Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Does The Holy Spirit "Convict" Christians?

Biblegems #301

Question: Christians frequently say things like, “I feel convicted by the Holy Spirit.” Does the Holy Spirit convict Christians, or is conviction the same as condemnation and judgment, and only done by God as Judge?

It would certainly be terrific in an ideal world if people always used perfectly precise words to express themselves—words such as “convict,” for example. I expect that in heaven all the communication confusion we experience in the fallen world will be clear up. Until then…

The word “convict” is sometimes taught to be a legal term of judgment and condemnation exclusively, and therefore not to be used to describe how the Holy Spirit interacts with believers. It is usually claimed in these circles that the word “convict” is never used in the Bible of the Holy Spirit’s interaction with believers.

“Convict” in the Bible
Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said:
   John. 16:8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:… (ESV)

The NT Greek word behind the English translation is elegcho (pronounced, el-eng-ko). Its specific meaning is broad, depending upon the context. The Mounce Greek Dictionary defines elegcho and gives scriptural examples of its various uses:

   “…to put to proof, to test; to convict, Jn. 8:46; Jas. 2:9; to refute, confute, 
1 Cor. 14:24; Tit. 1:9; to detect, lay bare, expose, Jn. 3:20; Eph. 5:11, 13; to reprove, rebuke, Mt. 18:15; Lk. 3:19; 1 Tim. 5:20; to discipline, chastise, Heb. 12:5; Rev. 3:19; pass. to experience conviction, Jn. 3:20; 1 Cor. 14:24 ˘ rebuke; refute”        —(Underlining is mine).

As the definition and variety of uses shows, it is incorrect to say that “convict” is strictly a legal term of condemnation and judgment. In fact, the apostle Paul uses the word elegcho (“conviction”) to describe how God can expose the secrets of an unbeliever’s heart who participates in a worship service:
         1Cor. 14:24-25 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted (elegcho) by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you (ESV).

He is “convicted by all”—meaning the Holy Spirit working through the believers present in worship. This is not judgment; it is spiritual surgery!

For Christians to use “convict” in describing the corrective ministry of the Holy Spirit is neither incorrect nor unbiblical, unless it is used in the sense of condemnation.

Words do mean things, and improperly used words can lead to confusion. But we all “get it” when a believer says he is convicted by the Holy Spirit. Such “conviction” is how the Lord rebukes His children in love:

Heb. 12:5-6 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you (i.e., “convicts”; Gk.: elegcho), because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Does Mark 16:9-20 Belong In The Bible?

Biblegems #300

Question: A note in my Bible says that the earliest manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20. Does that mean that these verses in the Gospel of Mark were added later, and are therefore not part of God’s inspired, revealed Word?

The answer is “No.” Here’s why:

First, the note in your Bible is accurate in that the earliest manuscripts do not contain this portion of Mark. However, that only means the earliest manuscripts we have found so far. All that can be said for certain is that for some reason, unknown at this time, these earlier documents—of which there are only a few—lost their final paragraph.

Second, the “ancient witnesses” the note in your Bible refers to are comments written in the margins of ancient biblical manuscripts. These “witnesses” are often identified by a number since no author’s name for the comment is available. For example, one such “ancient witness” is identified by the number “20”. He wrote in the margin of his manuscript of Mark 16:8:
                    From this to the end is not found in some
                    copies; but in the ancient copies the whole
                    is found uncurtailed.

This ancient author is telling us that he personally knows of other copies of Mark that are “ancient” to him that have not lost the last paragraph of Mark 16!

We can be confident then that Mark’s Gospel did not end with verse 8. So the question is whether verses 9-20 are authentic to Mark or whether they were added later, as many claim.

While it is true that the shift from verse 8 to verse 9 is awkward and abrupt, this is also true for much of Mark’s Gospel. Rather than flowing from one event or scene to another, events in Mark’s Gospel are presented as happening “immediately.” Style is not a convincing argument against Mark’s authorship.

Finally, most of the content in verses 9-20 can be found in the other Gospels as well, especially Matthew, and none of the content is incompatible with biblical teaching. This is even true of verses 17-18, where Jesus says just before His Ascension:
                    And these signs will accompany those who
                    believe: In my name they will drive out demons;
                    they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up
                    snakes with their hands; and when they drink
                    deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will
                    place their hands on sick people, and they will
                    get well.

Some have misconstrued this to mean that all believers will demonstrate miraculous powers and will be invincible to snake bites. What Jesus actually says is that “signs will accompany those who
Believe,” and gives examples of what some of those “signs” could be.

In short, there is no reason not to trust the Gospel of Mark in its entirety. The closing paragraph is present in most manuscripts, sound in doctrine, and typical of Mark’s somewhat awkward style. And even though this final paragraph is not present in some ancient documents, the “witnesses” testify to earlier copies where it was present.

Ps. 119:43  Never take your word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A “Fool” By Any Other Name…

Biblegems #299

Question: Why does Jesus say that calling someone a fool puts the name-caller in danger of hell, even though Jesus does so Himself, as does the book of Proverbs?

Jesus’ actual words are: “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matt. 5:22c). Later, Jesus refers to a fictitious man who built his house upon sand as “foolish” (Matt. 7:26). Proverbs also gives numerous examples of fools:
         Prov. 10:18  Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.

So why this stern admonition from Jesus?

First, it is a warning, not a command. Jesus is saying, ‘If you are going to call someone a fool, make sure you use the term appropriately—otherwise, you “will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

“Hell” (Gk. gehenna) is the “lake of fire” reserved for those not found in the “book of life” at the Final Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). That should be sufficient warning by itself to give anyone pause before calling someone a fool. To do so is literally playing with fire—only this “fire never goes out” (Mk. 9:33)!

Second, the context makes it clear that Jesus is addressing the attitude of the person using the term, not the term itself. There is no power associated with the word “fool,” as if it were some kind of incantation. This is a heart issue, not a vocabulary issue.

Jesus had just finished explaining that entering the kingdom of heaven hinges on a right heart towards God, not on external behavior:
         Matt. 5:20  “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

To make His point clear, Jesus gives three examples (vv. 21-22), including the matter of calling someone a fool. All three examples contrast the courtrooms of human justice with the courtroom of God’s justice. Human courts can only condemn a person to punishment based upon behavior, whereas God judges the attitude of the heart. At God’s judgment seat, anger that could lead to murder is enough to make that person “subject to judgment” (Matt. 5:22a). The same is true with an attitude of contempt towards another human being (Matt. 5:22b-c). It’s not just the insulting words, such as “raca” (Aramaic: “empty-headed”) or “mora” (Gk.: “fool,” “stupid,” or “imbecile”); it’s the condescending attitude behind the words.

Jesus’ point is that a contemptuous, judgmental attitude has no place in the kingdom of heaven. God knows the heart.

We are all quite capable of doing and saying foolish things. It is possible to name a person “a fool” as a matter of description without a condescending attitude. A fool is as a fool does. Even so, we are seldom the best judges of our own true motives and attitudes. When tempted to call someone a fool it is far better to say instead only that which builds a person up.
         Eph. 4:29  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.