Monday, March 26, 2007


I've always been amazed at that verse in Luke 4 where Jesus encountered Satan in that temptation experience. You remember Jesus had been forty days without food. There is no doubt that hunger was very real at the moment. You recall Satan said "Since you're the Son of God [no doubt in his mind about that fact] command this stone that it be made bread."

I think we are all honest enough to admit that wouldn't be a temptation to us because we couldn't have accomplished that if our very life had depended on it. But He could. After all He is the Son Of God. It would be important for us to remember at this point that Jesus DID NOT do anything during those thirty-three years on earth in the power/authority of His Divine nature. He willingly laid aside that authority and lived as man submitted to the will/ purpose of the Father. He was truly our stand-in. This is why He responded in verse 4 that "it is written that MAN shall not live by bread alone but by every Word of God." He was man submitted to doing the will of the Father.

My point is that the temptation came at the very point of the greatest strength in the life of Jesus. Temptation comes at our point of strength...not our weakness...who would have thought? I've aways been so sold on the idea that I've got to strengthen/guard where I'm weak because, if I don't, I'll wind up failing/falling in that area. Satan attacks me where I'm weak. Oh really? If pride comes before a fall then I must be proud of where I'm weak. No wait...pride is a possibility where I think I'm pretty good. Do you suppose we completely misunderstand this thing of temptation so that we guard our weaknesses but are vulnerable at our strength for the very fact that we don't think we'll fall there?

Add to this equation the seemingly overwhelming numbers of failures of ministers today at the points where they are teaching the most, as a Jim Baker who could raise money out of scarecrows, and fall because of greed. Or a Jimmy Swaggert who was strong in condemning those who are immoral. Enough said. Or a Gordan MacDonald who wrote the finest book on marriage I have in my library and failed in his marriage vow. By the way, I wouldn't even mention these men were their failure not public in nature. And even with that said...I do not in any way judge/condemn them at all. They are not my servants after all. They are my brothers.

We certainly could go to those in scripture who failed too. Peter, a man of extreme courage, remember how he charged that large group at the arrest of Jesus sword in hand, failed hours later fearful of being identified as a follower. Or Moses who was obedient enough, after being taught by his mother of God's plan for him, to choose to suffer the reproach of Israel rather than enjoy the pleasures of Egypt. Yet disobediently struck that rock the second time rather than speaking to it as commanded. Or David, a man whose heart was after God, in a moment of passion, gave his heart to another.

Add all this to that Luke 4 passage and we may be getting a picture that one would be wise to ask a friend this question. "What is my greatest strength?" Then, be open to the fact it could be at this point the enemy will gain a foothold in my life.

The answer to that question may be..."You're strong in doctrinal purity and Truth" or "You're strong in mercy" or " You're strong in the family" or "You're strong in honesty" get the idea. For the first, they may fail because someone disagrees with a minor doctrine or not say a Truth the same way [inerrancy] and the doctrinally strong one will separate because of pride in a position. For the second, they may need to stand for a truth at some point but for fear of hurting someone they capitulate. For the third, they maybe see a son or daughter divorce or a daughter get pregnant and cannot find it in them to embrace those/ that one in love and acceptance for the life of them. It would be [in their minds at least] a capitulation in standards for family life. For the last one, they may fail to report a gift to the government or twist a word or phrase to cover a mistake. The whole point is that failure comes because our eyes are tightly shut to our vulnerability at the point of strengths. We would never fail BECAUSE of our strength there...but we do. It is, after all, His strength that is made real in our weakness but, in Kingdom living our greatest weakness IS our strength, we just don't seem to get that fact down well.

May God never allow me to write something to anyone else without applying it to my own life first. I think I'll ask Mary, my wife, what she thinks my strengths are. She knows me better than anyone else and loves me enough to tell me the truth.

Paul Burleson

Friday, March 09, 2007


I believe any thinking person will agree that the scriptures mean what they mean. It is incumbant upon us to investigate what they say, led by the Spirit, to get to that meaning. Since language itself is a fluid vehicle, we must carefully go to the original meaning of any text, led by that same Spirit, to correctly understand God's intention.

Some things are more readily understood than are others that's for sure. Even Peter acknowledged that Paul the Apostle said some things difficult to understand. I'm with Peter on that.

Also, some things are more important than others. Any issue dealing with matters of salvation supercedes all others. Matters of discipleship and guidance for believers are important, just not to the level of salvation issues.

So we come to a christian suing another christian in a court of law and we would agree that it is of the latter category. You can miss this with your understanding and go to heaven. But you can't miss the nature of Christ, for example, who, as one said, was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier, and enjoy the assurance of that same place in eternity. You HAVE to be right there. No one is saying the former is not important in it's own right, just not one we separate over as brothers and sisters of the Kingdom.

Having said that...let's look at 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. Historically, it was written to a people whose court system was not the best. A.T. Robertson says that the Corinthians were basically a gentile church operating in a culture where civil courts were entertainment almost. They had civil litigation down to a science, if not art. The Judges were a known commodity, corrupt, and persuadable. There was no jury system at all. In short, the court system was a joke. Paul was always ready to contrast the wisdom of God with that of the Corinthian culture, as in chapters 1 @2, and does so here, as he makes it clear that the church can judge these matters far better since they're going to assist in judgment at a later date anyway.

In fact, he may be saying sarcastically in v4 that the least in the church can settle those issues if the leaders are too busy for such matters.

A futher textual study would lead one to see that Paul is not condemning courts completely since, in v12 he says, " all things are lawful [meaning not prohibited] but all things are not expedient. [meaning not the best]
This is in the context of lawsuits etc. Besides that, Paul saw no problem appealing to Caeser [the highest court of all] when he was held without trial and, as a Roman citizen, was not permitted his day in court.

Add to that the 1 Peter 2 passage where Peter indicates that the courts are "God ordained" since the word "ordinance" doesn't mean "law" as much as it means "institution", and is used in relation to God. So it is saying that the institutions of men are God's instruments for our lives. For a guiding institution [court-room] to be appealed to over a possible criminal matter is always correct and godly since they exist to punish and protect in legal problems.

However, in these minor relational matters that the Corinthian christians were suing over, they should be able to appeal to the church and the church should give proper guidance. But that's a big should. It is important to see that Paul's disgust was as much with the church here as with individuals who went to court. If we are going to get upset with a person for going to court against another christian, [the context is speaking only of brothers/sisters] and I wonder the wisdom of our making an individual judgment anyway, we should be just as upset with the church for not speaking out in these matters when the wrong that demands a verdict is being done.

Could it be that the proposed resolution on Church Discipline/Membership at the 06 SBC Convention was really more important than some that were voted on? Could it be that things done in secret should not be done at all, but if they are, should be exposed? Maybe the church has let superstars carry the load without checks and balances which has ultimately helped create the problems our modern day churches are facing. This may well also apply to those times when a pastor thinks of himself [or any leader of any entity] as the one who can do as he pleases with the body he serves being kept in the dark. We are, after all, a congregational people supposedly. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be so.

As in all things, a believers purpose in settling disputes is not a matter of winning/losing or demanding personal rights, but lovingly rebuking a wrong done and speaking the truth about it whether in court or in church. Revenge, anger, and personal rights are not the motivating factor at all. As John Calvin said, "to not go against God, they [the wronged one] must take special care not to come to ANY court [secular or church] with any desire for revenge or any poisonous thing. In all is to be the guide."

Another thought here. Matthew 18 is often appealed to as a guide for believers and rightfully so. But one may need to remember that when Jesus gave that instruction, there was no established functioning local church body as we know it today. The word "church" [ekklesia] was probably used in it's pristine meaning, "a called out group with a specific purpose." It certainly means asking a group to arbitrate and it is to be applied to the group called a "church" as Paul indicates in this passage. But the process should include an ultimate group making a decision if you act upon Matthew 18. To try to personally do Matthew 18 in a matter, but not carrying it to where Jesus took it, final arbitration, is short-sighted and unbiblical in my judgment. If you start it finish it.

In our day of convoluted intricate contracts and trusts and loans, we face lawsuits for injury, malpractice with damage, equal rights, and a myiad of other categories that I doubt even Paul would have wanted the church to try to settle. Like a christian banker, finding a fellow church member in default on a massive loan, may have to let the court settle the legalities of it all, as ordered by his board of directors, but should certainly let the church work on the relationship between the banker and his church friend, [which may be the most important thing after all] that undoubtedly needs repentence, forgiveness, correction, guidance and recovery or whatever.

In it all we should bear in mind that the word "against" [pros] "another" might NOT be violated if one is seeking a legal hearing to protect, for example, a child from a professing christian spouse/parent legally, if such an one is known by the other spouse/parent to be guilty of abuse, and it NOT be a matter of revenge or getting "my rights." Thus it is NOT violating the "against" prohibition. All in all, this may be one of those Paul statements Peter wondered about. Me too.

Finally, some concluding thoughts. I found several on a website that triggered some of my own.

A. The legal system is a gift of God to christians as well as all others in a society and is to be appreciated for it's ability to enact protection and punishment where appropriate.

B.Christians are free, maybe even responsible for the use of those courts in matters that clarify legalities and criminal matters that are beyond the reach of congregations.It speaks of a high submission to the powers ordained of God.

C. The motive for anything is more important than the action. If it is to bring out [speak] the truth in love, it can be right, but, if revenge, anger, self protection or other things motivate, it can be wrong.

D. While it is undoubtedly best to not make a blanket declaration that no christian should EVER take another believer to court, the proliferation of lawsuits is deplorable and the church needs to step up to the plate when christians are having problems. Church membership, discipline, and congregational involvement must take on more sigificance than personal opinions about styles of worship and what goes in. It is what's coming out of us that has me concerned. I haven't found it said better than a pastor did in this statement...And I quote...

"Now it’s at this point that it’s very tempting for me as a pastor to say that this is an iron clad law, that a Christian should never—in any circumstances—take another Christian to civil court to resolve a difference. You see, if I say it’s an absolute law, then we’re more likely to take this teaching seriously. If I suggest that this is a principle, and that in some circumstances other biblical principles might allow exceptions to this principle, then I crack open the door to allow exceptions. And if I do that, knowing human nature, I know every Christian is going to think that their situation qualifies as an exception. So if we allow the possibility of exceptions, then this will end up being one of those biblical principles that all Christians agree with but that no Christians actually apply, because each Christian thinks that his or her situation is an exception. So it’s very tempting to be legalistic, to say that this is an iron clad law, end of story.
But I think this is a principle with the possibility of exceptions. And let me first say that in the vast, vast majority of cases I do think that it’s wrong for a Christian to resort to civil court to resolve a difference with another Christian. But I think in some circumstances other important biblical principles come into play, and in those cases, those other principles take priority over this principle. Let me give you one example: Imagine two Christians who are going through the tragedy of divorce. Imagine that the wife decides she doesn’t want her ex-husband to be involved in the lives of their kids, and the only way for the husband to ensure his ongoing involvement in his children’s lives is to go to court and sue for custody. In that case the welfare of the kids and God’s calling to be a father is a higher principle than avoiding civil action against another Christian. So I think a husband would be justified to go to court and fight for a fair custody arrangement as a last resort. That’s just one example.
So how do you know whether your situation might be an exception to this principle? All I can say is that you can’t know it for yourself, that you need wise, mature input from the spiritual leaders God has placed in your life. You see, this kind of discernment comes from the community of faith as it together seeks God’s direction, not just from yourself because you’re likely to be biased. So when we feel as if our rights have been violated we should look to God’s community for help." Pastor Tim Peck

I say...Amen.

This is one of those..."glass darkly" situations perhaps. My hope is these thoughts will cause us all to tread graciously.

UPDATE______I'm sure all are aware that a rather high-profile situation has presented itself after I wrote this post. I for one will be praying for brothers and sisters on both sides of the issue and I hope we will only give love to all and hold personal judgment until the One comes who will "bring to light the things that are hidden, like purposes and motives, and then all will be praised in the truth."1 Corinth. 4:5 [The Message]

Paul Burleson