Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Call from His Heights

I’ve been preaching through Proverbs for a while now during our Lord’s Day evening service, and teaching through L. Michael Morales’ most excellent Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? (InterVarsity Press, 2015) on Tuesday mornings. While Morales’ work focuses on the Pentateuch (especially Leviticus), the principles of biblical theology he highlights span the entire Bible. In this post, I want to examine a few places where the “mountain of the LORD” finds a thematic echo in Proverbs with the house of the Woman Wisdom at the top of the city and her call to join her for a feast in the heights.

“Does not wisdom call,
And understanding lift up her voice?
On top of the heights beside the way,
Where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
Beside the gates, at the opening to the city,
At the entrance of the doors, she cries out
‘To you, O men, I call,
And my voice is to the sons of men.
O naive ones, understand prudence;
And, O fools, understand wisdom.
Listen, for I will speak noble things;
And the opening of my lips will reveal right things.
For my mouth will utter truth;
And wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
All the utterances of my mouth are in righteousness;
There is nothing crooked or perverted in them.
They are all straightforward to him who understands,
And right to those who find knowledge.
Take my instruction and not silver,
And knowledge rather than choicest gold.’
(For wisdom is better than jewels;
And all desirable things cannot compare with her.)
‘I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
And I find knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverted mouth, I hate.
Counsel is mine and sound wisdom;
I am understanding, power is mine.
By me kings reign,
And rulers decree justice.
By me princes rule, and nobles,
All who judge rightly.
I love those who love me;
And those who diligently seek me will find me.
Riches and honor are with me,
Enduring wealth and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold,
And my yield better than choicest silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
In the midst of the paths of justice,
To endow those who love me with wealth,
That I may fill their treasuries.
The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
From everlasting I was established,
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills I was brought forth;
While He had not yet made the earth and the fields,
Nor the first dust of the world.
When He established the heavens, I was there,
When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When the springs of the deep became fixed,
When He set for the sea its boundary
So that the water would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Then I was beside Him, as a master workman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in the world, His earth,
And having my delight in the sons of men.
Now therefore, O sons, listen to me,
For blessed are they who keep my ways.
Heed instruction and be wise,
And do not neglect it.
Blessed is the man who listens to me,
Watching daily at my gates,
Waiting at my doorposts.
For he who finds me finds life
And obtains favor from the Lord.
But he who sins against me injures himself;
All those who hate me love death.’
Wisdom has built her house,
She has hewn out her seven pillars;
She has prepared her food, she has mixed her wine;
She has also set her table;
She has sent out her maidens, she calls
From the tops of the heights of the city
‘Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!’
To him who lacks understanding she says,
‘Come, eat of my food
And drink of the wine I have mixed.
Forsake your folly and live,
And proceed in the way of understanding’”
(Proverbs 8:1-9:6)

The false “wisdom” (see James 3:14-16) the “Woman Folly,” makes it her ambition to deceive through her imitation of  this ascended true wisdom:
“The woman of folly is boisterous,
She is naive and knows nothing.
She sits at the doorway of her house,
On a seat by the high places of the city
Calling to those who pass by,
Who are making their paths straight:
‘Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,’
And to him who lacks understanding she says,
‘Stolen water is sweet;
And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’
But he does not know that the dead are there,
That her guests are in the depths of Sheol”

Notice the contrast between the message given “on a seat by the high places of the city” with the final result of that message: “…her guests are in the depths of Sheol.”

The same contrast between ambition-to-heights and Sheol is seen in the taunt of the king of Babylon:
“…you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit’”
(Isaiah 14:13-15).

In the story of the tower in Babel, the LORD had to “come down” (וַיֵּרֶד, from יָרַד) to engage the builders (Genesis 11:5), implying that their place of construction was in a lower realm. In the same way, the woman Folly’s realm is a descending one toward Sheol:
“…the lips of an adulteress drip honey
And smoother than oil is her speech;
But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down
[יֹרְדֹות, from יָרַד] to death,
Her steps take hold of Sheol.
She does not ponder the path of life;
…her house is the way to Sheol,
[יֹרְדֹות, from יָרַד] to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 5:3-6; 7:27).

In the other Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the “heights” are known as the domain of God:
·        “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven,
And my Advocate is on high
(Job 16:19).

·        “Dominion and awe belong to Him
Who establishes peace in His heights
(Job 25:2).

·        “And what is the portion of God from above
Or the heritage of the Almighty from on high?”
(Job 31:2).

In the Song of songs, the lovers either dwell on mountains and descend to meet, or are compared to mountains.
·        “‘Listen! My beloved!
Behold, he is coming,
Climbing on the mountains,
Leaping on the hills!
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Behold, he is standing behind our wall,
He is looking through the windows,
He is peering through the lattice.
My beloved responded and said to me,       
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,
And come along”’” (Song of songs 2:8-10).

·        “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
In the secret place of the steep pathway,
Let me see your form,
Let me hear your voice;
For your voice is sweet,
And your form is lovely”
(Song of songs 2:14). How can we not hear an echo of Exodus 33:18-23 in this Song?

·        “Until the cool of the day
When the shadows flee away,
I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh
[1:13; 3:6; 4:14; 5:1,5,13]
And to the hill of frankincense
[3:6; 4:14](Song of songs 4:6).

·        “You are altogether beautiful, my darling,
And there is no blemish in you.
Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
May you come with me from Lebanon.
Journey down from the summit of Amana,
From the summit of Senir and Hermon,
From the dens of lions,
From the mountains of leopards…
…a garden locked is my sister, my bride,
A rock garden locked, a spring sealed up…
…you are a garden spring,
A well of fresh water,
And streams flowing from Lebanon”
(Song of songs 4:7,8,12,15). As the garden in Eden was built on a mountain and its river flowed downward to water the lower region (representing the “four corners” of the earth) in Genesis 2:10-14, the bride of this Song dwells on high in a garden whose spring flows down to lower realms.

·        “You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
As lovely as Jerusalem”
(Song of songs 6:4).

The “heights” in the Psalms, too, are the domain of the LORD:
Psalm 7:7; 10:5; 18:16; 68:18; 71:19; 92:8; 93:4; 102:19; 144:7; 148:1.

The call of the “Woman Wisdom” in Proverbs to join her for a feast in the heights echoes the call from heaven in the Revelation to “come up here” (4:1; 11:12; compare with Exodus 24:12; 34:2).

This “Woman Wisdom” is a personification of “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17), given to those who “ask in faith without any doubting” (1:6), “coming down from the Father of lights” (1:17).

Jesus promises His disciples that a time will come when they are arrested and persecuted. They will not stand alone to give witness, but the Christ assures them that He Himself “will give…utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute” (Luke 21:15). Where is Jesus while His disciples are standing trial for His “names’ sake”? From where will He give them “utterance and wisdom”? He is in the heights: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (21:27,28).

The “Woman Wisdom’s” call to join her in the heights points us to the gifting of the Father and Son from above. It is “in the Spirit” (given by the Father and Son from “on high,” Luke 24:49) that we are lifted up with the apostle to “a great and high mountain,” from which we meet the descending “holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God” (Revelation 21:10,11). This “city” is imagery for the Church, which is “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9). She is no mere piece of architecture, but a people. Us.

The Bible paints a single, glorious portrait of a return to a greater walled garden on the mountain of God, greater than the one from which we were exiled at the beginning of the story. Elements of this beautiful mural are found all over the Book, including the Wisdom Literature. May we catch glimpse of these, and may they, by the illumination of the Book’s Author, God the Holy Spirit, enrapture us to an elevated joy in what God has in store for His people.
Pueblo Mountain, north of Taos, New Mexico (2010)

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Birth of a Girl and the Great Story

I saw a meme slandering the “religion” of the Bible yesterday, justifying the rejection because of this citation (I give it exactly as it appeared): A woman who bears a female child is twice as filthy as one who gives birth to a male. Leviticus 12:1-5

First, there is no verse that says this (notice the citation is for 5 verses). Second, no English translation of Leviticus 12:1-5 uses the word “filthy.”

The passage hinted at and twisted actually says this: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying: “When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days” (Leviticus 12:1-5).[1]

You can reject the Bible because of a single idea (not accurately quoted) that seems offensive in our culture and time (so much for tolerance, understanding, and pluralism, eh?). Or, you can step back and see this verse as reaching back to the first and greatest low point in human history where a promise of incredible saving grace was given…then see that this verse bridges between that bright promise on a dark day and a future day when the promise was fulfilled in the greatest gift the world has ever (or will ever) see.

Let me tell you a story. Leviticus 12:1-5 is an element of that story.

In the beginning, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule’” (Genesis 1:27,28). There’s no category of “unclean” at this point. God’s creation “was very good” (1:31). The “unclean” part comes in later.

God created a unique place of joyful communion with Him – “a garden…in Eden” (2:8). All that human beings could need was there. They could “from any tree of the garden…eat freely” (2:16). Except one tree, which was the test of faithful obedience to the Creator Who had supplied their needs and made them to be in blessed relationship with Him, the Source of Life and Goodness. The one commandment was given to them: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’” (Genesis 2:15-17).

Then something happened.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.”’ The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate…” (Genesis 3:1-6).[2]

Every verse after Genesis 3:6, and every moment of human existence (including yours and mine) afterwards, is grace. That could have been the end. But God, from before the foundation of the world, knew what would transpire and had a plan. The ending would be better than the beginning. It’s a story played out over a very long time, though. As the twisting and criticism of Leviticus 12:1-5 shows, we don’t often have the patience for a long story, no matter how beautiful.

Serpent, woman, and man are summoned to God’s tribunal for this rebellion. The serpent is cursed by God. In the curse, God makes a promise. The Promise. “I will put enmity [warfare] between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel” (3:15). Immediately after this, the woman’s punishment is announced: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth” (3:16). The woman tastes death – the punishment for rebellion – in giving birth, even shedding blood (life, as we’ll see). Every birth is a reminder of the sentence of death, a reminder that the saving serpent-Crusher promised by God is desperately needed.

A long time later, God organizes His people into a nation, giving them moral laws, civil laws, and ceremonial laws. The ceremonial laws reminded them that they were a people who lived by a different standard than all the other peoples of the world, who were alienated from Him and living however they desired (the autonomy espoused by the serpent that fateful first day of the Fall of humanity). Among those ceremonial laws was Leviticus 12:1-5. The shedding of blood was significant from a symbolic standpoint, for “…the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). Bloodshed was to be a reminder that rebellion against God forfeited the life of the rebel, and that sin had separated us from God. The blood and the ritual inconvenience was to be a reminder. Those laws under that old covenant (we call it the Old Testament) applied to all of life for God’s people – there was no aspect of life that didn’t point them to the Great Story. Including childbirth, in which (as a result of Eve’s rebellion) there is the shedding of blood, a picture of sin-caused death (alienation from God) even in the entry of life into the world. We need the serpent-Crushing Savior.

Why, though, was the ritual time of “uncleanness” longer with the birth of a girl? It’s not because God or the Bible consider girls bad. In fact, did you know that, among all the ancient religious texts, the Bible is the only one that tells us about the creation of women (Genesis 2:18-25)?[3] The Bible is filled with women who were great heroes, from the judges of Israel to prophetesses to incredible key parts of the Great Story! No, Leviticus 12:5 isn’t there because girls are worse than boys. It’s there to keep reminding us of the roots of the Great Story and The Promise. The apostle Paul later says, “the woman [Eve] being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Timothy 2:14). The birth of a girl, daughter of Eve, reminds us that through the woman Eve’s actions, sin entered humanity. Before you get angry at how unfair this seems, remember: God is not holding a grudge against the female gender because of Eve. He is reminding every generation in which a girl was born that through the “seed” of the woman the serpent-Crusher was going to enter the world. The birth of a girl brought a longer meditation on this Promise and the need for that Promise’s fulfillment than the birth of a boy.
Instead of the female of humanity being a stigma forever reminding of one woman’s sin, the female of humanity was, by the gracious plan and Promise of God, the means by which the solution to humanity’s problem was to be solved. Bloodshed and “uncleanness” were reminders that we all are under sentence of death for our rebellion against God, but through the woman a serpent-Crusher was going to come. This was worth a two weeks’ reminder with every birth of a girl among the ancient people of God.

Let’s fast-forward. The Bible tells us that, “when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4), including the “Law” contained in Leviticus 12:1-5. The serpent-Crusher didn’t come through the “seed” of a man. This is why Mary’s conceiving of Christ as a virgin is theologically important – it fulfills the promise of the first pages of the Bible! The messenger-angel said this to Mary upon bringing her the news: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The same messenger-angel assured Mary’s fiancé Joseph with this revelation: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child Who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20,21).

The regulation of Leviticus 12:1-5 isn’t there to stigmatize women and infant girls. It’s there as a reminder that humanity’s greatest problem, brought into the world by the first woman’s sin, will be incredibly and gloriously solved by God through a woman. The beginning was tragic, but it is infinitely out-shined by the ending. Like any good story, the tension was maintained and built throughout the telling, and Leviticus 12:1-5 was part of that.

It’d be a shame to miss out on the whole Story.

Genesis 3:15 has been fulfilled by God when He sent His Son into the world through a woman - not just one famous woman (Mary), but through women who were providentially brought into the Christ-story even though their backgrounds should have excluded them. Ruth was from Moab, not Israel…she wasn’t part of the nation God was using to bring His Son into the world, but by His incredible gracious plan to “purchase for God with [Christ’s blood]…from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9), she was included. Her name is in Jesus Christ’s genealogy (Matthew 1:5). Rahab was a harlot in Jericho…the same Jericho filled with idol-worshipers consigned to destruction (Joshua 6:1-27). But by God’s providential plan and grace, Rahab and her family were saved out of the destruction. And she became part of the Old Testament people of God, Israel. Her name is in Jesus Christ’s genealogy (Matthew 1:5).

The ceremonial regulation of Leviticus 12:1-5 doesn’t apply to new covenant (New Testament) believers anymore, because it was fulfilled in Christ, the serpent-Crushing seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15. Now “you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you” (Galatians 3:26-29, New Living Translation). Men and women are equal in the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ (the same equality by which both are described as the image of God back in Genesis 1:27). In Christ, a woman is to be honored “as a fellow heir of the grace of life.” God doesn’t even hear the prayers of anyone who treats her less than this (1 Peter 3:7)!

Let me finish up the story by taking us to the words of the apostle Paul: “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness - with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she [Eve] will be saved through childbearing [her “Seed,” Jesus Christ] - if they [female Christians] continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:8-15, English Standard Version). The mandate that women not be pastor-teachers in the Church isn’t a punishment. It is, like Leviticus 12:1-5, a telling of the Gospel story in the role women play in the Church. Women still speak the truth of God’s Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, what the Bible calls “prophecy” (Acts 2:17; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5). But they don’t take the leading teaching role in the Church, as a telling of the story of Eve and the eventual salvation that came through her “Seed,” Jesus Christ. Children of Eve, tell this story by continuing in “faith” in her “Seed,” Jesus Christ, in “love and holiness, with self-control.”

I’ve heard for decades now that the attention span of the average American is continually shrinking. I wonder if we’re capable of reading beyond a meme or bumper sticker anymore. Please don’t reject the Grand Story of God’s Love because of a single tiny falsehood that popped up on your screen appealing to your innate desire to rebel against everything.

“‘She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [in Isaiah 7:14]: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:21-23).

Believe in Jesus Christ, this “Seed” of the woman, the great serpent-Crusher, the Defeater of the sin-penalty of eternal death, the Savior of all – men and women equally – who call on His name, the Reconcilion to our Creator, and the Demonstration of the love of God.

Yes, the love of God. “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world [as the “Seed” of the woman] so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son [as the “Seed” of the woman] to be the propitiation [punishment-taker] for our sins” (1 John 4:9,10).


[1] New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.
[2] What’s sad about this is that the serpent hasn’t had to change his strategy in the least since that moment. The meme slandering the “religion” of the Bible is a modern expression of that “serpent of old” (Revelation 12:9): twist the Word of God, then outright deny the Word of God. It worked then, and still works today. The Bible says these continuing followers of the serpent’s way are in “the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). God grant them freedom to the truth of the Bible!
[3] Some will chafe at the creation of the woman – wife to the first man – as a “helper” (Genesis 2:18). “The term ‘helper,’ which is also used by God to identify Himself (Exod. 18:4; Deut. 33:7), describes the woman God created to become a partner with the man in the overwhelming task of exercising dominion over the world and extending the generations (Gen. 1:28; 2:18). When you call upon God to be your ‘Helper,’ you are not suggesting that He divest Himself of His deity and supernatural powers. Rather you ask Him to come to your aid with the powers of His divine person. There is no hint of inferiority in the term. It describes function (what she does) rather than worth (who she is).” Dorothy Kelley Patterson, “The Family,” in Baptist Faith & Message 2000: Critical Issues in America’s Largest Protestant Denomination, ed. Douglas K. Blount and Joseph D. Wooddell (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 188.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Prayer of Psalm 10 Will Be Answered

“The Lord is King forever and ever;
[unbelieving people-groups] have perished from His land [the place of covenant-communion].
O Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble;
You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear
To vindicate the orphan and the oppressed,
So that man who is of the earth
[unbelieving “tare” among the “wheat”] will no longer cause terror” (Psalm 10:16-18).

Both verses 16 and 18 use the Hebrew word אֶרֶץ, rendered differently in the English (“land” and “earth”). I would suggest that they both be understood as “land” in the theologically-significant sense – the old covenant symbol of the place of God’s fellowship and blessing with His covenant people.

The “nations” (גּוֹי), in the context of “the land” (אֶרֶץ), refers to unbelievers, this idea being an historical echo of the idolatrous people-groups of Canaan as Joshua led the people into the Promised Land.

Psalm 10:1-15 describes the situation to us. Unbelievers are oppressing God’s people, especially the most vulnerable among them.

There are two teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ that, when read together, fit the context of Psalm 10:16-18. I’ve already hinted at the first: “Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?” And he said to them, “An enemy has done this!” The slaves said to him, “Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?” But he said, “No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn’”’” (Matthew 13:24-30).

The troubling unbelievers in the communion between God and His believing covenant people will eventually be judged – this is the prayer of Psalm 10 and the promise of Jesus.

The second teaching of Jesus which is applicable to our reading of Psalm 10 speaks of “stumbling blocks” of “these little ones” (the vulnerable of God’s covenant people). Both Church discipline in this world and “eternal fire” in the next are promised (again, the answer to the prayer of Psalm 10): “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost’” (Matthew 18:1-11). Go on to read 18:15-20, where the context for “stumbling blocks” is “the Church” (18:17) – the place of God’s communion and blessing with His covenant people, prefigured by “the land” in the Old Testament (including Psalm 10).

May we be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in the Church, beloved. The Lord of the Church hears their prayers.

Meanwhile, let us faithfully speak the Word in the power of the Spirit (“prophecy”), that the “tares” and “stumbling blocks” in our midst will be “convicted by all…[and be] called to account by all…[and that] the secrets of his heart [will be] disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:24,25). Let us exercise discipline, treating the unrepentant as a "Gentiles and tax collector" (unbelieving objects of evangelism) and the repentant with unceasing forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35) for the glory of the Lord of this field.