Contradiction and Non-Contradiction

2019-07-20T10:27:49-04:00 July 22nd, 2019|

We often assume divine sovereignty and human freedom are irreconcilable. We presume they are contradictory. However, we do find them side by side in the Bible. The doctrines, therefore, cannot contradict each other.

A common article of proper thinking is the so-called law of non-contradiction. This principle comes out of God. It says, “A” cannot be “A” and “non-A” at the same time and in the same relationship. Take the Trinity for example. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: How many persons are there in the Godhead? Answer: There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. God is not three persons and one person at the same time. This would be a contradiction. God is not one substance and three substances at the same time. This would also be a contradiction. When we look at God in relation to the persons of the Godhead there are three persons. When we look at God with regard to the essence of His being, there is one God. The Trinity is not a contradiction.

The same thing applies to divine sovereignty and human freedom. Human beings cannot be free and not free at the same time and in the same relationship. This principle stands. With regard to the essence of our beings as creatures of God, we are not free. We are not autonomous. We are not our own rule-makers. There is a higher power over us, the sovereign God. Suddenly we introduce a new element. It is the element of rules or laws, the moral element. We are moral creatures. We are not computerized robots or programmed androids. We think; we make choices; we take actions hundreds of thousands of times each day. All of our choices are ultimately good or bad. It is good for us to get up in the morning, get dressed, eat breakfast and go to work. It is bad for us to get up and fail to dress before going to work.

We are free in the sense we make myriads of choices each day which affect our lives and the lives of others. At the same time, every decision we make is within the confines of the indisputable fact we are finite beings. We are moral beings and we are finite beings. These are two very different things. God is a moral being and an infinite being. We are like God in that we are moral beings. We are distinct from God in that we are finite beings. When we look at ourselves as moral beings and as finite beings we see ourselves and God from two quite different perspectives. We should also see divine sovereignty and human freedom are not contradictory.

All of this is a great comfort to me as a Christian. The Bible distinguishes between the law of God’s decrees and the law of God’s precepts. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). The former relates to God’s infinite being. The latter relates to God’s moral being. We cannot violate, walk outside of, God’s plan, His decrees. We can and often do violate, walk outside of, God’s moral requirements, the Ten Commandments. When I sin, I seek God’s forgiveness for my moral failings. I can do so because I remain in the grip of God’s omnipotent hands. Divine sovereignty and human freedom kiss (Psalm 85:10).

Denny Prutow

Divine Sovereignty, Human Freedom

2019-07-13T10:20:01-04:00 July 15th, 2019|

When we discuss divine sovereignty and human freedom, we must properly define both and not compromise on either. One of the favorite texts relating both sides of the issue is Acts 2: 23. It speaks of the crucifixion of Christ and gives the ultimate and final cause along with the proximate and immediate cause. “This Man delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” This Scripture speaks of both divine sovereignty and human freedom.

Once again, let’s be careful how we define human freedom. Most people think of freedom as autonomy. Literally, autonomy means I make all the rules. We know this is not true. We all live by many rules we have not made. Examples are the rules of nature, the rules in our homes, the rules operative at school, at work and in government. We all operate with certain confinements. I live within the framework of my seventy-nine-year-old male body. I cannot do otherwise. Freedom is not autonomy. There are things I cannot decide to do. I cannot turn back the clock. A paraplegic cannot decide to walk.

On the other hand, suppose a fellow put a gun to my head and said, “Renounce your faith in Jesus Christ or I will pull the trigger.” I have a choice. To save my skin, I can renounce Christ. However, I have the prospect that Christ will reject me on the other side of the grave. I can say, “Pull the trigger.” I am not forced to renounce Christ. The gunman cannot “make me” renounce Christ. I am free. I am not making the rules of this little game. I am not autonomous; I am free. Hopefully, you see the difference.

Beyond doubt, God is sovereign. Acts 2:23, along with many other verses in the Bible, teaches this. At the same time, the Bible and experience teach us about human freedom. I freely make hundreds and even thousands of decisions each day from the moment I get up in the morning to the time I lay my head on the pillow at night. God is sovereign; human beings are free.

We also know nothing can take place outside the sovereign plans and purposes of God. Every event, every action, every thought, every word spoken comes within the scope of God’s sovereign will. This includes evil. Take the example of the most heinous and evil act ever committed, the crucifixion of the innocent Son of God. With regard to this evil act we rightly say, along with Scripture, hateful human beings freely carried it out. They sinned, not God. Not only so, God had a very good purpose for this evil act. God caused ultimate good to come from this evil, salvation. I, therefore, affirm God has good reasons for the presence of evil in His universe. Nothing, including evil, is outside the purview of God’s sovereign will.

Finally, this means divine sovereignty encompasses and includes human freedom. We can therefore rightly define predestination as God’s decreeing the free acts of men. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way. “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” One of the proof texts is Acts 2:23.

Denny Prutow

Depravity, Freedom, and Evangelism

2019-07-06T11:44:43-04:00 July 8th, 2019|

One of our battles with the world involves free will, sovereignty, and human depravity. Our position on these matters radically affects our evangelism. As a Reformed Presbyterian, I am a Calvinist. I believe, with the Bible, in the absolute sovereignty of God over all things including salvation. I also hold to the biblical doctrines of total depravity and total inability. Human beings are unable to take any proper steps toward God because of their moral inability. They cannot come to Christ because they will not come to Christ. “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7). Lost souls are ill-disposed to Christ. They are hostile to God. They are inclined to do evil. “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5). This is the truth of God.

On the other hand, as human beings, we are “free moral agents.” We make a myriad of choices each day. As we do so, we freely act according to our own nature. We never act contrary to our nature. In the physical realm, we cannot mount up with wings as eagles. We are not eagles; we do not have wings. The only way we can actually fly is by boarding an airplane. It is the same in the moral realm. Because we are fallen creatures, we never take any spiritual step toward God by our own power. Does this mean our freedom is limited? Of course! This is nothing new. We are free. We are not autonomous. Only God is autonomous.

Because this biblical view is decidedly undemocratic, most Christians reject it. They tenaciously hold to elusive freedom. They claim a certain reservoir of innate ability for themselves. After all, it is unjust of God not to allow freedom of choice. Right? Our vaunted freedom, autonomy, displaces both divine sovereignty and human depravity. We deny the sovereign choices of God in salvation. We deny the depth of human inability. We frame all our discussions of God in terms of this secular notion of freedom and autonomy.

This profoundly affects our evangelism. If we insist people have the freedom to choose Christ, we tell them the choice is theirs. If they fail to make the right choice, perdition awaits. It is all in their hands. Modern evangelism often frames the message this way. What are the results? First, pride is at the door. I can boast about my right choice. Second, this approach to evangelism undermines assurance. If salvation rests upon my right choice, I can undo that choice. I can walk away from Christ. Third, if salvation rests upon my right choice, my assurance rests upon how I feel about this choice. Assurance becomes subjective. It is bound up in my feelings not how I live. Fourth, if my right choice is the real basis for my salvation, I am Pharisee. My salvation is based on human righteousness, my right actions.

If an unbeliever carefully thinks through these points, really thinks it is within his or her spiritual power to make a righteous choice for Christ, and then self-consciously bases his or her salvation upon this right choice so there is boasting about it, if a person decides for Christ on this basis, this person is not a Christian. A bold statement? I’ve tried to frame it so you can see how the position just outlined blatantly contradicts the Word of God (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Denny Prutow

Jesus Is Jehovah

2019-06-29T11:41:40-04:00 July 1st, 2019|

Psalm 100 begins with this call, “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.” Our versions translate LORD in all caps to indicate the underlying Hebrew is the Name, Yahweh or Jehovah. Paul equates Jehovah with Jesus when he declares of Jesus,

God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil. 2:10-11).

The words, EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, are taken from the prophet Isaiah. Jehovah speaks of Himself (Isa. 45:21). He declares that every knee will bow to Him and that every tongue will confess Him (Isa. 45:23). Verse 23 in the Greek Old Testament reads, “Every tongue shall bow to Me and make confession to God.” Here is the complete quote.

Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear (Isa. 45:21-23).

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul applies to Jesus the words of Isaiah that speak of Jehovah. He teaches us that Jesus is Jehovah. Philippians 2:10-11 is not the only place where Paul takes this grand step.

Consider Romans 10. We commonly quote verse 9, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Who is this Lord we must confess? Romans 10:11-13 help us answer. Paul continues to speak about Christ.

For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”

First, Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:16, which speaks of Christ, the chief cornerstone (Compare 1 Peter 2:5-6). Since the way of salvation is to call upon Christ, Paul urges us to call on the Name of the LORD (Joel 2:32). Again, the LORD is Jehovah. And by way of this quotation, Paul teaches us that Jesus is Jehovah.

Going back to Romans 10:9, what does it mean to confess that Jesus is Lord. In Paul’s thinking, he is calling upon you and me to confess that Jesus Christ is Jehovah. Paul is calling upon you and me to confess that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. Paul is calling upon you and me to confess that as Jehovah, Jesus is LORD of all of life. He is the Living God.

He is the One who lived an absolutely perfect life. Thus, He became a perfect sacrifice for the sins of His people. He died and was buried. He rose again the third day. He ascended into heaven. He took His place on the throne of the Majesty on high. He is LORD. My plea is simple. Bow your knee to this Jesus. Know and trust Him as your GOD. Trust His life and death for you. Confess Him as your LORD.

Denny Prutow

The Gospel that Christ is King

2019-06-04T16:42:50-04:00 June 24th, 2019|

Jesus Christ gives us the task of discipling the nations (Matthew 28:19). He does so because He is “King of the Nations” (Revelation 15:3). He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). We, therefore, affirm, “A nation, being a moral subject of Messiah, is as much bound to make a profession of religion as any private individual whatever” (Messiah the Prince, 287). Sadly, this doctrine is less prominent in our circles than it once was.

Not only so, our society holds out pluralism and tolerance as sacrosanct. These principles are too important to allow Christianity to interfere with them. However, the tolerance of false religion like Islam is a suicide pact. Islam has no interest in pluralism or tolerance accept in so far as these principles further their purposes. Yet, we may readily make excuses for or make more room for Islam as opposed to Christianity.

Bobby Gosh, an Indian-born American journalist and commentator, made the following statement about Muslim riots in response to the burning of a Koran. “The thing to keep in mind that’s very important here is that the Koran to Muslims, it is not—it is not the same as the Bible to Christians. The Bible is a book written by men. It is acknowledged by Christians that it is written by men. It’s the story of Jesus…. But the Koran, if you are a believer, if you’re a Muslim, the Koran is directly the word of God, not written by man. It is transcribed, is directly the word of God. That makes it sacred in a way that it’s hard to understand if you’re not Muslim. So the act of burning a Koran is much more—potentially much, much more inflammatory than … than if you were to burn a—burn a Bible.” Gosh made the statement on MSNBC and you can readily find a transcript with an internet search.

There are two issues here. The first is the implicit stance for the Koran. If it is indeed “directly the word of God,” then Allah is the true god and Muhammed is his true prophet. This becomes the reason (defense?) for riots in response to Koran burning.

The second is the stance against the Bible. Unfortunately, the assumption is that the Bible is not a revelation from God. This assumption is a widely held, even within the confines of the visible church. Seminaries across the land presuppose the Bible is but the words of mere men. Since this is the case, many spurn Jesus Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity who died in payment for sin and rose again from the dead.

The leaders of ancient Israel, God’s vineyard, spurned Christ when He personally visited them (Mark 12:6-7). “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others” (Mark 12:9). Our Lord points back to the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah 5. Because Israel repudiates her God, judgment hangs over her (Isaiah 5:4). “Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge” (Isaiah 5:13). God gives Israel into the hands of the Assyrians. Later He gives Judah into the hands of the Babylonians. It does not bode well for the nation which repudiates the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ His Son.

The church, our church, must regain her prophetic voice. We must vigorously proclaim this gospel truth, the Kingship of Christ over men and nations. Economic and social problems are symptomatic of deeper a spiritual problem.

Denny Prutow

The Sum of the Ten: Contenetment

2019-06-04T10:50:47-04:00 June 17th, 2019|

When the apostle Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), guess what he has in mind? He is not thinking about speaking to big crowds and persuading thousands. He is not thinking about overcoming big obstacles to complete important projects. He is speaking about contentment. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12).

In discussing his own infirmities and challenges, Paul confesses, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). He tells Timothy, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8).

Paul is in good company. John the Baptizer exhorts the crowds within his hearing, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Some soldiers wanted to know what this meant for them. John’s answer startles us. “Be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). In many circles in our day, we are taught just the opposite.

But the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17), requires contentment. Hebrews 13:5 makes the connection. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have.” This commandment sums up all the rest.

Are you content with Jesus Christ as your only God? “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Are you content with His image portrayed for you in Scripture? “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” Are you content without swearing and slang using God’s Name? “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” Are you content with the requirements of the Lord’s Day? “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Are you content in all the relationship of life, at home, at work, at school, and at church? “Honor your father and your mother.” Are you content with always seeking to preserve your life and the life of others including those within the womb? “You shall not murder.” Are you content with and do you find your satisfaction with your spouse? “You shall not commit adultery.” Are you content with the physical property you now possess? “You shall not steal.” Are you content to always speak the truth in love? “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” To sum up, are you content with life? “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Although the Ten Commandments are the standard for godliness, following them by rote or doing them entirely out of a sense of duty is insufficient. Jesus condemns proper outward conduct without inner conviction as hypocrisy (Mark 7:6). However, as the apostle Paul reminds us, “Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (1Timothy 6:6).

In the end, true contentment comes from God and not from things. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

Denny Prutow

Deception, Equivocation, Spin, and the Ninth Commandment

2019-06-04T10:43:53-04:00 June 10th, 2019|

We were in Colorado Springs. Stopping at a red light, we stared at the sticker prominently displayed on the car bumper in front of us. It asked this simple question, “What would happen if everyone told the truth?” I looked to my right and said to my wife, “The political establishment in the United States of America would dissolve instantly.” We laughed uneasily.

The Ninth Commandment is clear. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Matthew Henry describes the prohibition this way. It forbids, “Speaking falsely in any matter, lying, equivocating, and [in] any way devising and designing to deceive our neighbor.” Equivocating means using ambiguous language to conceal the truth. Hearing politicians of any stripe give straightforward unambiguous answers to simple questions in pointed interviews is a rarity.

What has been called “political spin” rules the day. Political activists and political campaigns look to what we spin doctors. These are people that put a particular ‘spin’ on what has been said—often, with little concern for its truth. The real concern is whether or not people believe the spin. Sometimes the spin is what is most important. Is there an intention to deceive? Ambiguous and equivocal language leads us to believe so.

Reporting becomes a form of propaganda, right or left. It is biased, manipulative and deceptive. Such spin can be a real problem for democracy. It masks transparency and provides the public with distorted information. When political figures, no matter the stripe, purposely distort information in order to deceive, who are they deceiving? Another question is pertinent. Who is their neighbor? We are! As constituents of various politicians, we are their neighbors. When politicians engage in political spin, they are bearing false witness and violate the Ninth Commandment. And when we buy into this political spin and propagate it as though it were the unadulterated truth, we too violate the Ninth Commandment.

Matthew Henry says the Ninth Commandment also forbids, “Speaking unjustly against our neighbor, to the prejudice of his reputation . . . . ” In other words, God condemns ad hominem arguments, that is, arguments against the person. You attack the messenger to undermine the message. You denigrate the person to cast doubt on his or her motives in order to invalidate the argument. Using such attacks are an effective public speaking ploy. Although this may be the case, such attacks seek to prejudice a person’s reputation. Such attacks, therefore, violate the Ninth Commandment.

In this case, the neighbor is the political opponent. But political opponents are not the only ones involved in the sin. There are those who applaud the personal attack and support the ad hominem argument. There are also those who hold the opposing position and are painted with the same broad brush. It is easy to point the finger but we are all the worse for the use of such arguments. We are all embroiled in the sin.

True, not every politician engages in political spin. But equivocations and spin are so prevalent that truth is at a premium. The Evil One, the “father of lies” (John 8:44) sits with a sly grin on his face and an evil glint in his eye; he gladly listens for every equivocation and every effort at spin. What is the outcome? Such equivocations and spin place us in opposition to the “God of truth” (Psalm 31:5). Personal repentance is in order. National repentance is in order. We must seek the “Spirit of truth” (John 15:26) to guide us into “all the truth” (John 16:13) and thus learn to “speak truth each one with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25).

Denny Prutow

The Meaning of Means

2019-05-30T17:34:07-04:00 June 3rd, 2019|

Facing a broad valley heaped with bones, dried and bleached in the unrelenting heat of the sun, Ezekiel hears the command, “Prophesy over these bones” (Ezekiel 37:4). In other words, “Preach the Word, Ezekiel.” After all, “Preaching the Word is prophesying in the name and on the behalf of Christ (William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying [Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1996], 7). Yes, preaching is prophesying.

Of course, preaching is one of the ordinary means of grace. WSC 88 declares, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” Under the category of the word, the Catechism refers to reading and preaching the word (WSC 89).

In response, Ezekiel records, “So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone” (Ezekiel 37:7). God uses the preaching of His Word under the power of His Spirit to put people together, “bone to its bone.”

Jonathan Edwards makes this same point, connecting God’s decrees with God’s means. Note his apt illustration.

It is not at all the more in vain to use the means of salvation because there is a certain number that are elected to salvation, because God in the decree itself has connected the end and the means. Plowing and sowing and reaping is the mean of our having breadcorn, and it is not vain to till the field because God has determined whether we shall have bread to eat or no, for God has in his decree connected these ends with those means. So that if the ground be not tilled, we are like to famish; and if it be, we may hope to enjoy the fruits of our labors. So in like manner, if we diligently and constantly use the means that God has appointed for our salvation, there is great hope of our being saved; but if we neglect them, we shall certainly be damned, because God in his eternal decree has connected salvation with the means of salvation [Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses 1723-1729, Kenneth P. Minkema, ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 174].

Westminster Divine, William Greenhill, comments on Ezekiel 37:4 in his exposition of Ezekiel. As he does so, he issues an important warning. God commanded Ezekiel to preach to dead bones. He did so. The bones reassembled.

Here was prophecy used, but that did not work without God: “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and ye shall live.” God could have done this without prophecy, but that was the means he would use and work in or by. We must not neglect means, and leave all to God, that is tempting the Most High; neither must we trust to means when used, that is to idolize a creature: but we must use means and look to God to be all in them (for without him nothing is done); and if we make him all in the means, we shall make him all after them (William Greenhill, An Exposition of Ezekiel [Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994], 741).

Fast forward. You are in worship on the Lord’s Day. You are either behind the pulpit leading or in the congregation participating. You love singing Psalms. You participate in the prayers. You follow the reading of the Scriptures. In the preaching moments, pastor and people, you and others, are connected in the Spirit. As you do so, you look to Christ. You trust Him. You know this is the time and place and means you expect Christ to meet with you, to encourage you, and to fuel you for the slog ahead in the coming week. You do not trust the means; that would be idolatry. You do not trust God without His means; that would be presumption. But for you, Christ is all in all in His means; and so he will be all in all to you each coming day. Praise God; He is good!

Denny Prutow

God’s Memorial Day

2019-05-24T14:17:47-04:00 May 27th, 2019|

In the United States, we set aside Memorial Day each year to remember those who gave their lives in the armed forces. We remember those who died on faraway battlefields to bring freedom and democracy to oppressed peoples. We commemorate their actions by honoring them in ceremonies across the land. We sometimes call it Decoration Day because we decorate the graves of fallen heroes with flags and flowers.

When Israel crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land for the first time, God commanded Joshua to pile up a heap of stones at the place. “So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” The stones memorialized God’s great grace.

Then too, as a great statue of David memorializes the work of Michelangelo, the universe commemorates the genius of the living God. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1). We see His might, power, glory, and strength in the brightness of the distant stars, the glow of the blazing comet, and in the shadow of a lunar eclipse.

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20). The universe is God’s Memorial. Every day is, therefore, God’s Memorial Day.

Denny Prutow

Robbing Time

2019-05-18T12:40:22-04:00 May 20th, 2019|

“You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). In other words, don’t take what is not your own. Let’s talk about time in this regard. Time is fixed. It inexorably moves ahead. You cannot box up a quantity of time and save it for later. Oh yes, you can reserve time to take a vacation. In doing so, you plan ahead. When the time comes, which it will, you take your vacation. When the allotted time expires, you return to work. The point is, you don’t control time; you control yourself. You don’t manage time; you manage yourself. Time management is self-management.

In your work at home, in school, in church, or your profession, you have a certain amount of time at your disposal to accomplish your tasks. When you work with others, you are under obligation to complete your assignments in the time allotted. Stepping aside, you allow others to complete their assignments in the time allotted to them. You should not take time away from them which is not yours. You shall not steal.

Quite a number of years ago, I was asked to do a short conference at a mission church. The pastor of the mother church was there and asked if he might say a few words to those assembled. His words turned out to be not a few. He consumed the entire time allotted for the meeting. I did not preach that evening as planned. You shall not steal.

In the position of a guest minister on another occasion, there were three other ministers on the program in the hour-long service. When I was introduced to the pulpit, it was ten minutes to the end of the hour. Debating what to do, I read the Scriptures, preached my sermon, introduced the closing psalm, and pronounced the benediction, one half-hour after the appointed time.

Not too much of a problem you may say. But we plan around announced service times. In this case, residents of a home for the elderly may have been deprived of a meal because of the insensitivity of the preacher. Perhaps the other ministers in this service overdid their parts and took time away from me. But I also took time away from congregants, time not my own. You shall not steal.

All of this applies to meetings, meetings which last too long and take time away from other people like family members. Yes, all manner of board meetings take too long and rob time from other areas of life. Think of the times you have been in school board meetings, teacher’s meetings, staff meetings, or church meetings that churn on and on because of a lack of good management. The answer is, therefore, more planning and self-management. You shall not steal.

Sure, I’m talking about common courtesy and common sense. But it’s deeper than this. It involves ethics. It involves God’s moral law. Early in my tenure as a seminary professor, a student preacher not only took his allotted twenty minutes in the chapel service, he extended his sermon for an additional twenty minutes. This took us well into the following class period. The student did not seem to grasp what he had done. “I don’t understand,” he said. “When I preached this sermon in church, it took an hour [sixty minutes] but I cut it back twenty minutes!”

Significantly enough, the topic of the sermon was ethics. However, our student failed to grasp that he robbed fellow students and professors of a significant amount of their class time. You shall not seal. Sadly, I too am guilty of robbing time. Are you?

Denny Prutow