Thursday, February 23, 2017

Above Reproach -- 2/23/2017


I know you've called me to this work
but i daily question why that would be
cuz there are qualifications that must be met
And i don't meet them most assuredly


But Your Word i hold fast to, it's my source of strength
It's been proved true for 3,000 plus years
and Jesus, You're its subject--Your life and death
And resurrection--freeing me from all my fears

Please reorient my eyes on You
Cuz when i don't, i scream, "I'm wretched and lost,"
but when i look at You upon the cross
I realize that You paid my infinite cost

And it's by Your grace alone that i can be saved
And made to be truly above reproach
Cuz Colossians 1:22 says,
I was reconciled to be "beyond reproach."

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Only 7 Deadly Sins? – 5:19-21

In a faraway land, many many years ago, a small hero was thrust into the midst of a struggle much much bigger than himself. However, despite his size, and the magnitude of the situation, the fate of his whole world hung around his neck. At one of the darkest points in his journey, he’s hiding behind a rocky ledge as the leader of a dark army is staring in his direction.
There was a pause, a dead silence. Maybe it was the Ring that called to the Wraith-lord, and for a moment he was troubled, sensing some other power within his valley. This way and that turned the dark head helmed and crowned with fear, sweeping the shadows with its unseen eyes. Frodo waited, like a bird at the approach of a snake, unable to move. And as he waited, he felt, more urgent than ever before, the command that he should put on the Ring. But great as the pressure was, he felt no inclination now to yield to it. He knew that the Ring would only betray him, and that he had not, even if he put it on, the power to face the Morgul-king—not yet. There was no longer any answer to that command in his own will, dismayed by terror though it was, and he felt only the beating upon him of a great power from outside. It took his hand, and as Frodo watched with his mind, not willing it but in suspense (as if he looked on some old story far away), it moved the hand inch by inch towards the chain upon his neck. Then his own will stirred; slowly it forced the hand back and set it to find another thing, a thing lying hidden near his breast. Cold and hard it seemed as his grip closed on it: the phial of Galadriel, so long treasured, and almost forgotten till that hour. As he touched it, for a while all thought of the Ring was banished from his mind. He sighed and bent his head.[1]
And I find that to be an extremely useful analogy to describe what Paul has been talking about in Galatians recently. “For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want” (5:17). Frodo was in the midst of this struggle here, but he came out on top because of a gift from a higher power. Paul is very clear that we don’t have to give in to the flesh because we have the Spirit—a gift from the Highest Power.
Paul writes in Galatians 5:16-6:10,[2]I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity,  idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions,  envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,  gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.  We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.  Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.  For each person will have to carry his own load.  The one who is taught the message must share all his good things with the teacher.  Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap,  because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.
And today we are going to look at a partial list of vices that daily wage war against the Spirit. These are vices that we are all prone to fall prey to, but that we are to fight against by the Spirit. Calvin writes, “The apostle therefore now points out to us those sins against which we must fight, in order that we may not live according to the flesh.”[3] We have no excuse to fall prey to these vices, but the fact that they are fighting against us, and we are not yet glorified, means that we will fall at times. But let’s get into it: first, we’ll look at the main point of the passage, and then we’ll break down each individual vice.
Paul says in 5:19, 21, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious . . . I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” He has two points in this section: first, the obvious nature of the works of the flesh, and second, a warning about the result for those who practice these things.
Paul says (literal word order of verse 19), “manifest now is the works of the flesh.” In Greek, the word order reflects the emphasis. The first word carries the most emphasis. Paul here wants us to know that the works of the flesh are manifest. In my study, I wrote a question: “Does ‘manifest’ mean ‘shown’ as in he’s laying them out, or ‘obvious,’ as in he doesn’t even have to name them?” And if I’m forced to work with those two options, I would argue for the second. However, I just had another thought that works better. Jesus said, in Mark 7:20-23, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” The opposition between flesh and Spirit begins in the mind/heart, but when they come out in the vices Paul lists in our passage today, they are manifested/shown for what they are—fleshly thoughts. I don’t believe Paul has the, “they’re so obvious I don’t even have to mention them,” thought in his head.
Paul concludes our passage today by saying that those who practice the things I will describe in detail will not inherit the kingdom of God. This is a warning along the lines of Revelation 22:14-15, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.  Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.” What makes the kingdom of God good is that God is there. Those that inherit the kingdom inherit God as benevolent Father. What makes being outside so bad—forgetting the fire and brimstone for now—is that God is not a benevolent Father to those outside. However, as omnipresent God, He is still outside (cf. Psalm 139:7-8), and that is what makes being outside so bad. For a sinner’s whole life, they try to avoid the presence of God because it convicts them of their sin, but God’s presence will be unescapable in eternity, repentance will be impossible, and that’s primarily what will make hell what it is—hell. Paul doesn’t want anyone to end up outside the kingdom, and I don’t either, so he gives this warning, and I repeat it now: Those who practice the following things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. And Paul’s list of vices can be divided into three categories: sex, religion, and (inter)personal.[4]
The first item on the list can be translated simply as “sexual immorality.” It is from the Greek word that transliterates to “porneia,” whose root is the word “pornos” which literally means, “harlot for hire.”[5] Porneia covers all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery and homosexuality.[6] In the Apocryphal work Ben Sirach, the author writes, “Two kinds of individuals multiply sins, and a third incurs wrath. Hot passion that blazes like a fire will not be quenched until it burns itself out; one who commits fornication with his near of kin will never cease until the fire burns him up.  To a fornicator all bread is sweet; he will never weary until he dies” (23:16-17, NRSV, emphasis added). One scholar translates the phrase, “fornication with his near of kin” more literally as “fornication with his own flesh,” which likely suggests masturbation as a form of porneia.[7] Since the word for fornication comes from the root that refers to prostitutes, it is possible to understand any form of sex outside the bounds of a marriage covenant (one man and one woman) as prostituting oneself—selling yourself. Prostitution arose in Greek culture with increased prosperity. “The main cause of prostitution is the Greek view of life which regards sexual intercourse as just as natural, necessary and justifiable as eating and drinking.” The same writer notes in a footnote, “Sexual abstinence was regarded as more harmful than moderate free intercourse.” And he cites one ancient writer as saying that it is hubris to resist love.[8] By the time between the Old and New Testaments, the word porneia had assuredly come to mean (at least for the Jews) “‘sexual intercourse’ in general without more precise definition.”[9] So when Paul comes around in Galatians 5, and throughout the New Testament,[10] and puts porneia on lists of fleshly sins, it comes as a shock to his Gentile hearers. The culture did not see it as a problem. But it is very clear that any form of sexual activity outside of a heterosexual marriage is porneia—is a manifestation of the flesh—and must be fought against.
The second sexually related vice is translated as “moral impurity” by the HCSB. While “porneia” refers to the actual sexual acts, this word, transliterated as “akatharsia” refers to the uncleanness that results from porneia. “Gentile [uncleanness] is the direct opposite of the righteousness of Christian sanctification.”[11] When people commit porneia they are left unclean in the sight of God. It has a reference back to the discussion of ceremonial cleanness in Leviticus: “You must distinguish between the holy and the common, and the clean and the unclean” (Leviticus 10:10). One commentator explains further, “The two following words (akatharsia and aselgeia) probably describe some of the sexual perversions (such as the practice of homosexuality and lesbianism) which, as Paul reminds us in Romans 1:26-27, were common in the pagan world, and indeed often characterize the world of today.”[12] Regardless, “Young Christianity regards the sexual immorality of the Hellenistic world as ungodly [uncleanness].”[13] Paul is here calling for Christians to remain pure in every way in a perverted world. “Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15, emphasis added).
The third sexual vice that Paul mentions is translated as “promiscuity.” Calvin summarizes the first three by saying that they are sins which are forbidden by the seventh commandment. “[Promiscuity] . . . is applied to those who lead wanton and dissolute lives.”[14] John MacArthur says, “It is unrestrained sexual indulgence, such as has become so common in the modern Western world. It refers to uninhibited sexual indulgence without shame and without concern for what others think or how they may be affected (or infected).”[15] Promiscuity would be the attitude that leads to acting out in porneia which would then cause akatharsia. Paul says that if this attitude is present in a person’s mind, they will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
And then we get to idolatry, which introduces the religious vices. The Apostle John concludes his first epistle by saying, “Guard yourselves from idols,” as if to say, “Beyond all else, if you keep away from idols, everything else will work well for you.” But when I explain his words that way, hear what I’m saying. Everybody is an idolater naturally. Maybe you worship sex, or your job, or your family, or a wooden idol. Regardless of what it is—even biblical theology can be an idol[16]—anything that keeps your mind occupied more than Jesus Christ keeps your mind occupied is idolatry. Anything that motivates you in life more than Jesus Christ motivates you is idolatry. Paul says, and no one in his context would have disagreed with him, that idolatry is a work of the flesh that will keep you out of God’s kingdom. MacArthur comments, “All human religion is based on self-effort, on man’s sinful insistence that he can make himself acceptable to his humanly conceived God by his own merits. Consequently, human religion is the implacable enemy of divine grace and therefore of the gospel.”[17] We must root all idolatry out of our lives!
The other religious vice is translated as “sorcery” and comes from a Greek word that transliterates to “pharmakeia.” This is the word from which we get our modern word “pharmacy.” It only occurs 3 times in the New Testament (Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 9:21, 18:23), and is translated as “sorcery” by the HCSB in all 3 occurences. MacArthur is helpful: “It was originally used of medicines in general but came to be used primarily of mood- and mind-altering drugs similar to those that cause so much havoc in our own day.”[18] This is my new anti-medical (and especially recreational) marijuana verse, since 1 Corinthians 6:19 is actually talking about sex, not drug use. I have nothing against pharmacies helping people get over illnesses, however, I think that people being dependent on pharmacies to keep them functioning is where pharmakeia becomes very real in our Western world.[19] In addition, when we use pharmakeia to rectify other works of the flesh—e.g. the morning after pill—we are being included in Paul’s description of those that won’t inherit the Kingdom of God. In fact, I would argue that birth control is pharmakeia, mainly because its primary use is to allow for fewer consequences while practicing other works of the flesh, but also because if you’re using it for its other uses, 1) you’re not thanking God for the body He gave you, or 2) you’re not fighting your corruption by the Spirit but by pills. Now let me clarify: if your hormones are a wreck, use medication to help, but the goal should be to get off the medication. God will help you by His Spirit. As Flame raps in his song, “Read ‘Em and Weep,”
There ain't no habit we can't shake
No addiction we can’t kick
No personality trait
That can keep us in them chains
Boy I'm breaking out of mine
Sayonara to the world
Gotta leave it all behind
We really dead to the flesh
when it's knocking at the door
We ain't gotta say yes
got the power to say no
So we do not lose heart
though our bodies waste away
Our inner man has been renewed
day by day[20]
By the Spirit we have all we need to defeat all the negatives of our personality, all the sins of our flesh, and all the temptations that come from elsewhere. If medication helps for a while to get you glued into Jesus Christ, awesome! However, Jesus Christ needs to be your focus; medication is a cheap substitute that can become an idol.
Paul then moves into (inter)personal works of the flesh. These all bring Galatians 5:15 back to mind: “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.” There are a lot of these, and the first on the list is “hatreds” according to the HCSB. The word refers to enmity between men, and described Herod and Pilate’s relationship prior to Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 23:12). One scholar explains that it does not refer to “God’s enmity against us . . . but ours against God as in Romans 8:7.”[21] If we are hostile towards God, we will never be anything but hostile to people. Paul says here that this keeps someone out of the Kingdom of God.
The next work of the flesh is translated “strife” by the HCSB. One commentator explains that it is “something like ‘a contentious temper’.”[22] MacArthur understands it as the outward manifestation of a hostile attitude.[23] Strong’s dictionary offers these possible meanings, “contention, debate, strife, variance.”[24] Regardless of specific meaning, it refers to a lack of unity and peace, and Paul here warns that this is enough to keep someone out of God’s kingdom.
The word translated as “jealousy” comes from a word that can also be translated “zealous.” And the best way to understand it is as zeal to promote self due to being jealous of someone else’s position.[25] This attitude keeps someone out of God’s kingdom.
The next work of the flesh is translated as “outbursts of anger” and comes from a root that originally referred to violent movements of world elements. “Everywhere in the New Testament it means ‘wrath’.”[26] I think the best translation of the word to understands its meaning is “rage.” It’s an uncontrollable anger that causes destruction. Paul says that this will keep someone out of the Kingdom of God.
“Selfish ambitions” come from a word that means, “to work as a day-labourer.” It was used in the ancient world to describe “those who procure office by illegal manipulation, and therefore [selfish ambition] is their attitude.” In fact, it is used, “of the harlot who offers herself to a man or who entices him. [Selfish ambition] is thus the attitude of self-seekers, harlots, etc., i.e., those who demeaning themselves and their cause, are busy and active in their own interests, seeking their own gain or advantage.”[27] Later, the same article tells us how best to understand this word, “It’s best to understand as ‘base self-seeking,’ . . . the nature of those who can’t lift their gaze to higher things.”[28] Paul says this exempts people from God’s kingdom.
The word translated “dissensions” is explained best as signifying “objective disunity in the community.”[29] If people know that believers are believers by their love and unity, then that helps to prove why this word and the related ideas in this third section are sins that keep people from God’s kingdom.
The word translated “factions” is transliterated to “heresies.” It is important to note the context in which this word occurs. It is in a list of fleshly works. And it’s in a specific section that is describing interpersonal relationships. Because the word literally means “faction” or “party” it has come to describe different branches of theology, specifically ones that are not conservatively, biblically accurate. One scholar writes and explains the connection: “[Church] and [faction] are material opposites.”[30] This is accurate because the church is supposed to signify unity, and factions prove the existence of disunity. I once made the case that, “The fact that Paul uses [‘heresy’] in 1 Corinthians 11:19, with the fact that it is the only defined use of the word apart from ‘the sect of the Pharisees’ or similar usages in the New Testament, would argue that the only true heresy in Christianity is a lack of love.”[31] In 1 Corinthians 11:19-21, Paul says, “There must, indeed, be [heresies] among you, so that those who are approved may be recognized among you.  Therefore, when you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s Supper.  For at the meal, each one eats his own supper ahead of others. So one person is hungry while another gets drunk!” Self-seeking while partaking of the Lord’s supper is the only specifically defined use of heresy in the New Testament. However, after reflecting on this passage in Galatians this week, I’d posit that it contains another defined use, based solely on the placement of it within other specific lacks of love/unity. Don’t corrupt unity/love within the body, or you are a true heretic, and God will not allow you into His Kingdom.
The final interpersonal vice is translated “envy.” There is no need here to try to dig deeper for a fuller meaning. If you have “ill-will (as detraction), i.e. jealousy (spite) - envy”[32] towards someone, Paul is here warning that you cannot enter the kingdom of God.
“Drunkenness” refers to abusing alcohol to the point of intoxication. It only occurs in lists of vices in the New Testament,[33] as we find it here. Luther explains, “Paul does not say that eating and drinking are works of the flesh, but intemperance in eating and drinking, which is a common vice nowadays, is a work of the flesh.”[34] Paul wants us to be moderate and careful if we partake of strong drink and to not let it lead to debauchery and other sins of the flesh. If we are uncontrollable in this area, we are exempt from God’s kingdom.
The last named item in the vice list is translated “carousing,” and would be well understood as resulting from drunkenness.[35] One lexicon helps us understand the word by contextualizing it in ancient Greece: “a nocturnal and riotous procession of half-drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honor of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before the houses of their male and female friends; hence, used generally, of feasts and drinking-parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry.”[36] Paul says that this kind of activity is unfit for those entering into the Kingdom of God.
And then Paul adds this phrase: “and anything similar.” The list just described does not include everything that exempts a person from the kingdom of God, but it does include a lot. Paul’s point is that if you understand that these things keep one out of the kingdom, then you can also recognize other things that disqualify people as well. It is important to note that if you read the KJV, verse 19 reads, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness.” You’ll notice that the very first one was not mentioned in my discussion. This is because “adultery” does not occur in the best manuscripts that we possess. Since 1611, when the KJV was published, we have discovered many more manuscripts that have greatly helped us figure out the most likely original text. One rule is that the shortest reading is likely correct. Thus, “adultery,” was probably a later scribal addition. But, if we understand porneia as describing all sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant, then adultery is porneia.[37]
And perhaps you say, “Uh, oh. I’m described by this list.” My first question would be, “Do you claim Christ as Lord and Savior?” If not, you must, or you will be excluded from the Kingdom of God for these and other sins. If so, I want to show you an important word. Paul says, “those who practice such things” are the ones exempt. Practice is different from struggle. Martin Luther helpfully explains,
Christians also fall and perform the lusts of the flesh. David fell horribly into adultery. Peter also fell grievously when he denied Christ. However great these sins were, they were not committed to spite God, but from weakness. When their sins were brought to their attention these men did not obstinately continue in their sin, but repented. Those who sin through weakness are not denied pardon as long as they rise again and cease to sin. There is nothing worse than to continue in sin. If they do not repent, but obstinately continue to fulfill the desires of the flesh, it is a sure sign that they are not sincere.[38]
“The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Jesus said, and this is why we have to “watch and pray” and walk by the Spirit (Matthew 26:41). If we find that we are in a path leading to (or that just led to) the manifestation of a work of the flesh, we must get up, repent, and fight harder by the Spirit.
In conclusion, the struggle is real, but we have  the Spirit. Next week I will explain how the fruits of the Spirit need to be focused on and practiced in order to avoid the works of the flesh, but for now, let’s just remember that even when everything seems dark, and temptation to sin is hard at your heels and weighing you down, God has given you the power to resist, just like Frodo Baggins had an alternate course given to him by Galadriel for that fateful moment. (Reading that excerpt as I read through the book this week gave me hope to escape a pressing temptation in that moment.) God is good! We must trust Him more daily and repent of our fleshly works!
Til next time.
Soli Deo Gloria. Solus Christus.

[1] J R R. Tolkien, The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of the Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1986, ©1965), 356-357.
[2] Verses 19-21 are bolded because those are what this post is focusing on.
[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians.
[4] See John MacArthur, Galatians, 161.
[5] Gerhard Kittel and G W. Bromiley, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 volumes (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-1976), VI:580. Henceforward, this work will be cited as “Kittel, TDNT, vol:page.”
[6] Kittel, TDNT, VI:581.
[7] Kittel, TDNT, VI:588. “Suggests self-pollution” is the language the author uses.
[8] Kittel, TDNT, VI:582.
[9] Kittel, TDNT, VI:587.
[10] “The New Testament is characterized by an unconditional repudiation of all extra-marital and unnatural intercourse” (Kittel, TDNT, VI:590.) Almost every vice list in the New Testament contains a form of porneia in its list (Matthew 15:19, Mark 7:21-22, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, our passage today, Ephesians 5:3-5, Colossians 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, Revelation 22:15). It is telling that out of all words that occur first in these vice lists, porneia is the one that fronts the lists more than any other.
[11] Kittel, TDNT, III:428.
[12] R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 215.
[13] Kittel, TDNT, III:429.
[14] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians.
[15] John MacArthur, Galatians, 160.
[17] John MacArthur, Galatians, 161.
[18] Ibid., 161.
[19] Paul is not here dissing Harry Potter. If he was, he’d also be dissing Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, because all contain occultic, magical elements. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is simply the river that carries the story, the same way in which the Dark and Light sides of the Force carry the Star Wars storyline.
[20] Flame, “Read ‘Em and Weep,” Royal Flush (Clear Sight Music: 2013), MP3.
[21] Kittel, TDNT, II:815.
[22] R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 216.
[23] John MacArthur, Galatians, 162.
[24] James Strong, Strong's Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary, (Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "2054".
[25] Kittel, TDNT, II:881-882.
[26] Kittel, TDNT, III:167.
[27] Kittel, TDNT, II:660.
[28] Kittel, TDNT, II:661.
[29] Kittel, TDNT, I:514.
[30] Kittel, TDNT, I:183.
[31] Josh Wingerd, “Love Wins,”
[32] James Strong, Strong's Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary, (Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "5355". Emphasis in original.
[33] Kittel, TDNT, IV:547.
[34] Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.
[35] Cf. John MacArthur, Galatians, 162.
[36] J. H. Thayer, trans., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1889), s.v. “,” WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
[37] I’m planning on writing a lengthy paper on the trustworthiness of the Bible despite manuscript variants, at a future time.
[38] Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Wasted Stuff

It’s Valentine’s Day today, and while I’d typically be tempted (given my present status) to post something like this:

I decided to take the higher road and read something I posted about a year ago. Proverbs 31 is famous for many reasons—particularly for describing the virtuous wife and setting her against the foolish woman, but also for being the name of a women’s ministry that seeks to create women that look like this through their teaching. However, what is often missed—and I kick myself for it now after reading my post from a year ago—is that Proverbs 31 was written to a man. It was not written to challenge women to be something. It really wasn’t even written to challenge men to search for a certain type of girl. And this post will seek to prove that. Rather, all of Proverbs 31 was written by a king, reflecting on stuff his mother told him, and it is impossible to rightly understand 31:10-31 if we don’t first understand 31:1-9.
It reads, “The words of King Lemuel, an oracle that his mother taught him:  What should I say, my son? What, son of my womb? What, son of my vows?  Don’t spend your energy on women or your efforts on those who destroy kings.  It is not for kings, Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine or for rulers to desire beer.  Otherwise, they will drink, forget what is decreed, and pervert justice for all the oppressed.  Give beer to one who is dying and wine to one whose life is bitter.  Let him drink so that he can forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more.  Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed.  Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.”
Verse 2 has Lemuel’s mother basically asking, “What advice should I give you? What is the wisest thing I can impart to you?” And she concludes, proven throughout the nine verses, with the following outline of topics: “With remarkable conciseness the mother of Lemuel describes the moral requirements of good government. These lessons are, simply put: do not use your authority as a means to debauchery (v. 3), keep your head clear from the stupefying effects of alcohol (vv. 4–7), and use your power to help the powerless (vv. 8–9).”[1] And it is the first one that I want to focus on in this post, since today is one of the most sexualized days in our calendar year.
But then that question flies into my head: “You’re not a king. Are you sure this applies to you?” And part of me wants to say, “You’re right. I don’t have to heed any of this. I can find and flirt with any girl I want.” But then I read the verse by itself and it screams, “Don’t spend your energy on women or your efforts on those who destroy kings.” If it has the power to destroy kings, how much more power does it have to destroy people that aren’t even close to as powerful as kings?
The first thing to determine here is, “What is energy? Is it talking about sex? Or is it talking about something else?” The word is from the Hebrew chayil which most commonly means “army” or “power” or “strength.” In fact, according to one scholar, “The [Greek Old Teestament] translates chayil with [power] 165 times, with [strength] 27 times, and with [mighty] 18 times; they cover the whole semantic range of chayil. There are also cases of interpretative variation, where the [Greek Old Testament] renders chayil as [riches] (9 times) or [army] (3 times).”[2] If we understand the passage solely according to the Greek Translation, we see that the passage explains, “Do not spend your wealth on women.”
And this is huge. Especially in connection with Valentine’s Day. And when you spend $92.62 in the space of two days a year ago—simply to say something that your actions should say every day—only to get dumped like a piece of garbage a month later, the wisdom in this verse is HUGE! (Oh how I hate that I focused too much on the other part of this chapter first.) Proverbs is not the “how to find a wife manual” (see this post), but rather the “how to walk rightly as a believer in this tricky world manual.”
But that’s not all the beginning of Proverbs 31 has to say for itself. It also says, “Don’t spend . . . your efforts on those who destroy kings.” One scholar explains clearly, “Sexual deviation can ‘eradicate’ a dynasty and bring about its end.”[3] King David serves as a sort of proof of this. He lay with Bathsheba, and part of the judgment for his sin was that Yahweh was “going to bring disaster on [him] from [his] own family: I will take your wives and give them to another before your very eyes, and he will sleep with them publicly” (2 Samuel 12:11). That process was started when Amnon, David’s son, raped Tamar, David’s daughter, and David did nothing. Absalom, Tamar’s brother took it upon himself to kill Amnon, and then started an uprising, that—if not for God’s amazing grace—would have left the kingdom in ruin and the dynasty of David in shambles. Sexual deviance is a mess and needs to be stopped.
In addition, the very fact that kings being destroyed is mentioned is huge. What destroys better than death? And what causes death better than disease? And what diseases are on the rise today because of sexual deviance? Lemuel’s mother wanted to protect him from this. She wanted him to have a good, long reign; she wanted him to love one woman all his days (cf. 31:10-31). So she told him not to waste his strength/wealth/sexual energy on women who could potentially help to kill him/at least be his undoing.
If we want to be wise men (or women), we must heed this counsel as well, especially given the day of the year. Let’s not fall for the lies of society. Sex is a gift. It is sacred. Paul said in Ephesians 5:3, “But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints.” This means we shouldn’t even talk in a sexual way except with our spouse. And I’ll be the first to say, “While Lemuel—and men—are counseled not to let women destroy them, women are not the only body destroyers. In my personal experience—especially in today’s culture—I think men are much more capable of destroying women than vice-versa (but perhaps it goes both ways and always has).” My point: Women, don’t give your strength to men, your energy to those who destroy queens!”
A passage that has long haunted me is the following,
For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,  unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good,  traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!  For among them are those who worm their way into households and capture idle women burdened down with sins, led along by a variety of passions,  always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:2-7, emphasis added).
Verse 7—in italics—scares me the most. I see in my own heart the seeds of committing this foul atrocity, and while I haven’t actually committed it, I’ve certainly flirted with it on occasions. Which, when studying for this short post today, allowed me to get straight smacked by the following quote,
Give not thy strength unto women, unto strange women. He must not be soft and effeminate, nor spend that time in a vain conversation with the ladies which should be spent in getting knowledge and despatching business, nor employ that wit (which is the strength of the soul) in courting and complimenting them which he should employ about the affairs of his government. "Especially shun all adultery, fornication, and lasciviousness, which waste the strength of the body, and bring into it dangerous diseases.
Give not thy ways, thy affections, thy conversation, to that which destroys kings, which has destroyed many, which gave such a shock to the kingdom even of David himself, in the matter of Uriah. Let the sufferings of others be thy warnings." It lessens the honour of kings and makes them mean. Are those fit to govern others that are themselves slaves to their own lusts? It makes them unfit for business, and fills their court with the basest and worst of animals. Kings lie exposed to temptations of this kind, having wherewith both to please the humours and to bear the charges of the sin, and therefore they ought to double their guard; and, if they would preserve their people from the unclean spirit, they must themselves be patterns of purity.[4]
Matthew Henry, though not the greatest exegete, was certainly a man of God, who often had helpful comments on Scripture of a very practical nature, as that quote hopefully proves. And there’s a reason why Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter speaks to me so strongly. It’s because I see too much Dimmesdale in my heart, in my “training for pastoring” heart. (God, please help me root this garbage out!!!)
In conclusion, I don’t know who’s reading this. Regardless, my prayer is that you would understand sex rightly. If you’ve abused it for the majority of your life—or even just really wanted to—or even just fallen back into a pattern of it recently—or simply taken the first step toward a potential pattern, I want you to know that Jesus is there waiting to forgive you and cleanse you. The physical consequences will probably remain, but the eternal consequences—death apart from God—will be repaired if you give Him your heart and say, “I’m done rebelling against you. Lyrics from my upcoming album will close us out:
Today I stumbled on a metaphor of a rose
All dirty, mangled, wilted and broke
Nobody would want to showcase that trash
But Jesus, You took the weight of God’s wrath
For me—I’m that rose—dirty and broke
And You said, “Come here, I want you to know
That you look to Me like a beautiful lily
And I love you despite your mess and times you act silly”
It doesn’t matter how much bad you’ve done, or how badly you stumble around in the future; if you have trusted Jesus Christ completely, those lyrics speak to you as well. Please trust Him!
Happy Valentine’s Day!

[1] Duane A. Garrett, New American Commentary – Volume 14: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1993), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 246.
[2] G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament – Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament: Volume 4, Revised, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 09/16/2016), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 349.
[3] G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, H. J. Fabry, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament – Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament: Volume 8, Revised, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 09/16/2016), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 231.
[4] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible.