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Wordwise Insight, Issue #037
January 14, 2008

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of


BIBLE INSIGHTS. Thoughts on Romans 8:28; Hope in Service for Christ, and more

READER Q & A. About Christians Swearing Oaths; How to Have a Community Hymn Sing



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BRAND NEW THIS MONTH! DISCUSSION BIBLE STUDIES ON THE BOOK OF JOB! There are 12 lessons in this unique series on an oft-neglected book. These will challenge your thinking in many ways. There is nothing else quite like this currently available on the book. Take a look at Job Studies.

Along with John 3:16 and a few other texts, Romans 8:28 is especially well known and loved by Bible-believing Christians. What an encouragement to “know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

The verse is often taken simply as an exhortation to look on the bright side of things. In that regard, a friend shared this family incident with me. She said, “My grandfather believed a man should never speak or act in anger. One day, some of the family called on him, including his little granddaughter. The adults were in the house visiting, while she was allowed to play outside. After a time, she came in, approached the old man, and said, ‘Grandpa, I have been helping you. I weeded your garden.’ In some curiosity, if not concern, he followed her outside to view her handiwork. The little girl had pulled up every single vegetable in the garden! In dismay, Grandpa held his head in both hands–his way when greatly distressed. Finally, he turned to her and said in a quiet voice, ‘Darling, you have just saved Grandpa a whole lot of work!’”

There is certainly wonderful comfort in knowing that God is in control, and good will come out of our trials. In the words of Henry Hildebrand, founder of the Briercrest Schools in Saskatchewan, Canada, “Our tomorrows have to pass by Him for approval, before they reach us.” When John Bunyan was cast into prison in 1660 for preaching without the forms and sanctions of the Church of England, he said this: “Let the rage and malice of men be never so great, they can do no more, nor go farther than God permits them: but when they have done their worst, we know all things shall work together for good to them that love God. Farewell.”

But beyond using the familiar words to console ourselves when circumstances seem contrary, we are enriched by great and profound truths here. The early part of Romans 8 has to do with daily living in the power of the Holy Spirit. The latter half, introduced by vs. 28, concerns the certainty of the believer’s eternal future, guaranteed by the omnipotence of a sovereign God. Harry Ironside comments, “We have a glorious chain of five links in vs. 29-30, reaching from eternity in the past to eternity in the future–foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, glorified! Every link was forged in heaven, and not one can ever be broken.”

I have always viewed these linked blessings as anticipatory. That God, dwelling in eternity (Isa. 57:15), is able to see our glorification as already completed, since He sees the end from the beginning. However, it could be that these are intended as positional realities already possessed, already legally ours. In that sense, we are already counted as glorified “in Christ” as to our eternal standing, just as surely as we are justified in Him. This makes our future experience of that glory all the more certain and secure.

That is the atmosphere in which the promise of vs. 28 is given. And I wonder about the description of “those who love God,” whether it is primarily a matter of our current state or our eternal standing. In other words, will things only work out for good today if we are conscious of a certain level of love for the Lord in our hearts? Or demonstrate our love in some practical and particular way? And if so, how much love is enough to activate His providence? And how can we be sure we have enough of it?

This does not make sense. God who “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11) is not hampered by such outside forces (cf. vs. 29-30). It would seem, rather, that “those who love God” is to be seen as a parallel expression to “those who are the called according to His purpose [i.e. those called to salvation in accordance with His plan],” (cf. I Cor. 1:9). Thus we are to view this as a positional matter. It is simply a description of the born again Christian. We who are believers are identified as the “lovers of God” (cf. I Cor. 2:9; Eph. 6:24; II Tim. 4:8; Jas. 1:12; 2:5).

To further get in mind the many facets of this wonderful text, it may be helpful to consider the verse in reverse for a moment.

1) God’s purpose is that we be “conformed to the image of His Son” (vs. 29). As someone has put it, “God loves us enough to accept us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us that way!”

2) His call is His sovereign and effectual choice of individuals to be saved and fulfil this eternal purpose (vs. 30). “Those who are the called” are those He has saved by grace, through faith in Christ.

3) These are the ones who love God (i.e. are lovers of God). “We love Him because He first loved us” (I Jn. 4:19).

4) The good that is in view is surely the advancement of His ultimate purpose. In God’s hands, even seeming negatives become beneficial. “We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors” (vs. 36-37).

5) The working together is God’s providence, the “pro-video” (before-seeing) by which He is able to work in our lives, using all that happens to accomplish His will. Some ancient manuscripts render it, “God causes all things to work together for good.” The point is similar, but that emphasizes God’s sovereign omnipotence in orchestrating all the complexities of our lives to bring about His design.

6) All things are included, not just those that seem by human evaluation to be accomplishing the end the Lord has in mind. Absolutely the worst thing that has ever happened, and the worst thing that human beings have ever done, was to nail the sinless Son of God to a cross. The principle of this text is therefore demonstrated to the ultimate degree in the fact that God has worked through that terrible event to bring about infinite and eternal good for the very ones whose sin put Him there.

7) We know all this by the inspired revelation given in His Word, and because we see there that God has already established the glorious end of the process as a certainty (vs. 30). What a blessing! What an assurance!

When we say, “I hope so,” we likely mean that is what we wish for, that is our desire. But biblical hope, given to the believer by the Lord, is far more than a wish or a maybe. It may be defined as: the joyful certainty of future blessing. Because it is founded upon the holy character and omnipotence of the One who promises in His Word, we can rest in the things that are “hoped” for with supreme confidence. Truly, “Our God and Father...has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace” (II Thess. 2:16).

“The hope of salvation” (I Thess. 5:8) is the joyful certainty of the future blessings of salvation. That is a “good hope,” indeed! It is a better hope, when contrasted with the Law which condemns the sinner, but has no ability to save (Heb. 7:19). And it is living hope which gives a present guarantee and assurance of our glorious future (I Pet. 1:3-5). The final fulfilment of these things is tied to the “blessed hope” of Christ’s return (Tit. 2:13).

Here is the basis for service: our eternal comfort (or encouragement)--the beneficial hope engendered in us by the Spirit, because of our standing in grace (cf. Rom. 5:2). We serve the Lord in hope of His blessing on our service. There is comfort now, in testing times, and a certain hope of what the outcome of our work will be at the return of the King. Paul views these as a resource available to each believer. It is the apostle’s prayer that God might “comfort [our] hearts and establish [us] in every good word and work” (vs. 17). This hope in Him should motivate us to faithful energetic service for the Lord.

Second Thessalonians 2:16-17 is a prayer especially for grace in Christian service. Other prayers in the epistle have a bearing on this as well. There is a prayer for God’s blessing, and for His glory–which should be our underlying motive (1:11-12); a prayer for love and patience (3:5); and a prayer for peace (3:16). In our service for the Lord, we need strength and love. We minister out of the richness of His blessing, and for His glory. It is a great cause in which to be involved. But we need patience to keep at it, and comfort and peace in leaving the outcome with Him. "Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Gal. 6:9; cf. I Cor. 15:58).

On the website there is an article about discipleship called The Learner-Servant Principles. Extensively referenced to Scripture, and with many diagrams, this material will give you a unique perspective on the subject. The seven basic principles are interconnected. They show the essence of discipleship as it is revealed in God’s Word, four key things God expects of us, and how sin contrasts with the four. As well, you will gain a helpful understanding of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. The framework described can also be used to analyze passage after passage in the Bible. Please study the material, put it to use, and pass it on!

TRUTH IN OUR TRIALS. Check out the extensive outline study on the subject of suffering at Truth About Suffering.

BIBLE STUDY SERIES ON PROPHECY! The subject of Bible prophecy is a fascinating one. This series of 12 discussion studies covering the major themes of prophecy will give you an opportunity to examine what God has planned for the future. To check it out, click on Prophecy Studies.


Question: Since Jesus says we are not to swear oaths “at all” (Matt. 5:34), is it proper for Christians to swear to tell the truth in a court of law?

Answer: The matter of oaths needs some consideration, both as to its biblical context, and as to its modern usage. There is ample biblical evidence that this is an acceptable practice for believers under certain circumstances. Jesus does tell His hearers, "Do not swear at all" (Matt. 5:34; cf. Jas. 5:12), but this command needs to be viewed in its historical surroundings. The Jews of Jesus' day made oaths a part of casual conversation. They became quite adept at manipulating this practice to make it seem like they were telling the truth, when they were not. It is particularly this hypocritical practice that the Lord is speaking against (vs. 33-37).

It should be unnecessary for believers to "swear" to one another that they are speaking the truth, since we are always to do that (Eph. 4:25). However, I do not believe the above injunction prevents a Christian from swearing to his testimony in a court of law, or on other formal occasions. To say, “So help me, God,” is to say “With the Lord’s help I will give you an honest and accurate response. That is merely a recognition that, as weak and fallible creatures, we are in need of divine aid.

We should not take the name of the Lord “in vain” (Exod. 20:7), meaning that we are not to use it carelessly, invoking the Lord’s name to disguise a lie, or to decorate an empty promise we have no intention of fulfilling. That is sinful, and God will hold us accountable for our actions (Deut. 23:21; Ecc. 5:4). However, a vow made sincerely, before God, recognizing His right to hold us accountable, is another matter. In effect, this is what happens when a couple pronounces their wedding vows, or when parents dedicate an infant to the Lord before witnesses.

This kind of swearing is something God Himself did (Heb. 6:13-18). It was actually commanded under certain circumstances in the Mosaic Covenant (Exod. 22:10-11). Ezra called for the swearing of an oath (Ezra 10:5). Jesus gave testimony under oath (Matt. 26:63ff). And Paul does something similar in his epistles (cf. Rom. 1:9; 9:1; II Cor. 1:23; Gal. 1:20). In summary, though the practice is not to be engaged in carelessly or hypocritically, it would seem to be appropriate under certain special circumstances.

Question: Some time ago I was asked what was involved in planning A Community Hymn Sing–something I have done many times over the years. Here is some information that could help you organize this kind of event. Note: The questionnaire below was used when I was asked to be the song leader. That is why you will see “I” and “me” at various points. Simply substitute the name of the leader you have chosen where appropriate.

Answer: There is merit in calling the event a "Community Hymn Sing.” It becomes an automatic invitation to the whole “community.” I have found there are many people all over who love to sing the old hymns! Have you ever heard of the S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.? It stands for the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America. In daydreams and flights of fancy I’ve thought, What if we had a S.P.T.H.S. a Society for the Promotion of Traditional Hymn Singing? If we could get "branches" going in several locations, then plan an annual "Festival of Hymn Singing," and get the whole bunch together... Well, it’s an idea! Anyway, one thing at a time!

1) What is the VENUE for the event (location, address)? Will folks need a map? And is there anything more we should know about this location (parking, etc.)?

2) What is the DATE and TIME for the event? Usually, I have planned on about a 90-minute program. No sermon. The emphasis is on singing, with a half hour afterward for coffee and conversation. The latter, or course, is optional, and up to you.

3) What CHURCHES will be involved? In my experience, it is possible to draw in participants from about an hour’s radius, with good promotion, and the traditional hymns of the church seem to cross many denominational boundaries.

4) Is it possible to estimate the NUMBER OF PEOPLE that might attend? This is helpful in case you would like to provide a hand-out for certain songs, and provide a snack afterward, etc.

5) Who will the ACCOMPANIST(S) be? Simple piano accompaniment is good, or organ and piano. Some songs may be done a cappella (without instruments), if harmonization shows promise. (I have also conducted programs where a very fine violinist played along, sometimes supplying a beautiful obligato to the singing. Given the nature of the music, my personal preference is not to have drums and guitars used, but that is up to you.)

6) Will an organized CHOIR be involved? My usual pattern is to sing all or part of as many hymns as possible, giving the background for some along the way. To vary congregational participation, we may have the instruments play a verse, or I could sing a verse as a solo, asking all to join me on the refrain. A choir could fit into this mix well. Even if they did not do much on their own, they would add support to the singing--valuable if a song is unfamiliar to some.

7) What HYMNS will be used? I prefer to choose most of the hymns myself, or have a major input into the choice (though it is possible to set aside some time for requests during the event). One reason I prefer this is that not all songs have as interesting a story behind them as others do. Sometimes I also choose hymns to fit or develop a particular theme (Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s, etc.). If enough lead time is given, I can provide a list of songs in advance so accompanists can get familiar with them.

8) What about a PRACTICE? Would it be possible to meet with the accompanist(s) (and choir?) in advance (i.e. the evening before, or even the afternoon of the hymn sing date)? Though this is not usually necessary, a bit of discussion and a run-through of less familiar numbers could add to the effectiveness of the program.

9) What HYMN BOOK will be in the pews? (And could I borrow a copy in advance, if I do not already have one?) I have done this type of program with hand-outs, or using an overhead. But I’ve found it’s most helpful for people to turn to the hymn, have the music before them, and see the names of the author/composer that I will be telling them about.

10) Is there an OVERHEAD projector which could be used? (And do you have a spare bulb on hand?) Even if it is not used for song words, sometimes a photograph of the hymn writer is of interest. (Note that a choir would have to be positioned to be able to see what is projected.) I once tried having a hymn sing with folks sitting in a semicircle, and roughly divided into parts. It worked fairly well.

11) Will there be a LUNCH afterward? And if so, who will take care of arranging for this? Suggestion: Keep it simple. Tea, coffee or juice, and a cookie would do. The main idea is to give some time for visiting and conversation.

12) How will the event be ADVERTISED? Depending on your circumstances, such things as small posters and bulletin inserts for participating churches would be helpful. Or maybe a newspaper advertisement on the "Church Page." (Who will produce these?)

13) Are there local CONTACTS, individuals who can be phoned or e-mailed for further information?

14) How will the event be covered and REPORTED ON afterward? Will someone be taking pictures? A report in a local newspaper will likely be of interest to those involved. Also, denominational publications sometimes like to tell about such special events.

15) Are there local COSTS involved? For publicity? Rental of facilities? Etc. As for myself, I ask that you cover the expense of my travel (and accommodation, if needed). If you wish to give me an honorarium, that is up to you. I do not have a “fee,” but as the Bible says, “The labourer is worthy of his wages” (I Tim. 5:18).

16) Anything else that needs consideration in your particular situation?

Next Month: What about women as leaders in the church? And does the Bible allow for homosexuals in church leadership?

SEEKING A NEW PASTOR for your church? Check out the Pastoral Questionnaire.

BIBLE STUDY: Available now on the Wordwise website is a discussion Bible study on The Lord's Prayer. Why not check it out at The Lord's Prayer.



Once there was a child who planted some seeds. It was his first time, and he was excited about what Daddy told him was going to happen. The seeds were going to sprout and grow--green leaves, flowers, fruit. Amazing! He was so anxious to see it, that an hour later he dug up his seeds to discover how they were doing. What a disappointment! Nothing. Not the slightest change. But of course we know these things do not happen in an hour. “Give it time,” we would advise the young gardener. Yet is it not surprising how little patience we can have? Or how little time we sometimes allow for important things?

All those labour saving devices that were supposed to give us more leisure, and we seem to be hurrying faster than ever. And in our haste and hustle there is a significant danger. Our priorities can become distorted. The more demanding some things are of large chunks of our lives, the more they seem to crowd other things out. Some years ago, an article was printed in a Christian paper entitled “The Tyranny of the Urgent.” And that is how it is, all too often. “Urgent” things can rule our lives, dictating how we use our precious hours and minutes, and pushing the truly important things out of the way.

William Longstaff (1822-1894) wrote a hymn about that. Longstaff was a Christian layman in England, and a great supporter of the work of Dwight L. Moody. He was also for a time an associate of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. Born into a wealthy family, he used his resources in various causes, helping others in many ways. On one occasion, Mr. Longstaff heard a sermon on First Peter 1:16, where the Lord says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” It impressed him deeply. After that, he set himself the goal of living a truly godly life. He wrote a hymn, in 1882, based on insights God was giving him. It reminds us to “Take Time to Be Holy.” The song says, “Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord; / Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word. / Make friends of God’s children; help those who are weak; / Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.”

As we all know, relationships do take time. That is true for husband and wife, for parents and children, and for friends. We talk about spending “quality time” with others--time to get to know them, time to share, time to help, time to listen. Relationships need nurturing, like tender plants. And the time we give them suggests what priority (or lack of priority!) we place on such things. So, how is your relationship with Jesus Christ? Practical holiness is almost an incidental result of our communion with the Lord. Not to say that no effort is required to do right. But it is in our fellowship with the Him that our desires and ambitions are turned toward heavenly things. In turn, it is from these fundamental attitudes that our daily choices and decisions come.

When Peter and John were hauled into court for preaching the gospel, their conduct and their speech revealed they had long been in the company of Christ. The Bible says the members of the Sanhedrin “realized that they had been with Jesus” (4:13). Is that true of us? The Apostle Paul says believers “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (II Cor. 3:18). In the words of Longstaff, “By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be; / Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.” So, when others observe our behaviour, or hear our conversation, will they realize we have been with Him? Or will our words and actions, our goals and priorities, betray just the opposite? Take time to be holy.

THE BEST BIBLE STUDY TOOL EVER. At least, the best one I have ever discovered, is fully described on the website. Strictly speaking, this is not an idea for your church program but for you, personally. However, if you try it, you may want to share it with your Sunday School class or Bible study group. If a number of you begin using it and trading insights, you may be amazed at what will happen! See Best Bible Study Tool.

Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

Check out EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY, a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.

If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.
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