Rapid Theology: Imprecatory Prayer #004

TRANSCRIPT:

24 Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,”
    will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations,
25 but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight,
    and a good blessing will come upon them.

Proverbs 24:24-25

Of the several categories of the Psalms, lament and imprecatory are the two that really suffer from a lack of teaching in the modern American church, to the point of being completely ignored in many settings. Even so, the difficulty our modern sensibilities face with the lament Psalms is nothing compared to that of the imprecatory Psalms. Why? Simply read the definition: an imprecation, according to Merriam-Webster, is a curse; or the act of invoking evil upon another. Psalm 10, verses 12 through 15 are an example of imprecatory prayer in the Psalms:

12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
    forget not the afflicted.
13 Why does the wicked renounce God
    and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
14 But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
    that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
    you have been the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
    call his wickedness to account till you find none.

Recently, in the December 27, 2020 Sunday School lesson from Bible Studies for Life, a publication of the Southern Baptist Convention entity Lifeway, the commentary in the leader guide said the imprecatory psalms are, QUOTE “pre-Christian,” and, QUOTE “don’t fully reflect the ethic taught by Jesus” ENDQUOTE. Did what is ethical or moral change with Jesus Christ establishing the New Covenant? No, but imprecatory prayer does warrant an awareness and certain posture of our hearts before God.

Bob Rodgers, pastor of Evangel World Prayer Center in Louisville, Kentucky, caused quite a stir on Sunday, January 10th when he prayed curses down upon those to whom he attributed election theft and cheating. QUOTE “Father those that have lied, those that have stolen this election, those that have cheated I place the curse of God upon them. … I curse you with poverty, I curse you with the worst year you’ve ever had in the name of the lord” ENDQUOTE. Several pastors local to Rodgers have publicly rebuked him, with one describing his prayer as QUOTE “hate and evil in the name of God …” ENDQUOTE.

Rodgers appeared to alter his stance somewhat after the backlash, removing the video of the curses from social media and telling a WHAS reporter, QUOTE “This is a prayer not to curse people but to curse the demonic forces that people have allowed to rule them. … I do pray that trouble will come to them if they don’t repent and that they will turn from their wicked ways” ENDQUOTE.

So who’s right? Is it necessarily “hate and evil in the name of God” to “place the curse of God” on others? We know King David prayed imprecatory prayers. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he wrote imprecatory psalms. But we must remember the immortal–yet re-contextualized here–words of Matt Chandler: QUOTE “You’re not David!” ENDQUOTE
We don’t know with 100% certainty who is God’s enemy; we don’t know who is elect. We do know we are to love our neighbor and that God loves justice. Psalm 33, verses four and five say:
“For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.”

We will not err in seeking a balance of love for our neighbor and love for God’s law. We will not err in seeking a balance of mercy and justice. In exercising wisdom, we see there is a place for praying imprecatory prayers with love as the main reason to do so. Dr. William VanDoodewaard says when he prayed with his family concerning a dictator, they prayed, QUOTE “Oh Lord, please convert this man; but if he’s not going to repent, please remove him” ENDQUOTE. Take care to remember Ephesians 6:12 when you pray: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

With a careful reading of the New Testament, we see examples of properly prayed imprecations. Dr. Robert Godfrey said, QUOTE “it is not illegitimate to use the imprecations of the psalter to pray for judgment on God’s enemies. Every time we pray, ‘Come quickly Lord Jesus,’ we’re praying an imprecation on God’s enemies. When Jesus comes again, there will be judgment for God’s enemies” ENDQUOTE. And Dr. Albert Mohler contends that our Lord Jesus Christ himself prayed an imprecation in a sense, and taught us to do so at that, in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Dr. Mohler indicated that in the Lord’s Prayer is the reality that QUOTE “[t]here is a judgment coming” PAUSE.

14 Turn away from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
    and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
    to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

Psalm 34:14-16

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https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/imprecating

https://www.whas11.com/article/news/local/louisville-pastor-bob-rodgers-calls-curse-stole-election-evangel-world-prayer-center/417-794efbaf-46a6-4e8f-8399-73fc7672cea3

RAPID THEOLOGY: Jesus, the Firstborn #003

This week’s Rapid Theology episode of The Backroads Baptist was inspired by Monday’s memory verses and questions that arise when one reads “the firstborn of all creation” concerning Jesus.

TRANSCRIPT:

Our scripture memory passage earlier this week came from Colossians 1, and focuses on the Second Person of the Trinity: The Son of God, Jesus Christ. There’s a very interesting and wonderful descriptor of Jesus included twice. Listen:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn [there’s number one; the firstborn] of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn [second time that word’s shown up; the firstborn] from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Colossians 1:15-18

So, this word “firstborn”–does it mean Jesus is a created being? Does it mean he had a beginning? If not (and I think you all know Jesus is not created, but eternal; if not …), what does it mean? First of all, rest assured that Jesus is not caused. God the Son is most assuredly God. We affirm paragraph 2 of chapter 8 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith in Modern English:

QUOTE “The Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, is truly and eternally God. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, the same in substance and equal with him. He made the world and sustains and governs everything he has made. When the fullness of time came, he took upon himself human nature, with all the essential properties and common weaknesses of it but without sin.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary … Two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without converting one into the other or mixing them together to produce a different or blended nature. This person is truly God and truly man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and humanity.” ENDQUOTE If you have any doubt, look to the first verse of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As we look at a word like “firstborn” that without any qualification refers to a created being with a beginning, it’s important to look at the whole of scripture and indeed to let scripture interpret scripture. “Firstborn” appears elsewhere. There’s:

Revelation 1:4-5b

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

Now, here’s what firstborn means–conceptually we see three distinct reasons the Holy Spirit inspired the word “firstborn,” but bear in mind they are functionally inseparable in Christ’s role in our redemption. The first is Christ’s position. He is the firstborn in that he is the heir, the Prince of Peace, the King of kings.

Psalm 89:26-28

He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
    my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
27 And I will make him the firstborn,
    the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 My steadfast love I will keep for him forever,
    and my covenant will stand firm for him.

The second is this: Jesus is the firstborn in his incarnation, in that he QUOTE “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, …”
John 1:14

Finally, Jesus Christ is the firstborn in his occupation–his finished salvific work:

Romans 8:29

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Time does not permit me to read other pertinent passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 and Hebrews 2:9-12. Read those and you will see more clarity in how Jesus is the firstborn in his position, incarnation, and occupation. But I do want to specifically answer one burning question you might, like I did, have about the “from the dead” part of “the firstborn from the dead” What about those resurrected before Jesus, like the widow’s son in Luke 7, Jairus’s daughter, or Lazarus? Weren’t they raised from the dead before Jesus? Listen to Paul in Acts 26:

22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

Acts 26:22-23

How can Jesus be the “first to rise from the dead” when those I mentioned–the widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter, Lazarus–when they were resurrected prior to Christ’s resurrection? The answer lies in understanding what it truly means to “rise from the dead” in the context of the redemption of God’s people. Back to the widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter, and Lazarus: what happened to them eventually? They died. Jesus, however, triumphed over death. He rose from the grave victorious, nevermore to die. The first to defeat death, and the victor on our behalf.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Romans 6:5-8

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1 Corinthians 15:20-22

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Hebrews 2:9

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

RAPID THEOLOGY: Folly and God’s Name #002

This week’s Rapid Theology episode of The Backroads Baptist was inspired by the now infamous “A-woman” prayer by Rep. Cleaver.

TRANSCRIPT:

Read through Proverbs 26 and you might think you’ve found a mistake in the printing of your copy, or even what at first certainly appears to be a contradiction; listen:

(4) Answer not a fool according to his folly,
    lest you be like him yourself.
(5) Answer a fool according to his folly,
    lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs chapter 26, verses four and five.

So, verse 4 says to “Answer not a fool according to his folly,” while verse 5 says to “Answer a fool according to his folly.” What we have is not an error or conflicting directives, but general advice for how to answer the fool: sometimes, it is best not to respond in a like manner, and sometimes it is good to answer “according to … folly.” We must be wise and exercise discernment in determining what course of action is called for in a given situation. In a unique situation, I believe we can approach with both answers: pointing out foolishness with absurdity and pointing out foolishness with reason. In my humble opinion, we recently experienced such a case with Representative Emanuel Cleaver: one aspect can be critiqued with jest; another more serious aspect must be addressed with seriousness.

United States Representative Cleaver led a prayer to open the 117th U.S. Congress. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that he closed it with “Amen and a-woman,” which is folly that is absolutely deserving of the memes and tweets pointing out its ridiculousness. The word “Amen” has nothing to do with the male human after all, but is a word we get from Hebrew which means, “so be it.” It’s used to express agreement or confirmation. Representative Cleaver used the consecutive presence of the letters “m,” “e,” and “n” to attempt to draw out and correct an instance of inequality. But his absurd prayer closing has been justly met with humor.

That was absolutely not–or at least shouldn’t be–the most notable part of the prayer. What should get the attention of those in Christ is his taking our Lord’s name in vain. His attempt to pray to the One, True God of the Bible and include other gods by praying QUOTE “in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths” ENDQUOTE is sinful, and is the type of folly we must not answer in kind. In the Old Testament, one’s name referred to one’s character or reputation, and of course the Third Commandment makes it clear that God requires we treat his name with honor, with reverence, with awe, with respect. Therefore, we must not be afraid to publicly address those who impugn or profane God’s honor, God’s name. The Bible is replete with the idea of God moving on his people’s behalf and his saints giving him glory for the sake of his name.

Some examples:

Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
do not dishonor your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us. – Jeremiah 14:21

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive.
O Lord, pay attention and act.
Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. – Daniel 9:19

For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. – 1 Samuel 12:22

He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:3

Though I do not believe the Representative prayed to the I Am, our Almighty God, I do believe he intended to. His prayer was and will be heard by many who will consider this lumping of generic and pagan deities together to be perfectly fine. Many will find it acceptable to do likewise and will do likewise. That must be publicly corrected. This is not to say we are gatekeepers who dissect and discern every statement about God and pounce mercilessly on any notion remotely heterodox, but we must strive to see God honored and revered for the sake of his name.

Does God need us to defend him? No, of course not! But does God typically use human beings as the means to the end of his purpose for our good and his glory? Absolutely. Now do I think when you speak up privately or publicly—be it from the pulpit, during family worship, around your dinner table, on social media, in a group text—do I think that will effect a change in the person who dishonored God? No, but it will likely help someone think through it. It might correct a brother or sister confused or affected by dishonorable words or actions.

Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power. – Psalm 106:8

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