Bold and Brave—Part 2
(Another Verb that Needs Your Voice)

Word for the Day: “yakah”

Verbal boldness has a rich history. In Part 1, we saw how the ancient Greek word elencho was used in the New Testament to expose great moments in the history of verbal boldness and bravery (see Part 1).

Now let us go back even further in time to reflect on the ancient Hebrew verb yakah. No, it does not refer to a desert plant in Central and North America. It shows up 59 times in the Old Testament and, like elencho in the NT, it mainly means reproof or correction. It can also indicate an argument, a dispute or a word of discipline. When a bold and brave word was needed, the verb yakah often came in handy for the OT writers.

Flawed people need yakah. King David likened yakah (from a righteous man) with an anointing of oil on the head (Psalm 141:5). His son Solomon compared it with fine gold earrings and ornaments (Proverbs 25:12). He wisely observed, “Whom the Lord loves, he rebukes [yakah]” (Proverbs 3:12).

Prophetic Courage

Yakahcan have great value, but it is not fun. It was an unpopular function of the Hebrew prophets who were not noted for having fun! Was Samuel seeking popularity when he confronted King Saul for his disobedience? Nope. Was it fun to listen to Saul’s lame excuses? No.

Nevertheless, sometimes it worked. Consider the courage it took for Nathan to call King David on the carpet! The king could have ignored Nathan, accused him of being a verbal bully, punished him or even rid himself of this pesky prophet. Nathan didn’t care. He had a job to do and he did it, speaking truth to power. David, convicted by a hard truth he tried to cover up, realized what a brutal bully he actually was and he repented! Okay, “bully” understates it. David engaged in adultery, deception, abuse of power, and to cover it up, he added conspiracy to murder. He might have gotten away with it were it not for Nathan.

Centuries later, Ezekiel was appointed to be a “watchman” to warn the wicked. Amos understood the risk in his prophetic role, observing, “They hate him who reproves [yakah] in the gate.” (Amos 5:10). All the Hebrew prophets faced such hatred one way or another.

The word yakah does not literally appear in every prophet’s writings or every story where bold and brave words are used. What matters most are not particular words but the wisdom, courage and timing needed to make those words so mighty.

Decent Exposure

Caution: If you use yakah to push your own selfish agenda, maybe you are just a bully, not a prophet. Using God’s name to bash others falsely or selfishly breaks the third commandment. Still, courageous confrontation is vital and often necessary in a coldly sinful world. We cannot correct the abuse of yakah by calling for its non-use.

There is a huge difference between being a brave and honest whistleblower and a partisan tattle-tale. We know that countless government officials knew for a long time about the IRS intimidation tactics used to suppress conservative groups, voices and activities during the Obama administration and through two election cycles. Still, for years, no one had the integrity to come forward and blow the whistle. That would take moral courage. Indeed, cowardly silence in the face of corruption and indecency has had its day. It’s time to call spades what they are, in love. It’s time to let sane voices be heard, including yours. Would you be willing to expose a family member you knew was hiding from justice? They won’t like it. Yakah involves risk.

Don’t try this on others without serious care and prayer. And if someone loves you enough to try it on you, remember David’s humble comparison of yakah with an anointing of precious oil on the head.

Light Conquers Darkness

As the self-professed Light of the World, Jesus knew what was in store for him for boldly confronting the forces of darkness. Still, he pulled no punches exposing the corruption and hypocrisy around him even as his opponents plotted for his death. They pursued his blood until they got it, not understanding its power to defeat the forces of evil forever.

If no one is after your blood, maybe you live in a perfect world far from the dark side. If not, maybe you need to be a little more like the prophets and Jesus and boldly expose evil where you see it, including in yourself when necessary.

Bold and Brave—Part 1
(A Verb that Needs Your Voice)

Word for the Day: “Elencho”

Every word has a history. Elencho’s earliest known use in Greek was to convey blame. By the 4th century BC, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle used it for logical expositions—meaning, to test or examine. Soon, Elencho was used when a debater convinced someone of a point or refuted it. By the 1th century AD, elencho was used as a verb meaning; to expose, bring to light, rebuke, convict or correct. It was used 17 times in the New Testament with this meaning. For example:

  • John the Baptist put elencho to bold use when he “rebuked” (NIV) or “reprimanded” (NASB) Herod the tetrarch for stealing his brother’s wife, and for “all the wicked things which Herod had done.” (Luke 3:19). Elencho involves risk. John lost his head.
  • Elencho is what Jesus told us to do privately to a brother who has sinned against us: “Show him his fault” (Matthew 18:15). It’s the first step when seeking a resolution. It’s risky but be brave!
  • Elencho is also a function of the Holy Spirit who will “convict” the world concerning sin (John 16:8). It is not the Spirit’s most celebrated role but it may be His most important one. In this case, it takes bravery to receive elencho.
  • A closely related word, elegmos, describes the reproofing powers of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) and just a few verses later, Paul returns to elencho to convey the correcting power of preaching (2 Timothy 4:2).
  • Paul also used elencho as an imperative verb. He charged the Ephesian saints, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose [elencho] them.” (Ephesians 5:11). Refraining from deeds of darkness is not enough. We must actively “expose” them.

Decent Exposure

Who likes to be exposed, rebuked or refuted? It rarely endears us to others. Nevertheless, love sometimes demands that we do it. Love may also call you to take it. Taking it means letting a light shine on our dark undersides. Doing it means shining a light on others. Walking as “children of light” (Ephesians 5:8) involves dealing with the dark side. We must lift a few rocks and watch the ungrateful bugs scramble for darkness.

Picture Dracula cringing in sunlight. That’s the effect elencho has on most sinners. Listen to Jesus: “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed [elencho].” (John 3:20). Evildoers hate decent exposure. Thieves wear masks. Some politicians keep their real agendas well-covered. For the convenience of cheaters, they now have performance enhancing drugs that medical tests cannot detect. Too many terrorists hide behind innocent women and children to plot evil. Child molesters are adept at intimidating their young victims into keeping secrets. They all hate elencho!

But God hates lies, cover-ups, dirty secrets, and moral darkness. I’d rather earn the wrath of thieves and child molesters than the wrath of God, wouldn’t you?

BAPTISM: “For the Forgiveness of Sin”

A hymn written by Robert Lowry in 1876 begins with a good question:

    What can wash away my sin?

The answer is immediate and accurate:

    Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What about the water of baptism? Doesn’t it wash our sins away too? Be careful. The real sin-cleansing power comes from above and works only through the blood of Jesus. Baptism has no power or meaning apart from Jesus’ blood. The water itself is neither magic nor holy. Without the cross, it’s just a bath. But because of the cross and the forgiveness we can claim through Jesus’ blood, baptism becomes the most meaningful act we can carry out this side of heaven.

If the act of baptism is not the actual agent of forgiveness, how could the apostle Peter preach: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (Acts 2:38, bold font added)? And why did a devout Christian named Ananias tell Saul of Tarsus: “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16)?

Just because baptism is empty and meaningless apart from forgiveness, that does not mean it is itself the agent of forgiveness. I see a powerful connection between forgiveness and many other acts of faith and obedience, like prayer, communion and worship. I fully believe in prayer for the remission of sin. When I pray, “Lord, forgive my sins,” I am expressing this belief. I am praying for forgiveness without presuming that prayer is the agent of my forgiveness. I also believe in the Lord’s Supper for the remission of sin. Remove the forgiveness part and it’s just juice and crackers. I partake of this sacrament as a means of access to the blood of Jesus, knowing that it’s the blood itself that forgives me in the end. I even believe in worship for the remission of sins. What joy would there be in worship and song if we separated them from forgiveness? Still, Lowry was right; nothing but Jesus’ blood can cleanse the sinful soul.

Does the sinner’s prayer actually forgive sins? Of course not. Yet, we pray for the forgiveness of our sins because we are desperate for it–a desperation that also takes us straight to the waters of baptism as instructed in the New Testament. So why all the fuss over the phrase “baptism for the remission of sin”? Like praying for forgiveness, it’s biblical!

We understand that literal water, juice, crackers, song lyrics, musical notes and prayers are not the agents of our salvation. But the minute we separate them from the forgiveness of sins we get through Christ, they lose all meaning. That’s why Peter could preach, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (Acts 2:38).

As it happens, Robert Lowry also wrote the hymn lyric:

    Shall we gather at the River?

He was great at asking good questions.

Was Jesus Religious?

Would you like to be spiritual without being religious? First, I commend your desire to be spiritual. Second, I commend you to Jesus as inspiration for not leaving the religious part behind. Here are seven points to ponder about Jesus:

  1. Jesus was raised by very religious parents who kept the Jewish laws and customs of their day. Mary followed the purification terms of her religion and the whole family showed up at the temple on time for Jesus’ presentation and circumcision (Luke 2:21-22).
  2. At age 12, Jesus was found in the temple with religious teachers, listening and asking questions. The reason he was in Jerusalem in the first place was to participate in the religious feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41-49).
  3. Jesus faithfully kept the religious holidays of his day and led others in keeping them. He also attended synagogue services regularly. It was his custom (Luke 4:16).
  4. Jesus was a respected Rabbi (John 3:2).
  5. Jesus was a man of much prayer. He often slipped away to the wilderness to pray (Luke 5:16) or did all-nighters on a mountain (Luke 6:12). He taught his disciples not just to pray but how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13 and Luke 18:1-14). Knowing Jesus’ prayer habits enabled his betrayer, Judas, to lead a Roman cohort right to him (John 18:2-3). In the garden where they found him, Jesus prayed so fervently that “his sweat became like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). And he was heard by his Father, we are told, “because of His piety.” (Hebrews 5:7).
  6. Jesus affirmed both micro and macro religion putting both in their proper perspective. He critiqued the Pharisees saying, “You have neglected the weightier matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23).
  7. Jesus came to set people free from slavery to sin, not from religion. But if someone’s religion helped to shackle them to sins of pride or pretense, Jesus knew better. He respected religion but disrespected religious hypocrisy (see Matthew 23).

So yes, Jesus was religious. However, some clarification is in order. Jesus’ religion was not defined by trivia. He respected rites, customs and traditions, but never at the expense of one’s love for God and neighbor. One of the bombers of the 2013 Boston marathon religiously refrained from smoking and drinking because Allah did not want such things. Yet he murdered innocents. He was like those religious leaders who refused to step foot into the Praetorium where Jesus would face Pilate, “so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.” (John 18:28). Orchestrating the execution of an innocent man was fine, but not touching the house of a Gentile. Also, the chief priests refused to break a religious law by putting the pieces of silver Judas returned into the temple treasury, “since it is the price of blood.” (Matthew 27:5-6). God actually used their morally schizophrenic nonsense to accomplish His plan of salvation for sinners, but still, such twisted legalism gives real religion a bad name.

Cruel and hard-hearted religion made Jesus mad. One day in a synagogue on the Sabbath, some Pharisees were watching to see if He would heal a man with a withered hand. He asked, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4). It’s a hard question for legalists and they had no answer. In anger, Jesus healed the man. To this day, true religion does not obstruct kindness or make people refuse friendship with an unbeliever or disown a child when they are baptized. Jesus’ disciple Peter later encouraged Christian women married to an unbelieving man to be all the more devoted, pure and loving to him (1 Peter 3:1-7).

Jesus believed in and practiced the same religion as the Scribes and the Pharisees. It was their fakery, not their faith, that turned his spiritual stomach.