father (Isa. 50:4). As a man he read the Word of God - which would have likely included Proverbs - and became aware not only of his own story (Lk. 24:44), but of how he ought to live as the subject of his own story. Luke's account of Jesus as a twelve year old should not surprise us, then. During Christ's conversation with the teachers of the law he "amazed" those who heard him and so Luke records that "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Lk. 2:52).  
During the course of Christ's public ministry he taught in parables, both to conceal (Matt. 13:10-17) and reveal (Matt. 13:36-43) the mysteries of the Kingdom. Interestingly, the Greek word for "parable" (parabole) is connected to the Hebrew word for "proverb" (masal). By teaching in parables, Jesus was a teacher of wisdom!  Moreover, as we study the details of Christ's life we note that Christ knew how to "answer a fool according to his folly" (compare Prov. 26:5 with Jn. 19:11, Jn. 10:34) and to "not answer a fool according to his folly" (compare Prov. 26:4 with Lk. 23:9, Matt. 22:32). The evidence suggests, then, that Christ not only read the Proverbs, but needed to read the Proverbs in order to live a life pleasing to the Father.  Indeed, the book of Proverbs connects wisdom with righteousness (Prov. 10). The context of Proverbs 10 shows that to "do right" often involves depriving oneself for the good or benefit of others (see Prov. 10:5).  

Bruce Waltke summarizes this behaviour in Proverbs in the following way: "The wicked advantage themselves by disadvantaging others, but the righteous disadvantage themselves to advantage others." Once seen in this light, how can we not think of Christ who, "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9)? Little wonder, then, that Paul should famously declare that Christ is "wisdom from God" (1 Cor. 1:30) and that in him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3). Christ truly is the very incarnation of wisdom - wisdom whereby one disadvantages himself for the sake of others!

Proverbs 1-9 commends to its readers the pursuit of wisdom; in fact, wisdom is personified as a noble lady to be pursued (e.g. 1:20-33; 8:1-36). In chapter 8 personification becomes personality. The specific - highly controversial - text that marks this transition in Proverbs is 8:22-31. Some theologians have argued that this section is an explicit reference to Christ, while other scholars have rejected this line of interpretation because they feel this lends itself to a form of Arianism, the idea that the Son was created by the Father. In fact, this was a favourite text of Arius. But many (Reformed) orthodox Christian theologians have nevertheless seen Christ - who as the God-man is the center of God's decrees - as the subject of Proverbs 8. If Christ, as the God-man, is described in Proverbs 8:22-36, and I believe he is (based in part on Paul's way of describing Christ in 1 Cor. 1:30), we have an important clue in how we apply the Proverbs to our lives as Christians.
The Christ who is at the center of God's purposes for the recovery of mankind in Prov. 8:22-31 (especially verse 31) is the same Christ who provides the imperatives for his people in verses 32-36! Christ sets before mankind two different paths, the path of wisdom and the path of folly. To those who choose the former he promises "life and ... favour from the Lord" (Prov. 8:35), but to those who choose the latter he promises "death" (Prov. 8:36). Paul connects the lack of wisdom and how it affects conduct in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 in the following way: "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." The wisdom that invites us is the Lord of glory; and once we feast on Wisdom himself (Jn. 6:53), we cannot help but live out that Wisdom in our calling to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). 

To live according to wisdom, as the Proverbs instruct us, is to live like Christ himself. And for that reason, "Christ as wisdom from Proverbs" has added significance to those who bear the name Christian. But, as we meditate upon Christ's obedience for us, we may not only look to the gospel accounts of his life, but also to Proverbs as the manual that instructed him how to live the perfect life that we were unable to live. In Gethsemane, when Christ asks three times for the cup of suffering to be removed from him, he submits himself to the will of the Father, which has echoes of Proverbs 16:9. Christ knew that his Father would determine his next steps: the steps that led him to the cross. 

In the end, I believe that Proverbs was written to/for Christ (and by Christ); and because we are in him, they are written also for us. This might mean, regrettably for some and happily for others, that Proverbs 31 is not first about our wives, but about the church. 

A web of wisdom

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For anyone who may be interested, here's the complete picture:

1. Know and watch and guard your heart, cultivating the fear of the Lord.
2. Seek wisdom.

3. Remember the power of words.

4. Consider your testimony and character (digital footprint).
5. Assess the nature and influence of the company you keep.
6. Involve wise counsellors, especially parents when you are younger.

7. Be aware of your time and your attention.
8. Beware of filth and frivolity.

9. Train and restrain your appetites.
10. Cultivate humility.
Conclusion.

And so, for the time being, the sonic screwdriver returns to its box.

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #6

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Having trawled through the following . . .


. . . we come to the end:

9. Train and restrain your appetites.
  • He who earnestly seeks good finds favour, but trouble will come to him who seeks evil. (Prv 11.27)
  • An evildoer gives heed to false lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue. (Prv 17.4)
  • The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body. (Prv 18.8 cf. 26.22)
  • The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. (Prv 18.15)
  • The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbour finds no favour in his eyes. (Prv 21.10)

We need to do this in the real world so that we are equipped for the online realm. Think about what you want and why you engage in social media in the way that you do. What contributions do you enjoy and what links to you click on and what patterns are you a part of and what trends do you follow? Are you seeking what is good and delighting in what is pure, or do you find yourself revelling in what is empty, lascivious, malicious and cruel? Do you enjoy the exposures and failures of others? Are you hooked on gossip? (Not worldly gossip, of course, that would be . . . well, worldly - no, you are merely keeping abreast of matters in the evangelical world.) Are your appetites and contributions Christlike? If they are, you will help starve those who trade in filth and frivolity of their market. We must decide now that we will have no part in such things: we cannot afford to wait until the options are immediately before us on the screen.

10. Cultivate humility.

  • When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom. (Prv 11.2)
  • Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished. (Prv 16.5)
  • Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, but who can find a faithful man? (Prv 20.6)
  • Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him. (Prv 24.17-18)
  • Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips. (Prv 27.2)
  • A man's pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honour. (Prv 29.23)
  • If you have been foolish in exalting yourself, or if you have devised evil, put your hand on your mouth. (Prv 30.32)

Do not be obsessed with measuring your petty progress and your ephemeral fame. Numbers can be deadly, especially if we become enslaved to them. How many friends do I have? What about him or her? How many views? How many retweets? We are being trained to think of the whole environment as some great arena for a straight competition in which numbers are the register of success or failure, influence or irrelevance. Do not use social media as a platform for your own promotion or to build your own reputation. I understand that you may be under some right obligation (contractual or felt) to draw attention to kingdom work you have been or will be involved in, and I appreciate that we ought to be sufficiently committed to the truth to which we cling that we are willing to make it known even at the risk of appearing self-serving. That said, it is frankly sickening how many men (some of whom make criticising others part of their stock-in-trade) manage to spend a great deal of their time mentioning that they have written such-and-such a book, recommending their own work shamelessly, linking to sweet things others have said about them, and retweeting anything with their name in it. Set out to exalt Christ, esteeming others more highly than yourself. Do not seek out applause and attention, nor angle for compliments and flattery: it is as sad to see someone post a stream of photos at his or her most seemingly-attractive in the hopes of getting all those gushing responses as it is to see the gushing responses flowing on demand. Do not proclaim your good deeds: some environments provide a good space for seeking prayer and rendering praise, the exchange of information, but might there be an ulterior motive? Some lack even the delicacy of the parodies of British DJs from a bygone age, Smashie and Nicey, who made it quite clear in as public a forum as possible that they did not wish to speak of "all the work I do for charidee." Information-sharing can be profitable; self-promotion is reprehensible (see Mt 6.1-4). Let your social media use serve God and others, and not yourself.

Conclusion
In conclusion, whatever you do in this sphere, remember the impact that it has on you, your church, and your Lord, and choose it and use it to the glory of God. Look first to yourself, being slow to judge others (Mt 7.1-5; Rom 14.4), and be especially wary of imputing evil motives to brothers (1Cor 13.4-7). Do not presume upon your spiritual safety (1Cor 10.12). Let this be one proportionate dimension -  not the first or only one - of a life in pursuit of likeness to Jesus Christ. Remember what is at stake (Mk 9.43-50), and that heaven and hell hang in some measure upon the choices you make while floating in the electronic ether. It is better to be thought a Luddite nobody than to be a damned technocrat, better to be a slow adopter than a fool without brakes. If your online engagement is dragging your soul down to hell, then it would be more profitable for you to cut up the cables and cast away the wi-fi than to be up-to-date with all the latest trends and technology even as you descend to the pit. Simply put, if something cannot be used to the glory of God, then do not use it, and do not let anyone tell you that you are redeeming the culture - you are not, you are corrupting your soul. Furthermore, then, if there is a need, repent of your sin and make restitution in the same spheres in which you sinned (Lk 19.8), and then set out in dependence upon God to put away what you cannot use for God's glory once and for all, and to use what you can, if you can, when you can and as you can for the honour and praise of his great name.

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #5

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What's a Time Lord to do? He dabbles a little in the 17th century and the shadowy fiend known mainly as the Pope of Ealing throws twitterbombs in his direction. He dips an intergalactic toe in the murky waters of the 21st century, and Davros himself pitches up and gets narky.

But not to worry, chaps: we're almost there, and next week I shall probably be sliding the sonic screwdriver into my universal toolbox for a few days, as - Lord willing (which, at present, very much includes health permitting) - I shall be noodling around Romania, listening to and labouring with the esteemed Conrad Mbewe at a series of conferences. However, I have been skidding across the 18th and early 19th centuries in the last few days, and trust that I have found a few provocative nuggets that I might share at some point.

In the meantime, let's crack on . . .


7. Be aware of your time and your attention.

  • As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy man to those who send him. (Prv 10.26)
  • In all labour there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty. (Prv 14.23)
  • He who is slothful in his work is a brother to him who is a great destroyer. (Prv 18.9)
  • Laziness casts one into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger. (Prv 19.15)
  • The lazy man says, "There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!" (Prv 22.13)
  • I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man. (Prv 24.30-34)
  • He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough! (Prv 28.19)

This may be a matter that is primarily before God for some, but it will almost certainly have an effect on others, including family members and employers (both actual and potential, who are now almost certain, among other things, to be checking out your online profile). Do you know how much time you are spending on these things? There are tools available to help you log your time online. Paul calls upon us to "walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph 5.15-16). Social media is one of the great distractions of the age, a demonstration that it is not time we lack but the ability to apply ourselves in the time we have, and any level of slavery to social media is likely to have a dramatic negative effect on your diligence and productivity. It can become an excuse for not getting on with or accomplishing something in what we might quaintly call 'real life', and that real life will all too soon begin to show the marks of distraction and dissipation. Activity in social media can give the impression of having done something while neglecting what ought to be done. "In all labour there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty": I am not suggesting that there is no place for relaxation and cheerfulness, for a wide variety of appropriate humour, for a healthy measure of banter, as there is between friends face-to-face, but can we really say that our online interaction is more than idle chatter? Or is our life governed by the empty blether characteristic of so much social media?

8. Beware of filth and frivolity.
  • . . . to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice in doing evil, and delight in the perversity of the wicked; whose ways are crooked, and who are devious in their paths; to deliver you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words, who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God. For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the dead; none who go to her return, nor do they regain the paths of life - so you may walk in the way of goodness, and keep to the paths of righteousness. For the upright will dwell in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the earth, and the unfaithful will be uprooted from it. (Prv 2.12-22)
  • My son, keep my words, and treasure my commands within you. Keep my commands and live, and my law as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, "You are my sister," and call understanding your nearest kin, that they may keep you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words. For at the window of my house I looked through my lattice, and saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, a young man devoid of understanding, passing along the street near her corner; and he took the path to her house in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night. And there a woman met him, with the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart. She was loud and rebellious, her feet would not stay at home. At times she was outside, at times in the open square, lurking at every corner. So she caught him and kissed him; with an impudent face she said to him: "I have peace offerings with me; today I have paid my vows. So I came out to meet you, diligently to seek your face, and I have found you. I have spread my bed with tapestry, coloured coverings of Egyptian linen. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he has taken a bag of money with him, and will come home on the appointed day." With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him. Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, he did not know it would cost his life. Now therefore, listen to me, my children; pay attention to the words of my mouth: Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths; for she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death. (Prv 7.1-27)
  • A foolish woman is clamorous; she is simple, and knows nothing. For she sits at the door of her house, on a seat by the highest places of the city, to call to those who pass by, who go straight on their way: "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here"; and as for him who lacks understanding, she says to him, "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of hell. (Prv 9.13-18)
  • He who tills his land will be satisfied with bread, but he who follows frivolity is devoid of understanding. (Prv 12.11)
  • Even in laughter the heart may sorrow, and the end of mirth may be grief. (Prv 14.13)
  • The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on foolishness. (Prv 15.14)
  • The mouth of an immoral woman is a deep pit; he who is abhorred by the Lord will fall there. (Prv 22.14)
  • My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. For a harlot is a deep pit, and a seductress is a narrow well. She also lies in wait as for a victim, and increases the unfaithful among men. (Prv 23.26-28)
  • Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbour, and says, "I was only joking!" (Prv 26.18-19)

Again, before anyone accuses me of po-faced pietism, let me make clear that we are free to engage in that healthy and legitimate cheerfulness which is good for the soul (though bear in mind that banal and inane is not the same as healthy and legitimate - how funny can a cat that looks like Elvis be after you have seen it seventeen times?). But remember the devil's modus operandi: he plays upon "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1Jn 2.16), and social media can be a cesspit of these things however much perfume gets sprayed around. Incidental and deliberate prompts to immorality (images and words) are everywhere, and men in particular are prone to be stimulated and trained by the imagery, and the world is learning how to catch women in the same web more effectively. One prominent British newspaper is well known for its 'sidebar of shame,' boasting a phenomenal rate of clicks through on the rather obvious basis that it majors on unclad women and salacious gossip. The adverts that run on most sites are no different - hot singles in your area, anyone? And we can be so good at masking this: if someone were to calculate, for example, the pictures of friends you have looked at on Facebook, what would be the proportion of those who are the most physically attractive? Is that not a temptation? Satan can use this to train us to do his bidding, especially when we can just keep on clicking, a Pavlovian chain reaction, each tap of the finger providing the anticipated reward - before we have gone very far, we have passed through the levels to some of the worst filth known to men. Alongside of this, though perhaps less immediately dangerous, a sham and shallow lightness can also prevail, a sort of forced frothiness, pandering to frivolity and vanity. One man of God once pleaded, "I will set nothing wicked [or, worthless] before my eyes" (Ps 101.3), and much that is not explicitly filthy is at best painfully empty.

The sixth and final instalment coming up . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #4

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We're making progress, and I will bundle all these links in due course, but for now we have had . . .


Here are principles 4, 5 and 6.

4. Consider your testimony and character (digital footprint).
  • The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise. (Prv 11.30)
  • As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion. (Prv 11. 22)
  • The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but the words of the pure are pleasant. (Prv 15.26)
  • Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right. (Prv 20.11)
  • Like a bird that wanders from its nest is a man who wanders from his place. (Prv 27.8)
  • The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe. (Prv 29.25)

A 'digital footprint' is the mark you leave behind as you make your way through the online world: it is the electronic shape of who you are and what impact you are having. I say unequivocally that a man or woman's involvement in social media, as to its matter and manner, should change decisively at conversion. Salvation should alter your footprint as much in the online realm as in the real world. Many Christians seem to fear the face of men as much if not more in their online interaction as anywhere else. It is frankly embarrassing and genuinely tragic how few Christians appear to have any distinctively Christian contribution to make online, no savour of Christ to carry with them into cyberspace. Where is the outshining godliness that ought to mark the saints? I am, of course, not suggesting that your contributions should consist solely of Bible quotes and stanzas of hymns, but are the contours of Christlikeness evident in the things you say, like, and follow online? If you are a professing disciple of Jesus Christ, would someone be able to read through a few days of your online interaction and legitimately and intelligently conclude who and whose you are? What do you like on Facebook? Who do you follow? What do you tweet or comment? There may be a problem with some who have an online Christian persona and offline prove it a lie; far more grievous is the professing Christian whose digital footprint leaves not a hint of any nailmarks. Here is a chance to let your light shine clearly before men, rather than drawing a veil over or bringing a slur upon true religion. We ought to shine - deliberately and proactively - as much online as we do offline, and that, friends, may point us to the root of the problem.

5. Assess the nature and influence of the company you keep.

  • My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait to shed blood; let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause; let us swallow them alive like Sheol, and whole, like those who go down to the Pit; we shall find all kinds of precious possessions, we shall fill our houses with spoil; cast in your lot among us, let us all have one purse" - my son, do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path; for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. (Prv 1.10-16)
  • Do not envy the oppressor, and choose none of his ways; for the perverse person is an abomination to the Lord, but his secret counsel is with the upright. (Prv 3.31-32)
  • Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on. (Prv 4.14-15)
  • The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Prv 12.26)
  • He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed. (Prv 13.20)
  • Go from the presence of a foolish man, when you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge. (Prv 14.7)
  • A violent man entices his neighbour, and leads him in a way that is not good. (Prv 16.29)
  • A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prv 18.24)
  • Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul. (Prv 22.24-25)
  • My son, fear the Lord and the king; do not associate with those given to change; for their calamity will rise suddenly, and who knows the ruin those two can bring? (Prv 24.21-22)
  • Whoever causes the upright to go astray in an evil way, he himself will fall into his own pit; but the blameless will inherit good. (Prv 28.10)
  • Whoever loves wisdom makes his father rejoice, but a companion of harlots wastes his wealth. (Prv 29.3)

We might debate the reality of Facebook friendship, but the company we keep is an indicator of where we stand and in which direction we will go. Who are you attracted to and to whom are you attractive? Look through your friends, those who follow you and whom you follow, your blog feeds and readers, your regular commenters, the lists of recommendations that pop up for you on YouTube. What do all these associations say about you? Would you want a loving Christian friend or a faithful pastor to get a printout of your viewing history, all your online association and interaction? If not, why not? Besides, the Lord already knows it. Ask yourself seriously who you are influencing, if anyone, and to what end or by whom you are being influenced, and in which direction. Are you lifting others up or being dragged down? Are you found among the wicked, the angry, the restless, the complaining, the vulgar, and - if so - why are you there and what are you doing? Or, does your path carry you among the wise, the righteous, the peaceful, the pure? Evil company will corrupt your behaviour online as much as offline (1Cor 15.33). Is it time to do some weeding, even some vigorous pruning, of your online interaction and acquaintance?

6. Involve wise counsellors, especially parents when you are younger.

  • Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; for I give you good doctrine: do not forsake my law . . . (Prv 4.1-27)
  • Therefore hear me now, my children, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honour to others, and your years to the cruel one; lest aliens be filled with your wealth, and your labours go to the house of a foreigner; and you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed, and say: "How I have hated instruction, and my heart despised correction! I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me!" (Prv 5.7-13)
  • A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (Prv 13.1)
  • A fool despises his father's instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent. (Prv 15.5)
  • Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days. (Prv 19.20)
  • Cease listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge. (Prv 19.27)

Do not be ashamed to take advice and to obtain accountability. Some of this depends on age and circumstance, so if you are younger, and have responsible, hopefully Christian, parents, then they should be one of your first ports of call. Otherwise, find switched on and plugged in (in every sense) saints of wisdom and maturity. There are services like Covenant Eyes that provide some helpful tools for accountability. But find faithful counsellors: give them access to your online activity, and seek their opinion. Get outside your normal circle, if need be, and find someone who will not necessarily tell you what you wish to be told: that is not seeking counsel, but looking for someone to applaud while you get on with whatever pleases you. Listen humbly to what your counsellors say, for far too much seeking of counsel is a desperate attempt to find someone who will confirm what you have already decided to do or tell you what you long to hear.

#5 to follow . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #3

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So far, the introduction and the first two principles. Today, the most developed of the principles, concerning the power of words. While the applications are specific to social media, I hope that the principles are transferable to any communication.

3. Remember the power of words.
  • The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, But violence covers the mouth of the wicked. (Prv 10.11)
  • There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health. (Prv 12.18)
  • A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness. (Prv 15.1-2)
  • A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Prv 15.4)
  • A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is! (Prv 15.23)
  • Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and they love him who speaks what is right. (Prv 16.13)
  • Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. (Prv 16.24)
  • A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Prv 25.11)
  • As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country. (Prv 25.25)
  • Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. (Prv 31.8-9)
  • Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Prv 18.21)
  • The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue an angry countenance. (Prv 25.23)

Words are the most powerful tools you have at your disposal for construction or destruction in the lives of men. They can be used for great good or employed for great evil, a means of blessing or a weapon of cruelty. You may know the little ditty: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, / But words can never harm me." It is arrant nonsense. When you have been most deeply hurt, was it not words that were employed to do the damage, damage that lasts? Perverse words break the spirit and crush the soul. Carelessness with words is the mark of a fool. Whether Facebook status updates or comments, tweets, blog posts and their comments, chat room chatter, instant messaging or texting, speech or song, the godly man sets out to use words to do good, to promote health.

a. Note the connection with the heart.
  • The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, but the heart of the fool does not do so. (Prv 15.7)
  • The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips. (Prv 16.23)
  • My son, if your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice - indeed, I myself; yes, my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak right things. (Prv 23.15-16)
  • Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross. (Prv 26.23)

Matthew 12.34 says that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks," and, we might add, the finger types and swypes or the pen writes. Other people can and will obtain an accurate readout of your character from your online interactions. The pictures or posts that you comment on and the comments that you make will prove in measure a window on your soul. They will see your priorities and your appetites and your inclinations laid bare. This is why, perhaps, it is not only employers who ought to check the online profiles of potential employees, but pastors who should consider the profiles of potential members. It is one way - not an infallible way - to gauge the spirit that is in a man, taking into account the warning that fervent lips may hide a wicked heart.

b. Contribute sparingly and slowly and discreetly.
  • My son, pay attention to my wisdom; lend your ear to my understanding, that you may preserve discretion, and your lips may keep knowledge. (Prv 5.1-2)
  • In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise. (Prv 10.19)
  • A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter. (Prv 11.13)
  • As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion. (Prv 11.22)
  • A fool's wrath is known at once, but a prudent man covers shame. (Prv 12.16)
  • A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness. (Prv 12.23)
  • He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction. (Prv 13.3)
  • The simple believes every word, but the prudent considers well his steps. (Prv 14.15)
  • He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly. (Prv 14.29)
  • The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil. (Prv 15.28)
  • He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Prv 16.32)
  • He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. (Prv 17.27)
  • A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart. (Prv 18.2)
  • He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him. (Prv 18.13)
  • The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression. (Prv 19.11)
  • Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. (Prv 21.23)
  • Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Prv 26.4-5)
  • Like one who binds a stone in a sling is he who gives honour to a fool. (Prv 26.8)
  • A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back. (Prv 29.11)
  • Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Prv 29.20)

Social media demands and usually gets spontaneity and immediacy, especially in its briefer forms, prompting many and rapid contributions. The environment calls us to communicate without any real thought. Again, the way that the screen distances our audience can betray us: would you announce to an audience of tens, hundreds or thousands some of the things that you broadcast online? We have no sense of that hunched over our smartphones or slumped in front of our screens. Proverbs reminds us that we should be conscientiously careful as to the number, speed and intended effect of our words. Perhaps we like the idea of being some kind of online first-responder, quick to the scene of the latest crash, showering insights over situations that no-one else has even realised have happened. If slowing down means that our name is not prominent, then so be it. Consider also how even the mechanics of commenting can push you in a certain direction: tiny keyboards and compressed expression keep us from nuance and development in discussion and interaction. How often do we reveal our ignorance by commenting on what we know nothing about simply because we were given an opportunity and a prompt to do so? Bloggers and commenters often speak to matters that they have no business addressing or no competence to address. Social media can become an involuntary verbal diarrhoea. Make yourself conscious of two audiences: God and those who will or may read your words. Does it honour God? What would this sound like if you said this to someone's face? For mankind, strip out all that vocal tone and body language might communicate, and consider what it communicates. Taking time, considering our reactions, weighing our expressions, being aware of our ignorance, speaking what is needful, holding back what need not be revealed about ourselves or others, will be the wisest course, and will likely garner a more valuable reputation in the long run.

c. Speak truly and honestly.
  • Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so. (Prv 3.27)
  • These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren. (Prv 6.16-19)
  • He who speaks truth declares righteousness, but a false witness, deceit. There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health. The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but counsellors of peace have joy. No grave trouble will overtake the righteous, but the wicked shall be filled with evil. Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are his delight. (Prv 12.17-22)
  • He who has a deceitful heart finds no good, and he who has a perverse tongue falls into evil. (Prv 17.20)
  • A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies will not escape. . . . A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies shall perish. (Prv 19.5, 9)
  • He who hates, disguises it with his lips, and lays up deceit within himself; when he speaks kindly, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly. (Prv 26.24-26)
  • He who rebukes a man will find more favour afterward than he who flatters with the tongue. (Prv 28.23)
  • A man who flatters his neighbour spreads a net for his feet. (Prv 29.5)
  • The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe. (Prv 29.25)

Speak truly about what is good as well as what is bad. Most people react most vigorously to what they dislike, commenting or engaging when they are upset, and perhaps presuming upon anything that is healthy and worthwhile. Consider encouraging what is good and profitable where it is appropriate. At the same time, consider that deceit and flattery are rife in social media, in part because you can so easily put a gap between who you really are and how you wish to be perceived. Even your profile may be a more-or-less deliberate exercise in profile airbrushing, presenting the person you would like to be, or would like to appear to be, rather than what you really are. We must put this principle in context: something may be true, but may not need to be said. If you may or must speak, then speak the truth, even if rebuking sin or foolishness. (Please bear in mind that cyberspace is almost certainly not the best place in which to carry out this sorry but necessary duty.) The Lord hates lies and condemns flattery. Mindless gushing serves no-one; for example, the seeming inability of some to see a photo of their friend without pouring forth a flood of inane congratulation on that friend's alleged beauty or poise ought to be controlled. It goes beyond encouragement, especially if it may have been posted with the aim of eliciting that kind of response. Evasive words and silences can also be dishonest.

d. Avoid empty or bitter engagement.
  • These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren. (Prv 6.16-19)
  • A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention. (Prv 15.18)
  • The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts. (Prv 17.14)
  • He who loves transgression loves strife, and he who exalts his gate seeks destruction. (Prv 17.19)
  • A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calls for blows. (Prv 18.6)
  • It is honourable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel. (Prv 20.3)
  • Do not say, "I will recompense evil"; wait for the Lord, and he will save you. (Prv 20.22)
  • Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words. (Prv 23.9)
  • Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls. (Prv 25.28)
  • He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears. (Prv 26.17)
  • As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. (Prv 26.21)
  • A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but a fool's wrath is heavier than both of them. Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, but who is able to stand before jealousy? Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. (Prv 27.3-5)
  • He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife, but he who trusts in the Lord will be prospered. (Prv 28.25)
  • Scoffers set a city aflame, but wise men turn away wrath. (Prv 29.8)
  • An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression. (Prv 29.22)

Be a peacemaker wherever you are. If you must engage, do it graciously and truthfully, as you would wish others to engage with you. Do not seek out and join in fights: like taking a dog by the ears, once you grab hold you cannot let go. Some love to stir up trouble, delighting in pouring fuel on the fire. Some online engagement reads like a verbal drive-by shooting. Especially in the blogging world there are any number of discernment ministries which seem to involve the notion that everyone else has everything else wrong, you have it all right, and you are the (usually self-appointed) guardian(s) of orthodoxy or orthopraxy. There seem to be too many people with a reputation of more-or-less incisive criticism to maintain, too many individuals looking for some kind of argument to get involved in, too many fools participating in other men's quarrels, too many contenders looking for a fight or stirring up trouble. There is so much readiness to quarrel: there are some environments in which it takes no more than three steps for someone to start a fight: someone commends (or challenges) someone, someone queries the commendation (or challenge), the first person (or another) then defends the initial statement, and then everyone else launches off on one side or the other. It is wearying, not least when it takes place among people who ought to know better. Antagonism can bubble up over the most innocuous matters.

e. Shun slander and gossip.
  • Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins. (Prv 10.12)
  • Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool. (Prv 10.18)
  • An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends. (Prv 16.27-28)
  • He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips. (Prv 20.19)
  • Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. (Prv 26.20)
  • The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body. (Prv 26.22)

Even more innocent sites can be used to destroy someone's character or cripple reputations. Digging up and spreading around tales - even true ones, when and where you have no business meddling in it - will bring no honour to the Lord. God abominates such things. Think of how much 'news' on some sites is nothing more than gossip, sometimes simply slander, both in the world and in the church: who has said what about whom, who is linking up with whom, what is rumoured to be going on behind the scenes at such and such a place. Again, consider the need to know and the need to tell. Consider not speaking or waiting to speak if you are not sure. If the matter hangs in the balance, ask yourself with judgement day honesty whether or not you accurately know and are responsible to tell before you open your mouth or press the appropriate button. If you can, let the fire go out.

#4 to follow . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #2

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Following on from part one, in which I suggested that, as with so much else, we should ask the question, "How may I use social media to the glory of God?" Here are the first two principles:

1. Know and watch and guard your heart, cultivating the fear of the Lord.
  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Prv 1.7)
  • Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Prv 4.23)
  • The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Prv 15.3)
  • Hell and Destruction are before the Lord; so how much more the hearts of the sons of men. (Prv 15.11)
  • All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits. (Prv 16.2)
  • In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil. (Prv 16.6)
  • The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips. (Prv 16.23)
  • Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts. (Prv 21.2)
  • My son, if your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice - indeed, I myself; yes, my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak right things. (Prv 23.15-16)
  • Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross. (Prv 26.23)
  • As in water face reflects face, so a man's heart reveals the man. (Prv 27.19)
  • He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered. (Prv 28.26)

All true religion is heart religion. As with so much else, this is a matter of setting the heart right and knowing the heart. Are you, fundamentally, seeking the glory of God? What you see and what you say, your desires and appetites, what you pursue and what you avoid, must be governed by the fear of the Lord. This righteous fear - sown throughout our Bibles, as much a part of our spirituality under the new covenant as it ever was under the old, perhaps even more so - involves a recognition of God's existence, the consideration that he knows our ways, the acknowledgement of his righteousness, the consciousness of his eye upon us, and the burning love that issues in a desire from the depths of our being to please him in all things, regardless of the opinions of men. This is vital, because one of the tricks of social media is so to distance the audience as to make us forget that what we say and do is being broadcast, sometimes for anyone who wishes to tune in. This spirit makes us conscious that there is always one pure and holy eye upon us. With a heart tuned to the desires and delights of God, we shall begin to be equipped to assess our engagement and to fashion it in a way that honours him. If our heart is turned away from God, if the centre of our being is not conditioned by the fear of the Lord, then the whole life - not just our online life - will be fatally compromised.

2. Seek wisdom.
  • My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk uprightly; he guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path. When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice in doing evil, and delight in the perversity of the wicked; whose ways are crooked, and who are devious in their paths; to deliver you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words, who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God. (Prv 2.1-17)
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones. (Prv 3.5-8)
  • Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors: "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. . . . Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favour from the Lord; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death." (Prv 8.1-36)

The fear of the Lord is the chief part, the foundational element, the controlling core of wisdom. You are not wise if you are not fearing God. The best simple definition of wisdom I know is that is it is "skill for righteous living." So taking that into account, we must ask for and cultivate godly wisdom: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (Jas 1.5). God has not abandoned us to this or any other sphere of life without light from heaven. If we do not know whether or not we can, or how we might, glorify God in this environment, let us ask God to show us, that we might "fear the Lord and depart from evil." Wisdom is found in the Scriptures illuminated by the Holy Spirit:
I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word.
I have not departed from your judgments, for you yourself have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Ps 119.101-105)
You cannot walk rightly in this matter or any other without heavenly wisdom, and it is both given by God and to be nurtured by men. All we need is available to us.

Further principles to follow . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #1

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Social media is perhaps the most common or popular expression of what is sometimes called Web 2.0. Web 1.0, for those who may be wondering, consisted mainly of static pages containing fixed data. Web 2.0 is the more dynamic, interactive expression of the interweb which we all now enjoy, or at least employ. Web 3.0, for those tantalised by such prospects, is likely to involve ever-closer tailoring in real time to the perceived interests of users based on data gathered from their previous activity. (Amusingly, the fact that this is being done has terrified and infuriated my esteemed mother - Google beware!)

Social media are those platforms and applications in and by which people create, share, exchange and comment on information. Most definitions and catalogues include the vast range of wikis, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, chatrooms and instant messaging and message boards, MySpace, Bebo, Flikr, Vine and a host of others.

But, if we are professing followers of Jesus Christ, should we get involved, and - if so - how and to what ends? Can we use social media to the glory of God? That question drives the answers to the may and the must of social media engagement. I think that, were he available to offer an opinion, the apostle Paul would suggest, in essence, that we may use social media and that, if we do, we must do so to the glory of God.

My answer is based on 1 Corinthians 10.31: "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Here Paul is responding, for the second time in the letter, to the language that may have been or have become a Corinthian slogan, possibly a twisted version of a truth now being abused by misinterpretation and misapplication: "All things are lawful for me." Even if Paul or another teacher had used some form of this language, it was never intended to provide cover for gross wickedness. In chapter 10 Paul responds to the assertion that "all things are lawful" with the reminders that not all things are helpful or edifying. His ensuing discussion, working through the matter of food offered to idols, ends in the general principle that whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, you are to do it all to the glory of God.

To be sure, Paul wants us to ensure that our most mundane activities are performed with an eye to glorifying God. But this eating and drinking is not, in the context, a mundane and meaningless activity. It is an activity that might involve entanglement with idolatry, if not in our own eyes then potentially in the eyes of others. Paul's point of principle, then, is that our great concern ought not to be with our own rights, desires and freedoms, but with the potential impacts and implications of our behaviour on the honour and glory of the Lord. God's glory and the church's reputation will be compromised on our account if what we do makes others judge unfavourably the faith we profess and the God whom we serve.

Our grand concern is all things ought to be the glory of God, the honour of his great name. All else ought to be subordinated to this. In the words of Charles Hodge, commenting on this passage, "Let self be forgotten. Let your eye be fixed on God. Let the promotion of his glory be your object in all you do. Strive in everything to act in such a way that men may praise that God whom you profess to serve." Notice the proactive nature of this: definitely seek out these ends, either by what you pursue and the way you pursue it or by what you refrain from pursuing. Matthew Henry also gives us some helpful insights:
The apostle takes occasion from this discourse to lay down a rule for Christians' conduct, and apply it to this particular case (v. 31, 32), namely, that in eating and drinking, and in all we do, we should aim at the glory of God, at pleasing and honouring him. This is the fundamental principle of practical godliness. The great end of all practical religion must direct us where particular and express rules are wanting. Nothing must be done against the glory of God, and the good of our neighbours, connected with it. Nay, the tendency of our behaviour to the common good, and the credit of our holy religion, should give direction to it. And therefore nothing should be done by us to offend any, whether Jew, or Gentile, or the church, v. 32. The Jews should not be unnecessarily grieved nor prejudiced, who have such an abhorrence of idols that they reckon every thing offered to them thereby defiled, and that it will pollute and render culpable all who partake of it; nor should heathens be countenanced in their idolatry by any behaviour of ours, which they may construe as homage or honour done to their idols; nor young converts from Gentilism take any encouragement from our conduct to retain any veneration for the heathen gods and worship, which they have renounced: nor should we do any thing that may be a means to pervert any members of the church from their Christian profession or practice. Our own humour and appetite must not determine our practice, but the honour of God and the good and edification of the church. We should not so much consult our own pleasure and interest as the advancement of the kingdom of God among men. Note, A Christian should be a man devoted to God, and of a public spirit.
So in this flood of data which we are called upon to surf, with its endless demands and vast opportunities, we cannot afford to engage thoughtlessly and carelessly. Like food offered to idols, our use of social media reflects on our profession of following the Lord and therefore, ultimately, it reflects on the Lord God himself.

It is therefore absolutely right to ask, first of all, "May I and should I engage?" The answer to that question will involve a frank and honest assessment of our own character with its appetites and inclinations. Taking that into account, we must consider the form, intentions and usual effects of any social media application or platform: What is the tone and nature of this? What is it designed to do for, to or with its users? What are the trends and tendencies of those who employ these as tools or as toys? Such questions will often throw up an immediate and obvious negative. Sites given over to slut-shaming or the exposure (literally) of ex-boyfriends and girlfriends have no place in the Christian's online cache. There may also, however, be sites which some will consider harmless which a Christian, or some particular Christians, should avoid or ignore because they do not need them or would not be able safely and profitably to use them. Remember, there is rarely, for many of us, any "You must!" to the question of social media involvement.

That brings us to the second question: "If I may engage, how must I do so?" How may I do so to the glory of God? In order to begin to answer that question, I wish to offer a web of wisdom, a grid drawn from the Book of Proverbs, which I hope will help believers filter out dangers and assess their contributions to various social media platforms. In the coming posts I will suggest some basic principles, some supporting texts which I hope you will ponder, and a brief summary which may help in your pondering. I do not expect that it will answer every question, but I hope that it will encourage a thoughtfulness and carefulness about our use of social media to the glory of God, as well as prompting thought about other forms of communication.

#2 to follow . . .