Volume 17, Issue 4: Meander
Grapes the Size of Softballs
The apostle Paul resolved to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1: 22- cvx 24). I grew up in a tradition that interpreted this as requiring a simple gospel message every Sunday. So every seven days, the faithful saints gathered, and heard a message explaining to them how they could become Christians. And then an invitation to go forward was given. Needless to say, the sermons traveled in a well-worn groove. If preaching Christ, or preaching the gospel, means a proclamation of how to become a Christian, and that is all it means, there are only so many ways to do this.
Early in my ministry I determined that it was necessary to preach from the entire Bible, and not just from John
3:16 and its close cousins. This meant preaching through Zechariah, and Deuteronomy, and Proverbs, and so on. And yet, the apostolic comment was still there. The Bible talks about a large number of things, and if the preacher addresses them all, then how is he preaching "Christ and him crucified"? Some challenging examples would be the prohibition of co-signing a note in Proverbs (Prov. 11:15), dealing with running discharge in Leviticus (Lev. 15:13), and trying to figure out what the heck a parbar is (1 Chron. 26:18).
Some within the Reformed tradition have tried to solve this problem by making every text into a launching pad, from which we may eventually get to Christ. This is described as "preaching Christ." Not every town in the United States is New York, but I can start from any town in the U.S. and get to New York. But what this does is turn every text into a pretext. However well-intentioned it is, this attempt to get to Christ from everywhere overlooks a key element of how Christ comes to us in Scripture. We don't need to get to Christ from any point in Scripture; He is everywhere already. Christ is the end of the law, to everyone who believes. The faithful preacher does not see Christ from the law, there in the distance. Faith sees Christ
in the law.
Faith sees Christ in every scriptural truth, in every passage, in every story, in every proverb, in every lawtaken as such. Christ is near us, in our mouths, and in our hearts. This means, not to put too fine a point on it, that about rotating your tires or changing your oil every three thousand mileswe should not start with such a text, and work the message around to the point where we see Christ as the "tires" that will take us to heaven when we die. Christ is far greater than our personal salvation. Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, and everything in between. Such a text should confront us with the fact that we do not yet see Christ in the most mundane of our duties. But Jesus is Lord, and He is Lord of all. The mundane texts are not Mount Pisgah from which we view the promised land. Every mundane text, treated honestly for what it is, is another square foot in the promised land. And even in the law, in the proverbs, in the stories, the grapes of Eschol
are the size of softballs.
An Honor to Walk Away
We learn from Proverbs that it is an
honor for a man to cease from strife (Prov. 20:3). This is one of many examples
in Scripture that show how the wisdom of God is 180 degrees out from the wisdom of man. In how many
fruitless quarrels have participants refused to back down from the strife because they are too proud to do so? In other
words, they believe that honor dictates that they remain in the strife, and that to bow out of it would constitute dishonor. But
the Bible teaches us the very reverse of this. To cease from strife is an honor, and consequently should be honored by us.
Of course, proverbs are general truths and we should not absolutize them. We are grateful that Athanasius did
not bow out of the stife created by Arius, and that Paul was a godly apostle who stood up to the vacillations of Peter. At
the same time, what we need to do with this scriptural teaching is apply it where God intended for it to be applied. In
how many marital quarrels between a Christian husband and wife are we dealing with an Athanasius/Arius situation?
Not very many.
Recently finished an interesting read by Garrison Keillor called
The Book of Guys. In that book, one remark he made
in passing is worth quoting. "Liberals like Curt were kind and loving to strangers, at least theoretically, and full of
warm feeling for abstract entities such as The Poor and The Oppressed and The Minority, but liberals are hard as nails
on their loved ones, preaching at them and holding them to impossible standards, perpetually shocked and
disappointed by the flawed humanity of their flesh and blood. Liberals love a crowd, from a distance, and they treat their families