"THE FIRST EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY" The Great Mystery Of Godliness (3:16) by Mark Copeland



The Great Mystery Of Godliness (3:16)


1. Paul wrote to Timothy regarding proper conduct "in the house of God" - 1 Tim 3:15
   a. Which is "the church of the living God"
   b. Which is "the pillar and ground of the truth"
   -- I.e., the church supports the truth that has been revealed through
      the apostles

2. The truth supported by the church is described as "the mystery of
   godliness" - 1Ti 3:16
   a. A mystery is described as "great"
   b. Its greatness is described as "without controversy"
   -- Evidently Paul sought to inspire proper conduct by reference to
      this "mystery"

[What is "The Great Mystery Of Godliness"?  Perhaps by understanding it,
we too will be inspired to proper conduct as members of the family of
God.  Toward that end, let's first examine...]


      1. The Grk. word is musterion, meaning "hidden thing, secret,
         mystery" - Thayer
      2. "In the NT it denotes, not the mysterious (as with the Eng.
         word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted
         natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine
         revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time
         appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His
         Spirit." - Vine
      3. "In the ordinary sense a 'mystery' implies knowledge withheld;
         its Scriptural significance is truth revealed." - ibid.
      -- In the NT, it refers to that which had been hidden, but is now
         made known by Divine revelation

      1. What was hidden has now been made known through the apostles
         and prophets
         a. It could not be discovered by human wisdom alone - 1Co 2:
         b. It required Spirit-filled men (apostles) to reveal them
            - 1Co 2:-16
         c. Written that we might understand - Ep 3:1-5
         d. That Gentiles might also be fellow heirs of God's promises  - Ep 3:6-9
         e. Made known for the benefit of all nations - Ro 16:25-26
      2. What has been revealed still defies description at times
         a. It was beyond man's ability to foresee - Ro 11:33-36
         b. Some elements may be beyond full comprehension (e.g., God in
            the flesh, see below)
      -- Thus there are spiritual truths that God has revealed that we
         might know, though some may challenge our understanding

[The "mystery" now revealed pertains to "godliness" (1Ti 3:16).  "The
word 'godliness' means, properly, piety, reverence, or religiousness. It
is used here, however, for the gospel scheme, to wit, that which the
apostle proceeds to state." (Barnes)  As we continue, we note that it
centers around the coming of Jesus Christ...]


      1. Jesus' coming was Deity in the flesh!
         a. Proclaimed in the prologues of John - Jn 1:1-5,14; 1Jn 1:
         b. Proclaimed in the epistles of Paul - Php 2:5-6; Col 2:9
      2. Notice the name "Immanuel" (God with us)
         a. Foretold in Isaiah's prophecy - Isa 7:14; 9:6
         b. Explained in Matthew's gospel - Mt 1:22-23
      -- The coming of Jesus in the flesh was God working to reconcile
         man back to Himself; isn't that great? - 2Co 5:18-19

      1. "Justified" - as used here, it means "to vindicate"
         a. Was Jesus vindicated in or by the Holy Spirit? (cf. NKJV,
            KJV, NIV, NASB)
         b. Or was He vindicated in His own spirit? (cf. ASV, NRSV)
      2. "in the Spirit" - shown to be the Son of God by the agency of
         the Holy Spirit (Barnes)
         a. E.g., the Spirit bore witness at Jesus' baptism - Mt 3:16; Jn 1:32-33
         b. E.g., Jesus cast out demons by the Spirit - Mt 12:28
         c. The Spirit continued to bear witness to Jesus through the
            signs and wonders given to the apostles - cf. Jn 15:26; 16:
            13-14; He 2:4; 1Jn 5:6
      3. "in (the) spirit" - vindicated as divine 'in His Spirit,' that
         is, in His higher nature; in contrast to 'in the flesh,' His
         visible human nature (JFB)
         a. E.g., His words manifested His higher being - Mt 7:29; Jn 7:46
         b. E.g., His works also - Jn 2:11; 3:2
         c. E.g., His Father's testimony as well - Mt 3:17; 17:5
         d. Ultimately, declared to be the Son of God by His
            resurrection - Ro 1:3-4
      -- Either way, Jesus was certainly vindicated as the Son of God!

      1. Angels who previously marveled at what was to come
         a. The suffering and glory of Christ foretold by OT prophets
            - 1Pe 1:10-12
         b. Which the angels desired to look into - 1Pe 1:12b
      2. When Jesus came, angels saw and ministered unto Him
         a. After His temptation by the devil in the wilderness of Judea
            - Mt 4:11
         b. During His agony in the garden of Gethsemane - Lk 22:43
      -- The angels also attended His ascension, and will accompany His
         return! - Ac 1:9-11; 2Th 1:7

      1. This was the purpose of the Great Commission - Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15
         a. Fulfillment began with the conversion of Cornelius - Ac 11:
         b. It was the ministry Jesus gave to Paul - 2Ti 1:11
      2. This is an important element of the "mystery" now revealed
         a. That Gentiles should be fellow heirs, partakers of the
            promise - Ep 3:3-6; cf. 2:11-22
         b. Paul felt blessed to preach to the Gentiles - Ep 3:7-9
      -- The grace of preaching the riches of Christ to Gentiles
         continues to this day!

      1. Not all believed, but many did
         a. Some of His own people did not receive Him - Jn 1:11
         b. Many of His own people did - Ac 2:41-42; 4:4; 5:14; 6:7
         c. Where some did not, many Gentiles did - Ac 13:43-49
      2. Why is it so great that Jesus was believed on in the world?
         a. Because the gospel is foolishness to many people -  1Co 1:18
         b. Because to many, Christ crucified is a stumbling block
            - 1Co 1:23
      -- Even today, countless multitudes believe in Jesus around the
         world - amazing!

      1. His ascension foretold in prophecy
         a. Prophets spoke of the glories to follow His suffering
             - 1 Pe 1:10-11; Lk 24:25-26
         b. One such prophesy is the vision of Daniel - Dan 7:13-14
      2. His ascension and glory that followed described in the NT
         a. Jesus ascended and was received up into heaven - Ac 1:9-11;
            Mk 16:19
         b. He sat down at the right hand of God, with all authority
            - Mk 16:19; Ep 1:20-23
      -- Thus Jesus received the answer to His prayer - cf. Jn 17:1,4-5


1. This mystery of godliness does not end with Jesus being received in
   a. For He will one day come again in glory! - Mt 16:27
   b. Those raised with Christ will appear with Him in glory! - Col 3:
      1-4; 2Th 1:9-10
   -- Have you been raised with Christ in baptism? - cf. Col 2:12

2. From beginning to end, the mystery of godliness is great...!
   a. The Divine intervention into the world of sinful men
   b. The Divine grace offered through such intervention
   -- Are you letting the revealed "mystery" motivate proper conduct?
      - cf. 1Ti 3:15

Receive the grace of God in such a way as to conduct yourself properly
in the family of God while waiting for the Lord's coming in glory...!
- cf. Tit 2:11-14

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Has NASA Discovered Joshua's "Lost Day"? by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.


Has NASA Discovered Joshua's "Lost Day"?

by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
In the tenth chapter of the Old Testament book of Joshua, it is recorded that the Sun “stood still.” The story often circulates that NASA scientists, using computers to calculate orbits for the Earth and Sun, discovered that there was a “lost day.” Upon further examination, so the story goes, these scientists used their computers to find this missing day, proving the biblical record to be accurate. Is this story true?
From time to time stories such as the one described above appear—in church bulletins and religious publications, or even on the Internet—as factual and true. No doubt those who propagate such information mean well, and have as their ultimate goal a defense of the Bible against the slings and arrows of infidelity. However, the story is untrue. An investigation reveals the following details.
Similar stories have been around for more than half a century. In his 1936 book, The Harmony of Science and Scripture, Harry Rimmer devoted the entire last chapter to “Modern Science and the Long Day of Joshua.” In his discussion, Rimmer recounted the biblical story of how God made the Sun stand still (Joshua 10), and then made the following statement concerning this miracle: “The final testimony of science is that such a day left its record for all time. As long as time shall be, the record of this day must remain. The fact is attested by eminent men of science, two of whom I quote here” (1936, p. 280). Dr. Rimmer then mentioned two scientists—Sir Edwin Ball, a British astronomer, and Charles A.L. Totten, a Yale professor. He credited Ball with being the first to notice that “twenty-four hours had been lost out of solar time.” Rimmer then asked the questions: “Where did that go, what was the cause of this strange lapse, and how did it happen?” (p. 280). In the very next paragraph, he wrote: “There is a place, however, where the answer is found. And this place is attested by a scientist of standing. There is a book by Prof. C.A. Totten of Yale, written in 1890, which establishes the case beyond the shadow of a doubt” (p. 281). Rimmer then offered what he called a “summary” of Totten’s book where, he said, information could be found to prove exactly how the “lost day” had been discovered. Rimmer even gave the exact day and month on which Joshua’s battle was fought—Tuesday, July 22 (p. 266).
Before responding to the question about NASA scientists allegedly having found the “lost day” of Joshua, let me make several observations about this older version (from which the newer one obviously has been fashioned—with considerable embellishment). First, Rimmer specifically stated that he intended to “quote from” Ball and Totten, yet none of the statements he offered was placed in quotation marks. Second, the 1890 book that Totten wrote (Joshua’s Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz) never was named by Rimmer, which seems a bit odd considering that Rimmer devoted an entire chapter to this subject in his own book. Third, no bibliographic references were provided by Rimmer to the works of either Ball or Totten—again, quite unusual, seeing as how Rimmer based his entire argument on the validity of their respective cases. Fourth, numerous other writers have made serious efforts to determine the validity of Rimmer’s claims, as well as those of Ball and Totten, but with no success. For example, Bernard Ramm, in The Christian View of Science and Scripture, discussed Dr. Rimmer’s viewpoint and his reference to Totten. Ramm couched his personal conclusion regarding the documentation offered by Rimmer, Totten, and Ball in well-chosen terminology when he observed: “This I have not been able to verify to my own satisfaction.... Dr. Kulp has tried to check this theory at Yale [Totten’s employer—BT] and in England [Sir Edwin Ball’s home—BT], and has found nothing to verify it” (1954, pp. 109,117).
No doubt Rimmer himself believed the story to be true. But the documentation that should have provided the proof was seriously and obviously lacking. How such stories originate is far more difficult to ascertain than how they circulate. When a story has been “corroborated” with what appear to be credible names and relevant facts, people often do not go to the trouble of investigating it any further. Once accepted, it then is used in what the Bible believer sees as a reasoned defense of God’s Word. From all evidence now available, the story of Ball, Totten, and Rimmer simply is not true, and should not be used in defending the Bible as the Word of God.
The same can be said about the modern-day version of the story. Again, some historical background is necessary. When the account, as told by Dr. Rimmer, first was published, apparently it caused quite a bit of excitement and was accepted uncritically by those anxious to show how science “proved” the Bible true. After the initial excitement subsided, the story was forgotten, or overlooked, and eventually relegated to the relic heaps of history. Its stay there, however, was brief. Someone (to this day, no one knows who) rediscovered the story, “dusted it off,” gave it some embellishment (no doubt to make it more appealing to the modern scientific mind), provided names (of individuals, companies, and cities), and then, for good measure, threw in a reference to a popular government agency that was/is very much in the public eye (the National Aeronautic and Space Administration—NASA). With this “remake” of the story now complete, it had built-in credibility that few thought to doubt or question.
The modern version of the story suggests that NASA scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland were using sophisticated computers to plot positions of the Sun, Moon, and other planets 100, and 1000, years in the future in order to calculate spacecraft trajectories. Suddenly the computers ground to a halt. As it turns out, the computers had discovered a “lost day” in time. Repairmen did not know how to correct the problem. But one of the scientists present had attended Sunday school as a child and recalled a story in which God made the Sun stand still for about a day. When he suggested this as a possible solution, the other scientists ridiculed him. However, the scientist turned to Joshua 10 and read the story. The repairmen then fed the new data into the computers (carefully factoring in the “lost day” of Joshua), and the machines once more whirred along perfectly—almost. The computers suddenly stopped again because they had not discovered a whole day; something still was missing. Apparently (so the story goes) the computers found only 23 hours and 20 minutes. In other words, 40 minutes still were unaccounted for. But the Sunday-school-going scientist suggested the answer to this conundrum. He remembered 2 Kings 20, which indicates that King Hezekiah, upon being promised a reprieve from imminent death, had requested a sign from Heaven. God then made the Sun move backwards ten degrees—or exactly 40 minutes! This information was fed into the computers, and they once again worked perfectly.
This tale became widely circulated in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a result of the efforts of Harold Hill, then-president of the Curtis Engine Company in Halethorpe (Baltimore), Maryland. In his 1974 book, How to Live Like a King’s Kid, Mr. Hill devoted an entire chapter to the story (pp. 65-77) and explained how it became so widespread. He stated that on occasion he spoke to high school and college students regarding Bible/science matters, and that the story of NASA’s “missing day” was one he “told often” (pp. 65-66). Somehow (even Mr. Hill never knew how), Mary Kathryn Bryan, a columnist for the Evening World of Spencer, Indiana, received a written account of Mr. Hill’s story and ran it in her column. Afterwards, Hill noted, “various news services picked up the story and it appeared in hundreds of places” (p. 69, emp. in orig.). The account no doubt was afforded a certain amount of built-in credibility when Mr. Hill suggested regarding the space program at Goddard: “I was involved from the start, through contractual arrangements with my company” (1974, p. 65). [As it turns out, Mr. Hill’s connection to NASA was tenuous at best; his company had a contract to service some of the government agency’s electrical generators. He never was connected in any way with mission operations or planning.]
All efforts to confirm the origin of the story have failed. After an article about it appeared in the April 1970 Bible-Science Newsletter, several readers of that magazine wrote Mr. Hill. A subsequent article in the July 1989 Bible-Science Newsletter made mention of the fact that after the 1970 article, some readers finally received a form letter from Mr. Hill in which he stated that he did not originate the tale. In his 1974 book, he acknowledged that he did not witness the incident at NASA personally, and said that he could not remember where he first heard it, but insisted that “my inability to furnish documentation of the ‘Missing day’ incident in no way detracts from its authenticity” (p. 71).
The July 1989 Bible-Science Newsletter article went on to report that
Dr. Bolton Davidheiser wrote the NASA office at Greenbelt, Maryland, where all of this was supposed to have happened. They replied that they knew nothing of Mr. Harold Hill and could not corroborate the “lost day” reference.... The concluding paragraph of NASAs letter read, “Although we make use of planetary positions as necessary in the determination of space-craft orbits on our computers, I have not found that any ‘astronauts and space scientists at Greenbelt’ were involved in the ‘lost day’ story attributed to Mr. Hill” (Bartz, 1989, p. 12).
The story’s origin is dubious at best (and spurious at worst). The facts, where verifiable, are incorrect. And those allegedly involved in finding the “lost day” of Joshua admit to knowing nothing about such events. Furthermore, anyone claiming that computers somehow could “find” a lost day fails to understand how computers work. As Paul Bartz has commented:
Computers are not magic machines which can figure out things which are hidden from normal people. As wonderful as they are, they are limited by the knowledge which we give them. Computers depend on us for knowledge. While a computer could be used to generate a calendar from today back into the far distant past, which is not an uncommon practice, a computer could not tell us if any time was missing or not. In fact, the computer would have to be programmed with all sorts of adjustments to account for several changes in the western calendar over the past couple of thousand years. In short, the story is technically impossible, no matter how sophisticated your computer (1989, p. 12).
The only conclusion one can draw, respecting the available facts, is that this story is false and should not be circulated. We do a disservice to God’s Word when we attempt to “defend” it with stories such as these that, with a bit of common sense and a small amount of research, can be shown to have no factual foundation whatsoever.


Bartz, Paul (1989), “Questions and Answers,” Bible-Science Newsletter, 27[7]:12, July.
Hill, Harold (1974), How to Live Like a King’s Kid (South Plainfield, NJ: Bridge Publishing).
Ramm, Bernard (1954), The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Rimmer, Harry (1936), The Harmony of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Totten, Charles A.L. (1890), Joshua’s Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz (New Haven, CT: Our Race Publishing Co.).

Has NASA Discovered a "Missing Day"? by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.


Has NASA Discovered a "Missing Day"?

by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

For years the following story has been spread by well-meaning people whose intent is to defend the accuracy and inspiration of the Bible.
In the tenth chapter of the Old Testament book of Joshua, it is recorded that the Sun “stood still.” One day while NASA scientists were using their computers to calculate orbits for the Earth, Sun, and other planets, they discovered that there was a “lost day.” After prodding by one of their colleagues who had attended Bible school as a child, the scientists reprogrammed their computers to include appropriate biblical facts and ultimately found their “lost day,” thus proving the biblical record to be accurate.
The story sounds great, and is quite impressive in the telling. Unfortunately, it is false—from beginning to end.
In the May 1991 issue of Reason & Revelation, I wrote an article documenting the incorrect nature of this account, and urging our readers not to use it. Years later, however, the story still is being circulated—most likely due to the fact that it has been published on the Internet. While there are many positive aspects of the Internet and the World Wide Web, one negative aspect is that error can be disseminated rapidly, and widely, with little more than the click of a mouse button. Apparently that is exactly what has happened here. Some well-intentioned soul posted the story on the Internet. Another saw it, and sent it to a few (or a few hundred!) people via an electronic address book. Those people then forwarded it to others, who sent it to still others. Ad infinitum!
As those whose lives and teachings revolve around the importance of truth, we, of all people, should do all we can to avoid the dissemination of erroneous material, regardless of how “good” it may sound, or the “evidential value” it may appear to have. Yes, we should defend God’s Word. But no, we should not use error to do it. “Faithfully teaching the Faith” is not merely an awesome privilege, but an awesome responsibility as well. Because of the seriousness of this situation, and the fact that the story seems to have developed a “life of its own,” I decided to update my May 1991 article in order to expose once again the incorrect nature of this account. The revised article was published in the February 1999 issue of Reason & Revelation—the first time in the history of the journal that we have repeated an article.

Handclapping in Worship to God by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


Handclapping in Worship to God

by Dave Miller, Ph.D.

As churches of Christ continue to experience transitional conflict, fundamental commitment to biblical authority wanes, and personal taste and affective creativity assert themselves. Our current social milieu and cultural climate exacerbates and reinforces this increased reliance upon self and personal opinion as legitimate standards of authority. Despite the mad rush to the left in politics, religion, and morality, the faithful Christian is one who remains unshaken by the winds of change (Matthew 11:7; Ephesians 4:14). As change agents proudly and defiantly orchestrate restructuring of values and foundational principles, the faithful follower of Jesus Christ consistently reaffirms the ancient, bedrock truths of biblical religion.
The promoter of change is most conspicuous in his relentless assault upon pure worship—a typical, perennial ploy of Satan (e.g., Genesis 4:3,5; 1 John 3:12; Exodus 32:8; Leviticus 10:1-3; 1 Samuel 13:9-13; 1 Kings 12:28-30; 18:4; 2 Kings 22:17; 2 Chronicles 26:16-18; Psalms 78:58). Since, by definition, worship changes are not rooted in or sanctioned by Scripture, whence do such innovations arise? Obviously, if these items do not find their origin in Heaven, they must originate with man (Matthew 21:23-25). The human heart, unrestrained and unenlightened by divine guidance, inevitably pursues behaviors and practices that satiate fleshly appetites.
Current culture has groomed and conditioned the average person to be entertained. Television and the cinema have so developed in their sophistication that they are able to stimulate us and hold our attention with little or no effort on our part. In his bestseller, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman described how we have allowed ourselves to shift away from rational assessment of truth in exchange for substanceless, emotional stimulation (1985, pp. 49-63). In religious practice, worshippers appear driven by that which is “better felt than told.”


One change that has made its way into worship assemblies is the act of handclapping. Handclapping is occurring in two forms: as applause, and as a rhythmical accompaniment to singing. The latter practice is clearly unacceptable on the scriptural grounds that clapping hands is parallel to the use of any other body part or mechanical device that might be used to supplement vocal, verbal music. Clapping hands, snapping fingers, or rhythmically slapping the pew are logically equivalent to the mechanical instrument of music—all of which lack divine authorization in the New Testament. God authorizes and enjoins worshippers to sing meaning-laden words and to make music in/on the human heart (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Worshippers simply lack scriptural approval for adding other forms of musical accompaniment/expression. Please study carefully the following chart and observe that handclapping falls within the realm of nonvocal, instrumental music and, as such, is not a scripturally approved worship action. Only the left-hand column coincides with biblical specifications as articulated by God in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16—


Handclapping also has been introduced into worship assemblies in the form of applause [NOTE: see the defense of applause in Norton, 1992]. The congregation is drawn into applause following baptisms, sermons, and other worship events. Probably most advocates (as well as opponents) of applause in our worship assemblies base their opinion on extrabiblical grounds. Those who are for applause say: “What’s wrong with it? I like it! It’s just an updated, modern way to say, ‘Amen.’” Those who are against applause say: “We’ve never done it. I’m uncomfortable with it. It cheapens solemnity.” Surely, a more biblically-rooted critique of handclapping is in order.
What is the significance of handclapping in American culture? The primary function of applause is to indicate personal approval. Webster’s dictionary defines “clap” as “to show pleasure at or approval of” (1965, p. 333). “Applaud” means “to praise or show approval of, commend” (p. 89). We applaud performers at football, baseball, and basketball games. We applaud musicians at concerts. We applaud actors and actresses at theatrical performances. We clap our hands on such occasions because we like what we see and hear. We personally enjoy and agree with what we observe. Clapping is a way for us overtly to validate and affirm our opinion of the performance.
Closely linked to a show of approval is the function of showing recognition. By applauding performers, we express our appreciation for their skill, proficiency, and talent. We are saying, “Congratulations! You are good! You have done well. I acknowledge your talent.”
A third function of handclapping is expression of excitement. We sometimes burst forth in spontaneous applause because we are personally excited, moved, or thrilled by a performance. In this case, handclapping is an outlet, a means of catharsis, a way to achieve emotional release, and a way to express joy.
A fourth function of applause is to manifest courtesy. For example, academicians clap their hands at the conclusion of the reading of a scholarly paper—not necessarily to convey or imply agreement or approval—but to be polite and courteous. Politicians on both sides of the aisle in congress applaud the President as he delivers his State of the Union speech. Clearly, this applause is a demonstration of etiquette—not agreement.
How does handclapping in American culture correlate with scriptural worship activity? To answer this question, two additional questions must be answered: (1) Is handclapping a legitimate replacement of, or alternative to, saying “amen”?, and (2) regardless of whether handclapping appears to be parallel to “amen,” does God approve the use of handclapping in worship?


Our English word “amen” is a transliteration of a Hebrew word that means “firm” (see Thayer, 1901, p. 32; Dana and Mantey, 1927, p. 259). The root stem meant “to show oneself firm and dependable; to know oneself to be secure, have faith.” Thus, the term means “certain and true.” The Israelite would say “amen” in order to confirm or identify himself with a particular verbal declaration (Brown, 1975, 1:97). “Amen” served to affirm a statement as certain, valid, and binding (1:98). The use of the term in the Old Testament may be summarized as “an acknowledgment that the divine word is an active force: May it happen in just this way” (Botterweck and Ringgren, 1974, 1:321). Similarly, “amen” has reference to words and deeds of God to which the speaker submits himself (1:321). The Septuagint often translates the Hebrew word for “amen” as “genoito” (“may it be”), which “signifies what endures or is true, the spoken Word of God in the sense of its standing fast” (Kittel, 1964, 1:336). H.B. Hackett commented that “amen” in the Old Testament was “a word used in strong asseverations, fixing as it were the stamp of truth upon the assertion which it accompanied, and making it binding as an oath” (1896, 1:82).
So “amen” had essentially two uses in the Old Testament. First, it signified the individual’s acceptance (even sworn oath) of the statement (e.g., Numbers 5:22). In Deuteronomy 27, the people gave assent to the conditions under which a series of curses would be inflicted upon them for disobedience. Second, “amen” connoted truthfulness (1 Kings 1:36). Jesus used the term in this fashion as a prelude to His remarks, translated in the NASB as “most assuredly” (John 3:3,5,11).
Interestingly enough, the Old Testament refers a few times to the clapping of the hands together. [NOTE: Keep in mind that authority for handclapping in worship today cannot be secured from the Old Testament, any more than authority for other practices, including dancing, instrumental music, and burning incense. Yet, those grasping for justification for their innovations make the same argument for handclapping that is made for instrumental music. See J. Carroll Stark’s rationale during his debate with Joe Warlick in 1903 in Henderson, Tennessee in William Woodson (1979), Standing for Their Faith (Henderson, TN: J. & W. Publications), p. 90.] Handclapping sometimes occurred in the Old Testament as a cultural (not religious) expression of joy. For example, handclapping occurred at a coronation (2 Kings 11:12) or a military victory achieved for the nation by God (Psalm 47:1)—neither of which provides support for Christian worship. Used figuratively, even rivers and trees clap their hands (Psalm 98:8; Isaiah 55:12). But the most prominent use of handclapping in the Old Testament was as a manifestation of disdain, repudiation, and ill-will (Job 27:23; 34:37; Lamentations 2:15; Ezekiel 25:6; Nahum 3:19). Will the advocates of handclapping in the worship assembly urge this use of handclapping, along with boos, hisses, and catcalls? (cf. Orr, 1939, 1:665).
In the New Testament, “amen” is found 126 times. Two additional Greek terms are used to represent the same concept. The three are translated “so let it be, truly, amen” (Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 45). Jesus often prefaced His remarks with a double amen, translated “Verily, verily” or “truly, truly.” In so doing, He affirmed that His sayings were reliable and true, valid and certain (Kittel, p. 338; cf. Brown, 1975, p. 99). Summarizing the New Testament evidence, “amen” was a vocal means by which an individual affirmed the certainty, truthfulness, and reliability of God’s Word. To say “amen” was to confirm the binding nature of those truths. To a lesser extent, the speaker was expressing assent and endorsement with the accompanying intention to submit himself to God’s truth.


Notice that the functions of handclapping in American culture do not match the biblical function associated with saying “amen.” Handclapping in our culture carries additional baggage than that which “amen” carried in the Bible. Applause in our society is generally a response to an entertaining performance. Our applause is focused upon the performer. We are showing approval and recognition of the performer’s talent, while expressing our own personal excitement and pleasure. Consider the comments of United Methodist bishop William Grove of Charleston, West Virginia, who considers applause inappropriate in worship because it turns the church into a theater and confuses people about the focus of worship (Clarion-Ledger, 1992, p. 3).
In stark contrast to this emphasis, the use of “amen” in the Bible focuses upon the messagerather than the person presenting the message. “Amen” enables the worshipper to assert publicly the truthfulness of the spoken Word. “Amen” is not designed in any way to affirm the speaker, and thereby place him in the position of being a performer. Indeed, we ought not to extol or call attention to the vain talent of the preacher, nor praise his skilled “performance.” God wants our attention centered on the meaning of the message. God wants us to focus on the fact that God’s Word is being declared and, unlike man’s word, that it is notable and unique in its truthfulness, certainty, and rightness.
Notice also “amen” is not really designed to communicate the idea “I agree with that” or “I like that.” Biblically, it doesn’t really matter whether or not I agree with God’s Word. God’s Word is true, sure, authoritative, and binding—and it deserves to be affirmed as such whether or not anyone agrees with it. Consequently, handclapping in American culture is not parallel to saying “amen” in the Bible. Handclapping, therefore, is not a justifiable alternative to or replacement of “amen.”


We must surely ask: why would we desire to applaud at a baptism? Are we implying that the one submitting to baptism deserves applause? Does anyone deserve applause for obeying Christ—for doing what every accountable person on the planet is obligated to do? We need a healthy dose of Jesus’ own assessment of our obedience: “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (Luke 17:10). Further, applauding at a baptism implies that we are free to express ourselves any way we choose to do so—without regard to whether God is pleased with our behavior. If one person may, without God’s permission, applaud the person who is baptized, then another may feel perfectly free to jump up from his pew, throw his fist in the air, and proclaim, “Yes!! All right! Way to go!” Still another may step out into the aisle and dance a jig. The entire congregation may choose to enact a “holy wave” reminiscent of the wave at football games, starting on one side of the  auditorium and spreading across the assembly to the other side. Does the Bible teach that God is pleased with human’s expressing their feelings by any means? It does not (e.g., Jeremiah 10:23; Psalm 50:21). Notice the inconsistency of loose thinking and action—action that arises from human inclination and feeling rather than from a thoughtful, respectful consideration of God’s Word. If we applaud one who is baptized, then it follows that we ought to applaud the song leader. After all, he, too, is obeying Christ by serving in a significant role as a worship leader. But if we are going to applaud the song leader, then we also need to applaud the prayer leader, the scripture reader, the men who serve on the Lord’s Table, and the preacher. Observe at this point, our rationale has led us into creating a worship environment that amounts to a mutual admiration society in which we are applauding each other. In the midst of such worldly, self-centered displays, attention to God—the true focus of worship—has gone by the wayside. The fact of the matter is that handclapping is a secular response/reaction to human performance. It betrays the extent to which we have been influenced by the world. It is a worldly, unspiritual practice.


Perhaps more to the point in this discussion, the real issue is: are we free to do anything we want to do in worship? From Genesis to Revelation, God has insisted that all of our actions must be authorized, approved, and sanctioned by Him. Handclapping in worship for baptisms or sermonic remarks is nothing more than our current cultural expression of emotion. Handclapping is our way of saying, “I’m really turned on, excited, by that!” Churches of Christ stand out in bold relief from the charismatic tidal wave that has swept over Christendom by insisting that the head (under the guidance of Scripture) must control the heart. We must not engage in mindless exhibition of feeling in our religious expressions (cf. 1 Kings 18:25-29; Matthew 6:7). “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion [and] false humility” (Colossians 2:23). But rather, we must place ourselves under the control of the Spirit—Who tells us specifically and precisely how to conduct ourselves. [NOTE: For a detailed look at the principle of authority as expounded in the Bible, see Miller, 2012.]
We ought to be ashamed for even trying to defend emotional, human exclamations as God-originated or God-approved. If we are free to clap our hands in worship when we get excited, then we are free to scream, squeal, and shriek; we are free to turn somersaults down the aisle; we are free to stand on the pews and stomp our feet; and we are free to jump up and slap our hands together (like athletes) in the “hi-five” position. Likewise, we are free to boo, hiss, or throw tomatoes if we are not impressed with those conducting the worship. All such behaviors (though acceptable in a secular, entertainment-oriented context) in religion are unauthorized concoctions stemming from the unrestrained, unguided minds of mere men. They fail to respect, honor, and sanctify God as He instructs (cf. Leviticus 10:3). They reveal our human propensity to formulate worship behavior according to our own desires.


Handclapping existed in the Graeco-Roman world of the first century. It constituted one ritual among several others (i.e., snapping the finger and thumb, waving the flap of the toga or a handkerchief, etc.) by which degrees of approval were expressed. Consider the effect of this cultural custom on Christianity in view of the following observation:
When Christianity became fashionable the customs of the theatre were transferred to the churches. Paul of Samosata encouraged the congregation to applaud his preaching by waving linen cloths. Applause of the rhetoric of popular preachers became an established custom destined to disappear under the influence of a more reverent spirit (“Applause,” 1957, 2:138, emp. added).
Paul of Samosata was an elder in the church in Antioch around A.D. 260. Eventually censured for his practice, he did for the church of his day what the agents of change are doing for the church in our day. He introduced an unbiblical, unauthorized action into worship—an action that has no genuinely spiritual value, but which, in actuality, promotes a secular, fleshly approach to worship. History is repeating itself: “for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43); “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).
May we learn to find contentment and satisfaction with the simple ways of God articulated in His Word. May we feel constrained to fashion worship behavior and religious ritual in strict compliance with His instruction. May we love Him enough to set aside personal preference, and to subdue emotional inclination, in exchange for the delightful, exciting, stimulating directions delineated in Scripture. May His words be ever in our hearts and on our tongues. Amen.


“Applause” (1957), Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica).
Arndt, W.F. and F.W. Gingrich (1957), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament(Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Botterweck, G. Johannes and Helmer Ringgren, eds. (1974), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Brown, Colin, ed. (1975), Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Clarion-Ledger (1992), Jackson, MS, May 30, D1, as quoted in Preacher Talk, 8[6]:3, June.
Dana, H.E. and Julius R. Mantey (1927), A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament(Toronto: Macmillan).
Hackett, H.B., ed. (1896), Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible (Boston, MA: Houghton and Mifflin).
Kittel, Gerhard, ed. (1964), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Miller, Dave (2012), Surrendering to His Lordship (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Norton, Howard (1992), “Extremists Tend to Blur Biblical Boundaries,” The Christian Chronicle, 49[6], June.
Orr, James, ed. (1939), International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Postman, Neil (1985), Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York, NY: Penguin Books).
Thayer, Joseph H. (1901), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977 reprint).
Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary (1965), (New York, NY: World Publishing), second edition.

Hail by Dave Miller, Ph.D.

by Dave Miller, Ph.D.

I had seen hail before, and had heard of its potentially destructive force. But natural calamity and the awesome power infused by God into His physical creation never seem threatening to us self-sufficient human beings until we are thrust into the midst of catastrophe. It is then that we are brought to our senses concerning our own weak, frail condition in the face of an incredibly spectacular cosmos (Psalm 8:3-4).
The storm came from the west, and was packed with torrential rain, high velocity winds—and hail. The initial marble-sized hail, which fell so thickly that the ground appeared white with snow, soon graduated into chunks of hard ice that were larger than golf balls. It was literally as if over a hundred people had surrounded the house and were throwing large rocks as fast and furiously as they could. Several windshields, windows, and awnings around town were smashed. Automobile hoods were covered generously with dents. The yard looked as if an army, armed with picks or spades, had assaulted it. I shuddered to think what would happen to the person who became caught outdoors in such a storm.
I thought of the seventh plague in Egypt in which crops, men, and animals were destroyed (Exodus 9:13-35). This affliction was intended to convey to the Egyptian authorities that “there is none like [God] in all the earth” and that “the earth is the Lord’s” (Exodus 9:14,29). God again harnessed hail’s destructive force when He assisted the Israelites in their assault and pursuit of the Amorites. He bombarded the retreating Amorites with such large hailstones that “there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the children of Israel killed with the sword” (Joshua 10:11). When God wished to symbolize the execution of His just and terrible wrath against the first-century persecuting power of Rome, He depicted a horrible plague of hail in which huge hundred pound hailstones rained down out of the sky on people (Revelation 16:21).
In every case, God utilized His natural creation to portray His power and presence, and to reaffirm the necessity of man’s humble submission to His will. Such awesome omnipotence merits careful consideration and recognition. Proper respect is due the Creator and Controller of the Universe.

The Burden of Public Expression by Trevor Bowen


The Burden of Public Expression

How Did We Get Here?

Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media have dramatically changed the ways we communicate, interact, influence, and even teach! Years ago, a person generally became an influential teacher through trial and appointment. Whether a large church with a multitude of members, a storied university with a multitude of students, or a prestigious journal with a loyal following - whatever the institution, a person generally received notoriety, credibility, and influence only by being interviewed, vetted, accepted, and appointed by some established center of influence. Such organizations and individual résumés required large investments in financial and personal resources. This presented a barrier of entry into the world of influence, education, and teaching. Not everyone could raise his or her voice and be heard without some enormous measure of dedication and private proving. It is not so any more. Now anyone can publicly blog his or her daily thoughts, update spiritual musings, or tweet platitudes to the entire world! By just clicking a “Like” button, a person can publicly support and fellowship any teacher or doctrine, instantly becoming a vocal proponent to all of their friends and even their friends’ friends! All a person needs is an ubiquitous internet connection to reach out and touch the world! Anybody can be an influential public teacher or personality through the internet and social media. There is virtually no longer any barrier to entry.
This article is in no way intended to discourage people from feeding on Scriptures, meditating on them, transforming themselves, and vocally encouraging others to do the same. However, we all need to pause before the next post, tweet, blog, or like and consider the following dangers and verses of caution. Whenever we express ourselves publicly, we need to realize the associated responsibility and be prepared to accept its consequences.

A Deceptively Heavy Burden

The modern ease with which one can publicly express his or her thoughts to such a broad audience can seduce us into believing that the spiritual burden is equally as light and inconsequential. However, whenever we raise our voices in a public spiritual forum, we accept a heavy burden, whether we realize it or not:
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (James 3:1)
Do you wish to endure “stricter judgment”? Neither, do I! But, whenever we offer our thoughts on spiritual matters, evidently with the goal to persuade or influence, we undertake such a responsibility.
Please consider, if we seek to influence others, will we receive “stricter judgment” from God or from man? Could it be from both? Before God who tests and knows our hearts (Psalm 7:9Proverbs 17:3Jeremiah 17:10), we open ourselves to the challenge of pride and hypocrisy, which we know the Lord does not take lightly (Matthew 7:1-523:1-39). Before men whose motives are not always entirely pure, and whose knowledge is not always sound, we invite public rebuke and criticism whether deserved or not. Those who are unwilling to face this “stricter judgment” should study, meditate, and pray more until their thoughts become more distilled, conviction becomes more sure, and love becomes uncontainable.

Stumbling Stone

Why might one receive a “stricter judgment” from both God and man? One possible reason could be the potentially negative influence of our public words.
Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do comeIt would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:1-2)
Too often we chase the praise and honor of men, while seeking to validate our own unique wit (II Corinthians 10:1218Proverbs 14:3); consequently, we rush to release an opinion or analysis of Scripture, while never fully considering the unintended impact it might produce. Even if we offer advanced warning of our potential error, that does not grant us a license, which frees us from the consequences of our speech, because we have influence, and our words may be persuasive, and they may be destructive. Can you imagine standing before Christ in judgment and Him producing an assembly of people, who consumed your words and were deceived, discouraged, or otherwise “fell into the ditch” (Luke 6:39)? It is a terrifying thought that often causes me to shudder and check my mouth. It would be terrible to find myself in a Devil's hell due to my own wants, self-delusion, or negligence. How worse would it be to know that I was partly responsible for others finding the same eternal abode, because I blindly pursued my pride's satisfaction or some other personal agenda? Oh, Lord, may it never be!
Is it any wonder that we are encouraged to keep our words to a minimum?
In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise. (Proverbs 10:19)
He who guards his mouth preserves his life, But he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction. (Proverbs 13:3)
Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. (Proverbs 21:23)
He who has knowledge spares his words, And a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive. (Proverbs 17:27-28)
fool has no delight in understanding, But in expressing his own heart. (Proverbs 18:2)
A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back. (Proverbs 29:11)
The more we say, the more risks we take, not to mention the increased energy we demand from our readers. Let us say what needs to be said, but little more, so that we cause no one to stumble, lest we in part bear their sin.

Airing Doubts Publicly

We may all recognize that a false-teacher, whether deceived or deceiving, can cause great harm though his public error. However, we may not realize that by carelessly raising a public question - yes, just a question - we can also “destroy much good”. Please consider the Psalmist’s following observation:
Behold, these are the ungodly, Who are always at ease; They increase in riches. Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, And washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, And chastened every morning. If I had said, "I will speak thus," Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children. When I thought how to understand this, It was too painful for me — Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end. (Psalm 73:12-17)
In the above passage, the Psalmist was vexed by a common question and problem, “Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper?” Although this troubled him greatly, he did not post this sore question as his Facebook status, neither did he bemoan his confusion and discouragement under his Tweeter feed. No, he kept this problem to himself and kept working privately on it. Eventually, he realized the answer, and his faith was secured! However, can you imagine the havoc that could have been wreaked, if he had vented his soul in a public forum before he recognized the truth? Imagine how many friends were following the Psalmist? Although we might not have so many influential friends in today’s world, we do live in a modern “generation of Your children”, who we can easily confuse and discourage, if we prematurely air our doubts or questions publicly.
Remember, once words are spoken it is impossible to take them back without consequence!
The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts. (Proverbs 17:14)
A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a castle. (Proverbs 18:19)
Does this mean that we should never raise questions or even “open a can of worms”? Does this mean that we should generally shy away from questions? Does this mean we can only study questions, when the conclusion is predetermined? Not at all! To present that extreme as our only other option is to argue a false dichotomy and a fallacious dilemma. Yet, whenever we publicly raise questions, we necessarily accept the responsibility to answer them convincingly in the same setting if at all possible; otherwise, we accept the responsibility of the unavoidable error, strife, insecurity, and discouragement that stems from all lingering unanswered doubts, because we will be their instigators.
Furthermore, we need to realize that false teachers often deliberately raise questions as a subtle way of inserting error:
... having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; (II Timothy 3:5-8)
Regardless if this describes the predator or the prey, be warned. Just because someone raises a question, it does not mean that he does not already have a firm conviction. Too often, insistent questioning that refuses to accept a clear answer is veiling ulterior designs. Beyond the above passage, the Bible clearly indicates how we must ultimately handle those who drive wedges, regardless if it is with unsatisfiable questioning or some other technique of guile:
Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross. 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; (Proverbs 26:23-25)
But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11)
Yes, we must be careful not to run to an opposite extreme by hastily shielding our own ineptitude or our own personal following through portrayal of staunch conviction. But, let us also always check our motives and ponder the consequences of any question we raise, and let us avoid posing public questions knowing that neither we nor someone else involved can yet answer.

Reckless Vagueness

It is very difficult to clearly communicate to a large, broad audience. Often, someone will approach our words with a unique background that may move them to fixate upon some poorly chosen word, overlook a critical clarification, or read between the lines in an unintended way. Experienced speakers, teachers, and communicators try to anticipate such misunderstandings. Have you ever heard someone say, “Now, I am not saying ..., but I am saying ...”? Why does a person do that? Is it not to correct any misinterpretation in advance? Of course, a person can qualify their statements so exhaustively that the primary meaning is lost. Experience and refined judgment will prove the best course there. That being understood, it appears that we too often take too little care to be clear. This also is irresponsible:
Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle? So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. (I Corinthians 14:7-9)
If we are not careful to choose words so as to maximize our chances of being clearly understood, our efforts can be entirely lost! A good teacher recognizes his audience and adapts himself as much as possible to remove whatever unnecessary barriers prohibit ready acceptance of his message (“to the Jews I became a Jew ... to the weak I became as weak”I Corinthians 9:19-23). (Of course, we cannot alter the gospel message itself without sacrificing its saving power, Romans 1:16Galatians 1:6-8.) This may mean that we need to read and reread our posts multiple times before sharing. If we expect any controversy, we should consider obtaining in advance the opinion of someone older and wiser. This may require tedious patience and attention to detail, but such effort is not only worth it, it is also expected:
Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 29:20)
The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil. (Proverbs 15:28)
The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips. Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. (Proverbs 16:23-24)
By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, and a gentle tongue breaks a bone. (Proverbs 25:15)
If we are not careful to be clear, then something even worse may happen than the realization of our wasted efforts:
Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. (I Corinthians 14:23-25)
Through pride and other immaturity (I Corinthians 12:120-2513:1-714:1220), the Corinthians had forsaken the clarity of simple speech for the flashiness of miraculous “tongues”. As a consequence, they created the opportunity for their worship to not only be ineffective but to be destructive to the “uninformed”! Although we cannot speak in miraculous tongues as did the Corinthians, if we are likewise vague or ambiguous, our language may also be easily misinterpreted to communicate a message contrary to our intent, even to the confusion and destruction of the listener. Although the listener is not without responsibility (“take heed how you hearLuke 8:18), the one who speaks bears an unavoidableresponsibility (James 3:1I Corinthians 9:19-23).
Not all vagueness and ambiguity is the result of inexperience or carelessness. On occasion the opposite is true. Skilled, divisive false teachers frequently exploit ambiguity and deliberately hide in an unclear realm of innuendo and prejudicial interpretation. For example, when someone decries the lack of preaching on grace and love, often what they really mean is that there is too much preaching on obedience and diligence. I would prefer to spend all of my teaching on the pleasant, comforting aspects of God’s Word, like grace, love, hope, assurance, and so forth. However, rampant error, which perverts God’s grace as a cloak to sin and fellowship without conscience (Jude 3-412-20), demands we spend a greater part of our teaching answering it, where the need is more urgent. As Joab and Abishai millennia ago divided their forces to face their enemies’ attack on multiple fronts, so we must also “declare the whole counsel of God”, while temporarily focusing our efforts wherever the enemy is “too strong” (II Samuel 10:9-12Acts 20:26-27). Please be careful that you do not inadvertently support a false teacher through a Facebook “like” or “share”, who is promoting his agenda of error with vague platitudes that generally push the momentum toward his error without fully committing him so as to be exposed. No one wants to be an unwitting pawn, but too often the young or naïve are exploited in this way.

Reluctance To Retract

It should be self-evident that anyone who accepts the burden of public expression likewise accepts the responsibility to retract an erroneous message or to clarify an easily misunderstood segment. However, too often pride takes hold and our disdain for shame prohibits us from admitting that we were wrong or should have done better. Too often we bristle when we are approached with potential rebuke. Our attitude needs to move towards humility and gratitude while moving away from arrogance and self-defense. The words of Proverbs point us toward this wisdom:
Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)
The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise. He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding. The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility. (Proverbs 15:31-33)
Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. (Proverbs 27:5-6)
The measure of our humility over our pride dictates how well we listen to correction regardless of the rebuker’s intent, delivery, credibility, and station. Often people come to us nervously with concerns and are fearful of a hasty reaction. We can make the experience as pleasant as possible for them while gaining as much instruction and wisdom from them as possible. Or, we can answer harshly, gruffly, and tersely thereby communicating our disdain for their judgment, while cutting off all opportunity for both parties to grow closer to the Lord and each other. If we make ourselves unapproachable, eventually people will not bother to help us any more, and we will seal our own solitary doom.
Occasionally, one will point to the past glorious deeds accomplished by a false teacher either in brotherly service or brotherhood teaching; however, neither the glory of our past nor the brightness of our future buys us a pass!
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)
If the apostle Peter’s station, past deeds, and future glory did not warrant him a pass from public correction, who are we to expect more for lesser men?
What is the responsibility of the corrected public speaker to make right his or her wrong words? If one steals and is caught, does he not have to repay (Proverbs 6:30-31)? If one damages another’s goods, does he not have to make restitution (Exodus 21:18-22:17)? Then if one has spoken incorrectly, rashly, or unclearly, does he not need to correct his error as far as he originally projected it? In other words, if a Facebook post brought shame on the Lord or His people, is not a Facebook post warranted to correct and apologize? If a blog has spread error, then should not its full retraction with explanation also be posted to correct the evils that have consequently spread? Simply deleting a post, blog, or tweet only indicates remorse, not true repentance. It is similar to the difference between the responses of Peter’s remorse and Judas’ regret (Luke 22:47-4860-62Matthew 27:3-5Acts 1:15-2:14). Both manifested a kind of sorrow, but only one was willing to humble himself, repent, and face a new day (II Corinthians 7:9-11). Admitting the error privately but failing to make any form of public correction also falls short of what is needed. If one is convinced that his actions were wrong and harmful, then he will want to do everything he can do to prevent that harm from spreading for all others’ sake, and lest a fate befall him that is truly worse than having a “millstone hung around his neck and ... thrown into the sea” (Luke 17:1-2). As long as one is just trying to deflect shame and minimize the collateral damage to his reputation, true repentance has not taken hold. If a brother truly cares about others, then he will gladly sacrifice his own honor to restore the truth to its rightful honor to save those seduced by his previously proclaimed error.


The internet and social media has made it incredibly easy to publicly express oneself on serious spiritual matters. Unfortunately, the simplicity of the technical details can deceive us into believing the spiritual complications are equally simplified. Whenever we seek to influence others spiritually, we must recognize the great spiritual burden we are accepting (James 3:1Luke 17:1-2). Such sobriety will lead us to contain our doubts and seek help privately (Psalm 73:12-17), and whenever we do speak, it will lead us to seek words that most clearly express God’s Word, and we will never deliberately hide in the darkness of ambiguity (John 3:19-21). Finally, we will realize that such public expressions bring us into the debt of all who digest them. We owe it to them to entertain whatever questions, comments, and even rebukes they may offer for the sake of unity, truth, mutual salvation, the Lord, and His people. And, if we are convicted of error, then as far as we hurled the error we must chase it with an admission, a correction, and the truth.
Although we should always examine ourselves before expressing ourselves publicly, this writing is not intended to discourage anyone - especially the young - from preparing themselves for just such expression. There is great need, and the world will not correct itself (I John 2:15-17Matthew 5:13-16). Therefore, wise words are always needed to shed light, even the light of correction. Consequently, rather than interpret this essay as discouragement to those unqualified from speaking (which may be temporarily required), please see it as an encouragement to get oneself qualified to so speak! Whenever we study God’s Word and help others to see the glory of His gospel, we are blessed to sample tremendous joy:
A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, And a word spoken in due season, how good it is! (Proverbs 15:23)
He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue. (Proverbs 28:23)
A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth, and the recompense of a man's hands will be rendered to him. (Proverbs 12:14)
There is gold and a multitude of rubies, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel. (Proverbs 20:15)
Ointment and perfume delight the heart, and the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel. (Proverbs 27:9)
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)
And, what is this joy and satisfaction that ultimately pleases the mature Christian? Is it the thrill of knowing your own value and achievement? Is it the vindication of your faith? No, it is the joy of seeing loved ones flourish truly, our Lord glorified, and our loving Heavenly Father satisfied:
For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. (III John 3-4)
If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 4:11)
“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’” (Matthew 25:21)
May we only ever so speak!
Trevor Bowen