"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: May 2021 (Page 1 of 2)

Forgotten Words of the Faith: Conversation

Turn with me again to the world of lost words. I’ve been contemplating words of our faith which have fallen into disuse. My assertion is that with the changing of language—and thus the rise of new words and the disappearance of others—we must be careful that we do not also experience a loss of meaning. Language is always in flux. New words are wonderful for they can open nuances of meaning which we may not have considered before. But when old words flame out the new words that rise in their place may not shine with the same precise meaning. This can be hazardous to our faith. We should welcome the new while remembering the old.

In that vein, consider the word conversation. Here is an example of a word which has not fallen out of use entirely, for we use it frequently to refer to verbal communication, but one aspect of its original meaning now is foreign to us.

The English word traces its roots ultimately to the Latin word conversationem, which literally means “turn about with.” Thus the word described the “act of living with” and meant “to live with, keep company with.” It originally had the connotation of “having dealings with others” and the manner in which one conducted himself in the world. Our friends at Merriam-Webster now list this as an “obsolete” meaning of the word.

Things might clear up as you consider the following Scriptures.

2 Corinthians 1:12b

KJV: “… in simplicity and godly sincerity … we have had our conversation in the world.”

NASB: “… in holiness and godly sincerity … we have conducted ourselves in the world.”

Galatians 1:13

KJV: “For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God …”

NASB: “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure …”

Philippians 1:27a

KJV: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.”

ESV: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Hebrews 13:5a

KJV: “Let your conversation be without covetousness.”

NET: “Your conduct must be free from the love of money.”

Scanning these verses, you may well be glad we don’t use the word conversation in this sense any longer. I’m with you. But, given its original meaning and background, you may be wondering how the word came to even be used as it is today. Apparently the word did not come to have the specific sense of “talking” until about 1580. How did the meaning move from how one behaves among or lives with others to one’s communication with others via speech? Does the transformation of this word’s meaning say more about my behavior (original meaning) or about my speech (current, popular meaning)?

As I contemplate this transformation of usage, I wonder if it doesn’t say something significant in both directions–about both how I live my life and use my words.

On the one hand, this means my behavior (i.e., manner of life) says something. My actions communicate. My manner of life declares and makes a statement.

About what?

About me!  About who and what I am.  About whose I am. My behavior declares something about my character, essence, core, and nature. It speaks volumes about my ultimate allegiances, the bedrock foundation of my life, was well as my hopes and dreams. All that I do is a statement–the question is, of course, what am I saying?

On the other hand, this means our words are more powerful that we may realize. They shape and define the nature of our relationships. They determine the tenor and flavor of our interactions with the world in which God has placed us. They possess the power to give life or to inflict death (Prov. 18:21). Words are not simply sounds made into vacuous space; not mere sound waves riding upon the winds of time. Our words do something. They are interpersonal connections. They are conduits of life and shappers of lives.

I’m not lobbying to return to the word “conversation” instead of “manner of life” or “conduct.” I am, however, reminding myself that both what I do and what I say (and how I do and say them) are the major connectors and conduits of Christ’s life within me to the people He has placed me among.

Actions speak louder than words.

Words do more than we know.

For this reason Christ has commandeered both our words and our actions for His divine purposes. We are not our own; we’ve been bought with a price–and Christ secured the rights to both our words and our works as part of the deal.

Forgotten Words of the Faith: Mortification

We’ve begun considering words of the faith that have been discarded as passé (see here).  We return to the verbal bone yard to scrounge about in the pile of discarded words that at one time were filled with meaning for previous generations of believers. The broom of trendy theology has swept some of these words under a rug of embarrassment or obsolescence. I am suggesting that in so doing we may have actually impoverished ourselves.

I want to bring before you the word mortification. Our English word came, through Old French, from a Latin compound word: mors (“death”) + the root of facere (“to make”). Thus the basic connotation of mortification is to make dead.

I reached to my bookshelves and laid hold of seven heavy systematic theology works which I’ve used often over the years. I found that not one of them listed mortification in their subject index. The word is not to be found in my newest Bible encyclopedia. I finally found a brief reference in the older, “dated” Bible encyclopedia that the publishers have since abandoned and entirely rewritten. Why has this word been ignored and what are we missing in its absence?

I realize the word is somewhat archaic, yet it represents clear teaching of Scripture.  Paul wrote, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).  Similarly, he commanded, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).  The Apostle told the Galatian believers, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

Sadly, some have misused and abused this word in the Name of Christ. Some have taught that we must inflict our bodies with pain through abuse, hoping to break the power of “the flesh” and to put us in touch with our spirit. Wrong. That is pagan thinking, not Christian truth. Paul dealt with such folks and their thinking: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules:  ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’ [regulations and rules designed to inflict pain to make us “holy”]? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:20-23).  Such rules know nothing of Biblical mortification. Indeed, Paul says it is precisely because “you died with Christ” (v.20) that you don’t have to resort to such tactics. Others use self-inflicted pain in an attempt to drown out a guilty or wounded conscience. Neither is this what God had in mind, for it is only the blood of Christ that can deliver from such a plague (Heb. 9:14).

The most concise way I know to explain mortification is this:

  1. You must KNOW a fact that is true: When Christ died, you [the old you, the unredeemed, sin-enslaved you] died as well. Read Romans 6:1-10 and note the word “know” (vv.3, 6, 9).
  2. You must COUNT this fact to be true for you personally (Romans 6:11).
  3. You must OFFER yourself entirely in submission to Jesus Christ (Romans 6:12-14, note the word “offer” 2x in v.13).
  4. You must now, as a slave of Christ, rise and OBEY God’s commands by faith. (Romans 6:15-23, note the words “obey” twice in v.16 and “obeyed” in v.17).

Romans 6 describes victory over sin’s power. But Romans 7 chronicles ongoing struggle with indwelling sin. How can we possibly obey, even in light of the steps of Romans 6? Romans 8 provides the answer. We obey through the provision of the Holy Spirit. Look carefully again at what Paul says: “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).

What is mortification?  It is, by the strength God’s indwelling Spirit provides, counting as true for you what He says is true—the old unredeemed you has died with Christ and the power of your sinful nature has been broken (Rom. 6:6). It is, in light of this fact now reckoned to be true for you, offering yourself entirely to Jesus Christ as His slave and then rising, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and doing whatever it is you know to be the will of God. In this the Holy Spirit will enable you to “put to death” all that relates to your sinful nature. Now you will “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14). Now you will “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly” (Col. 3:16). Now you will have the power to say “No!” when temptation comes (1 Cor. 10:13).

It will not be easy, but it is now possible! It will not be immediate; it is a growth process. You won’t be instantly perfect. But as you, in this way, walk in faith, you mortify the power and works of your sinful nature. And in this way you will begin—one step at a time, day-by-day, moment-by-moment—to live a different quality of life.

If you’d like to consider the matter of mortification further, perhaps the most recognizable work on the subject is Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers by the Puritan John Owen (1616-1683). You may download the book in its entirety for free here.

You could do worse for some new reading material. After all, it won’t kill you.

Forgotten Words of the Faith: Deportment

Language—particularly the English language—is a living, growing thing. New words appear with regularity; a welcome development for our communication—and thus our relationships—for it is enhanced and flavored by many of the new words. Sadly, however, languages also see individual words slip into disuse. With time they become, not just conversational oddities to throw into dialogue for variety, but dinosaurs whose skeletons remain buried for long ages unbeknownst to most of us. This is not only sad, but perilous because words are the carriers of life—of ideas, of thought, of meaning. When we lose a word we run the risk of also loosing those ideas, thoughts, meanings—yes, and even the truth—which they have served to carry from person to person for long generations.

This danger is especially perilous in matters pertaining to our faith. Jesus came as the Word, speaking God’s words. The Holy Spirit moved apostles and prophets to pen the very words of God. Words are important. Words are primary.

Much has been made in recent years about people being visual learners. Words, we are told, are passé. It is images which communicate! The age of propositions has passed and the age of sound bytes and .jpg, .bmp, and .tif images has arrived!

Like most delusions there is some truth in these matters. While it is not my purpose here to extol the virtues of word-based communication, I simply assert that we will never outgrow the primacy of words in communication both from and with heaven, not to mention one another.

To this end I wish to unearth a word which, it seems to me, has fallen upon hard times in our understanding and dialogue regarding faith in Christ. Of course some archaic words have passed off the scene only when replaced by other, newer, more hip words and expressions who serve as carriers of the idea, thought, meaning and truth of the former word. I’m not here to champion the Edsel over the Acura. I simply wonder if it may prove beneficial to dig around in our verbal bone yards to see if perhaps there is anything important we’ve buried with some of the words we’ve laid to rest.

Image by ADiamondFellFromTheSky

To that end, consider the word deportment. Now there’s a word you don’t hear much anymore! But that was not always the case. In times past this English word was used to describe some things that are very important in the New Testament description of the Christian life—some things that may be less significant in our current western understanding of being a Christ-follower.

If you are astute you may already know that the word “deportment” is not found in most of our modern English language translations. In that regard it is rather like the word Trinity, which likewise does not appear in our Bibles. Yet both are English words that do describe something vital and precious in the Scriptures. Several older and more obscure English translations employ the word.  Here are a few examples.

“In like manner also that the women in decent deportment and dress adorn themselves with modesty and discretion, not with plaited hair and gold, or pearls, or costly clothing” (1 Timothy 2:9, Darby Bible Translation)

“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in deportment, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, Webster’s Bible Translation)

The fact that the word deportment appears in older translations and is missing in our current translations simply highlights that a word which was once vital in describing our faith has been lost.

Here’s another example:

“… that the elder women in like manner be in deportment as becoming those who have to say to sacred things, not slanderers, not enslaved to much wine, teachers of what is right” (Titus 2:3, Young’s Literal Translation)

The NIV renders this same passage “reverent in the way they live.” The adjective “reverent” speaks of that which befits what is sacred to God. This attitude is to show up “in the way they live.” This word describes the demeanor, behavior—or we could say—deportment of a person. It describes outward presentation and action, but only as it arises out of a state of mind and a way of thinking (D. Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, 192). Thus, according to Paul in this passage, older women are to have come to a certain state of mind that is pervasive of all they are and do. Such women do not compartmentalize life but see each part of their lives as holy to the Lord.

What Paul called for from older women in Titus 2:3 the New Testament demands of all who call themselves Christ-followers. Outward action, attraction, and adornment arising from a mind renewed deeply by the Spirit of God through the Word of God are what deportment is all about. It means that everything about us outwardly must be controlled by what is true within us by God’s grace. Deportment calls for an inside-out orientation to life. It affects the way we dress ourselves, the words and the way we speak, the countenance on our faces, and our every interaction with the people we encounter. In short, deportment involves everything about whom and what we are. Deportment describes the total-life lordship of Jesus Christ in the experience of one who claims to be his disciple.

My guess is that the word deportment fell out of favor in a time when there was little spiritual reality inside those who called themselves by Christ’s Name and they found themselves with little left of their religion except some brittle rules about external demands and taboos. The answer, I believe the New Testament would tell us, is not simply to drop the external, but to renew the internal. The need is to see the Holy Spirit so ablaze within our hearts that everything else about us is consumed in the holy inferno. When that takes place deportment will once again be a holy obsession of God’s people, by whatever word we name it.

From Here to Home

From Here to Home — 1 Peter 5:5-14

Home is just a short walk from here. The distance is not far, but the way is not easy. So …

I. Walk humbly. (5-7)

  • Our humility. (5a, 6a)
  • God’s hand. (5b-7)
    • God’s opposing hand. (5b)
    • God’s giving hand. (5c)
    • God’s ruling hand. (6a-b)
    • God’s lifting hand . (6c)
    • God’s sustaining hand. (7)

II. Walk alertly. (8-9)

  • Be alert in thinking. (8)
    • Our enemy is an accuser.
    • Our enemy is a slanderer.
    • Our enemy is a prowler.
    • Our enemy is an intimidator.
    • Our enemy is a destroyer.
  • Be alert in posture. (9)

III. Walk steadfastly. (10-12)

  • Rooted in the past. (10b)
  • Confident in the future. (10c-11)
  • Faithful in the present. (10a)
  • Resilient in the process. (12)

Leading Through the Fire

Leading Through the Fire — 1 Peter 5:1-4

I. A Leader’s experience. (1)

  • I lead best when I stand among you. (1a)
  • I lead best when I focus on Christ. (1b)
  • I lead best when I speak from experience. (1c)

II. A Leader’s calling. (1-2a)

  • I must lead out of maturity. (1a)
  • I must lead out of responsibility. (2b)
  • I must lead out of accessibility. (2a)

III. A Leader’s method. (2b-3)

  • I must lead with the right mindset. (2b)
  • I must lead with the right motive. (2c)
  • I must lead with the right manner. (3)

IV. A Leader’s hope. (4)

  • I face accountability. (4a)
  • I face hope. (4b)
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