Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother (Philemon 15-16, NIV).

Anachronism — “a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place, especially: one from a former age that is incongruous in the present” (Merriam-Webster). 

There is a lot of discussion in our day concerning the founding of America, especially that it was flawed because the men and women who founded the nation were owners of slaves, and that the Constitution initially recognized black slaves as only three-fifths of a person. This part of the US Constitution (historians call it the Great Compromise) that was ratified in 1787 is abhorrent (properly) to most Americans today who recognize that God does not diminish a person’s worth on the basis of either race or economics and neither should we. Historically, however, it is important to see the issue from the perspective of the late Eighteenth Century. To question the legitimacy of this nation based upon values that we hold today, that were not held then, is an “anachronism.”

This nation has legalized abortion today. I hope for and work for a day when the unborn children of this nation will be fully valued. When that happens and the future generation looks back at the early Twenty-First Century, will all of our decisions be considered as illegitimate because we de-valued human life in this way? I hope not; I hope that future generations will study the history of our generation to see that many good people worked hard to oppose this form of human sacrifice.

When we today look into the debates that took place to establish the governing documents of our nation, we will see a similar debate in that day over slavery. It was an evil that was already present, and abolishing it by decree was not possible. On the other hand, the debate focussed on the human worth of black men and women. At stake was the balance of representation in the newly formed House of Representatives. For the first 90 years of our country’s existence there were many who worked tirelessly to end this injustice, just as many are working tirelessly today to end the sin of abortion. Both issues centered on the worth of human beings.

But there is a deeper logical flaw to the anachronism that says that our Founders should have eliminated slavery from the very beginning. That flaw is embraced by some in the Church who claim to believe in the authority of Scripture. If we can attribute today’s understanding of slavery to the Founding Fathers in the Eighteenth Century, then we must do the same to the history of every generation. Moses surely should have known the evils of slavery — he led the Hebrew nation from it — yet he gave permission for the Hebrew people to own slaves themselves (Lev. 25:44, et. al.). The Apostle Paul also sent the slave, Onesimus, back to his owner — Philemon.

Onesimus was a slave of Philemon who, for reasons that are unknown to us today, ran away from his duties. Whether the personal offense to Philemon was merely that he was financially inconvenienced because he lost the labor a slave would provide for him for a period of time or, more, that Onesimus had actually stolen from him before escaping, we cannot know. But Onesimus ran from Philemon and tried to get lost in the city of Rome. In God’s providence, he met Paul and was converted to Christ. According to the laws of his day, Onesimus was the property of Philemon, until Philemon himself should free him. Paul “leans” on Philemon, but never requires that he free Onesimus, although he might have used his apostolic authority to do so.

If the values that we hold today concerning slavery are binding upon the Founding Fathers of the Eighteenth Century, then how much more should the writers of Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, have been bound by this universal value. Yet some in the Church today attribute authority to Scripture while asserting that the writings of the leaders in the Eighteenth Century are invalid. To be consistent, if we hold these values as binding upon our ancestors, then neither Moses’ writings nor Paul’s should be considered authoritative. Adopting an anachronistic perspective destroys Biblical authority. This is why Scripture must be read and interpreted from a grammatical and HISTORICAL perspective.

His Ways Are Different Than Ours

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Is 55:8-9)

God’s ways are mysterious. He doesn’t act predictably, at least by human understanding. Moses and Pharaoh were both surprised that He led the Hebrews right to the obstacle of the Red Sea when they were fleeing from Egypt. Gideon was surprised that God whittled his army down to 300 men to defeat the vast Midianite army. The Jews knew all of the prophecies that predicted Messiah, but were surprised that He came in the Person of Jesus. The list of God’s surprising methods is endless.

In every era of history men have been told to believe the Scripture. Moses’ last commandment to Israel was, “For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deut 32:47). God’s first commandment to Joshua after the death of Moses was, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Isaiah told his audience in the passage above that God’s Word would never return empty (vs. 11). The Psalmist in multiple places spoke of the importance of the Scripture, including at least 174 times in the marvelous literary creation, Psalm 119. Jeremiah, Jesus, and the Apostles all tell us of the importance of the Scripture.

But when “push comes to shove,” we humans (at least in this era) choose to believe the changing opinions of science and/or the prevailing popular opinions of the larger society. Certainly we understand the fickleness of humanity, but often we fail to realize that scientific conclusions are determined inductively and therefore are also fickle. A single example can destroy the conclusions of years of experimentation. In the 1970s the scientific news was that the earth was heading into a new ice age; today we will be destroyed by global warming. To reduce the criticism, we’re now worried about “Climate Change.” Medical science has told us that coffee would kill us, among many other substances, only to change a few years later when new studies surfaced. 

On the other hand, the conclusions of Scripture are deductively determined. We start with the premise that those words are true, even if we don’t understand them fully. In much the same way, the Founding Fathers of our nation made absolute the rights of Americans to be free to worship, speak, assemble and to own a gun (et. al.), even though they probably did not conceive of a time when the right to defend oneself (for example) would not be assumed. 

Both the Scripture and the US Constitution arose from the conviction of their (A)authors that the human heart is deceitful. The Founders wrote into the Constitution a set of checks and balances for that reason — they knew that power could and would corrupt people in leadership. The divine Author of Scripture knew this was true also. He inspired Jeremiah to write, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9). Jesus Himself “on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). Paul, despite his own teaching and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, recognized that the Church in Ephesus would fall prey to deceitful and corruptible men (Acts 20: 29-32). The antidote that Paul gives is careful attention to the “Word of His grace” (32).

The current COVID-19 flap that has created fear in the hearts of the people of this world could have been averted if we (including our leaders) had chosen to adopt the position that the human heart is desperately sinful. It is an insidious lie of the enemy of our souls that has been foisted upon men — the idea that “all men are basically good.” No, we are not. Men lie and deceive; men in power lie and deceive to retain that power; they use information to manipulate opinion to their own advantage. It SEEMS to be true to the naive and unsuspecting person, even though it denies the Truth that we know absolutely is true.

We thank God for the many exceptions to these statements, but the only way we will truly know if our leaders are honest in their decisions is if we hold them accountable to the (D)documents that form the foundation of our society as the (A)authors intended. But we first have to know these (D)documents ourselves! Otherwise, the deceitfulness of the human heart will prevail, and we will be surprised when our society fails, while we hear God say, “You chose not to believe My ways!”

Don’t Be Deceived

Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” (1 Kgs 22:6-7, emphasis added).

Jesus told us that “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18). Even the smallest observation can be important for it is in the Scripture that we find Truth.

The king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel was a man named Ahab. He openly worshiped the idols of the nations surrounding him rather than the God of Israel (his wife was the infamous, Jezebel). When he was going out to battle it was his custom to call upon his “prophets” to advise him about the probabilities of success in his fight. They told him the “Lord” was on his side and would give him success as he was about to fight the Syrians.

The king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah was Jehoshaphat and he was to join Ahab in this battle. But Jehoshaphat recognized that these prophets did not worship the same God that he did, so he asked, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?”  Notice each reference to deity in these two verses.

The Hebrew language has at least three words to refer to deity. Two are used here. When the word “LORD” is capitalized in this way, it is an English convention that means that the Hebrew word is the personal name of God — the name He gave to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3. It is a sacred name and refers only to the God of Israel. The other word used here is spelled “Lord” and is a generic reference. Jehoshaphat recognized that the statements of Ahab’s prophets referred to a god other than the God of Israel. 

Ahab wasn’t concerned about which god was on his side, as long as he would get his victory. In our day the Western Church largely is not concerned about pleasing the God of Israel. Like Ahab, we are more concerned with the appearance of success. Which god we address is immaterial.

It has become a conventional practice in this era of the Church to address “God” in our prayers — even though our God has revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. We typically hear, “God, bless this person or that…God, comfort and heal so-in-so…” Less often do we hear people address in prayer, “Lord Jesus…” or “Our Father…”

I do not suggest that everyone who addresses Him as “God” is worshiping a false god, but I have to wonder why we are reluctant to speak to Him as He has revealed Himself, especially when Jesus specifically told us to “pray like this, ‘Our Father…’” (Matt 6:9). Jehoshaphat recognized that Ahab’s prophets were not true prophets, perhaps by their mode of address.

Later in the story of Ahab and Jehoshaphat in 1 Kings 22, a true prophet of the LORD explained that deception from false prophets was how Ahab would be destroyed. I daresay that it is how this generation will also be destroyed (see Jeremiah 23).

So how do we avoid that deception if we cannot always say that the way we identify our God is the key to the Truth? By keeping our minds focused upon what we know to be true — the Scripture. By measuring everything we hear from the standard that Scripture sets. By recognizing that deception can come through people who are genuinely sincere and have been trustworthy in times past. Even their words must be compared with Scripture.

The psalmist writes, “The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts” (Ps 119:110).

Take Hold of Instruction

Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her for she is your life (Prov 4:13)

Being instructed is hard. It rubs against our pride by forcing us to admit that there is something lacking in us. Everything in our society tells us that we are complete and adequate in ourselves, just as we are. There is nothing in us that requires instruction, at least not morally; men are basically good in themselves. If there is a flaw, society will take care of that through its Department of Corrections. The emphasis in public education upon “self-esteem” undermines real instruction. No longer does a student have to master a certain body of material; he is given passing marks so that he will feel good about himself. As a result of this unBiblical philosophy, larger numbers of our society are having to be “corrected.”

But Solomon’s words to us – if they are followed – actually help us live satisfying lives, because they keep us humble. We don’t think “more highly of ourselves than we ought to think” (Rom 12:3). We recognize in these words that there is real life…satisfying life…fulfilling life…abundant life, not a pretense of life like we see in the characters on TV and the movies. That’s why Solomon tells us to “guard her.”

Primarily Solomon has the informal instruction of a parent to his child in mind, but it is not outside the meaning here to think of formal instruction. Some professions expect a certain amount of “Continuing Education” or “Professional Development” of their members. My own course in seminary is stretching me to read things that I might otherwise have set aside. In some cases I have read books that I had not known existed, books confirming certain convictions in me but which I had no idea had been put into print. The confirming of those convictions has been a great encouragement to me, in some cases delivering me from an “Elijah Syndrome,” the feeling of being all alone in my ministry.

I’m glad I “[took] hold of instruction.”