Sons of Thunder

One of the more curious appellations that we find in the scriptures is the name that Jesus gave to the brothers James and John–Boanerges. Mark records this moniker in 3:17 “And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder.” One does not have to wonder as to why Jesus so marked these two brothers. In Luke 9:51 Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem and he is passing through Samaria to get there. He sends some disciples ahead to find a place to lodge, but no one wants to put Jesus up because they know he is going to Jerusalem. (Samaritans and Jews didn’t get along too well in those days and these Samaritans evidently didn’t want anything to do with a Jew who was going to Jerusalem.) Upon learning that no one was going to put them up for the night James and John suggest the following: “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” (Luke 9:54).

One can certainly understand James and John’s sentiments. Here is the Lord of the universe in human form. He has come to earth divesting Himself of His heavenly glory so that he could serve man. He is on his way to Jerusalem to go to the Passover and he needed a place to stay for one evening. He had already spent time among the Samaritans (John 4:43) and they would likely have known that he held no ill will toward them and was, in fact, their friend. But cultural bigotry can be a strong force in influencing people not to aid those of other cultures and this day, the Samaritans were not feeling particularly hospitable. What bigots! What racists! Didn’t they know with whom they were dealing? Those ungrateful wretches! Surely the Lord would want them destroyed until nothing was left but a heap of smoldering ashes and cinders! However, we read, “But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village” (Luke 9:55, 56). Let’s think about a few things we learn from this incident.

First, God does not desire that anyone be lost. We read in Ezekiel 18:32 “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.” God does not take pleasure in destroying evil people. There are some today who picture God as some malevolent dictator who sits up in heaven eagerly waiting to press the “smite” button. Such is not the God that we serve. Those who eventually will be lost, are lost not because of God, but in spite of God. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God wants all men to be saved and so he is patient, kind, and longsuffering. God is desirous that men repent and live. James and John’s request to bring down fire upon these Samaritans was out of character with God’s desires for man’s salvation.

Second, attitude plays a key role in preaching the gospel. Jesus said of James and John, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” Their attitudes were not right. They should have been seeking to forgive these Samaritans instead of condemn them. This is not to excuse the sin of the Samaritans, but instead to look for ways to bring them out of sin so that they could be saved. James and John should also have been seeking to humble themselves for the sake of these lost Samaritans. Humility was a problem with the disciples. On at least one occasion these two asked to be seated in positions of authority (Mark 10:37). Jesus taught them that those who serve would be the greatest in the kingdom. Too, James and John should also have been seeking to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of other souls. Jesus died for all men while in their sins (Romans 5:8). The servant is not greater than his Lord (John 13:16), hence, James and John’s attitude should have been one of sacrifice instead of condemnation. James and John’s request to bring fire down out of heaven was out of character with Jesus mission.

Third, we must realize that Satan is the enemy, not other men. Perhaps in calling down fire James and John felt that they could right a terrible wrong, but they would not have dealt with the true enemy. Satan was the one who stirred up those national hatreds within the Samaritans. Destroying a few Samaritans wouldn’t get rid of him. Satan must be fought on a spiritual level. He must be fought with teaching and instruction. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). We avenge disobedience by bringing people to Christ and bringing them to full obedience, not by waging physical war against them. This is what overthrows the influence of Satan, the true enemy. James and John’s request was out of character with who the true enemy was.

It is easy for us to be like James and John today. People wrong us and we feel as if we need to be avenged. Wrongs come at all levels in our society. Those in high office are openly criticized for their mistakes in power. Individuals sue other people for enormous sums of money and win because they are seeking retribution. It is easy for a Christian to be caught up in the atmosphere of seeking “justice” even to the point of castigating one’s fellow brother in Christ. But let us ask ourselves before engaging in such “justice”: Are we seeking something consistent with God’s character? Does our attitude reflect the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost? Does our request recognize who the true enemy is? One other lesson that the sons of thunder teach us is this, even when injustice occurs, it is not always worth pursuing correction. Are we seeking to call down fire from heaven to consume our enemies? Let us examine our hearts and motives each and every day in following the Lord to ensure consistency with God’s will in our lives.

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Sin of Adultery

As sexual sins continue to increase in our society, we need to be ready with scriptural answers as to why these activities are indeed sin. A few weeks ago we looked at the sin of fornication. The Bible clearly condemns such sexual activity. The focus of this article will be upon adultery as a sin. Many today simply do not understand what adultery is. There have been others who have been mislead by false teachers as to the definition of adultery. Let’s look at what the Bible has to say about it.

The sin of adultery is first discussed in the ten commandments. Exodus 20:14 says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The commandment assumes that everyone knows what adultery means, but in looking through the scriptures, we see it defined in several scriptures. Leviticus 20:10 states the following: “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” From this passage we learn that adultery is something that a man and a woman do together. It is something that is done with someone else’s spouse. Jeremiah 3:8 speaks of adultery in the same context as one who is a harlot. A harlot is a prostitute, someone who commits fornication for money. Jeremiah 29:23 confirms that adultery is something done with another’s spouse: “Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them; even I know, and am a witness, saith the LORD.” Ezekiel 16:32 perhaps gives us the clearest definition, “But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!” So we conclude from these scriptures that adultery is fornication with someone else’s spouse. This is the basic biblical definition of adultery. Other passages that place adultery within the realm of sexual sins are: Proverbs 6:26; Hosea 4:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and Hebrews 13:4.

The Bible clearly teaches that adultery is a sin. 1 Corinthians 6:9 states, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind�.” Those who practice it will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, i.e. they will not be saved. Hebrews 13:4 states, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” In contrast to the honorable state of marriage, adultery is dishonorable and worthy of God’s judgment. As we have seen from Leviticus 20:10, those who were caught engaging in adultery were punishable by death. That it is included in the ten commandments as a prohibition also indicates that adultery is a sin.

Many efforts have been made by many false teachers to change the definition of adultery into something that the Bible simply does not teach. There are those who have suggested that adultery is merely covenant breaking. While committing adultery is certainly being unfaithful to one’s spouse and thereby involves breaking a covenant, adultery is not merely covenant breaking. This argument is set forth in an effort to justify marriage relationships between those who have been put away from their spouses for fornication (see Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9). It is alleged that since adultery is merely covenant breaking all one need to do to repent is to not break any more covenants. Thus, the one guilty of this may remarry without consequence. However, such is not the biblical definition of adultery. As we have seen from the scriptures, adultery involves fornication. How does one conclude that adultery is merely covenant breaking? The argument set forth is from the Old Testament examples of the children of Israel going after idols. God called this adultery and those who claim that adultery is merely covenant breaking suggest that the word adultery as used by God did not contain any concept of fornication or other sexual activity, but that they were merely practicing idolatry. Those who argue for such appeal to Jeremiah 3:6-10 as one of their proof-texts for such a definition. There are several things, however, that we should note regarding God’s use of the word adultery to describe idolatry. First, it is the case that many times in the practice of idolatry, the actual sexual act of adultery was committed. Jeremiah 23:13, 14 shows this to be the case. Second, even if the sexual act is not under consideration in such passages, the use of the term is figurative. Jeremiah 3:6-10 clearly indicates this as it places God in the position of being husband to Israel. Was God literally Israel’s husband? No, there was no literal fleshly relationship. God used the example of husband and wife to illustrate the unfaithfulness of the children of Israel. So it is a figurative usage of the term adultery, not a literal one. To appeal to a figurative usage of the term as a complete definition is simply a misunderstanding of the nature of figures within the Bible.

Another passage that many have used to try to support the idea that adultery is merely covenant breaking is Matthew 5:28 which says, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” It is alleged that since adultery in this passage is obviously not referring to a physical sexual act, then the word must have a meaning that is beyond that physical act. However, a closer examination of this verse indicates that the word IS referring to the physical act. Notice that Jesus says that adultery has been committed, but it is within the heart. What is the heart? It is the mind. The act is still the sexual act, only, it is not committed with the body, but in the mind. The mind can imagine the physical act itself. That does not take away from the definition of the word. Adultery may involve breaking a covenant, but that is not the full scope of the definition of the word in its most literal sense.

Another way in which man tries to escape from the true definition of adultery is to suggest that Jesus redefined adultery in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. It is suggested by some that since Jesus said, “…whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” and “…Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery,” that it is not the sexual act that is adultery, but the divorcing and remarrying. Those who suggest such say that as long as one repents of divorcing and remarrying then one may continue to live in marriage with whoever that one is married at the time subsequent to multiple divorces and remarriages. However, this is not consistent with the definition of the word. Jesus specific chose the word adultery to say something regarding the legitimacy of such a marriage. That is, adultery is still the sexual sin of fornication with another’s spouse. That is how it is used in the context of Matthew 5:32. That is how the word was understood in the day of Jesus as well. John 8:1-11 bears out this definition. Those who came to Jesus with the woman caught in adultery said that she had been taken “in the very act.” Was this woman caught divorcing and remarrying someone else? That is obviously not what the Pharisees were accusing her of doing. She was taken in the act of fornication with another’s spouse. Jesus recognized this definition and was not seeking to redefine adultery in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. What was Jesus point in those passages? His point was that marriage does not legitimize adultery. That is, a person cannot divorce his or her spouse, marry someone else, and then claim legitimacy. That situation, according to Jesus, is still defined as adultery. We find corroboration for this in Romans 7:3. Marriage does not dissolve the situation of adultery. One does not repent of adultery by getting married to the person with whom one is committing adultery. One can only repent of adultery by dissolving the relationship with the one with whom one has been committing adultery.

Adultery is a serious sin and one which will cause one’s soul to be lost eternally if one continues in an impenitent state. Adulterers will not inherit God’s kingdom. Adulterers will be judged by God. Adulterers are guilty of practicing sin. Let us preach and teach the truth on this subject to all who are around us. Our society today is steeped in sexual sins including adultery. But these individuals are not lost yet. The gospel has the power to change them if they will obey it. Let us continue to preach the word to those who need it most.

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Mercy, Not Sacrifice

Our Lord was no stranger to difficult situations. The Pharisees and Sadducees would often present him with questions regarding various different aspects of the Old Law. Each time, our Lord answered with the utmost wisdom and absolute truth. Perhaps one of the most difficult (if not the most difficult) situations into which these enemies of righteousness placed our Lord is recorded for us in John 8:3-11. The scribes and Pharisees had brought a woman taken in adultery and demanded of Jesus that he judge her case and execute the penalty decreed under the Old Law. Lest we forget, the Old Law plainly stated that those who were caught in such circumstances were to be put to death (Leviticus 20:10). Jesus was literally being asked to judge as to whether or not someone should live or die and the scribes and Pharisees were planning on executing upon his advice. Jesus was in a difficult circumstance because on the one hand He was obligated to uphold the Old Law. He came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). However, on the other hand, Jesus purpose, was not to condemn any man, but to offer mercy, pardon, forgiveness and salvation (John 3:17). The dilemma was real. How could Jesus fulfill the demands of the Old Law in this case, yet at the same time uphold the principles of mercy, pardon, and forgiveness?

The scribes and Pharisees had brought a woman taken in adultery. They had caught her in the very act. Evidently they had a witness or witnesses to this because they were not to make such accusations without at least two witnesses and someone was not to be put to death at the mouth of just one witness (Deuteronomy 17:6). They reminded Jesus that Moses commanded that she should be stoned. This was true provided they had the witnesses (Leviticus 20:10). And then they asked Jesus what He would do. The text also says that their true motives were to tempt Jesus so that they might be able to accuse him of wrongdoing or at least, poor judgment. At first, it appears that Jesus ignored them. Jesus did not wish to judge this case. There were judges who could hear such things, but Jesus was not one of them (Luke 12:14). So he was not properly the person to whom such matters should be brought. So the text says that he stooped down and wrote in the sand. The scribes and Pharisees, however, were insistent that He judge this case and they would not leave. So Jesus answered them as follows: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

The statement that Jesus made was not designed to suggest (as many today insist) that no one ought to ever be judged for sin unless they have lived a sinless life. The statement actually has its roots in Deuteronomy 17:7. This passage states, “The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you.” Here was a catch that the scribes and Pharisees had failed to take into consideration. The witnesses, being the ones to cast the first stones, had to come forward, and a proper examination of their involvement in the whole affair could then be made. Two people rarely witness the sin of adultery unless they are somehow unwittingly privy to that knowledge (unlikely here since they were putting this case to Jesus as a “test”), or they are complicit in the whole affair. If they are complicit in the whole affair of adultery, then they must also be put to death for their participation in such a situation. Hence, Jesus wise answer neither removes His obligations to the Old Law, nor allows those who are guilty themselves to prosecute the offense without self-condemnation. So slowly, one by one, from the oldest to the last, the scribes and Pharisees leave the scene. This leaves only the woman and Jesus. Jesus, no longer having any witnesses to the event He mercifully refuses to condemn the woman to death, but equally as mercifully instructs her to commit no more sin.

We learn many great lessons from this text, but perhaps the greatest is this. Just because someone is guilty of sin doesn’t necessarily mean that we must apply the whole penalty to that sin. Herein is one of the great attributes of God. Psalm 103:8-13 states, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.” Personally, I am thankful that God doesn’t deal with me, as I know that I deserve. However, the lesson that we should learn from this is that neither should we deal with each other this way. It should be our great aim and desire to have as much mercy, compassion, and pity upon those who are involved in sin as much as it is to teach them the truth. Let us learn this great lesson from the life of Jesus for God desires mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7).

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