Luke 7:36-50

My quiet time passage just now was from Luke 7:36-50. I have a lot of minor questions/observations.

  • In verse 37, it says “there was a  woman in the city who was a sinner”. This is odd. Isn’t everyone a sinner? Apparently Luke used the word to mean someone with a particularly shameful lifestyle, someone seen by the general Jewish public as “a sinner”.  Interesting that he uses the word that way. We never would.
  • In verse 39, the Pharisee says, “If this man were a prophet, he would know … who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” He just assumed that if Jesus knew she was a sinner He would send her away. I get really annoyed when people make judgmental assumptions like that. It’s hard to get them to listen to your response because they’ve already closed their mind to it. Jesus responded by telling him a parable, which is one good way around that, I guess.
  • In imagining this scene, it’s hard to make sense of it if the woman was intruding in a private gathering, so I’m assuming the Pharisee had let a lot of townspeople in. That’s why he didn’t say, “what is she doing here?”, but rather “he must not realize who she is”. So I envision that Simon was sort of showing off his piety and wealth by inviting the rest of the town to come and see him act as host to the famous Jesus. Then when she showed up, he couldn’t really keep her out, he could only rely on the good sense of his guests to ostracize her somewhat.
  • The whole passage is strange in that it keeps changing the order between forgiveness and love. The parable puts the forgiveness first, with the love a result of it. Verse 48-50 seem to be about love (as an expression of faith) leading to forgiveness. Verse 47a seems to put the love first and 47b the forgiveness first.
  • Verse 50 is interesting, and it’s where I sense there is something meaty for me to think through. How were her actions an expression of faith in his forgiveness? The weeping might have been remorse for her sin, but it is interpreted by Jesus as an expression of love, not a cry of despair. I am sure she realized her deep need for forgiveness — she’d probably realized that her whole life — but I think the point here is that she’d became convinced of something no Pharisee had ever shown her before, that forgiveness was really available for her from this man. Were the tears even tears of gratefulness and joy, perhaps? I was looking at Psalm 32 the other day, and thinking about how hard it is sometimes to be really open with God about the things I’ve done wrong during the day. Not that I can keep anything from God, but that usually I don’t want to admit them to myself. This passage in Luke is interesting, because instead of focusing on the depth of our remorse, it focuses on our confidence that real forgiveness has been granted us in Jesus. It meshes well with Ps 32.


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Tough faith

In my devotional readings for this week, the common theme I saw was that sometimes God puts us in positions where we are expected to be strong in Him even though we feel particularly weak. It’s been a crazy week for me, and I am convicted that it is easy for me to trust less and serve less than I should when I think I have an excuse.

These were the passages:

Exodus 4:10-17, in which Moses asks God to send someone else because he can’t speak well, and God gets angry,

2 Chronicles 14, in which Asa has 10 good years followed by a sudden crisis, out of which God delivers him — the climax is verse 11 where he calls out to God as the one who delivers those who have no strength,

Job 40:6-14, in which God says to Job, “You think you’re man enough to accuse me? Let’s see how tough you really are!” (interesting how when we think we’re too weak to live by faith, we also think we’re strong enough to defy God),

Ezekiel 1:1-12 in which the Jewish leaders are huddled in their city, feeling self-pitying and defeated (see v. 3),  but not dealing with their own sin,

Luke 7:24-30, in which Jesus praises the rugged, uncompromising John the Baptist, and

Titus 1:5-10, in which the requirements for an overseer (elder/pastor) are given, culminating in the overseer’s responsibility to keep resisting false teaching no matter how much it keeps on arising.

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Recent thoughts on suffering

My devotional readings for this week included:

Exodus 2:11-15, about Moses killing an Egyptian and having all his plans for the future erased in a moment (until 40 years later)
2 Chron 9:13-31, about Solomon’s great accomplishments
Job 37:14-24, about not questioning God’s wisdom when everything seems to go wrong
Ezekiel 6, yet another example of Ezekiel’s message of judgment to a nation that didn’t listen
Luke 6:27-38, about being willing to respond in love when we are mistreated
2 Tim 2:20-26, about how to gently confront those who oppose my ministry

I also spent some time looking at the beatitudes in Luke 6 and Matthew 5 (see my post here), about being willing to trust in God’s blessing when we are mistreated by the people around us.

Often I see a theme for the week. This week, it seems related to encountering suffering and opposition (except for Solomon in 2 Chronicles). So I am struck by the question, Am I ready to face mistreatment and persecution with joy? Life is good for me right now, and people like and respect me. I don’t necessarily expect that to change. But would I be ready for it if it did? A sobering thought …

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It’s been a good semester for me so far, but a wearying one. Tonight, I am exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The two things that wear me out most are having courage and being responsible. I don’t know what to do about the weariness of facing fear, but when the weight of responsibility begins to get really heavy, I find the following verses refreshing:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:1-4 (NASB)


O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever. Psalm 131 (NASB)

It’s hard having to be grown-up all the time. It’s nice to know that we are always just children to God. Probably one reason seeing ourselves as children is helpful is that it punctures our self-importance. Taking ourselves too seriously is one of the heaviest burdens of all.

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Wrangling about words

The Bible passage I read today said this:

Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk with spread like gangrene.  (2 Tim 2:14-18a, NASB)

What is “wrangling about words”?

I always have a little trouble with these verses. For me, “wrangling about words” is important if you want to get things right. People so often talk past each other when they argue, and taking the time to nail down what people really mean by what they say can bring lots of clarity. That’s one reason I love philosophy – people in that field are so careful to get even the subtleties of their definitions right.

On the other hand, not everyone is like me in this. A friend told me once, “Kevin, if there were a fire, and a river nearby, I’d just grab the biggest bucket I could find and start hauling water. You are the kind of guy who’d spend lots of time trying to find a bucket without any holes in it.” In some situations, and for some people, worrying about details seems useless because it’s impractical. We need to get on with the important stuff and not worry about getting it all exactly right. Whose approach is better? I think it depends on one’s gifts and calling.

However, I don’t think that’s what Paul meant by “wrangling about words”.  I think Paul valued accuracy, and knew that being accurate was an important part of Timothy’s call. That’s why, in the next verse, he balances what he’s just said by telling Timothy to “accurately handl[e] the word of truth”. Paul is saying, “Now, Timothy, don’t misunderstand me. I still want you to be very careful to be accurate in everything you say. That still matters, and it even matters to God Himself.”

Sound doctrine

Perhaps Paul isn’t worried about wrangling about words when it is an attempt to get at the truth, but only when it is heretical. In the verses just after these, he mentions two men who had been spreading a false teaching about the resurrection, which had “upset the faith of some”. Then he emphasizes that God knows who the true Christians are; apparently, the doctrine they were spreading was far enough from the truth that Paul didn’t even count them as fellow believers.

Many other passages emphasize the critical responsibility of a pastor to safeguard the doctrine of the church. It would make sense that this passage is addressing the same need. Paul’s concern is not with chatter per se, but “worldly” chatter that leads to ungodliness. Perhaps, too, he is not concerned with just any old word-wrangling but rather the specific fruitless heretical arguments that were going on in Ephesus at that point. Letting people play around with heresy, Paul says, is going to destroy people’s faith and lives. If left unchecked, it “will spread like gangrene”.

This makes sense, but I have still have questions. Timothy isn’t just told to watch his own speech, but to stop others from saying what they do. Contrast this quote from John Milton, just posted to facebook by a friend:

‎”Give me liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” -John Milton

I sometimes disagree with the official doctrines of the churches I belong to. I don’t want anyone telling me I can’t speak up about it.The bill-of-rights-loving part of me rankles at these verses slightly. Am I wrong in that? I don’t know; maybe I am.

Our pastor makes a strong distinction between what he allows to be taught in the church officially and what people say on their own time. Maybe that’s the meaning here – that Timothy is supposed to prevent heretical teachings from being spread during official church meetings, but what they say privately is not his concern.

The reason I don’t find that answer completely satisfying is verse 16. There Paul says to avoid “worldly and empty chatter”, which doesn’t seem like he is talking about official doctrine. He seems to be as concerned about daily talk as about formal teaching. (On the other hand, Timothy is only told to avoid the chatter, not to stop other people from doing it, so maybe there is something to the distinction after all.)

Still, I don’t think this passage can mean, “stop people from raising any questions about doctrine, before it spreads and shakes people’s faith”. The rest of the Bible doesn’t present church leaders as holding ultimate doctrinal authority. There are lots and lots of examples in Scripture of people who missed what God was saying because they were unthinkingly following the religious traditions of their day. Whatever the meaning here, it must be consistent with the responsibility of individual believers to follow God as they understand him.


I’m inclined to think there is a difference between a believer wrestling to understand and rethink a core doctrine of the faith and someone carelessly “wrangling about words” out of intellectual arrogance. “Wrangling” makes it sound like people were more interested in winning arguments than in finding what was really true. “Empty chatter” implies a careless disregard for the consequences of what one says.

Timothy was told to charge people not to wrangle about words “in the presence of God”, because they needed to see that they were responsible before God for whatever they said. Similarly, he was told to be diligent as a workman in accurately handling the word of truth, so that he would be approved to God. Each bolded phrase drives home the contrast with being sloppy or careless in how we talk about the truths of the gospel.


Maybe Paul’s point is even more specifically that we need to measure what we say by its fruit. Is it helpful or harmful to other people’s lives and spiritual growth?  In this passage, Timothy is warned against something that is “useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers”, that “will lead to further ungodliness”, and that had already “upset the faith of some” (verse 18).

Even if something is true, it doesn’t mean it should come out of my mouth. There are times and places for saying things.  Sometimes if I want to “speak the truth in love” it’ll mean that right at this moment I shouldn’t speak at all. Even if what I wanted to say is technically accurate.

Of course, when the time is right, there’s nothing wrong with confrontation. Timothy was told to be confrontational in this very passage, but in a way that would build believers up instead of tearing them down.

In my case

I’m still not completely sure what this means, but I think I know what it means for me.

I sincerely want God to use what I say to encourage others. I also know, though, that I love to talk. I can all too easily assume that my thinking something gives me the right to say it. What I take from this passage personally is a renewed sense that I am responsible before God for whatever I say, whether in my blog, or as a teacher at a community college, or wherever.

My other devotional readings this week reminded me of the importance of listening to God. Without getting into what it means to for us to say we think God spoke to us (some other blog some other day!) the point stands: if I am too busy talking for God, can I be really listening to Him? Before I posted this, I spent time praying through it, asking God to show me if I was saying things irresponsibly. Could I still have gotten it wrong? Probably, but at least my intentions were good!

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God the Artist

One of my recent quiet times / devotional readings was in Ezekiel 4. Instead of having Ezekiel just tell Israel that judgment was coming, God had him act it out in several different ways. For example,

Now, son of man, take a clay tablet, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel.  

Ezekiel 4:1-3 (NASB)

Ezekiel did this kind of thing a lot, which got me thinking about God and imagery.

God spoke through the prophets but He did so using their own personalities and gifts. Ezekiel must have had an artistic / dramatic streak in him. At the same time, Ezekiel, like all of us, was created in the image of God. His predilection for being a living metaphor reflects something about the nature of God Himself.

Or think about the phrase, “created in the image of God”. That should have told us something right there about God’s artistic heart. Our personalities are pictures through which He reveals various aspects of Himself in the world. Our sinfulness distorts the message but doesn’t completely conceal it.

God is infinitely creative. God could have sat in heaven alone within Himself, joyful and complete and unchanging and doing nothing more than being. Instead God’s self-sufficient joy overflows in the things he makes and does to express His perfect love and wisdom.

In our finiteness we could know nothing of God, could not hope to say anything about God’s true nature, but God, being an Artist, expresses Himself to us in ways that can reach us.

God the literary artist, reaches out to us in language. God the visual artist paints reflections of His glory in nature and in human personality. God the performance artist dramatizes His message to us through stories. (It seems undemocratic to us that God revealed Himself first through a particular nation, but it is the essence of good drama to speak universally by telling a specific story about a particular community.)

Jesus is the Word of God and the picture of God (“the exact representation of His nature” — Hebrews 1:3), and the leading man in the drama of redemption. “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”  (John 1:18).

God knows better than we do the importance of artistry for us and how it touches us intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. That’s one reason the Bible has such a variety of literary genres.

The Bible uses imagery a lot, but it also contains analogies, illustrations, types, parables, and allegories. All these things are ways to for one thing to stand for another, but in my opinion each is subtly different, serves a different purpose, and speaks to a different human need.

A lot of American evangelicals are unsure what to make of the arts. They know music and drama are good tools for getting a message across, but they haven’t reflected on the difference between propaganda and art. They are confused by anything that doesn’t have a clear moral associated with it. They haven’t really realized that it’s OK to value art for artistic reasons.

A few evangelicals, usually the artistically inclined ones, get really frustrated because a lot of Christian songs, movies and dramatic works are not very good. They worry a lot about how to stop all this mediocrity and inspire creative excellence. If we really want to develop our artistry as Christians, though, then we can’t worry about that too much. When we set out to produce “good Christian art”, we short-circuit the creative process.

Instead of trying to produce things we should focus on releasing people. There are lots of Christians whom God has called to artistic expression in one way or another. They find themselves compelled to create. We just need to turn them loose! It’s like when the tabernacle was being constructed:

“See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; to make designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work.” (Exodux 35:30-33)

Ezekiel and Bezalel are not just anomalies. God has put a holy creativity in the hearts of many of his children.

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Different responses to seeing God’s glory

Just a quick comment about seeing the glory of God and the many different ways it can affect us.

First, a couple of weeks ago, Anne Graham Lott spoke about Isaiah’s mystical vision of God (Isaiah 6) and his response to it, which was abject humility. “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”

This week, I read a very different story of a time when God revealed his glory supernaturally:

Now when Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the house. The priests could not enter into the house of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’S house. All the sons of Israel, seeing the fire come down and the glory of the LORD upon the house, bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave praise to the LORD, saying, “Truly He is good, truly His lovingkindness is everlasting.”  (2 Chronicles 7:1-3, NASB)

Here the response is praise, expressing a renewed confidence in God’s goodness.

But in still another passage from this week’s devotional reading, there was this:

Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard a great rumbling sound behind me, “Blessed be the glory of the LORD in His place.” And I heard the sound of the wings of the living beings touching one another and the sound of the wheels beside them, even a great rumbling sound. So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away; and I went embittered in the rage of my spirit, and the hand of the LORD was strong on me.  (Ezekiel 3:12-14, NASB)

Ezekiel had already seen a supernatural vision of the glory of God, described in chapter 1 and involving angels (“living beings”) and wheels and lots of rumblings and fire. Here, the Spirit says of this vision, “Blessed be the glory of the LORD in His place” because that vision was a manifestation of the glory of God to Ezekiel.

Look how he responds, though: “I went embittered in the rage of my spirit, and the hand of the LORD was strong on me.” In the next couple of verses Ezekiel begins to realize his calling as a prophet.

What a curious mix of responses: humility (woe is me!), praise and confidence (truly He is good) and now ferocity on behalf of God’s word to His people.

I’m not completely sure what the moral is. Perhaps that when God favors us with one of those transcendent moments in our walk with Him where we see his power and presence clearly, it will affect us in a deeply personal way. It will reflect the fundamental connection God makes with us at that moment, and as such will be different for every person, every time.

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Clothed with salvation

[L]et your priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation

and let your godly ones rejoice in what is good.

2 Chronicles 6:41b (NASB)

This was one of the more interesting verses in the passage I read for my quiet time (devotions) earlier this week. What does it mean, “let your priests … be clothed with salvation”?

First, I think it helps to avoid reading New Testament terminology into this verse. In the New Testament epistles “salvation” nearly always refers to eternal deliverance from hell. In the Old Testament, it was more likely to be referring to a practical, temporal deliverance from concrete, earthly peril. David, on the run from his enemies, might pray, “Save me, God”, meaning simply, “Keep me safe from the people who are trying to kill me.”

Next, this is a petition to God, not an exhortation to people. The second part of the verse, for instance, isn’t saying, “OK, all you godly people listening to my prayer, be sure you rejoice in what is good!” In fact, I don’t even think it is saying, “God, help us to have the right attitude, to rejoice in what is good.” I don’t think it is focused on the attitude of God’s people at all, but on the blessings of God. Solomon is praying, “God, give us something to rejoice in. Surround us with your goodness so that we can celebrate it.” That fits the context of the chapter – this is part of a prayer by Solomon that God would hear and answer the sincere prayers of His people.

Similarly, being clothed with salvation is not a duty in this verse, but a request. They are not promising to clothe themselves with salvation; they are asking God to clothe them with it.

Third, the two phrases may very well be parallel; i.e., they may be expressing the same basic thought in two different ways. That is, it is likely that “let your priests be clothed with salvation” has the same fundamental meaning as “let your godly ones rejoice in what is good”. Solomon says,

let those who belong to you (priests / godly ones)

have your blessings (of salvation / of goodness)

surround them (clothed with it / rejoicing in it)

If this is correct, then a priest being clothed with salvation meant being surrounded by God’s constant presence as his deliverer, wrapped around him like a garment throughout the day.

Finally, even though the focus of the petition is on God’s blessing and not human gratefulness or rejoicing, I think there is a secondary aspect of the verse – a kind of echo of the primary thought – that those who are depending on God for everything welcome His salvation and His goodness with open arms. They rejoice in it; they clothes themselves in it. So there is, after all, a part of this that refers to human response to God’s goodness.

There are a lot of things in the Old Testament that do not apply directly to us as New Testament believers, but the principles in this verse – God’s goodness, our dependence on it, and the joy we can have in knowing He is faithful – apply equally well to our own times. We can think of ourselves as wrapped in salvation in both the Old and New Testament senses. In fact, I think the verse in Ephesians 6 about arming ourselves with “the helmet of salvation” has very much the same idea behind it.

I am trying to learn to trust God more with my daily responsibilities and concerns. I love the idea that I can ask God to wrap His deliverances around me like a mantle.


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