Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Seeing the Principle

“Inasmuch as these people have rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah” (Isaiah 8: 6, NASB).

Scripture clearly declares that: “no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11, NASB).  Thus any philosophy which speaks to Christians—and therefore to the perfecting or maturing of that Christian—has to fundamentally be drawn from this foundational rock, which is Christ, and practically drawn from Scripture (which is also Christ as an embodiment of everything written therein).  Just as an entire building structure is oriented to a single cornerstone (another name for Christ), so every philosophical concept must take its cue from this one tried, true, eternally sanctioned and permanent stone.

But being that our Principal (Jesus Christ) is perfection personified, absolutely centered, and unable to be even incrementally displaced from His position of utter steadfastness, it is painstakingly difficult to separate any part of Him from the whole person that He is—even though Scripture itself uses many words to paint a picture of His metaphysical form in our minds.  But instruction, and especially the kind of instruction that limited and ignorant mankind (through a glass dimly) can give, is truncated and myopic.  To administer milk and not meat, to break larger concepts into smaller ones, and then reconstruct or reconstitute them back into their true and whole form, as a teaching method, is all that is left to us; indeed, we cannot see the forest for the trees.

“To whom would He teach knowledge, and to whom would He interpret the message?  Those just weaned from milk?  Those just taken from the breast?  For He says, ‘ORDER ON ORDER, ORDER ON ORDER, LINE ON LINE, LINE ON LINE, A LITTLE HERE, A LITTLE THERE.’  Indeed, He will speak to this people through stammering lips and a foreign tongue.  He who said to them, ‘Here is rest, give rest to the weary,’ and, ‘Here is repose,’ but they would not listen.  So the word of the LORD to them will be, ‘Order on order, order on order, line on line, line on line, a little here, a little there,’ that they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive” (Isaiah 28: 9-13, NASB).

I cannot recall any preacher throughout my 35 years as a Christian speak on this portion of Scripture from Isaiah—on this rote way of teaching—in anything but a positive light.  And clearly they are words couched in a negative context.  Nonetheless, many a Charismatic or Pentecostal (or whatever else they call themselves) are quick to quote “Line upon line, etc.” in positive veins.  But just as the multitudes only clamored for the food that fed their bellies, so the majority of Christians clamor for self-help step-by-step idiot guides to Christianity rather than endure sound doctrine, study orthodoxy, or persevere with the saints.  I love the moving of the Holy Spirit, the stammering lips of tongues (I speak with them often), and even the foreign tongues of both angels and man; but what I most love about them is what is behind them: REVELATION knowledge which downloads in the blinking eye of epiphanies (all at once, and not in step by step, principle upon principle, order on order fashion).

Don’t get me wrong, all learning takes time and tedious study, study which is inherently ordered in a step-by-step way.  But, once we have studied to show ourselves approved unto God, rightly dividing the word of truth, we can flow in deeper and deeper realms of intuitive knowledge.  Sure, we must learn our ABC’s before we can understand sentences, paragraphs, or the Bible, but too many settle in tangent eddy pools.

Though I tend to think of the Bible as a living breathing document, as the testimony of God to man (and therefore not so much about “principles” as about THE Principle) here is a five point instructional statement of guiding principles made to the young and upcoming leader/teacher Timothy by the aged and wise apostle Paul.  Paul said he must “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2, KJV).  And it contains a unique and wonderful formulation of five principles, which taken together, corporately represents a solid foundational basis upon which one can build a biblical philosophy of “rote” instruction.  These five principles, as extracted from this one verse of scripture, are as follows:

1. Preach the word.
2. Be instant, in season and out.
3. Reprove.
4. Rebuke.
5. Exhort.

Each of these five principles is divinely designed to be implemented within the context of “all long suffering and doctrine.”  In other words, in all patience, and, as the Greek meaning for “doctrine” suggests, in “(The activity and content of) teaching, instruction”—which further implies it must be discharged by a teacher, doctor or master of that which is taught (James Strong).   When our Master, the Lord Himself, insisted His body was true food indeed—when He insisted we eat His flesh and drink His blood—the Lord interpreted it to mean that His words are both spirit and life.  In other words, the Master, our true Teacher, transmits more than a formulaic version of truth to His students; He gives of Himself, the embodiment of Truth—He, indeed, sustains them with A WORD (Himself).

“Preach the word”

To “preach the word” is to herald or proclaim it without conversational-like pausing for the purposes of entertaining feedback or counterargument.  It is to proclaim Bible doctrine and make exegesis directly from the scriptures with all its implicit and explicit warnings about judgments and punishments (should there be any soul brave enough—yet foolhardy enough—not to comply with its divine demands).  Therefore, any biblical instruction based on this inerrant word must also be inherently authoritative, filled with commands that must be obeyed, and ideas that need to be embraced.

Theology, once known as the queen of the sciences, ought to be systematically taught as though it were as stable as an established scientific fact and definite as an arithmetic solution (because it is when properly taught and expertly modeled).  Kenneth Wuest, a Greek scholar, interpreted and translated this “preach the word” portion of scripture as: “Make a public proclamation of the Word with such formality, gravity, and authority as must be heeded.”  James Strong’s definition of “preach” is: “to preach, proclaim, tell, often urging acceptance of the message, with warnings of consequences for not doing so.”  Indeed, the constant barrage of warning and implicit urgency within this entire verse of scripture is sobering, and this first phrase: “preach the word” is inclusive of all the diligence and steadfastness and disciplined training resident in the whole of scripture interpreted.  Thus, the cornerstone principle of the five principles herein explained is to ever herald or proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ; reading, writing, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and everything else found in the processes of exegeses and like methods of “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV), is therefore an acceptable, and even desirable means by which to teach the fundamentals of our faith.

“Be instant, in season and out”

In other words, be in the moment, imminent, close at hand, really and actually juxtaposed beside your disciples, both when the opportunity presents itself entreatingly so, and when the opportunity seems to be off begging; be therefore ever ready and filled with the doctrine—even when you do not feel like it.  Indeed, a teacher’s job is never done, and their requisite resolve is regularly tested by the daily grind of teaching day in and day out throughout the many weeks, months, and years of their careers.  Hardly is there a better opportunity for modeling the Christian ideal of patient endurance than what is intrinsically built into the discharging of one’s long-term employment as a teacher.  Perhaps this lesson of diligence and excellence of performance in response to our contextual placement within this mundane reality of life is the greatest lesson of all, because, when everything else is said and done, it is only those who endure to the end which receive the eternal rewards of our faith.


The force of God’s Word by the agency of His Holy Spirit is designed to first identify man’s dispositional error, to correct it, and only then to encourage him.  Thus, reproving, a corrective and strident action, which literally means: “to expose; to rebuke, refute, show fault; to convince, convict” (James Strong) is the essential first encounter with—or exposure to—God’s fully-orbed truth; it is ultimately a kind, redemptive, and positive thing leveled against a tripartite comprised creature, who is, because of his fall from grace long ago, ignorant of his own physical and metaphysical composition.  Nevertheless, God’s Word is very effectual and revelatory; indeed, “the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

In concentric layers from outside inward man is comprised of flesh, soul, and  spirit; the word of God, however, as explained in the previous verse, pierces and divides soul and spirit, but no overt mention of flesh is made except perhaps by inference when some very specific parts of his anatomy are referenced: “joints and marrow.”  Watchmen Nee once wrote: “Joints and marrow are embedded deeply into the human body. To separate the joints outside is to cut across the bones; to divide the marrow inside is to crack open the bones. Only two other things are harder to be divided than the joints and marrow—the soul and spirit.”  To reprove, therefore, is likened to the unsavory idea of both cutting across bones and cracking them; it is to tell a fault to our outer man (flesh)—to never allow his baser expression to define who we are; this is the gospel—yes, the good news—to our flesh.  The spirit by way of the soul is to discipline our animal component—and train it like the dog flesh it nearly is; we do not reason with an ignorant beast, but we do continuously reprove its unbridled and independent expression.  To reprove is to deeply correct the most bent and disfigured ideologies ever subscribed to by the damaged imaginations and intellects of fallen man; done properly, and aided by the Holy Spirit, an effective reproof will remove even the most hardened and entrenched of dispositions.    


The word “rebuke,” is very similar to our proceeding word “reprove,” with perhaps the most significant difference being that its force is directed at the intellect, as it appeals to reason, whereas, a “reproof” is directed at the visceral seat, and is therefore more an emotive charge or command.  Thus, rebuking is a more mature way of reproving, allowing the child’s intellect to agree or disagree with any or all reasons behind a censorious charge.  It appeals to more of the human entity, subsuming everything a reproof entails, but adding an opportunity for this entity to also agree with the reproving without feeling only viscerally compelled.  In other words, the developing child is beginning to see the wisdom of restraint and is therefore now learning to self-censure, or self-discipline.

Strong’s rendering of the word “rebuke” entailed several Greek root meanings and shards of nuanced meanings that included these ideas: “to prize a superimposition” or “to tax upon, i. e. censure or admonish; by implication, to forbid.”  Basically, to place over or above something is the definition of “superimposition” and to “prize” its application suggests a voluntary allowance to be reproved or rebuked—censuring ourselves and forbidding our soul to express itself as a first cause of action is the dying to self that God ultimately requires of any genuine follower of Jesus Christ and the real way of life.


The ravages of exposure—of outside sources finding fault with us, and self-censure—we finding fault with ourselves, has run its course; we are now tired, lonely, and somewhat discouraged.  Perhaps a more gentle approach will yield better results; perhaps our will is less resolved due to the previous onslaughts of corrective actions.  Either way, it is now time to be encouraged or exhorted; to “exhort” means “to ask, beg, plead, comfort, urge, intreat” (Strong).  It is now more of a question or invitation, appealing to that last vestige of hope for change, the will; are we willing, without coercion, to make changes commensurate with these corrective instructions? Nevertheless, the bombardment continues; encouragement is conditional.  The refrain has not ceased; corrective action is still required, but now it is being solicited via an appeal to a slowly weakening resolve.

When Paul instructed Timothy to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction,” he did so because he knew that the time was coming when they would not “endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2, NASB).  I am not so sure this was exclusively some end time statement or future concern as much as it always represents the immediate future of any individual Christian of any era that has—as his/her goal—the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (or maturity); will we, indeed, endure sound doctrine, the ravages of the cross, and death to self to achieve mastery or maturity?

Finally, if we would just agree to correction as the norm, and yield ourselves to its prickly path, our education would supersede a purely academic flavor.  We would be like the psalmist who declared “I have more insight than all my teachers”; and why?—because:  “Your testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:99 NASB).  Thus, using the Bible as our primary textbook, and perpetually, day in, day out, when feeling well, or not, heralding its message, and allowing its magnificent light to correct us as vigorously as it might, we are transformed into His image.  Indeed, “All of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT).