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Today's Readings: Judges 6 | Isaiah 33 | James 3-4

Reading 1 - Jdg 6:19-21

"Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. The angel of God said to him, 'Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.' And Gideon did so. With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared" (Jdg 6:19-21).

"The sign that he sought was the acceptance of a sacrifice, such as he now felt to be necessary, for -- without direct rebuke -- the apostasy of his people was being brought home to him. With as little delay as possible he produced a young goat as a peace-offering. Perhaps he had also in mind that a kid of the goats was the prescribed sin-offering of a ruler of the people (Lev 4:22,23).

"He brought, in addition, a meal-offering of exceptional quantity -- an ephah of flour (more than half a hundred weight!) baked into cakes, and this, at a time when kid and meal alike could hardly be spared.

"Thus in these offerings he expressed, without a word spoken, his consciousness of the need for expiation of sin, his earnest seeking for fellowship with God, and his desire (symbolized by the meal-offering) to dedicate the work of his life to God.

"So perhaps he was not altogether surprised when commanded to place both offerings on a nearby rock and to drench them in the broth of the sacrifice. A touch of the angel's rod, and all was consumed in a roar on divine fire. It was an anticipation of Elijah's experience on Mount Carmel. Sin-offering, peace-offering, meal-offering -- all were become an instantaneous burnt-offering, a sweet savour unto the Lord, symbolizing that, from now on, Gideon was to be wholly and entirely given to the holy work of his God and to the deliverance of the people of his God.

"Thus Gideon had the sign he craved. With it his inkling became a certainty, and he shrank away aghast that he in his sins had talked face to face with an archangel from the very presence of Omnipotence. He had neither covered his eyes nor removed the sandals from his feet. Then how could he expect to live?

"These surging doubts were quickly silenced by a firm angelic assurance, and his mind was quickly diverted to the work that lay before him -- immediate drastic action against the canker of idolatry. Baal's altar must remain no longer, and the foul phallic symbol of all the beastly practices associated with that cult must be utterly destroyed. Chicken-hearted Gideon, thou mighty man of valour, see thou to it!

"And the angel departed" (Harry Whittaker, "Judges and Ruth").

Reading 2 - Isa 33:15,16

"He who walks righteously and speaks what is right, who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes, who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil -- this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress" (Isa 33:15,16).

The ancient rabbi Samlai stated that Moses gave 613 commandments, and that David reduced these to 11 commandments (that is, Psa 15). Further, he stated that Isaiah reduced the 11 to 6 (Isa 33:15). What he could not mention, of course, was that Jesus was to summarize all the law in only two commandments (Mat 22:40).

Reading 3 - James 3:17

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere" (Jam 3:17).

"In times of ecclesial strife, it is often assumed, quite unfairly, that to advocate a policy of patient negotiation and attempt to avert division by every proper means, is to display lack of a sense of Scriptural priorities and unhealthy tolerance of error. James is often (wrongly) called in aid of a vigorous campaigning for purity of doctrine as an essential preliminary to the restoration of harmony and peace. For does he not say 'the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable' (Jam 3:17) and is unity not therefore dependent upon oneness of mind in things spiritual?" (Alfred Nicholls).

And it is so tempting to read this phrase as a time sequence: Take care of the purity first, and then the peace will naturally follow. Contend earnestly for the faith, with tooth and nail if need be, and then take the fragments that remain when the strife has run its course, and establish an "honorable" peace only among those who are absolutely of one mind -- because they agree absolutely with you! Can the policy so much like the repressive tactics of a Hitler or a Stalin, tactics that allow no disagreement and ensure peace by steamrolling the opposition -- can such a philosophy truly commend itself to Christ's brethren? Is "first" really a note about time, as though one could be "pure" this week but not necessarily "peaceable" till the next, when the other fellow has been disposed of?

The entire passage in James (Jam 3:13-18), dealing with true wisdom, is an extended contrast between two types of "wisdom", one which has its origins from "beneath" and the other from "above". Envying and strife and debate, motivated by impure thoughts, are from beneath; they are natural rather than spiritual. Against such manifestations of the "wisdom" of man the apostle Paul also spoke (2Co 12:20; Gal 5:15). By contrast, the positive theme of James' words here is a peace born of love and sincerity (purity of motives). Heavenly wisdom is free to manifest itself in works of meekness (v 13); it need not resort to bombast and agitation. True righteousness is motivated by Scriptural peace -- inward calm and outward gentleness (v 18). The words of the apostles imply far from idyllic conditions in the early ecclesias. Their warnings are just as valid, and perhaps more so, to us today as we survey a divided body and ask ourselves why.

"Even in those early days, there were men who had a measureless self-conceit, a bitter jealousy of those whom their brethren regarded with affection and trust, an arrogant confidence in their own opinion and their own judgment; men in whom there was very little of the spirit of Christ, but who were quite certain that they, and they alone, had the mind of Christ; men who were resolved, whatever might come of it, to force upon the ecclesias their own beliefs either with regard to doctrine or practice; who made parties in the ecclesia to carry out their purposes, held secret meetings, flattered those who stood by them as being faithful to conscience and to Christ, and disparaged the fidelity of all those who differed from them" (Neville Smart, James 117).

The tragic misuse of James 3:17 to justify every manner of agitation and division stems also from a misguided apprehension of the word "pure". As James uses it here, the word applies only to moral deportment, not to the body of first principles commonly but not altogether correctly called "doctrine". Indeed, the word "hagnos" and its related words have reference always to moral purity; in other passages these words are appropriately translated "chaste" (2Co 11:2; Tit 2:5; 1Pe 3:2) and "sincerely" (Phi 1:16). The verb form appears as "purify" in such passages as Jam 4:8; 1Pe 1:22; and 1Jo 3:3, with the same connotation. By using "hagnos" James does not convey so much the idea of cleansing or catharsis, but more nearly that of holiness or sanctification, freedom from any kind of defilement of mind or conscience, or from any inward stain or blemish (LG Sargent, Teachings of the Master 71). The Bible emphasis, therefore, is not upon "pure doctrine" (the phrase occurs nowhere in the AV or RV), but invariably upon "sound doctrine", the healthful teaching which informs the spiritual mind and keeps the ecclesial body pure and wholesome. It refers equally to method as to content. The very test of a teaching's soundness is whether or not it produces strife (Alfred Nicholls, Chdn 109:194). Wisdom is to be "pure", whilst doctrine is to be "sound", an enormous distinction.

It might also be noted that neither is "fellowship" ever Scripturally characterized as being "pure". Purity in the absolute sense belongs to God alone, and in any other relation is only relative. Purity of conduct is something for which to strive, since Christ commands, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Mat 5:45). But it cannot be said that we should strive for the "purity" of belief of our brethren by the questionable means of agitation. And, even if we were so instructed, the outcome of such an inquisitorial search for "purity" would certainly not be the desired "peace".

The "pure" and the "peaceable" of James' discourse are now seen as a conscious imitation of the thought (and even the order) of Matthew 5:8,9: (1) "Blessed are the pure in heart"; and (2) "Blessed are the peacemakers".

John Carter, late editor of The Christadelphian, under the heading "A Plea for Uncalled-for Disunion", wrote as follows: "The title is not ours; it is one given by bro Roberts in a call for sober and fair judgment at a time when feeling was running high just after bro Andrew's teaching had caused years of contention followed by division. Some were for pressing too far their demands upon fellow believers under the guise of 'PURITY OF TRUTH', and belaboured bro Roberts for lack of zeal because he would not endorse their efforts. Some have thought of bro Roberts as a fiery zealot always leading division. He certainly combatted, and rightly so, important and vital errors that were at different times introduced in the community. But it is clear that it was not a fanatical zeal that moved him. He recognized that there were other duties -- teaching, guiding, instructing, promoting unity where vital issues were not involved. Three pamphlets were reviewed by him which he variously described as 'Plea for Unsound Union', 'Plea for Uncalled-for Disunion', and 'Plea for Apostasy'. He repudiated all three pleas, and we endorse his attitude" (Chdn 93:224).

To this we would add certain of Robert Roberts' thoughts in his own words: "It is well to be zealous for ecclesial purity; but if we are to abstain from ecclesial association till we find an ecclesia that is perfect, we shall never have ecclesial association at all. We must have compassion as well as zeal. We are all imperfect, and unless we practice some of the charity that 'hides a multitude of sins', we shall hinder and destroy instead of helping one another" (Chdn 23:230).

"The aim of the gospel is to convert and edify, not to divide. Division is an evil, whether necessary or not. The loss of disciples through apostasy, even when it becomes inevitable, is still grievous. And many losses may well have occurred, not because members were caught out in apostasy, but because some mistaken person or group thought that one must not be peaceable until purity has been attained. And of course this is not what James is saying....The wisdom from above is pure, but it is folly to think of it in terms of purity alone, or to imagine that it can entertain purity in isolation from the warming qualities which make it at once divine in its origin and human in its sympathies. The whole theme of this exalted homily is against the pursuit of so-called purity for its own sake alone, and for a righteousness which bears peace as its fruit at the hands of peacemakers" (Alfred Norris, Bible Missionary 42:2,3).

"My conviction is that we, as a body, are in a thousand times greater danger through failure in this matter of brotherly love than in those doubtful issues which have exercised so many of our members. When once controversy has started there is usually a tendency on all sides to multiply the sins of unfairness, misrepresentation, and all the other fleshly evils that arise from strife. Stones are thrown where bread should be given. The Scriptures will save us if we will allow them to have free course, but we must search them for food and medicine and not merely for weapons" (Islip Collyer, An Appeal to Christadelphians, p 5).


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