Neither Mar the Corners

In showing us how to live, God provides guidelines for our personal outward appearance: Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. (Le 19:27)

The Hebrew for round the corners seems to mean to shave the sides, and mar the corners seems to mean to disfigure the edges. Initial applications may have been related to hairstyles intended to honor pagan deities, or ways to express deep anguish or grief, as when mourning the deceased. (Le 21:1-5)

Similarly, in the same context God tells us: Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord. (Le 19:28)

The general principle suggests any voluntary self-mutilation or disfigurement of ourselves is a desecration of God’s workmanship (Ps 119:73), disrespectful to Him making us in His image. (Ge 9:6) As children of JEHOVAH (De 14:1), we should treat ourselves and each other with honor and respect (1Pe 2:17a), in both our appearance and conduct.

Further, our outside should reflect our inside: our physical appearance is how we first communicate and reveal ourselves and we shouldn’t send mixed messages; the initial impression we present to others should be consistent with who we are and what we represent. (2Co 5:20) We are the light of the world (Mt 5:14), and our physical appearance should align with this identity. (15-16)

So, to reflect who we are in God, we’re to maintain a clean (Ep 5:3), orderly (2Th 3:7), moderate (Php 4:5), sober (1Th 5:8) outward appearance; we ought not needlessly offend (2Co 6:3), distract (Co 3:17) or align ourselves with any unwholesomenesss or darkness. (Ep 5:11)

Further, we must also carefully avoid applying these principles governing outward appearance in a superficial manner, looking for arbitrary, extra-biblical ways to separate ourselves from the world. In the same way God doesn’t call us to believe differently from the world just for the sake of being different, He doesn’t call us to appear visibly different from the world as an end in itself: this would be divisive, a spirit of variance, unloving and therefore sinful. (Ga 5:20)

To the extent cultural norms are compatible with godliness, conforming helps us relate with others in community and set them at ease, which is consistent with loving our neighbors as ourselves. Yet when we’re tempted to emulate the world in ways which are inconsistent with holiness we should resist. (Ja 4:4)

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The Vanity

Most people appear (to me) to be walking around in vanity, foolishness, emptiness, consumed with frivolous, temporal concerns. (Ep 4:17-18) What occupies the hearts and minds of almost everyone around us will vanish like vapor in the wind. (Ja 4:14b) It will all come to nothing. (Ga 6:7-8)

This may seem harsh, but think about it: what’s left of the earthly concerns of those nameless, faceless masses of humanity who’ve been dead for 1000 years? whose careers, family and friends are all long forgotten? Except for those rare exceptions recorded for us in history, art and stories, every detail of their entire existence has completely vanished from this world. You and I will be no exception. (Ec 1:2)

We may find this troublesome, distasteful and unpleasant, to think our entire existence is pointless, and rightly so. We experience an intrinsic desire to be meaningful, to fulfill a special purpose or destiny, to be significant, to be remembered. (Ge 11:4)

But vanity carries the idea of waste, purposelessness, of being empty, void, without substance or weight. It implies a problem, that purpose or meaning has been missed or lost; an open opportunity to become significant forfeited forever. (Mt 7:23)

This instinct for meaning implies our behavior is being monitored, measured and evaluated according to an eternal, moral standard (2Co 5:10); there is divine expectation in all we do (Ec 12:14), and in that sense meaning is timeless: God will treasure His elect uniquely for all eternity (Re 2:17); He will never forget us and what we have done for Him. (He 6:10)

To find true significance then is to find it forever. (Ro 2:6-7) Our longing for purpose is only fulfilled in being remembered and acknowledged by God throughout eternity (Re 3:12): we can only have real significance in Him. (Da 12:3)

The alternative is to squander one’s life in temporal concerns (Php 3:18-19) and perpetually bear the shame of having frittered away our own eternal significance. (Da 12:2)

What we’re observing is that only the God-centered life is truly meaningful (Mt 7:24-25); only God-honoring thoughts and actions pass the test. (26-27)

Those who don’t love Jesus Christ (1Co 16:22), who err, who deviate from God’s Law as a manner of life, are trodden down by God Himself as waste, pointless and vain (Ps 119:118); in the Day of His wrath He will trample them all in His fury. (Is 63:3) There is no purpose or meaning left when we alienate ourselves from Him. (Ps 73:27)

Moment by moment, what kind of treasure are we laying up in Heaven? (Mt 6:19-21) Are we storing up gold, silver and precious stones, metaphors for godly motives and actions in this life? or is it mostly wood, hay and stubble? (1Co 3:12) What tiny little fragments, what puny remnants of our earthly existence will survive the fiery evaluation of God? (13)

Our labor in God is not in vain (1Co 15:58), but absolutely everything else is. Let’s lay up for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come, laying hold of eternal life (1Ti 6:18-19), such that we’ll be remembered as eternally significant for the glory of God. (1Pe 1:7)

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Give None Offence

During any holiday season it’s appropriate to understand the origins of the holiday and its meaning, to know why people celebrate it and discern whether it’s pleasing to God to participate. For God’s feasts, those specifically commanded in Scripture, there should be no concern; the challenge relates to culturally accepted traditions which might be considered sinful.

For example, is it OK to dress up in costumes on Halloween, or have an Easter egg hunt for the kids, or put up a Christmas tree and exchange presents? None of these traditions have any precedent in Scripture; they’re all rooted in pagan festivals “Christianized” by the Roman Catholic Church and adopted into its annual calendar.

In looking into this, many well-meaning Christians find these traditions repulsive and ungodly and refuse to participate, claiming we’re not to worship like the heathen or learn their ways. (De 20:18) They may even become inordinately passionate about not observing these holidays, walking in the misguided passion of the iconoclast, who simply enjoys pointing out and destroying other people’s beliefs as an end in itself.

In exposing the ignorance of those who’ve never really studied the history of these traditions for themselves, we can easily come across as “holier than thou”, judgmental, condescending and arrogant. This can become offensive to those who’ve grown up observing them, being encouraged and blessed in spite of their ignorance, and we should avoid all unnecessary offenses. (1Co 10:32) After all, there are much bigger issues to focus on, sins we’ve yet to articulate well and overcome, consequently running rampant in our families and churches. Majoring on the minor can easily become a distraction from our primary focus and calling in Christ, a kind of shallow virtue signaling.

Yet even if we have full understanding of these matters and see no particular benefit in observing these holidays ourselves, we are often in close community with family, friends, neighbors and work associates who still love to celebrate them, and often do so relatively innocently, even being spiritually, encouraged in them. We feel the need to find a way to live in peace in our communities and love our neighbors as ourselves, without offending our God or needlessly offending others.

In regard to observing any man-made custom or tradition, two simple principles guide godly behavior. Firstly, never willfully violate an explicit command of God (1Jn 2:1a); if a holiday tradition is forbidden in Torah, then abstain. Secondly, avoid behavior likely to cause others to stumble and sin (1Co 8:9-12), for this violates the law of Love. (1Co 16:14)

In applying these principles, I am unaware of any specific tradition or custom typically celebrated in Christian holidays which explicitly violates Torah. Putting up a Christmas tree, hunting for Easter eggs and even wearing masks or costumes are evidently all harmless in themselves. While some of these traditions may have at one time been associated with ungodly beliefs, the acts themselves are not forbidden in Torah and any direct association with pagan beliefs has long vanished, so practicing them does not encourage anyone today to adopt any related ancient, pagan mindset.

Having said this, we must be especially careful in addressing Halloween, which is perhaps the most problematic Roman Catholic tradition adopted in the West, where we often find a uniquely unhealthy, morbid focus on spiritual darkness, death, horror, etc.

Clearly, glorying in, celebrating or imitating sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy or divination is contrary to Torah; all who practice such things are an abomination to God. (De 18:10-12) Further, we’re encouraged to focus on wholesome, good and godly things (Php 4:8), which the very spirit of Halloween seems to violate.

Yet Halloween itself, historically, did not originate as a celebration of witchcraft or any kind of evil; it was instituted as an evening of preparation for All Saints Day on Nov 1, a time to be on guard against the forces of evil, to honor deceased loved ones and remember Christian martyrs. On the surface, this type of tradition does not seem evil; it might even be a good thing, all else being equal.

Rome was trying to “Christianize” Samhain, a Celtic celebration of the harvest, when it was believed the barrier between the dead and living was blurred such that spirits of the deceased might return to interact with the living. Wearing masks and lighting bonfires, traditions incorporated into Halloween itself, were thought to confuse and ward off evil spirits; there was no intent to celebrate them.

One might argue that it was inappropriate for Roman Catholicism to try to paganize this Celtic holiday, but even if it was, this doesn’t mean Halloween itself is explicitly evil; it was evidently not intended as a celebration of evil and no rituals or traditions officially included in this holiday violate Torah.

Even today, when those celebrating Halloween appear to be highlighting evil and celebrating it, in my experience they’re most often doing so ignorantly, not even believing in witchcraft or divination, certainly not approving it or wishing to promote or imitate it. Even so, the natural man’s fascination with evil (Jn 3:19) is often on display most vividly during this season, and often does lead to inappropriate behavior, even when done ignorantly or thoughtlessly.

One must be very careful, alert, observant and intentional about not encouraging or approving unhealthy activity or focus. (Ep 5:11) We are children of light and of the day, we are not of the night nor of darkness (1Th 5:5); we should always let our light shine. (Mt 5:14-16) Yet doing so humbly, without being self-righteous, overly critical, dismissive or uncharitable is indeed quite challenging.

Certainly, there likely are Halloween celebrations today which openly celebrate evil, where participating would damage a godly witness among unbelievers and encourage believers in unwholesome activities. When invited to any festivity, the thoughtful saint must use discretion (Ps 112:5), and carefully abstain from all appearance of evil. (1Th 5:22)

When considering whether to participate, let’s remember Christ lives in us, Who always does what He sees the Father do, and ask, “What is Jesus in me doing?” And let us be gentle with our brothers and sisters who don’t call it the same way we do: before their own Master they stand or fall (Ro 14:4); unless they’re plainly violating Torah, we ought not judge them. (13)

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Thy Name In Vain

Taking God’s name in vain is a serious offense: Jehovah will not hold anyone guiltless who takes His name in vain. (Ex 20:7) He introduces this concept in the Decalogue as the last command of three relating how we’re to treat God Himself. What does it mean, to take God’s name in vain?

Traditionally, it appears to have been understood to mean we’re not to speak or write God’s name inappropriately, which is certainly dishonoring to God. (Ps 139:20) Yet a careful look at the text itself indicates this is not the whole of the matter; it is perhaps only periphery.

The command does not refer to speaking or writing God’s name, but to taking His name, taking it up, bearing it, carrying it along. The Hebrew is נָשָׂא, nasah, to bear. Cain chooses this word in his complaint, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” (Ge 4:13), and God uses it to describe how the high priest continually bears the names of Israel upon his heart in the breastplate (Ex 28:29), and also how he bears their judgment before Jehovah. (30) So, taking Jehovah’s name seems to be more about taking it upon one’s self, associating and personally identifying with it … with Him.

So, what then does it mean to take up Jehovah’s name, or to associate ourselves with it, in vain? Vain is the Hebrew שָׁוְא, shav, meaning empty, false, deceitful. It is used in the command to not raise a false report, to mislead and give the wrong impression. (Ex 23:1)

Thus, taking God’s name in vain is to falsely identify and associate ourselves with God by appealing to His name and character when we aren’t submitted to Him, not loyal to Him, not faithful to Him. It would include speaking on His behalf when He hasn’t called us to do so and told us what to say. (De 18:20) It also would describe identifying ourselves as God’s servants or representatives under false pretenses or ulterior motives, to gain the respect of and/or otherwise influence, manipulate or control others, using God to benefit ourselves; this is the heart of all false religion.

When the disobedient become impostors, infiltrating the Faith, presenting themselves as Christ’s disciples and servants (2Co 11:15), they evidently do more harm to the name and reputation of God (Tit 2:5) than those who merely speak or write His name in appropriately. When we falsely represent Him to others, who then associate God Himself with our sins and indiscretions and blaspheme Him because of us. (Ro 2:24), God will not overlook this; He will hold each of us accountable for how we leverage and exploit our relationship with Him.

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No Man That Warreth

When we hear the term “spiritual warfare” we might think of casting out demons and/or praying for lost loved ones to be converted. That’s certainly part of the story, but in many respects it’s a very small part.

Each of us is in an ongoing spiritual battle every moment of our lives; if we’re unaware of this fact, perhaps we’re asleep in captivity, or worse — on the wrong side.

We’re in this battle 24X7 because Satan never rests or gives up; he never backs off and gives us a break. (1Pe 5:8) Whenever we let our guard down, he’s right there to take advantage (2Co 2:11): to steal, kill and destroy. (Jn 10:10) Whenever we make a little more room for him, he takes more ground and fights to hold on to it. (Ep 4:27)

If we’re ignorant of the struggle, then we simply aren’t in the fight. This can only mean one of two things: either we’ve been taken prisoner and Satan has us right where he wants us (2Ti 2:25-26), or we’re in league with the enemy and serving him. (Ep 2:2)

This battle can be described very simply: Satan lies to us to get us to sin, to violate God’s Law. (1Jn 3:4) Every time we believe him, we give him more power in our lives. (Jn 10:34) To engage him in battle we [1] identify the lies [2] believe the truth (repent) and [3] live in truth with our whole mind, heart and soul. (Jn 8:31-32) Every dimension of spiritual conflict of any concern to us can be related in these terms.

This war is not one of our choosing; Satan chooses when and how to fight us; we can either defend ourselves or give in to him and let him defeat us. There aren’t any other choices here.

Jocko Willink

Seeing we’re in such a battle, we should learn to think and act like soldiers who aim to win. A warrior disciplines himself to endure hardness and difficulty (2Ti 2:2); he doesn’t entangle and distract himself with worldly affairs; he’s focused on the mission, ready at a moment’s notice to engage the enemy. (3)

A good soldier keeps his weapon close and becomes proficient with it, always training and improving. He studies to understand his enemy (2Co 2:11) and learns proper military strategy from those who’ve succeeded in combat. He also learns from his own mistakes and failures, integrating his own practical experience. When he fails in battle, he doesn’t resign himself to failure: he doesn’t quit. He picks himself back up, studies and trains to correct his mistakes, knowing he is destined to overcome. (1Jn 5:4)

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Anathema Maranatha

Eternal hellfire and brimstone is seldom mentioned anymore, and the little we do hear about it is often tearless (Ph 3:18), yet Christ warns us all to avoid Hell at any cost. (Mt 5:29-30) Who among us still races headlong into this dreadful end? (Is 33:14)

How many souls are actually going to make it to Heaven? One in a thousand? (Ec 7:28) One in ten thousand? If the antediluvian proportion of His elect is any indication (one in a billion1Pe 3:20) it’s only a remnant (Ro 11:5); very, very few. (Mt 7:14)

The reality is all who don’t love Jesus Christ will be anathema maranatha: cursed when Christ returns (1Co 16:22); this is very nearly everyone. (Mt 7:13)

By inference, all who aren’t keeping and obeying the words of Christ are headed to Hell. (Jn 14:23) Those who don’t obey Him don’t love Him. (24a)

Similarly, all who mind earthly things, who focus more on temporal concerns than on God’s kingdom, these folk are also headed to Hell. (Php 3:19) The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches distract them (Mt 13:22), because these also do not love Him.

Who’s living as if they’re elect? Who is obeying Jesus Christ today (Mt 7:21), cherishing His Words (Col 3:16), the words of Torah (Ro 7:22), hiding them in their hearts and meditating on them day and night as a manner of life? dedicated to Him and to His glory? Almost no one. It shouldn’t surprise us, but it’s sobering.

The fact people aren’t aware of their dreadful, eternal fate is irrelevant; science and/or religion may give peace for the moment, but confidence without holiness is an illusion, deception. (He 12:14) They’re stumbling heedless over the fathomless depths of Hell itself every moment of their lives, and will fall into it suddenly, utterly consumed with terrors. (Ps 73:18-19)

How are we supposed to live in light of this? First, we diligently make our own election sure (2Pe 1:10), working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Php 2:12), examining ourselves in light of God’s revelation whether we truly are in the faith, and prove it out for ourselves. (2Co 13:5) Are the characteristics which accompany salvation evident in our own lives? (He 6:9)

Then we do what we can to encourage others to diligently seek God (He 11:6) and strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), bearing patiently with them (2Ti 2:24-25), knowing we ourselves also were lost (Ti 3:3), teaching and warning those who will listen (2Co 5:11) with all wisdom (Co 1:28), helping them as much as we can along the way. (He 12:24-25)

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