“Keep your focus at the foot of the cross” is often dished out by those who consider themselves Christians. It’s a common mantra in Christianese. It’s used by accredited Christian counselors, church leaders, pew warmers, tin-pot evangelists… you name it.
The saying is easy to learn and repeat parrot fashion, like a mantra. Or like the instructions on the medicine packet: “take one with water three times a day with meals, and one at bedtime”.
Have you ever pondered about what “keep your focus at the foot of the cross” means? If you have, you may have wondered
1. Which cross? — because there were three crosses
- the cross of the man who repented
- the cross of the unrepentant man
- the cross on which Jesus was nailed
2. Which individuals at the foot of the cross / crosses?
- good individuals? — perhaps including soldiers
- bad individuals? — including whited sepulchers
- “average” individuals?
- the soldiers who cast lots for Jesus’s clothing?
- individuals present but not referenced in the Bible?
3. Perhaps Jesus’ foot, nailed to the cross?
“Jesus’ foot nailed to the cross” is a legitimate interpretation of “the foot of the cross”. Folks who interpret words concretely and folks who think about the multiple meanings of the word “foot” may well ask the question: Whose foot? Jesus’ foot?
Over to you, dear readers
What are your experiences, thoughts and reflections on the advice to “keep you eyes on the foot of the cross” or “keep your focus on the foot of the cross” or “keep your eyes on the cross” …or any other variants of that saying.
Have you been told to submit to church elders? Have you heard the ‘rule’ that we must obey church leaders?
What is the basis for this ‘rule’ that you, as a professing Christian, must (must) obey church elders?
Definition of terms…so we all start on the same page.
I will be using the term ‘elders’ to refer to those who have been appointed to spiritual leadership positions: pastors, church elders, ministers, reverends, presbyters, moderators, bishops, archbishops…and you can add cardinals & popes to that list. Some translations of the bible use the word ‘overseers’. For the purpose of this article, all those titles are interchangeable.
Let us examine the two verses in Hebrews 13 which speak about obeying or submitting to elders. Most pastors focus on Hebrews 13:17 which says:
Obey those who have the oversight of you, and submit yourselves to them, for they watch for your souls even as those who must give accounts. Let them do it with joy, and not with grief. For that is an unprofitable thing for you.
However, verse 7 in the same chapter says:
Remember those who have the oversight of you, who have declared to you the word of God. See that you look upon the way they live out their life, and follow their faith.
The ones who have oversight over the congregation need to be able to rightly divide the word of truth: rightly explain and apply what the Bible teaches. If the elders do a poor job of that, if they twist, selectively hammer, and misapply the Word, they ought not be in the position of overseer!
It is not a sin to ponder whether the elders are rightly dividing the word of truth.
Verse 7 also tells us to look at the way the elders are living out their lives. In other words, use your brain, your capacity to think independently, and ask yourself: Is what this elder says consistent with what he does?
If you have not been brainwashed…if you observe and are discerning and can think independently, you may notice gigantic inconsistencies between their rhetoric and their conduct.
Often these discrepancies are particularly obvious when it comes to the way elders deal with interpersonal abuse and oppression, i.e., injustice perpetrated by the more powerful onto the less powerful.
The conduct — the pattern of behaviour — of arrogant / prideful church leaders shows you that they are hypocrites and Pharisees. Instead of defending and vindicating the oppressed, they are ignoring or re-traumatizing the oppressed. One of the ways elders do this is to give the impression they support the abused…but when it comes to the crunch, they let them down.
It is clear from Hebrews 13:7 that every true Christian is urged to scrutinise and evaluate the pattern of conduct of church leaders.
You need not obey or follow a church leader whose pattern of conduct is glaringly inconsistent with the whole counsel of the Word.
How can you evaluate the pattern of conduct of elders?
James 1:27 is a good verse to use when evaluating the pattern of conduct of church elders. Pure devotion, and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their adversity, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
If you think that women abused by their husbands are not widows, I encourage you to read this: The Widows and Orphans of Our Time.
Apart from Hebrews 13, there are only two other passages in the New Testament which allude to submitting to church elders
Here are those two passages in context. The ‘submit-to-elders’ parts are in purple.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-15
We beseech you, brethren, to recognize those who labour among you, and have the oversight of you in the Lord and give you exhortation – to have them the more in love for their work’s sake, and be at peace with them.
We desire you, brethren, to warn those who are unruly, comfort the faint-hearted, bear up the weak, and have continual patience toward all people. See that no one returns evil for evil to anyone, but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and among all people.
1 Peter 5:1-7
The elders who are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the afflictions of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. See that you feed the flock of Christ that is among you, taking the oversight of them not as though you were compelled to it, but willingly; not for wrongful gain, but of a good mind; not as though you were lords over the parishes, but so that you are an example to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you shall receive an incorruptible crown of glory.
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to the elders. Submit yourselves everyone, one to another. Knit yourselves together in lowliness of mind. For God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you when the time is come. Cast all your care upon him, for he cares for you.
Scripture quotations are from the New Matthew Bible (NMB).
Salvation is much mis-taught and misunderstood in Christendom.
ABUSERS who claim to be Christians could be roughly divided into two groups: the ones who genuinely think they are Christians, and the ones who intentionally lie in their claim to be Christians. The abusers who genuinely think they are Christians may be thinking they are saved because they’ve made some kind of spiritual bargain with God.
It’s also possible that there are VICTIMS of abuse who think of themselves as Christians — yet they may not be saved. They, too, may be thinking that salvation is some kind of spiritual bargain you can make with God.
This guest post by Helovesme might help you think about these things.
Barb thinks there are two ways this post might help you, dear reader:
- It might help you discern and detect the abusers in your life.
- It might help you test your own faith. The Apostle Paul urges all believers to do this: “Prove yourselves, whether you are in the faith or not. Examine your own selves. Do you not know your own selves that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless you are castaways.” (2 Cor 13:5)
End of preamble by Barb. Now read on for Helovesme’s post….
Being a slave to sin, imprisoned by sin (as the Bible speaks of) does NOT mean you have no choice but to blindly obey its commands. Being unsaved does not mean you “can’t help yourself.”
Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master. (NLT)
Thy sin lieth open in the door. Notwithstanding, let it be subdued unto thee, and see thou rule it. (William Tyndale’s translation, 1537 Matthew Bible)
Those words in Genesis 4:7 were God’s words to Cain when he was intending to murder his own brother. Those words still stand. You do not HAVE to let sin be your master.
Abuse is sin.
The abused have nothing to repent of in being sinned against. The darkness, the brokenness, the suffering, are things victims unfortunately deal with — but they have no one to blame but the abuser for what they caused.
[A victim of abuse is not to blame for being abused — that blame belongs wholly to the person or persons who did the abusing. The responsibility is fixed to the abuser, not the victim — the blame must be sheeted home to the abuser. Sheeted home is an idiom that is commonly used in Australia and the UK.]
When I was in the kingdom of darkness, I suffered from my own sins (which were many) and from the sins of others (which were also many). Nevertheless, one did not trump the other. No matter how much or how often I was abused, none of it reduced the culpability of my own personal sin. And no matter how much or how often I sinned, none of it reduced the culpability of who sinned against me.
Can you imagine the Lord telling me, as unsaved person, that because I was abused, the severity of my own sins were “decreased” in His eyes? Can you imagine the Lord telling me, “Sure, I get it: you were hurt by bad people and that’s why you are so bad yourself.”
Let’s say this really happened (it didn’t). My repentance, and becoming born again, would have been something of a joke. My old self, that Christ told us to “reckon” as dead, would not have been fully reckoned as dead, because I had just been given permission to downgrade my own sins, and upgrade the sins done to me — sort of like a “spiritual” bargain. So I’d only be sort of born again, kind of forgiven and possibly a new creation in Him. If I had refused to be held fully accountable for my sins, that would not have fully exited me from the kingdom of darkness — where excuses and denial of sin rules and reigns.
Thanks to Helovesme for allowing her words from this comment to be used in this stand-alone post.
Barb added William Tyndale’s translation of Gen 4:7, as cited in The Story of the Matthew Bible by Ruth Magnusson Davis (p 65).
Words in square brackets within Helovesme’s post are Barb’s.
I hope these two hymns will encourage you and build your faith. They are not particularly Easter hymns, but they certainly speak of the power and love and mercy of God. I encourage you to sing them out loud. Find the tune below the lyrics.
Hail our once-rejected Jesus
1 Hail, our once-rejected Jesus!
Hail, our Galilean king!
You have suffered to release us,
hope and joy and peace to bring.
Patient friend and holy saviour,
bearer of our sin and shame;
by your merits we find favour,
life is given through your name.
2 Paschal Lamb, by God appointed,
all our sins on you were laid;
by almighty love anointed,
full atonement you have made.
All your people are forgiven
through the virtue of your blood;
opened is the gate of heaven,
we are reconciled with God.
3 Jesus! Heavenly hosts adore you,
seated at your Father’s side;
crucified, this world once saw you,
now in glory you abide.
There for sinners you are pleading,
and our place you now prepare;
always for us interceding,
till in glory we appear.
4 Worship, honour, power and blessing
you are worthy to receive;
loudest praises, without ceasing,
right it is for us to give.
Help us, bright angelic spirits
joined with ours, your voices raise;
help to show our saviour’s merits,
help to sing Emmanuel’s praise.
These lyrics can be sung to the tune in this video.
We trust in you, our shield and our defender
1 We trust in you, our shield and our defender;
we do not fight alone against the foe:
strong in your strength, safe in your keeping tender,
we trust in you, and in your name we go.
2 We trust in you, O captain of salvation—
in your dear name, all other names above:
Jesus, our righteousness, our sure foundation,
our prince of glory and our king of love.
3 We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
and needing more each day your grace to know;
yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We trust in you, and in your name we go.”
4 We trust in you, our shield and our defender:
yours is the battle—yours shall be the praise!
When passing through the gates of dazzling splendor,
victors, we rest in you through endless days.
I couldn’t find a YouTube version with the above lyrics, so I’m sharing this instead. The lyrics are almost the same. To my way of thinking, the hymn is better sung a little slower than is done here.
PS—the lyrics I have reproduced here are not copyright.
Covid-19 has pulled people up short and made them think about death. We are born, we live, we die—but most people have avoided thinking about death, preferring to distract themselves with the delights of this world while they can. Covid-19 has pulled the human family up short and brought it face to face with the the reality of death. In addition, the global lockdown and economic collapse is causing anxiety, fear, mental overload, emotional roller-coasters, stresses on families and personal relationships, not to mention massive adjustments in most people’s lives.
Compared to other infectious diseases, Covid-19 has a long incubation period — they say it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear after a person has been infected. Many who are infected do not become seriously ill. But for those who die, the time from first symptoms to death can be quite long—several weeks it seems.
Sin—the sin nature—the bias towards sin— is a ‘virus’ we are all born with. We inherited the sin nature from Adam. The analogy would be catching the infection, contracting the disease. After we are born, we might live in this world for three score years and ten, or more, before our mortal bodies die. But for all that time until his mortal body dies, the natural man, by his sin nature, is dead spiritually—blinded and cut off from God.
We can’t avoid contracting the sin nature by practising social distancing and washing our hands. Nothing we do in our own efforts can cleanse the sin nature from us. Nothing we do in our own efforts can cure us from this ‘disease’.
I’d like to take this analogy further.
How are doctors treating patients who have Covid-19? This is a hot topic of debate among medicos and scientists at present. Here are some of the treatments which doctors have been using: give them extra oxygen; intubate them on ventilators to pump air and oxygen into their lungs; give them hydrochloroquine and azithromycin in the early stages of the disease; give them high dose Vitamin C intravenously. (I’ve listed the treatments I’ve heard of and read about; there may be other treatments which I have not heard of.)
If sin is like a virus, a virus we contract at birth, a virus which causes separation from God in this world and the next, a virus which leads to both physical death and eternal death, what is the treatment for the sin virus? That, dear friends, is easy to answer. The treatment, the remedy, is repentance and faith in Jesus. Jesus died for the sins of all mankind. Jesus offers forgiveness and purification to all who repent and trust in him for salvation. The treatment is free, and instantanously effective. But anyone who thinks he can receive salvation without humble and heart-true repentance is deceiving himself; he is choosing to live in darkness rather than light.
For God so loves the world, that he has given his only Son, so that none who believe in him should perish, but should have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world through him could be saved. Whoever believes on him shall not be condemned.
But whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he does not believe in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the condemnation: that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But whoever does truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be known, that they are wrought in God.
The Covid-19 crisis has brought all this closer to the surface.
Trying to ‘do the right thing’ in this world — whether it be social distancing, hand-washing, financially providing for your family, telling others your perspective on what has caused the Covid-19 crisis…all those types of activities are for this temporal world. They may or may not benefit others in this temporal world.
But what about the next world?
People panic about death from Covid-19, yet often those same people steadfastly resist thinking about sin and its consequence—eternal death. Hmm. What does that signify? What can we make of that? What can we do about that?
I don’t have answers to all those questions, but I encourage us all to ponder those questions and factor them in to the situations we each of us are dealing with in our daily lives.
On a personal note, I have been struggling to write a blog post since the Covid-19 panic hit. I have been reading and listening to many different points of view—from scientists, from Christians, from ‘whistle-blowers’, from ordinary folks who are out of a job or working from home or stressed by other elements of the lockdown. I’ve been through my own roller-coaster of tears, grief, anger, tears, irritability, sadness, despair, frustration, and guilt. Feeling like a leper. Trying to smile at and encourage others. When I’ve been unable to read Scripture I have been able to sing hymns; that has helped me a lot. I have been trying to get exercise daily and expose my skin to sunshine for Vitamin D.
May the Lord have mercy on us all.
Perhaps it may help to end this with a few verses about blessing and blessedness, from the New Testament.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you and thrust you out of their company, and rail, and abhor your name as an evil thing, for the Son of man’s sake.
I have shown you in every way how, by so labouring, you ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercy and the God of all comfort
Blessed are the dead who die hereafter in the Lord, as the Spirit affirms, that they may rest from their labours; but their works shall follow them.
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. For on such the second death shall have no power. For they shall be the priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Blessed are those who do his commandments, so that their power may be in the tree of life, and they may enter in through the gates into the city.