After God’s Heart

Thoughts on living as a man after God's heart in every aspect of life: as a husband, a father, and in my work as a Bible Software developer.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A One-Woman Man

Yesterday on the Better Bibles Blog, Suzanne McCarthy posted on the proper translation of the phrase in 1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:6 which is usually translated "the husband of one wife." In it, she argues, as others have done, that the expression "one woman man" is really an idiom for marital faithfulness (just as it is in English). She argues the same thing for the parallel expression in 1 Tim. 5:9 about widows. Here are a few thoughts in response to her post.

1. In 1 Tim 3:2, I think the "faithful to his wife" rendering fits the context better than the "husband of one wife," and it certainly raises fewer ethical dilemmas. Is Paul excluding from eldership a widower who has remarried, and so has been the husband of two wives? I doubt it. Is he excluding those who have divorced and remarried? Perhaps, but it's not altogether clear.

The idea that Paul is speaking of marital faithfulness in general tends to circumvent some of these difficult questions. However, it does raise the converse question of whether a man who has been maritally unfaithful in his past is forever disqualified from the role of elder.

2. In 1 Tim 5:9, the "faithful to her husband" rendering likewise avoids one kind of befuddlement but fosters another. As Ms. McCarthy has pointed out, it seems strange that Paul would encourage younger widows to remarry if that would mean they would later be disqualified when their second husbands died.

On the other hand, disqualifying a widow who has been unfaithful to her (now dead) husband raises the question of whether there is no grace and forgiveness for past sins.

Either exclusion from the rolls of widows therefore raises problems if pressed too hard.

3. I think this illustrates the problem of the scientific precision with which we try to dissect the meaning of every jot and tittle in the Greek New Testament.

Can we read "husband of one wife" in 1 Tim. 3:2 as a general ethical standard that could have exceptions on a case by case basis? Could Paul be implying that a man who has been married to the same woman for 40 years is a better candidate for the role of elder than the man who has been married more than once? Could he be doing that without saying that the twice-married man is absolutely excluded from the office of elder?

Can we read "faithful to his wife" as a general ethical standard rather than an absolute exclusion? If a man was unfaithful to his wife twenty years ago and has been faithful ever since, is he automatically excluded from becoming an elder? Perhaps not, but the man who has been faithful to the same woman for 40 years clearly seems a better candidate.

The same goes for "wife of one husband" in 1 Tim. 5:9. Is a widow who has been married once, widowed, and left without any family to support her more qualified for financial support than a woman who has been married twice? Maybe so. The woman who has been married (and widowed) twice may be twice as likely to have at least some family members who are able to support her, and so is less qualified for the church's support. Does that mean the general guideline of "one husband" couldn't be overlooked for the woman who has been twice widowed and who still has absolutely no one to support her?

If we read "(having been) faithful to her husband" in 1 Tim. 5:9, it certainly seems reasonable that the woman who was faithful to her husband for forty years and who is now destitute is more deserving of support than the woman who may be estranged from her family because of her own sinful history. But does that mean that a woman who has ever been maritally unfaithful can never hope for support from the church?

I don't mean to imply that we can bend any ethical standard in the Bible to conform to our own sense of what is right, but every ethical standard must be observed and applied with wisdom, discernment, and grace. Jesus' exchanges with the Pharisees clearly demonstrate that.

4. Returning to the question of which reading is best, I am personally more drawn to the reading which emphasizes marital faithfulness rather than the number of times married. I've read arguments that this construction is used in Greek funerary inscriptions to describe the marital faithfulness of the departed, and I believe it fits the context of these two passages a little better. However, Ms. McCarthy's reductio ad absurdam argument that the "one husband" rendering creates a "moral contradiction for women" is, I think, something of a stretch. It loses its legs as an objection if we take these qualifications for elders and widows as general standards rather than as hard and fast rules.

5. Ms. McCarthy ends her post by quoting Peter Kirk's earlier post on "scholarly" versus "fundamental" methods of interpretation, in which he states: 

As I have previously concluded, Paul's teaching at this point is not about the gender of church leaders but about their sexual activity. Titus 1:6 did not mean to Paul or Titus that women must not be elders, so it cannot mean the same to us today. What it does mean today is what it meant to Titus, that married male elders must be faithful to their wives - and by extension to genuinely comparable situations, it may also mean that married female elders must be faithful to their husbands, and that single and widowed elders must be celibate. At least, this is the conclusion to which I am led by the scholarly approach to the Bible.

I believe Mr. Kirk is right in applying these "one woman man" expressions to the principle of marital faithfulness. However, it does not follow from this that Paul allowed for the possibility of female elders. While male versus female is clearly not the primary point of 1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:6, it can certainly be argued that male eldership is assumed, just as widows are assumed to be female. Obviously, the principle of male eldership cannot be established from these verses, but neither is it excluded just by pointing out that marital faithfulness is the real emphasis of these "one woman man" expressions. Reading anything more from these expressions—in either direction—amounts to logical and theological sleight-of-hand.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

To Whom Shall I Go?

Twenty-two years ago tonight, I came to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. An angry young man of fifteen, I sat at the end of a dock and began pouring my heart out to God, confessing my sin, my weakness, my utter inability to live without Him. I remember looking up at the night sky and sensing God's presence all around me, filling up every expanse except for the pitiful little void inside me. How sweet was the realization that in His greed, He wished to fill that space too!

I didn't know how to pray any formulaic sinner's prayer, and I don't remember much of what I said that night. But I do remember the promise I made: "God, I don't know what kind of servant I'm going to be for you, but I want to be the best I can be."

I can't tell you how many times I've broken that promise, but I'm quite sure I've broken it every single day of the past twenty-two years. My faith is so weak, my righteousness is as filthy rags, and I am sometimes fraught with the most scandalous doubts. Yet when I went for a walk tonight and looked up at the night sky, I did not sense that God was present everywhere except inside me. On the contrary, as perceptible as He seemed within the expanse of the night sky, I felt His presence much more deeply within the meager confines of my own heart and soul. Asking Jesus into one's heart may not be Biblical language, and it may be a trite way to describe the miracle of regeneration in Christ, but it does express one aspect of what I have experienced in my own conversion. Christ is in my heart, and has been for the past twenty-two years.

It is that simple realization which bolsters my faith, dispels all my doubts, and gives me a renewed desire to keep that oft-broken promise. I am not alone. Since that night there has never been a time when I truly felt alone. There have been times when God seemed distant, but there's never been a time when I truly believed Him to be absent. I have broken the promise I made that night countless times, but whenever I sense Him asking me "Are you also going to go?" my answer is always the same: "Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:67-68).

After twenty-two years, I am still His. No matter how "prone to wander" I know myself to be, I belong to Him. A worthless servant I may be, but by His grace I am His servant. Words cannot express how thankful I am to have nowhere else to go.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Being Like-Minded

I'm here at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco to demonstrate Accordance Bible Software to the teeming masses who will be crowding the Expo floor. MacWorld Expo is always like a shot in the arm, because it's the one place where you can unapologetically scoff at how ridiculous Windows is and find unanimous agreement about how "insanely great" the Mac is. It's the one place in the world where the fact that Accordance is only developed for the Mac is seen as a plus rather than a minus (we always see it that way). There's nothing like being surrounded by like-minded people to energize you and give you the encouragement you need to return to a world where your viewpoint is in the minority.

It's the same with other labels I wear. When I see someone else wearing Florida State Seminole regalia, I smile knowingly at them and occasionally say something like "How 'Bout Them 'Noles?" (And in case you're wondering, I've never been so proud of a loss as I was with the recent toe-to-toe exchange with Penn State.)

Yet somehow, this automatic sense of being on the same side never seems to come so easily with respect to the most important "fellowship" to which I belong: the Church. When I meet someone else who shares my faith in Christ, I'm sorry to say that I'm not always very quick to call him a brother. Instead, I usually am trying to figure out what kind of brother he is. What theological category does he fit into? To which ecclesiastical tradition does he belong? Is he a "weaker brother" who would disapprove of the movies I watch or the books I read to my kids? Is he a "libertine" who does not share my scruples about other non-essentials? Is he a "liberal" who understands Scripture differently than I do? Is he a "false brother" who belongs to a group which I regard as a "cult"?

I'm not saying that there aren't real differences between me and these other kinds of people who call themselves Christians. The authors of the New Testament do label some people as "false brothers" and encourage Christians to be wary of them and even to disassociate with them. However, contrary to my own sinful tendency to draw lines in the sand between myself and others, I think I need to be more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to all those who name the name of Christ. I should be willing to regard them as brothers before I view them with suspicion and try to discern whether or not their faith is genuine. I should give more weight to the fact that they name Christ at all than that they may differ from me slightly in the way they name Christ. If I can be like-minded with Mac geeks and Seminole fans who may be hostile to the Christian faith, shouldn't I be more like-minded with the Christians who may differ from me in less important respects?

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Phil. 2:1-2, NIV-G/K)


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Have an Incredible Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Every year, my family sends out a Christmas card and letter. We do our best to come up with a creative Christmas photo and to avoid writing the typical list-the-year's-greatest-accomplishments letter. This year's letter takes its theme from the movie, The Incredibles. If you'd like to check out the Photo, go to our Lang Gang HomePage. You can download a PDF of our Christmas Letter from the Stuff to Share page.

Hope you enjoy it, and have an Incredible Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Real Artists Ship

When Steve Jobs was trying to motivate the original Mac development team to meet their looming deadline, he scrawled the words, "Real Artists Ship" on a chalkboard. The concepts they were trying to bring to the masses had been pioneered by the computer scientists at Xerox PARC Labs, some of whom were now working for Apple. Yet Xerox never turned those ideas into a shipping product.

The rest of the Mac development team was made up of people who had bought into Apple's renegade corporate culture. They fancied themselves artists and innovators, eschewing neckties, profit motives, and bottom lines. Jobs' bottom line was right on the money: if you fancy yourself an artist, you need to produce something. It's not enough to have the insanely great idea; you need to implement it in the form of a shipping product.

I've been thinking about Jobs' aphorism a lot in the past week, as I've been desperately working to finish a new version of The Accordance Bible Lands PhotoGuide. The PhotoGuide is basically a dictionary of Biblical locations, complete with photographs, which you access from within Accordance Bible Software.

Developing the PhotoGuide has been lots of fun, but extremely challenging. Basically, I have to go through thousands of pictures of places I've never been to—in Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Iraq, and Iran—deciding which shots best illustrate each site. Then I write in depth descriptions of each picture, explaining the historical and/or Biblical significance of the places or things being shown. This involves a fair amount of research, and it always seems to take longer than anticipated to finish each site. Add to that the fact that I've had to set the PhotoGuide aside several times this year to work on higher priority projects, and the new PhotoGuide is being released quite a few months after we had first hoped to have it ready.

One of my biggest frustrations with developing the PhotoGuide has been my fear that we would have to ship it before I was really finished adding everything I wanted to add. Caught between the desire to finish and ship a new product that would bring in revenue, and my desire to do it right, I sometimes despaired of ever finishing or ever getting it right.

This December, a new deadline was set, and I've been fairly killing myself to meet it. I failed. When I was supposed to have the master CD ready so that we could ship the PhotoGuide two weeks before Christmas, I still had several important sites left to do and lots of little things to fix. Fortunately, my boss cares about the quality of the product too, and was patient with me as I took another day, and another, and another, until we finally finished the project a week after it was due.

The PhotoGuide CD-ROM will ship about a week before Christmas, which is not a lot of time for customers to discover it's available and decide to buy it. Nevertheless, it WILL ship, and it will ship in a form I can be happy with.

In the end, Jobs is right that real artists ship. But occasionally, shipping dates must slip while the artist puts the finishing touches on his masterpiece.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Young Men and Fathers

“I am writing to you, fathers, because you have come to know the One who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have had victory over the evil one.” (1John 2:13, HCSB)

I recently spoke with two men in charge of a competing Bible software company. One was about the same age as myself, and although he can be affable enough, whenever I talk to him I feel as if he's trying to spar with me—or at the very least as if he's circling the ring. This man is gifted, successful, and almost certainly far wealthier than I am. Yet every time I spar . . . er, I mean speak . . . with him, I always feel like he's trying to prove something. Even as he bemoans the animosity which some of his competitors have toward him, everything he says and does gives off the impression that he is trying to take over the world.

The second man I spoke with was about the same age as my father. This conversation felt very different. This man was friendly, relaxed, and complimentary. Also successful in business, this man almost certainly has a competitive side, but if he does he did not show it with me. I asked him questions about his business, and he was frank and open with his answers. I never felt like he was trying to hide anything or engage in competitive posturing.

Why must I be on guard with the young man when I can be at ease with the older one? I suspect it's because the older man has nothing to prove—or at least nothing to prove to me. He appears to be more interested in running a successful business than in taking over the world.

In the upcoming Orange Bowl, my Florida State Seminoles will be playing the Penn State Nittany Lions. The two oldest and winningest coaches in college football will clash for the first time since the 1990 BlockBuster Bowl. (I was there for that game, which FSU won.) Yet both of these football legends have faced challenges in recent years. Paterno's program was in the dumps for several years, and in spite of all Paterno has done for Penn State, there were those who were calling for him to retire. Likewise, Bobby Bowden has been criticized in recent weeks because the Seminoles took a late-season tumble, and while few people were calling for his job (just yet), they were doing plenty of armchair coaching and second-guessing.

In spite of the criticism, both coaches have shown the ability to bounce back. When their fans were doubting them, they were steadily addressing problems and making adjustments. Paterno's team has come roaring back this year, and the Seminoles managed to upset Virginia Tech to win the ACC Championship. These men have been coaching long enough to know that sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down. And while everyone else was panicking and trying to fix things that weren't necessarily broken, they were addressing the things that really were broken.

Whether or not age brings wisdom, I think it certainly brings perspective. The young men to whom the apostle John wrote were all about the battle with Satan, and we need young men who are gung ho to engage the enemy. But we also need "fathers" who have "come to know the One who is from the beginning"—those whose faith is not centered around the fight, but around the One who has already achieved the victory. In business, in football, and in our spiritual lives, we need to move beyond the "zeal without knowledge" which so often characterizes "young men," in order to become "fathers" who know that there is something bigger than the battle itself.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Seeking to be a Man After God's Own Heart

In 1 Samuel 13:14, the prophet Samuel declares, "the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart." Neither Samuel nor Saul (to whom Samuel was speaking) knew it yet, but that man after God's heart was an obscure shepherd named David. Perhaps because I share his name, I have always longed to have it said of me that I am a man after God's own heart. Too often, I am anything but. Yet as one who has been given a new heart through faith in Jesus Christ, the physical son of David and eternal Son of God, I am perpetually brought back to this central purpose: to become a man after God's heart.

Like many blogs, this will be a place for random thoughts and postings on a variety of subjects, yet my intention is that whatever the subject and however random the thought, each post should reflect this desire to follow after God's heart. My prayer is that in writing about that desire, I will come to cultivate it more and more in my own life.