The author of this article is billed as a “leading expert on the persecuted church,” but I have to say that I find what he says here not only very strange but unbiblical. The gist of the article is summed up on the site as follows: “When a Christian experiences persecution or imprisonment in a foreign land, we do everything we can to extract them. But what if God has them right where he wants them?”
I grant that God does use persecution, suffering, crucifixion, death to advance the gospel and his kingdom in the world. But does that really imply that we, who see people in danger and suffering, shouldn’t attempt to rescue them? Does it mean that if we do help them, we might be thwarting God’s plans?
Would we apply the same reasoning to other situations of suffering? To the wife being beaten by her husband? To the woman being assaulted and raped? To the child being abused? To the homeless person who has no means of support and who hasn’t eaten for days? To the flood victim who has lost his house and all his belongings? Would we say “Maybe God has a good plan for this suffering and so I won’t try to help this victim”?
I hope not!
Abram did not say, when Lot was captured, “God might have a purpose for this” and leave him captive. Instead, he went and fought and rescued him (Gen 15). Ditto for David when his wives were captured (1 Sam 30).
How about a concrete example of “extraction from persecution”? “While Jezebel massacred the prophets of YHWH, … Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water” (1 Kings 18:4). Should Obadiah have been (to borrow this author’s words) “emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually strong enough” to leave them in Jezebel’s reach instead?
Rahab helped the Israelite spies escape (Josh 2). When Athaliah murdered all the king’s sons, Aunt Jehosheba rescued Joash and hid him (2 Kings 11). In Matthew 10, Jesus told his disciples, “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.” Obviously Jesus doesn’t think flight is a bad thing. When people were plotting to kill him, Paul escaped by being lowered from the city wall in a basket (Acts 9).
Proverbs 24:11 tells us “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.” James tell us that “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is” — what? To leave the orphan and widow in their suffering because God might use their suffering might bring about something good? No: “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.”
Yes, God uses even suffering for his good purpose. But that does not imply in any way that we should just leave people — let alone our brothers and sisters in Christ! — in their suffering. We may not reason from God’s sovereignty to our irresponsibility.
A follow-up thought, hard upon the heels of what I wrote earlier about the kind of commentaries you need.
When you do your own study of Scripture and then turn to your commentaries, are you hoping they’ll function as yes men, reassuring you that you’re on the right track, or that they’ll function as conversationalists, even partners in an argument over the text?
Do you hope that they’ll say what you want them to say or are you willing to listen to them and let them convince you?
Does it ever happen that you read a commentary and find it compelling, only to go on and read another one and find that he demolishes the first one’s position, only to read a third and find that he brings you at least part of the way back to that first writer’s view or maybe pushes you toward a different view altogether?
If you never find yourself going back and forth, never find yourself having to work through arguments and weigh them, never find that you have to change your mind as you study, something has gone wrong somewhere, maybe in you, maybe in the kind of commentaries you’re reading.
What kind of commentaries do you need to help you in your study of the Bible?
You don’t need commentaries that tell you, in passage after passage, exactly what you’ve always thought or only what you yourself have already discovered. Such commentaries are generally a waste of your time. Why read So-and-so telling you what you could figure out on your own?
Such commentaries may confirm your thinking, which can be comforting (“So I’m not the only one who holds this view of the text!”), and that’s fine. But they aren’t challenging — and you need to be challenged.
If you’re buying commentaries, you should know that most evangelical commentaries say what other evangelical commentaries say. Which means you don’t need a pile of evangelical commentaries on any book of the Bible. If you have one good one, you pretty much know what all the rest of them are going to say.
That’s especially true if the one good one you have is by Gordon Fee, who carefully interacts with a lot of other great commentaries to such an extent and so helpfully that once you’ve read him, you have a good sense of what those other commentaries say too.
But what you do need, alongside one or two of the best of these evangelical commentaries, are commentaries that present options you may never have considered, that argue for certain options and against others, that bring to light things you may have overlooked, that make you think and rethink.
I’m thinking of commentaries like those by John Paul Heil, who shows (and does a remarkably good job of demonstrating) that epistle after epistle is written chiastically, with each subsection chiastically structured as well.
I’m thinking, too, of commentaries like the ones by Jakob van Bruggen, because Van Bruggen is never afraid to raise exegetical possibilities you’ve never even thought of and to argue for them and back up his arguments by pointing to things in the text that never jumped out at you.
Such commentaries are time-consuming, not to say sometimes troubling, because they make you rethink things you thought you had already figured out. But for that very reason, they are worth their weight in gold.
If you’re studying a passage of Scripture and no commentary you read ever makes you change your mind or at least pulls you up short and makes you say, “Huh. That’s not how I’ve always taken this verse!” and if you never change your mind in the course of your study or waver between the very different views strongly argued in two commentaries, both excellent, you need better commentaries.
“The people must not be present at worship only in the capacity of hearer and spectator, nor even merely to follow in thought what is pronounced by the minister of the church, but they must also speak from their side and at least they must respond Amen to what is said in the name of the congregation” — Osterwald’s preface to the liturgy of Neuchatel (1713), cited in Richard Paquier, Dynamics of Worship, 63n10.
In Matthew 9:35ff., Jesus sees Israel battered and cast down, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he says to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful; the workers are few.”
Why does the imagery change from animals to plants, from sheep/shepherd to harvest/workers? It would make sense for Jesus, seeing the crowds like sheep without a shepherd, to tell his disciples to pray for workers to gather in the flock.
Jakob van Bruggen (Matteüs) proposes that Jesus is speaking, not of workers needed for gathering in the harvest but of workers needed for distributing the plentiful harvest to care for the flock.
I’m not persuaded that explanation really works. After all, “Send out workers into his harvest” is not the clearest way to say “Send workers out to Israel with the food that has been harvested”!
On the other hand, when Jesus does send out his disciples, he returns to the imagery of sheep/shepherd (10:6: “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”) and he speaks, not of gathering, let alone of gathering in a harvest, but rather of giving (10:8: “Freely you have received; freely give”).
I’ve sometimes heard that one of Jesus’ disciples was a Zealot, presumably a former Zealot who, now that he was follow Jesus, had given up his desire to commit violence. Even N. T. Wright says, in one passage, that the name of “Simon the Zealot” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13) “probably indicates known revolutionary tendencies” (NTPG, 174n33).
But it turns out that that’s not true (or at least, it’s highly unlikely). Yes, he’s called “Simon the Zealot.” But that title doesn’t mean he was part of a party called “Zealots.” To the best of our historical knowledge, that party didn’t exist or bear that name until after Jesus’ time.
Most likely, then, Simon wasn’t a member of some party in Israel that was inclined toward violence toward Romans or compromising Jews. What Simon was, it seems, was zealous, and that’s not a description of his life before following Jesus; that’s how he was as a follower of Jesus. He was zealous, and that was a good thing.
The church of Christ, the first fruit of the new creation, expresses in articulate and intelligible words the silent sighing of nature subjected to corruption and waiting for deliverance (Rom. 8:19-23). Its “liturgy” of gratitude for the deliverance received through Christ and for the hope of the manifestation of the glory to come, lends a voice to the entire world.
Christian worship carries to the throne of God, through Christ the supreme liturgist, the praise and supplication of all humanity and of the whole creation — Richard Paquier, Dynamics of Worship, 56-57.
“Belief in the Trinity is not a distant speculation; the Trinity is that blessed family into which we are adopted” — Austin Farrer, The Crown of the Year.
All narrow confessionalism and all complacency in any local ecclesiastical tradition must hear the apostolic judgment: “What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?” (1 Cor. 14:36) — Richard Paquier, Dynamics of Worship, 52n9.
In the Lord’s service, we pray together, so that each individual who is taking part in the prayer focuses not on himself and his own needs and interests but on the community as a whole, even if those other needs and interests don’t really move him emotionally much at all.
R. Guardini puts it this way:
He will have to get out of his circle of customary ideas and appropriate a whole world of thoughts infinitely broader and richer. He will have to leave and go beyond the horizon of his own little interests, of small private and personal profits…. He will have to address to heaven some of the requests that do not touch nor interest him directly; he will have to hold up before God these requests with as much devotion as if they were his own, even though they are far from his interests and dictated only by common concern (cited in Richard Paquier, Dynamics of Worship, 50).
The point about every single book that I re-read in order to laugh is that every one is so much more than funny because the authors write so well. Wodehouse uses the English language to perfection, Durrell evokes scenes so wonderfully, Nancy Mitford’s prose is so elegant, so arch. One could learn to write from any of them and I wish more people would. No matter what the genre, good writing always tells. Crime novels? Look at Raymond Chandler, master of style. Spy novels? How many do you know who write as well as le Carre? Style wins every, every time. — Susan Hill, Howard’s End Is on the Landing.
“God can be the object of our worship only if he is first the subject, that is, the one who gives us the worship” — Richard Paquier, Dynamics of Worship, 4.