3 Warnings and a Funeral

“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain
and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error
and perished in Korah’s rebellion.”
Jude 11

There are certain stories in the Scriptures that you would like to have represent your life. My name being a Biblical name, I have always hoped to be characterized like the Ethans of the OT, one was a singer in David’s assembly as they brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chron 15:19), another was one of the wise men in Solomon’s court (1 Kings 4:31), one Ethan composed Psalm 89. Go Ethan!

Of course who wouldn’t want to be counted as one of the of the faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents, hearing from our Lord, “Well done good and faithful servant…” (Matthew 25:21). Apart from the grace of God, however, we’d all end up like the other servant who hid the master’s talent, “You wicked and slothful servant…” (Matthew 25:26).

Isn’t interesting, then, so see which Biblical narratives Jude uses to describe the false teachers who have crept into the church, twisting the grace of God into sensuality and rejecting our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Already Jude has compared them to the unfaithful Hebrews who died in the wilderness, the angels who fell from glory, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah in their immorality and unnatural desires.

In our reading from Jude today, the Biblical analogies continue. Each warning is taken from key stories from Israel’s history, each ending in death (thus the title).

  • They have walked in the way of Cain.  It was Cain who killed his brother Abel in jealousy over the fact that God honored Abels overing over his own. Keep in mind, it was Abel who brought the firstborn of is flock, while Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground. Many speculate that the difference in the offering was that Abel brought the firstborn while Cain brought something lesser, but that misses the point. The bigger issue here is the heart of the worshipper. As Romans 14:23 teaches, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” As Abel’s offering was accepted, we must understand that he gave his offering in faith in the Lord. Cain offering was rejected, so we may surmise that he did not bring it in faith, but merely out of duty or religious custom. His heart, as we see in Gen 4, was filled with hatred for his brother, and he walked in darkness (1 John 2:11).
    This is the hypocrisy of the false teachers. They came to the Lord through religious customs, but they had not part or lot in the Lord.  Warren Wiersbe wrote, “The ‘way of Cain’ is the way of religion without faith, righteousness based on character and good works. The ‘way of Cain’ is the way of pride, a man establishing his own righteousness and rejecting the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ.” They said they worshiped the Lord, but they did not come in faith, but their teachings would lead to the destruction (murder) of many. In this way they were walking in the way of Cain.
  • They abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error. Balaam’s story is a cautionary tale. He was hired by Balak to proclaim curses on Israel as they were in the wilderness. Now anyone claiming to be a prophet could do this, and get paid well for it. But something unexpected happened.  God actually spoke to Balaam. God warned him not to say anything that God didn’t tell him to say. So 4 times Balaam set out to curse Israel and get his reward, but God prevented him, turning the curse into a blessing.
    But that didn’t stop Balaam. If he couldn’t curse Israel directly, he could work indirectly to bring a curse upon them. He set up altars to Baal, and brought the women of Moab to Israel. In Numbers 25, we read that “the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal at Peor.” This incident at Peor is said to have been the device of Balaam (Num 31:16), he was paid well for it, and many thousands of Israelites died from the plague from the Lord.
    This is the corruption of the false teachers. While some are brazen enough to proclaim heresy in the name of Christ and profit from it, others are more subtle. They will nuance the message of the Gospel in the name of inclusivity, re-interpreting Scripture according to cultural demands, and soften the radiance of the glory of God to make Him more approachable. They do this for their own profit (financial, social, etc), all at the expense of the lives of those who follow their teaching.
  • They perished in Korah’s rebellion. Korah was a Levite who raised a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. This was their claim, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the Lord” (Num 16:3).
    This didn’t happen overnight. You can imagine this had been brewing for a while, with quiet whispers, secret meetings, and outright plotting to oust Moses and Aaron. In rejecting Moses and Aaron as God’s appointed leaders, Korah was rejecting God’s authority, and was rejecting God himself. All involved were swallowed up when the ground opened beneath them – the teachers, and those that followed them.
    This is the attitude of the false teachers. They come as their own authority, ignoring the authority of the elders, flaunting the authority of called pastors, and ultimately, despising the authority of God and His Word over their lives. They reject our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ (Jude 4).

As we consider our own lives in the light of God’s Word, let us ask ourselves, could these stories be applied to our own lives? Jude’s letter helps us to identify the false teachers who would lead us astray, but it also serves as a mirror to help us to see how we have already been compromised, so that we may repent and turn to the Lord Jesus and contend for the faith.

We walk in the way of Cain anytime we come to God through the self-righteous works empty religion. We fall into Balaam’s error anytime we say I know what God says, but I choose to do this instead. We perish with Korah when we grumble and gossip against those whom God has given in our lives as spiritual authorities.

So let us “walk in the light, as He is in the light, having fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

SDG

Do You Do Well To Be Angry

And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
(Jonah 4:4)

I began to write some reflections on this passage today, when it all started to sound somewhat familiar.  I did some searching through my old posts on the blog, and found this article from over 12 years ago.  Two things came to mind: 1) I am grateful for the way in which the writing has held up over the years, and 2) I am saddened that I still struggle with the same prideful heart these 12 years later.

We are all in the midst of God’s transforming work, He’s not done with us yet.  May this word be cause for reflection, and a source of hope in overcoming anger.


In C. S. Lewis book, The Great Divorce, Lewis has a dream in which he finds himself on a bus ride from hell to heaven.  Along the way, he observes as various passengers on the bus either decide to turn back to hell because the transition is too much for them to bear, or they are transformed into those prepared to dwell in heaven forever.

During one such encounter, Lewis watches as a woman passes by, grumbling and babbling about nothing consequential, while her angel companion cannot get a word in edgewise.  He writes,

The shrill monotonous whine died away as the speaker, still accompanied by the bright patience at her side, moved out of sight.

‘What troubles ye, son?’ asked my Teacher.

‘I am troubled, Sir,’ said I, ‘because that unhappy creature doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation.  She isn’t wicked: she’s only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into the habit of grumbling, and one feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would put her all right.’

‘That is what she once was.  That is maybe what she still is.  If so, she certainly will be cured.  But the whole question is whether she is now a grumbler.’

‘I should have thought there was no doubt about that!’

‘Aye, but ye misunderstand me.  The questions is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble.  If there is a real woman – even the least trace of one – still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again.  If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear.  But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our eyes forever.  They must be swept up.’

‘But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?’

‘The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing.  But ye’ll have had experiences… it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it.  And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it.  Ye can repent and come out of it again.  But there may come a day when you can do that no longer.  Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.’

C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.  (The Macmillan Co., New York, 1946)

I am always surprised to find how writers like Lewis, Brennan Manning, Blackaby, or Chambers seem to be writing specifically about me.  Perhaps Lewis struggled with grumbling and anger the way I do, that is how he could write with such wisdom.

I would not describe myself as an angry person.  I don’t yell and scream at people, I am usually considered pretty easy going.

But I know myself.  I know the rage that festers and fumes within, needing only the slightest catalyst to set it off.  Maybe its the lady at the grocery store with 25 items in the express lane, or the guy who parks his truck in the middle of the school parking lot, gets out of the truck, and casually walks his children to the door, meanwhile blocking the ten people behind him from dropping off their children and getting to the office on time.

I find myself fuming over the littlest of things.  It began as a grumbling mood, but I am afraid I have embraced it.  I pray I have not reached that day when I can no longer repent of it.  Then there will be no me left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.

God warns us against rage and anger.  In Genesis 4, Cain is angry with the world because God has accepted his brother’s sacrifice and not his own.  Gen. 4:5-6 reads, “So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.  Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’”

Wow – do I know that feeling.  Sin is crouching at the door, waiting to jump out and consume me.  God says I must rule over it, I must conquer this beast.  But it’s so difficult.  Part of me likes the rage, maybe I’m holding out for that moment when I get so mad I’ll start turning green, rip through my clothes and become the incredible Hulk (yeah, I read too many comics as a kid).

But getting angry at least gives me the feeling of having power.  I can fume and fuss and cut someone down and feel really good about myself – but that feeling is temporary at best.  I’ve held on to this anger for so long, now I don’t even know what I’m angry about, and the satisfying feeling that comes with the eruption is less and less each time.

I need a change of heart, a change of perspective.  I need God to soften my heart.  I need a little time under Jonah’s shade tree.

You see, I think Jonah had the same anger issues that I am dealing with.  Jonah was a prophet of the Lord God, and the Lord called Jonah to go and preach to the city of Nineveh.  As the story goes, Jonah refused to go and preach to his enemies, so he went the opposite direction, hiring a ship to take him to Tarshish.  While at sea, a terrible storm raged, and Jonah confessed his sin and was thrown overboard, only to be swallowed by a whale.  After three days, Jonah was thrown back out on the shore, and God told him again to go to Nineveh.

This time Jonah went, and he preached God’s message – a threat of impending doom if the people of the city did not repent of their evil ways.  Sure enough, the people repented, and God relented of the disaster.

Now, you would think that Jonah would be happy that over 120,000 people had responded to his message, but instead he was displeased, and angry with God.  He told God that he would rather die that see the Ninevites repent.  And God said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

So Jonah went out to a hill overlooking Nineveh, and he sat there, waiting to see what would happen.  As he waited, God planted a shade tree for Jonah, and this made Jonah really happy.  The next day, God put a worm in the tree so that when the sun came out, the tree withered and died.  Again, Jonah grumbled against God, “I would rather die…”  And God said again, “Do you do well to be angry?  You complain about a tree that you did not plant.  Should I not be concerned for Nineveh, for the 120,000 souls that are there?”

What Jonah needed was a change in perspective.  He was concerned with his reputation as a prophet, he didn’t want to be associated with these despised Ninevites. He was more concerned with his comfort and his reputation than with the souls that needed saving.

I need a change in perspective.  My anger comes from that deceptive and pervasive sin of pride.  I have put my needs, my comfort, my advancement, myself, above the needs of everyone else.  I only get upset because I don’t feel like I get the respect, the response I deserve.  God is saying to me again, “Do you do well to be angry?”  It is foolishness to hold on to this rage.  Prov. 14:29 teaches, “Whoever slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”  What a fool I’ve been.

‘Do you do well to be angry?”  I know the answer is “No.”  I pray that God will help me to rule over it.  This can only be done through the power of Holy Spirit – I can only conquer my fits of rage as the Spirit of God develops in me “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:21-22).  While I hold on to my anger I cannot hold on to Christ.  When I take up my ax, I cannot also take up my cross.  As long as the greenie-meanie lives I cannot say, “I have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

SDG