Marriage Revaluation Required

Which is the odd one out?

  • Gemstones
  • Christ’s blood
  • Marriage
  • God’s promises

None of them.

They all have one thing in common. The New Testament describes them all with the same Greek adjective τίμιος, usually translated either as “precious” or “honorable.”

  • Precious gemstones (1 Cor. 3:12)
  • Precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:19)
  • Honorable marriage (Heb. 11:4)
  • Precious promises of God (2 Pet. 1:4)

God puts marriage in the same league as precious gemstones, the precious promises of God, and the precious blood of Christ.

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Is There A Diversity Dividend?

Is there a diversity dividend? Yes, according to an elite panel of business leaders at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos. In the BBC’s report on the discussion, chief business correspondent Linda Yueh cites the following evidence to support the panelists’ advocacy for diversity:

  • Boards of directors with greater diversity generate more dividends.
  • Numerous studies show that adding women to the labor force increases national output, or gross domestic product.
  • An MIT study found that changing from all-male or all-female workforces to equal numbers of both sexes could raise revenues by around 40 percent.

Walgreens CEO Randy Lewis’s book No Greatness Without Goodness: How a Father’s Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement advances this “profit-from-diversity” narrative by demonstrating how Walgreens increased profits and reduced staff turnover by hiring more employees with disabilities and other special needs. As creative companies like Apple and Google have also found, this profit-motive is proving more powerful at building diverse workforces than enforced quotas, threatening legislation, or guilting companies into action.

So why aren’t we using the profit-motive to build more racially diverse churches and to increase racial diversity in our Christian lives?

More Excellent Way

The majority of the post-Ferguson conversation and writing has focused on quotas, legislation, rehashing the past, and guilting people and churches into change. Surely we can build a much more positive case for biblical diversity by demonstrating the future spiritual profit we can enjoy in our lives, families, and churches.

As I describe in my book The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World, after years of inaction, fear, and even prejudice, I only began to pursue more diversity in my life when I began to experience the rich spiritual profit of racial diversity through increased contact with African American Christians. Although there’s something deep within us that says, The more people are like me, and the more people like me I can gather around me, the happier I’ll be, I came to experience the exact opposite. The more I listened, talked, and walked with people of different races, ethnicities, and cultures, the more joy I experienced.

Before I make the profit-motive case for diversity, let me be crystal clear: I’m not talking about moral diversity—the idea that all moralities are equal and valid. Neither am I talking about the kind of multiculturalism that calls us to accept everyone’s beliefs and practices regardless of whether they align with biblical values. I’m talking primarily about racial diversity, but much of what I say will also apply to the kind of cultural and ethnic diversity that does not contradict scriptural standards.

Click on over to The Gospel Coalition Website for the rest of this article, including ten ways in which biblical diversity in the local church produces much more profit than uniformity does.

A Plea to Baptized Unbelievers

“Baptized unbelievers”? Surely an oxymoron? A horrible self-contradictory phrase, no?

It’s like saying “male woman”, or “short giant”, or “black KKK”, or “holy devil”. It just shouldn’t be. It’s a term that should shock us and horrify us.

But there are such people in the church (and outside the church). I’m thinking here especially of those who were baptized as children but never went on to believe for themselves. They are baptized; but they are not believers, at least not in a saving sense. And that’s horrific.

How so?

Horrific Possibility
Let’s go back to circumcision in order to feel the awful weight of this possibility. In Genesis 12 & 15, God had promised Abraham that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. He promised that through Abraham’s family the devil-conquering “Seed of the woman” would come to bless all nations.

But Abraham grew impatient and in Genesis 16 turned from this verbal promise and resorted to his own wisdom and power by producing a child with his servant, Hagar.

Although we might have expected God to give up on Abraham there and then, instead He doubled down and added a physical reminder of the promise in circumcision. Now, in addition to the verbal promise, he had a visible, tangible, permanent reminder of the promise carved into his skin. This circumcision meant at least four things:

First, it was a covenantal cutting, with God separating Abraham and his family from the world, making a difference between them and everyone else.  Second, it was covenantal claiming, with God putting a mark of ownership on Abraham and his seed, saying, “You are mine.” And thirdly, it was a covenantal commitment, with God committing Himself to make available everything necessary to produce the promised Seed and make this relationship work.

Heart and Flesh
But, it was also, fourthly, a covenantal call. God cut them off, God claimed them, and God committed himself to Abraham and his family, but He also called him and his descendants to be circumcised in heart. In numerous places, God said, “Let the heart reflect the skin, let the inward reflect the outward, let the spiritual reflect the physical” (e.g. Lev. 26:40-42; Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4), a theme that continued on into the New Testament (Acts 7:51; Rom. 2:28-29; Col. 2:11-12). That last verse also indicates that, although circumcision made way for baptism, the message of both circumcision and baptism is the same – a cutting off or separating, a claiming, a committing, and a calling.

That’s why I want to make a plea to baptized unbelievers, to those who have had the mark of the covenant placed upon their skin, whether as a child or as an adult: “Let your heart, reflect your skin, let, the inward reflect the outward, let the spiritual reflect the physical.”

By baptism, God has cut you off from this sinful and corrupt world. Of all the millions and billions of people in the world, he has chosen you and put a special mark of separation upon you. So come out from among them and be separate. By grace flee from this perishing world to the Lord Jesus Christ.

By baptism, God has claimed you. He has placed His triune name upon you. He has said, and still says, “You are mine!” So agree to His ownership, accept His claim, respond with “Yes, I am yours. Save me. Take me. Use me.”

By baptism God has committed himself to you. He has engaged to provide everything necessary to make this relationship work. So don’t doubt His provision, don’t question His commitment.

The Worst Name?
Do you now see how awful it is to be a baptized unbeliever?

Think of the worst name you could be called.

Here’s a worse one. “Baptized unbeliever.”

Although there are many covenant privileges that come with being baptized, to be a “baptized unbeliever” is also one of the worst spiritual states to be in. To whomsoever much is given, much shall be required.

As such, to be called a “baptized unbeliever” should horrify us. It should shock and grate. It just shouldn’t be so. That’s why, from the youngest years, we call our baptized children to faith, encouraging them with their baptism to cast themselves on the God who has cut them off, made such a claim upon their lives, and committed himself to provide all that they need to be saved.

You might say, “But I didn’t have a choice about my baptism.” You’re right. And for that you should be thankful. Because, left to yourself, you would never have chosen God’s cutting, claiming, or committing. This isn’t about your choice, nor even about your parent’s choice. This is about God’s choice. He has sovereignly and graciously cut you off, claimed you, and committed himself to you in the same way as He did to circumcised Israelites. So, just as God said to the Israelites, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked,” so God says to you, “Be baptized therefore in your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.”

A Baptismal Prayer
Use your baptism to encourage you as to God’s good and powerful will. Why not get your baptismal certificate out, lay it before the Lord, and say, “Lord, you have cut me off, you have claimed  me, you have committed yourself to me. But I have not responded rightly. I’m ashamed and horrified to admit that I’m a baptized unbeliever. God have mercy and baptize me with the Holy Spirit so that my heart reflects my skin.” That way you lose the worst name and get the best name in the world; a baptized believer.

PS. Although this is addressed primarily to those baptized as infants, it’s also a call to those baptized as adults to live up to or live out all that baptism means. The purpose is not to start a paedo v credo debate, but to appeal to baptized unbelievers. If it also helps build a better understanding of how those of us who baptize infants view and use baptism, then that would be a neat bonus. 

God The Savior Of All?

One of the biggest and most important questions we can ask is “Does God save everyone?” It’s a question Heidelberg Catechism #20 asks, and answers: “No; only those who are ingrafted into him [Christ], and, receive all his benefits, by a true faith.”

But is that a right and biblical answer? Not according to 1 Timothy 4:10 which says that God “is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”

So God saves everyone? Everyone is going to heaven, regardless of their response to the Gospel?

Not so fast. There are a number of reasons why that cannot be the right interpretation of this verse.

  • It’s inconsistent with the rest of Scripture (e.g. Matt. 7:14; Ezek. 33:11)
  • It’s inconsistent with Paul’s other letters (Rom. 11:5; 1 Cor. 16:22)
  • It’s inconsistent with the rest of this letter (1 Tim. 1:19; 2:5; 4:1)
  • It’s inconsistent with “especially of those who believe” – is everyone saved but some are especially saved?
  • It’s inconsistent with Paul’s missionary labors  – why put so much effort into evangelism if everyone is saved?

On that last point, even verse 10 itself speaks of Paul’s willingness to labor and suffer for the spread of the Gospel. What’s the point in that if God is going to save everyone? So, how do we understand this verse? There are four options:

1. “All men” means “all kinds of people”

There are times in the Bible when “all” does not mean “all.” It’s sometimes used to speak of “all kinds of people” (e.g. Mark 1:5). That would fit the cultural and theological context here because Timothy was facing Jewish and Gnostic heretics who had an extremely elitist and exclusive view of salvation.

However, when this interpretation comes up against “especially those who believe,” it results in two levels of salvation – salvation for all kinds of people, and a special salvation or a specially assured for those who believe.

2. “Is Savior” means “wants to be Savior”

God is able to save all, wants to save all, desires to save all, and offers salvation to all, but, frustrated by the unbelief of some, He only saves those who believe.

The main textual problem here is that is doesn’t say “able to save” or “offers to save” but “is Savior.” He is the Savior. This interpretation also runs into the theological problem of men and women ultimately frustrating and thwarting the divine will.

A variation of this view is that God is Savior of all in the sense of He is the only Savior in the world, the only savior for anyone who wants to be saved, the only one who can save anyone; but He is the actual Savior only for those who believe. This still runs into the problem of “is” meaning something less than “is” or “Savior” meaning something less than actual real saving.

3. “Savior” means “physical deliverer”

The Greek word for “save” (σωτήρ sōtēr) can mean preserve and deliver. It’s used in this way in the Greek version of the Old Testament (e.g. the Judges and Kings are described as sōtērs), and God Himself is also portrayed as the preserver and deliverer of all in a temporal sense (e.g. Deut. 32:15), a theme that continues into the New Testament (Mat. 5:45; Acts 17:25, 28). Greek and Roman culture also used sōtēr of political, military, and royal leaders.

The idea then is that God provides for, preserves, and delivers all people everywhere in a multitude of different ways, regardless of their faith, but that He does this in an extra special way for those who believe in Him. That’s certainly a truth of Scripture, but is it the truth of this Scripture?

I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure. One problem is that “Savior” is generally (though not exclusively) used in in a spiritual sense in the pastorals. In other words, “Savior” is used in the ultimate and highest sense of salvation from sin, guilt, death, and hell. Another problem is that it’s difficult to figure out how God’s temporal deliverances of all would be such a motivator for Paul, inspiring him to serve so passionately and suffer so patiently.

4. “Especially” means “to be precise”

More recent linguistic studies have discovered that the Greek word translated “especially” (μάλιστα malista) can also be translated “that is,” or “to be precise,” or “in other words.”* So Paul makes what appears to be a universal statement (“God saves all”), but then immediately qualifies and limits it with “that is, those who believe.” So the truth of this verse is not that God saves everyone, nor that God saves in two different ways but that God saves lots and lots of different kinds of people through faith in Christ alone.

Such a translation of malista not only fits better with the usual meaning of “Savior” in the pastoral epistles, but is also consistent with the rest of Scripture, Paul’s other letters, and the rest of this letter. It also helps us understand Paul’s incredible missionary zeal and suffering-filled labors. And the more we too can grasp the realities of this verse, the more our evangelism multiplies.

If God saves such a great number of people, such a great diversity of people, with such a great salvation – from sin, guilt, death, and hell – but they must put their faith in Christ to experience this, that will get us out of bed in the morning, that will fuel evangelistic passion, and that will make us willing to endure suffering and hardship for the sake of getting that message out.

* If you want to read more on this translation of μάλιστα, see George Knight’s commentary on the pastoral epistles (pp. 203-4).