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First Quarter 2015 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON PROVERBS
Week 10: February 28–March 6
COMMENTARY ON BEHIND THE MASK
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Behind the dazzling serpent, who utters sweet words and who seems so concerned with Eve’s happiness, hides the enemy who plots her death (Gen. 3:1–6). Disguised as “an angel of light,” Satan prepares the most dangerous traps for humankind (2 Cor. 11:14). Even more dangerous and deceitful is self-pretension; when we claim to be what we are not, we end up cheating others and even ourselves. [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 80]
Life is so full of unanswered questions, isn’t it? In a split second, seemingly random events can mean the difference between life and death. Some people go from one tragedy to another, while others do fine. All this should tell us that we need to live by faith. What things are happening right now in your life that you have to accept by faith, trusting in God? What other choice do you have? [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 81]
This lesson is about truth. Can we believe what we see and hear? Who is my friend or enemy? The author does a very nice job of bringing Solomon’s words to life in our day. You will learn much by a careful study of this week’s quarterly pages and Bible passages.
However, there are underlying issues revealed in the two passages quoted above.
First, I believe our self-pretension (self-deception) is a direct outgrowth of Satan’s schemes. It is not “more dangerous.” It is the result of his “dangerous traps.”
Second, if I am reading the thought questions at the end of the second passage correctly, faith is what you exercise when you have no other options. When your life has collapsed around you, then you need to trust God.
Both of these viewpoints are undergirded by the assumption that we humans have something to do with our salvation, holiness, righteousness, standing with God and ultimate destiny. This assumption is demonstrated by the Ellen G. White quotations selected by the author. As always, she is the final authority for all Adventist reasoning. In fact, some of what she says is true, but the Seventh-day Adventist church, if presented with two equivalent passages, always will choose the EGW quotation. Because they have defined her as an authority on par with the Bible, they have created an idol of her. Thus, by definition, they are guilty of the very human weaknesses so cogently explained in this lesson.
Rather than dealing with each day’s lesson I will offer three short essays that I hope provide a stronger perspective, a means of creating a better approach to life in the context of our hopelessly evil world system.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
First of all, notice that there is nothing remotely when-all-else-fails-trust-God in this definition. Rather, we are called to live every moment of our lives based on assurance and conviction.
But on what assurance and conviction?
Our assurance comes from things hoped for. Look how Peter described it.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-7 NASB)
Hope is based solely on Jesus’ resurrection. Because he was raised back to life we have an imperishable and undefiled inheritance that will not fade away and is reserved in heaven for us.
This means that for the born-again child of God, salvation is guaranteed. As surely as Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, it is yours now.
This is not the Adventist position. There is no assurance in SDA theology. Therefore, there is no hope.
Conviction is closely related to assurance. In this case, conviction is about things not seen.
What are these things we don’t see? In short, they are everything we’ve been given in Christ. We can’t see forgiveness, or holiness, or eternal life, or anything else that matters. In particular, we can’t see love. But these things are more real than the chair I’m sitting on while writing this. They are the stuff of life. They give meaning and purpose to my life. Nothing else can.
When you know your future is guaranteed by Jesus himself and that every aspect of your life is informed by his gifts to us, then, and only then, do you have a faith powerful enough to deal with what the world throws at you – good, bad or indifferent.
It takes just as much faith to deal with the joy of your 60th wedding anniversary as it does to deal with the heartache of a marriage that self-destructs after a few months. It takes just as much faith to deal with a miraculous healing as it does to deal with a case of the sniffles that seemingly overnight became a deadly lung infection.
The nature of faith is, at its core, our choice to fix our eyes on Jesus. Faith is not held in reserve for the bad days. It is expressly intended for every moment of every day.
Faith is real only because Jesus is real. If we’re not looking at him, we’re staring into a black hole of hopelessness.
As this lesson so accurately points out, we must be wise in our dealings with every aspect of the world in which we live. Because of Satan’s nearly complete control of the world’s system – politics, society, economics and morality – we cannot trust most of what we hear or see. Our time is characterized by a battle, not against flesh and blood, but against all the forces of evil. (See Ephesians 6)
This is a spiritual battle. Therefore, what we regard as wisdom has little to offer.
We typically define wisdom as the ability to apply knowledge in a way that brings meaning to a situation. Unfortunately, this wisdom is sadly lacking when it comes to spiritual warfare.
How do you bring meaning to the issues of good and evil? The desire to do so cost humanity its innocence and relationship with God. Humans simply are not equipped to ask, answer or deal with such questions.
Where are we to find wisdom adequate to these ultimate questions?
Paul gives us an answer in 1 Corinthians.
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16 NASB)
Children of God have “the mind of Christ”. Now we’re getting somewhere! We no longer need to rely on our education, or lack thereof. No one has an advantage. No one has an excuse. If we are born again then the Spirit himself lives within us and renews our minds, instructs us regarding the things of Christ and makes things known to us that are unavailable and unobtainable apart from him.
The Spirit literally helps us study, prompting us to pay attention to this point but ignore some other point. When studying the Bible, the Spirit is indispensable. We simply cannot understand God’s word without Him.
Therefore, what is impossible for lost humans to understand, especially concerning spiritual things and the spiritual battle that characterizes our world, is available to God’s children, because the source of that information lives inside us.
This wisdom, that is, the ability to apply the things of God to situations (both what we can and cannot see), is a gift.
Discernment is the ability to understand what is really going on. It goes beyond the surface of things.
In the everyday world, discernment means having access to information not typically available coupled to the ability to apply that information across boundaries of political, socio-economic, artistic, etc. reality.
1) What separates an adequate financial manager from an outstanding financial manager is the ability to ferret out key bits of information regarding markets, companies, opportunities, etc., and then to apply this information in ways that maximize wealth.
2) What separates an adequate musician from an outstanding musician is the ability to “communicate” musically – that is, to apply what has been learned across many genres of musical expression to a specific piece of music at a specific time and place. The goal is to touch the listener’s soul, to be able to communicate truth and meaning with a single note.
Both of these require discernment, the ability to understand what is really going on at multiple levels. Obviously, discernment must be coupled to wisdom (application).
Paul describes this in the spiritual plane:
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 NASB)
This is how we use faith, wisdom and discernment!
Every part of us is designed to be indwelt by and infused with the Holy Spirit. This is what Adam and Eve lost when they rebelled. This is what Jesus restored to us in his death and resurrection.
What an unbelievably powerful day was Pentecost! The very fire of God, reserved for so long to the singularity of his presence in the tabernacle and temple, then lost for so long during the terrible years of Israel’s rebellion and captivity, was given to each child of God – and not just once that day in the Upper Room, but every time someone accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior.
This is how we live. This is how we survive in a world so broken that even family and friends betray each other.
Solomon knew of what he wrote. He learned it the hard way. Thankfully, when moved by the Spirit, he wrote it down for us.
I believe this is what the lesson’s author is trying to explain. For the most part, he succeeds. But I believe with all my heart that Seventh-day Adventist theology blocks its adherents from realizing the kind of relationship Jesus came to restore to humanity.
Truth is no one, Adventist or otherwise, can adequately describe this restored relationship. I certainly cannot. But I know it is true. I know Jesus was completely victorious. I know he will give his victory to anyone who will accept it. I know his grace is sufficient.
If it is not so already, this certainty can be yours. It is unavailable at any price. It cannot be grasped through any amount of effort. No. It is the free gift of grace in Jesus Christ, and can be yours if you accept it. Your life never will be the same.