Help those who “deserve” it? (1 of 2)

Q. Is there a passage in the Bible that says help those who deserve help?

A. The answer depends on what exactly do you mean by “deserve“. If by “deserve” you mean they are “needy“, then most definitely YES:

Ps 40:17 Since I am afflicted and needy, Let the Lord be mindful of me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God.
• Ps 70:5 But I am afflicted and needy; Hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay.
• Ps 72:12 For He will deliver the needy when he cries for help, The afflicted also, and him who has no helper.
• Ezk 16:49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.

If you were thinking is there a “priority ranking” in the Bible such that certain people are more “deserving” of our help than others, the answer is again YES:

1 Tim 5:16 If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.
• Jas 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

God has a “bias” for the poor, the needy, orphans and widows, those who have no other means of support. While the world in general tries to ingratiate itself with the rich and the powerful, God is diametrically opposite. His nature is just, and His righteousness is such that He prefers the underprivileged.

However, if by “deserve” you mean “merit” or “earned“, then the answer is NO or at best a limited “yes”. First, the Bible’s fundamental premise is grace, not merit. To say someone “deserves” help implies he has earned or merited it, and we are obliged to help him. Not to help means we are not living up to our obligations, and depriving him of something that is rightfully owed him. That is NOT what the Bible teaches.

When you look up “deserve” in the Bible, the emphasis is not on what you merit by virtue of your good works. I’m using the NASB, a literal translation, for clarity; other versions will be different. “Deserve” or “deserves” or “deserved” appear a total of 11 times in the NASB, but except for Judg 9:6 consistently used in a negative sense – deserve to be beaten, to die, deserve punishment – as recompense or reward demanded by our wickedness, iniquities, and folly:

Deut 25:2 then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt.
• Judg 9:16 “Now therefore, if you have dealt in truth and integrity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have dealt with him as he deserved
• 2 Sam 12:5 Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die.
• 1 Kgs 2:26 Then to Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go to Anathoth to your own field, for you deserve to die; but I will not put you to death at this time, because you carried the ark of the Lord GOD before my father David, and because you were afflicted in everything with which my father was afflicted.”
• Ezra 9:13 After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this,
• Prov 26:5 Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes.
• Isa 3:11 Woe to the wicked! It will go badly with him, For what he deserves will be done to him.
• Mt 26:66 what do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!”
• Lk 23:41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
• Heb 10:29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
• Revelation 16:6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.”

It is not used in the sense of earning merit for right, so that we are obliged to help him. Why? Because even though the “good” deeds of “good” people are “good” by human standards, they simply do not measure up to God’s perfect standard:
Isa 64:6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Filthy garments don’t merit anything.

(To be continued)

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Imprecatory Psalms versus Love your Enemies?

Q. Jesus taught us that we should love and pray for our enemy. Mt 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Why is it that in Ps 109 David curses his enemies before God?

A. Imprecatory psalms and prayers invoking curses on ones’ enemies are a problem to many Bible readers, who find it difficult to reconcile these passages with Jesus’ command to love your enemies. And it’s not just David being vindictive, but involves other people such as prophets as well, who are God’s spokesmen and ought to know better e.g.

Jer 18:21 Therefore, give their children over to famine
And deliver them up to the power of the sword;
And let their wives become childless and widowed.
Let their men also be smitten to death,
Their young men struck down by the sword in battle.

It is especially problematic in view of God saying, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30) What were these people thinking? Don’t they know what God said? Some therefore consider such passages as sub-Christian and shouldn’t be in the Bible. How do we reconcile them as they are indeed part of Scripture?

Rather than consider those who call upon God to judge their enemies as being mean-spirited and beneath what a Christian should do, my opinion is that it is us who are not as close to God as the imprecatory psalmists were, who were more concerned about God’s name being profaned by their enemies than seeking revenge for themselves. David did evil in the sight of the LORD when he committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:27, 12:9) and when he ordered a census of Israel’s army (1 Chron. 21:7), but God never faulted him for his imprecatory prayers. That should alert the critics that they overlooked something.

The LORD called David a man after His own heart (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). David knew “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully (Ps 24:3-4). He was not afraid to call upon God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me,” (Ps 139:23-24a). I would not dare to do so unless my heart was totally free from personal motives and 100% pure before God.

And his actions vindicated his thoughts. David had the opportunity to get back at those who wronged him, but he did not take matters into his own hands, instead leaving it to the LORD to exonerate him e.g. sparing Saul’s life twice (1 Sam 24; 1 Sam 26).

My conclusion is that unlike us who often view things through jaundiced eyes tainted by self-interest, David saw things in sharper contrast of right vs. wrong, conformity to God’s character or against it, positive or negative impact on God’s name etc. He therefore called upon God to deal justly with His enemies and give them the punishment they rightly deserved. Notice that in v 6-20 all the righteous judgment are taught elsewhere in the Bible, including doing unto his enemies what they did to him, and David had not gone overboard in retaliation against his enemies. He left the “settling the scores” entirely in God’s hands.

My last comment is that biblical ethics is a progressive revelation. While there is continuity between OT and NT ethics, with the coming of Christ in the age of grace, people receive a fuller understanding of what God requires of us than in OT times. We should therefore not read back NT standards into the OT and expect full compliance.

Homosexuality (2 of 2)

(Continued from yesterday)

God forgives adultery and idolatry. He forgives homosexuality too when they repent:

1 Co 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Some of the Corinthians were fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, and homosexuals, but they were washed, sanctified, and justified.

I disagree that God didn’t warn Sodom and Gomorrah because they were Gentiles. The classic counter-example is God sending Jonah to warn Nineveh, capital of Assyria, a Gentile empire. In fact, God asked His prophets to prophesy against many Gentile nations, including Ammon, Babylon, Egypt, Moab etc. For example:

Ezk 25:2 Son of man, set your face toward the sons of Ammon and prophesy against them,
• Ezk 29:2 Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt.
• Ezk 38:2 Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him

But a final objection is based on Lot:
2 Pet 2:7-8 and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men or by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds),

Although some saw Lot as an ineffective witness in not being able to convince even his sons-in-law, and his subsequent debasement in getting drunk and committing incest, the final comment on his life in the NT is that he was righteous (three times). I believe that he did warn the Sodomites, but they did not repent because of the depth of their depravity.

Abraham was indeed a prophet as God Himself said so:
Gen 20:7 Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

He bargained with the Lord in Gen 18, persuading God not to destroy Sodom if there were 50, then 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, and finally just 10 righteous people there. Even then they could not find 10, and Sodom was destroyed.

Is it extremely difficult to correct homosexuality? I don’t know how difficult it is, but there are many successful cases. In any event, I believe Jesus’ principle applies:
Mt 19:26 With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Also Mk 10:27; Lk 18:27)

Is God Judgmental? (1 of 4)

God judgmental 1

Q. Why is God so judgmental? We’re human beings and prone to error. Why doesn’t He take our human condition into consideration and cut us some slack? He’s so strict, so intolerant!

A. That’s a fair question, but the way some worded it is very biased. Let’s dissect the question to see whether the accusation is valid.

To be judgmental is to have an excessively critical point of view, quick to criticize, to judge harshly. It describes someone who rushes to judgment without reason, because they think they know everything when in fact they don’t. Now, is that true of God?

First, let’s look at “excessive“. Excessive compared to what? Obviously, to the inquirer’s notion of what’s fair and reasonable. But that immediately raises the question, “Is his/her standard fair and reasonable?” Intuitively, the answer is, “It depends.” Depends on what? On which side you’re on. We all tend to think of ourselves as unbiased, but in fact we all have our prejudices. For example, in wage negotiations, management may feel a 2% increase is very reasonable and all they can afford, but labor may feel that does not even keep up with inflation and is unfair. What’s fair to you may not be fair to me. What we need is a standard that is not subjective or relative, but absolutely just. What, or who, is absolutely just? Obviously, it’s not you or I. Even though some may not like it, the answer is God, by definition. Only God is absolutely just, and He sets the standard by which all other standards are measured. Deut 32:4 “The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.”

Secondly, let’s examine “know“. We are not in a position to judge because we know so little. Often we see only the tip of the iceberg, but we quickly jump to conclusion based on presuppositions without investigating the evidence. We know little or nothing about the motives, the background, the feelings, the circumstances, but we hastily assume the best or the worst because we are favorably inclined or prejudiced against the individual. Not so with God. Because God is omniscient, He knows all the facts of the case, and there is never any error in judgment. He never renders a hasty judgment and becomes judgmental.

(To be continued)